Category Archives: Parenthood

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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Filed under Books, Editing, Lit Festivals, Parenthood, Publishing, Singapore, Tinhau, Writing

Big D

A Thanksgiving announcement: the paperwork has just been finalized, and I am now officially divorced.

This may come as a shock to some of you, and to others it may be no big surprise at all. I have not posted any updates about or photos of Janet here at the blog or on Facebook for a very long time, and that could have been seen as wanting to respect her privacy or a symptom that we were no longer together (it was both).

We’ve been physically separated for several years now, but emotionally separated for far longer. This resolution was a long time in coming, and both of us are much happier living apart and sharing custody of Anya than living in tension-filled deeply uncomfortable togetherness. We’re even working slowly toward becoming friends again.

So yeah. I’ve taken many cues from Louis C.K. in this area, as he is very wise on the subject:

“Divorce is always good news. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce. It’s really that simple. That would be sad; if two people were married and they were really happy and they just had a great thing, and then they got divorced, that would be really sad. But that has happened zero times. Literally zero.”

For the curious, I do plan to stay in Singapore for the foreseeable future. I’ve made a life here now independent of my ex-wife, and Anya is starting primary school in January. Over the eight and a half years that I’ve lived here, I’ve really come to appreciate the intrinsic sense of stability and safety, and feel like I’m making a genuine contribution to the literary scene both as an author and editor.

This is a new phase of my life, but I’ll be fine. The destabilizing months (and years) are for the most part behind me, and things have settled into a manageable pattern. I’ve got a brilliant little girl and some wonderful friends keeping me honest and sane and able to laugh at life’s absurdities, which is something definitely to be thankful for. Onward.

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BBCC6 Mini-Whistlestop Tour on 14 Nov

If you missed the recent launch of A Curious Bundle for Bo Bo and Cha Cha at the Singapore Writers Festival, you have another chance to see me publicly launch the book and do a storytelling session from it. I’ll be conducting a mini-whistlestop tour this Saturday the 14th at Woods in the Books‘ two locations: at their flagship store in Tiong Bahru at 1130am, and then at Books Ahoy! (on level 2 of the Orchard FORUM) at 300pm.

As with the SWF launch, my daughter Anya will be along to help me out, and to voice the little baby animal in the story (which is beyond cute, so you have to come). See you there!

BBCC6 launch2 poster

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A Curious Bundle for Bo Bo and Cha Cha


Book 6 in my panda picture book series, A Curious Bundle for Bo Bo and Cha Cha, has just arrived from the printers! It can be ordered right now online directly from Epigram Books, and will be stocked in bookstores all over Singapore within a couple of weeks.

I know I say this with every new BB&CC book, but this one is probably my favourite. Back when I thought that this would be the final one*, I decided that it would call back to the previous books in the series, so you’ll find many, many characters you’ve encountered already. It was a challenge to do this without confusing potential readers (especially the little ones), but editor Sheri Tan and I came up with a smooth way to do so that works quite well. Also, I’m quite proud with the pacing and rhythm; a lot happens, but it’s a page-turner.

So I’m very proud that this story is now a fully realised book, and that it will be available for kids everywhere very very soon. If you would like to review it for a newspaper, magazine or litblog, please contact Sophia Susanto, the Sales & Marketing Executive at Epigram Books. Again, you can sample the book here and/or order a copy right now from the Epigram Books website, and rate/review it on Goodreads.


BBCC6 Arrived!

* A Curious Bundle for Bo Bo and Cha Cha is the last book currently under contract with Epigram Books, although my publisher has already said informally that he’d be happy to sign me up for two more.

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Bo Bo and Cha Cha and the Lost Child


Book 5 in my panda picture book series, Bo Bo and Cha Cha and the Lost Child, has arrived from the printers and can be ordered online directly from Epigram Books; it’ll be stocked in bookstores all over Singapore within a couple of weeks.

This is probably my favourite of the Bo Bo and Cha Cha books to date (although each new one seems to be my favourite, but never mind). Each of these books has been written with my daughter Anya in mind, to be something that she’ll enjoy and also learn from. Book 1 is about having two different homes, but feeling safe and welcome in each one. Book 2 is about some less obvious but still fun things to do in Singapore. Book 3 is about tolerance and friendship. Book 4 is about having fun with cooking. And Book 5 is about self-reliance and spatial intelligence. (Yes, this is reductive, and the books do much more besides, but if you want to ascribe lessons, here they are.)

photo 1

The other books have things that Anya can relate to, especially in terms of the female characters, but I wanted Bo Bo and Cha Cha and the Lost Child to be a bit more on the nose. It features a little Sikh girl who gets lost while visiting the zoo with her daddy (which, for any parent, is a terribly frightening prospect), but she meets the pandas, and learns how to read a map, and befriends an orangutan girl her age named Saloma (last seen in Book 3), and shows courage and resourcefulness in finding her way back to her appa. I made the little girl, named Kavi, of Indian ethnicity for two reasons: 1) the other books in the series feature a number of ethnic Chinese characters, and although Malays and South Asians appear in the background, none were featured as main characters, which was a practice that needed to change; and 2) Anya has expressed her wish that she could be Indian (even though I’ve tried explaining genetics and ancestry to her), so Kavi is the closest that she can get vicariously to this wish. I even based Kavi’s outfit in the book on one of Anya’s, modelled above.

So I’m very proud that this story is now a fully realised book, and that it will be available for kids everywhere very very soon. If you would like to review it for a newspaper, magazine or litblog, please contact Sophia Susanto, the Sales & Marketing Executive at Epigram Books. Again, you can sample the book here and/or order a copy right now from the Epigram Books website, and rate/review it on Goodreads.


photo 2

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Penguins and Prejudice

“I needed to become a First Amendment absolutist, and I still find it uncomfortable being a First Amendment absolutist. I was not put on this earth to be an absolutist about anything. I’m somebody whose natural response to an awful lot of stuff is to say: yes, I see your point of view, or at least to try and find common ground. But when it comes to the First Amendment, there is no common ground.” —Neil Gaiman (The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell, p. 191)

The last two weeks in Singapore have been very eventful for the literary community. On July 8, a post appeared on a Facebook group called “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” bragging that after only one complaint to the National Library Board, two children’s picture books — And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illus. Henry Cole (2005) and The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption by Jean Davies Okimoto and Elaine M. Aoki, illus. Meilo So (2002) — had been removed from library shelves, without any kind of review process, because they did not conform to a reductionist definition of “pro-family values,” a euphemism often employed by the religious right to refer to a heterosexual family situation with one man, one woman, and their children. The action had been confirmed by Ms Tay Ai Cheng, Assistant Chief Executive & Chief Librarian, whose email message was reproduced in the post.

Illustration by Henry Cole, layout by Jaxe Pan.

Two days later, after much uproar among writers, readers and parents, the news came that not only was NLB not listening to any of the feedback decrying their decision, but that in fact they were going to pulp the books, despite the many possible alternatives (reshelving them, donating them, holding them for the annual library book sale, affixing a parental discretion label, or just ignoring a single solitary complaint about them). Let me repeat that: because one member of a right-wing extremist group took offense to the very idea of two male penguins raising a baby penguin, and same-sex couples adopting children, Singapore’s national repository for knowledge and information was going to destroy all copies of the two titles.

This story was picked up by Boing Boing, The Washington Post, The Guardian, BBC News, Al Jazeera, NBC News, The Huffington Post, The Independent (UK), Human Rights Watch, PEN International, and other international news sources. I’m not sure what NLB was hoping to accomplish, but instead of quietly going away, it turned into a global news story.

In the days to come, it was made public that earlier in the year, NLB had also pulped Who’s In My Family?: All About Our Families by Robie H. Harris, illus. Nadine Bernard Westcott (2012), as well as three other non-fiction books by Harris about changing bodies and sexual health. These had been done quietly, and unannounced to the public.

Banning books is never the solution, but the destruction of books is a symbolic attack on knowledge itself, and was perhaps the worst possible decision NLB could have made. I am not a Singaporean citizen, but I still pay taxes in Singapore every year, and a portion of those taxes go to support NLB. It is not in my interest, or in the interest of any others who share my viewpoint (which is a lot of people), that books be removed from NLB shelves just because a hate-filled vocal minority wish them to be.

Several brave writers decided to boycott NLB, cancel already-scheduled events in protest, and refuse to work with NLB in the future. Playwright and novelist Ovidia Yu quit her position on the Singapore Writers Festival steering committee because NLB is a programming and venue partner. Three judges for the non-fiction category of the Singapore Literature Prize resigned. Novelist and AWARE Communications Director Jolene Tan and concerned mother Germaine Eliza Ong organized a (legal and permitted) read-in at the NLB Atrium called Let’s Read Together!, which attracted four to five hundred people, many of them parents who read the banned books and others to their children (it set the record for being the first political protest held in Singapore outside the confines of Hong Lim Park); I was one of these parents, and I was proud to bring my daughter Anya to her first act of civil disobedience, even if she really didn’t know what the hubbub was about.

Reading And Tango Makes Three to Anya on my iPad. Photo by Alvin Pang.

Despite all this blowback, NLB CEO Elaine Ng seemed befuddled by all of the foofaraw and “saddened” that people were so angry at them, but NLB was not changing its decision to keep the books off the shelves. Jasna Dhansukhlal, assistant director for NLB’s public library services, told My Paper that “We have withdrawn the titles, there’s no putting them back. […] Basically they’re pulped and no longer in existence.”

As the second week of this scandal wore on, LGBT writer friends of mine and allies became despondent, publicly despairing that despite unofficial mentions of tolerance, it was now official government policy to discriminate against “alternative lifestyles”: books with even a whiff of same-sex relationships are a danger to Singaporean children, and have to be destroyed. Several of those same friends mentioned that they simply saw no place for them in Singapore anymore, and wanted to migrate at the earliest opportunity; another said that he was giving up writing altogether.

Finally, this past Friday, Minister Yaacob Ibrahim (Minstry of Communications and Information, who earlier defended the decision to remove the books) ordered NLB to reinstate the two books, but to place them in the adult section of the library. This seemed like a compromise for everyone, although it still felt like a ghettoization. The fact that they weren’t being destroyed (despite official statements to the contrary) was a very good thing, but the books were still being treated by NLB as toxic to children, which gets to the whole crux of the matter.

(By the way, you can see a more detailed round-up of everything that happened here at TODAY.)

This was a two-part issue, about free expression and inclusivity. Unlike the USA, where I come from, Singapore has no such thing as the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”) Any of the rights that are taken for granted under the First Amendment have to be petitioned for in Singapore, and if the government doesn’t like what you have to say, they can deny you those rights and there is very little recourse. Part of free expression is the unfettered access to information, and by banning the books and then announcing that they were pulping them, NLB was making it clear that a secular governmental organization could easily deny the citizenry that access.

As for inclusivity, Singapore has (with joyous zeal) imported the culture war from the USA, with the religious right gaining a more vocal foothold in political influence. That NLB was willing to just roll over and cower to the will of this group is notable. Also notable is that the only demographic group targeted here is the LGBT (or QUILTBAG, to be more accurate) community. And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express contained examples of same-sex relationships, and this is the only reason that they were challenged. (It must also be pointed out that representation does not equal promotion or endorsement, but this nuance is lost on the zealot mind.) Homosexual sex between men is still illegal in Singapore, and while the government is forward-thinking in so many ways, they are frighteningly backward when it comes to including the QUILTBAG community in mainstream society. How can you consider yourself a First World country if you are actively oppressing an entire demographic?

I’ll just close by saying that even though the books are now available in the library again, the National Library Board has still not admitted to any wrongdoing, nor have they made any attempt to reach out to the QUILTBAG community. Until both are done, I will not participate in any NLB-led literary events to which I am invited. This decision has taken much consideration, and the dust has settled a bit, so I cannot be accused of jumping on any bandwagons or acting rashly in the heat of the moment (although I must note that these and similar accusations were aimed at my literary comrades during the last two weeks, and they are entirely baseless).

If I am asked to be a featured author again at the Singapore Writers Festival this year, I will accept, but I will make it a point to bring up this issue on any panel I am given (which may discourage them from inviting me; so be it). I will be there regardless, to promote the Epigram Books literary titles under my editorship.

Echoing Neil Gaiman’s quote at the top of this post, free expression and inclusivity are not up for negotiation, and there can be no common ground with those who would chip away or seek to destroy either one. A civilized society must have both.

(N.B. This post was revised on 22 July to add hyperlinks, clarify statements, and tidy up the prose.)

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BB&CC Book 3 is Now Out!

Earlier this week, the finished copies of Bo Bo and Cha Cha and the New Year Gift were delivered to the Epigram Books office, which means that the book is now out! If it’s not already, it’ll be on bookstore shelves all over Singapore very soon. Here I am signing copies:


This is the third book in the series, and I’m quite proud of it; I introduce a couple of new characters (Kevin the red panda and Saloma the orangutan), incorporate many Singaporean Chinese New Year traditions, and open a discussion on the importance of friendship (from wherever it may come), empathy, and open-mindedness. There are a few echoes back to Book 1, but it’s also very much its own book.

My editor Sheri Tan and I had initially thought to do a CNY book all on its own, as Book 4 in the series, and have Kevin’s visit be the major thing about Book 3, but when the book got delayed because of illustrator Patrick Yee’s many commitments, we decided to combine the two into one that celebrates both CNY as well as the friendship the pandas have with Kevin.

Here’s the synopsis:

It’s Chinese New Year, and Bo Bo and Cha Cha’s artist friend, Kevin, has come from China to celebrate with the pandas, as well as show his work at a special New Year exhibition. The pandas’ friends at the Mandai Zoo are eager to meet Kevin, but when they do, Kevin is mean and nasty to them! He’s not happy that some of the New Year customs are different from the ones in China. He even tells Kera’s daughter, Saloma, that her painting is awful. Bo Bo and Cha Cha try to convince their friends that Kevin can be really nice … but it takes a little orangutan to show Kevin how to be a good guest and an even better friend.

Seow Kai Lun at The Straits Times interviewed me about the book for a special Chinese New Year supplement that appeared in the 12 January Sunday edition:


How would you share Chinese New Year (CNY) customs in Singapore with friends from overseas? This is the exact situation that pandas Bo Bo and Cha Cha find themselves in when their red panda friend Kevin pays them a visit from China in Bo Bo and Cha Cha and the New Year Gift, a book which will be released [by Epigram Books] during this festive season.

Author Jason Erik Lundberg says that the book was conceptualised as CNY celebrations are a big part of Singaporean culture. Though the customs are not explicitly explained, ‘they are shown as a natural part of both the book’s setting and plot, and hopefully invite discussion between parents and children who are curious about which traditions are shown,’ he says.

In the interview, I was asked what the “general objective” of the book was; my answer wasn’t used in the article, but I’d like to reproduce it here:

I do not believe in picture books as mere teaching tools. They are not pedagogy; they are literature. Yes, children may learn a lesson by the end of it, but it is not my place as the author to tell them what to think. Above all, they should be entertained, and done so in a manner that could not have been accomplished in any other medium; the combination of written text and colorful illustrations appeals to both sides of the brain, and has been scientifically shown to be the best method of retaining information. But in the end, I hope that I’ve been able to tell a story that children enjoy and want to make a part of their lives.

We’re launching the book at Woods in the Books (my favorite children’s bookstore in Singapore) on the afternoon of Sunday, 9th February, and here’s the flyer for the event:


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A Very Belated Update (With Pictures!)

Today is Chinese New Year in Singapore, and so I thought I’d finally update this blog after being so negligent for the past few months. (Although I do have the excuse that the last few months have been freakishly busy, but still, I was feeling bad about it.) By its nature, this will be quite long, and in chronological order, but at least you’ll have some pictures with which to break it up.

Back at the beginning of November, I was once again a featured author at the Singapore Writers Festival. This year seemed even more packed than previous ones, and I was exhausted by the end of it, but had such a fantastic time. Some of the highlights:

Launching three books I edited for Epigram Books: The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza by Cyril Wong, Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe, and The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One.

(L to R: me, Amanda Lee Koe, Cyril Wong)

(BNSSS contributors, L to R: Stephanie Ye, Wei Fen Lee, Alvin Pang, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, Alfian Sa’at, me. Photo by Ann Ang.)

Being on the “Alternate Realities” panel with Dean Francis Alfar, who is even more handsome and charming in person.

(L to R: me, Rajeev Patke (mod), Dean Francis Alfar. Photo by David Seow.)

(Dean and me goofing around afterward at the signing table. My brother from another mother.)

Hanging out with Terri Windling, one of my literary heroes, and one of the biggest influences on me as an editor.

(L to R: me, Terri Windling, Jasmine Ann Cooray)

(I still spazz a bit when I look at this signature.)

Participating in the SWF Fringe debate, “Fairy Tales Screw Us Up“, even though it took place in the old Parliament chambers at The Arts House, because that wasn’t intimidating at all.

(I was on the opposition team, and led my argument with the epigraph by G.K. Chesterton that appears at the beginning of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.)

(Audience Q&A, L to R: Felicia Low-Jimenez, Adan Jimenez, Josephine Chia, Sjón. I was totally freaking out that Sjón was there, because I’m such a big fan of his work; I got to meet him several days later, after one of his panels, and talk to him just for a bit before he had to rush off.)

(L to R: Harris Jahim (prop), Verena Tay (prop), Charlene Shepherdson (prop), Margaret Supramaniam (opp), Carolyn Camoens (mod), Paolo Chikiamco (opp), me (opp), and William Phuan (director of TAH). It was great to see Paolo in action (he won the “best debater” award), and to spend a bit of time with him as well, something that doesn’t happen often enough.)

Meeting Mohsin Hamid after his lecture “I Don’t Believe in Reality”, and having him sign my copy of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (one of my favorite books from 2013).


There were many other events I attended as well, including the Epigram Books launch of The Tower by Isa Kamari and Confrontation by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed (which I edited, and which was listed as one of the Most Satisfying Reads of 2013 by The Business Times), and I got to hang out quite a lot with Jasmine Cooray (an all-around wonderful person and amazing poet; look for her new collection from Math Paper Press this March). It was such a whirlwind event, and the organizers really outdid themselves.


For Christmas, Anya and I flew 30 hours from Singapore to the US to spend the holiday with my family. It was a wonderful two and half weeks back in my home country, and I felt reconnected to a part of myself that I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Even though I Skype with my parents every weekend, and my sister every few weeks, I hadn’t seen them in person in two years, and I just can’t explain how good that made me feel, to be in their presence once again, and how sad I was when it came time to leave. It was also so great to visit (even if briefly) with my dear friend Heather Dye-Frink and her husband David, and have Anya play with their two girls, who are around the same age.

(Anya is deep into a pink phase, and loved this outfit to pieces.)

(Anya coloring with her Auntie Kristin on my parents’ covered porch.)

(Anya helping out her Papa with a sudoku puzzle.)

(Me, Anya, and Kristin at a playground near my parents’ house. It was cold enough for heavy coats, but not for snow.)

(Anya playing with her Yiayia.)

(The Christmas tree, and the dining room table set for Christmas dinner.)

(Anya playing Santa’s helper, and handing out presents on Christmas morning. She did so well!)

(Me and my little girl, near the end of the trip. Photo by Mike Oniffrey.)


At the beginning of January, Theophilus Kwek and I launched our new Babette’s Feast chapbooks at BooksActually, and Embracing the Strange made its official way out into the world. I’m very proud of this odd little hybrid essay/memoir/metafiction, and I hope that readers get something out of it.


To my absolute and utterly delight, Strange Mammals was favorably reviewed in The Guardian by Eric Brown. “Jason Erik Lundberg’s third collection, Strange Mammals, gathers 25 short stories in which literary naturalism gives way to the surreal, the absurd and the magical. […] Lundberg has the enviable talent of achieving emotionally resonant effects within just a few pages.” This has made my month.


I was one of the judges in the 2013 Quantum Shorts competition organized by the NUS Centre for Quantum Technologies, and sponsored by Scientific American, Tor Books and The winners were recently announced, and I was pleased to see that two of my three choices took home the top prizes in the Open International category. Congrats to everyone!


I have a reprint (“Ikan Berbudi (Wise Fish)”) in the just-released ebook anthology Outpouring: Typhoon Yolanda Relief Anthology, edited by the always fantastic Dean Francis Alfar. Proceeds from sales will go toward the ongoing efforts of the Philippine Red Cross, and I’m very proud to be a part of this book, and to share a table of contents with folks like Jeffrey Ford, Ken Scholes, Nikki Alfar, Kate Osias, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Berrien C. Henderson, and many others.

The book is now available for Kindle and Kobo, and soon on the Flipside, Weightless, Wizard, and iTunes ebook stores. It’s for a very good cause, so pick up your copy today.



Red Dot Irreal and A Field Guide to Surreal Botany are once again available in North America, thanks to the efforts of my spiritual big brother and good friend James Artimus Owen. They’re part of the Coppervale Showcase, which was created “to shine a light on exceptional books created by even more exceptional people, to hopefully increase their readership while giving readers a wonderful experience of discovering books they may otherwise have missed.”

If you have been wanting a copy of one of these books (or both), but didn’t want to pay the shipping from Singapore, you can now order them directly from him; quantities are limited, so I’d recommend getting them sooner rather than later. And while you’re there, do yourself a favor and also pick up an issue of Argosy or a book or art print by James himself; the man is crazy talented and has a really big heart, and deserves your support.


New information on the release of Bo Bo and Cha Cha and the New Year Gift, but I’ll put that in a separate post after this. Whew.

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Interview in I-S Magazine

I was recently interviewed by Clara Lim for the November issue of I-S Magazine, which should be out soon if it isn’t already (my favorite café, which normally stocks the magazine, doesn’t have any copies yet).

They posted some “grabber” lines from the interview on the website, which make me look far more decisive and pithy than I actually am. And while I appreciate it, this extracting also removes the nuances from my actual answers; they feel a bit like contextless non-sequiturs. I don’t know if the interview in the print magazine is also like this, or if my full answers were used, but regardless, I feel that it’s important to have the full thing out there. So here you go.

Tell us about your new book.

I’ve actually got four new books out right now: a hybrid-essay chapbook, Embracing the Strange (Math Paper Press); the first volume of a new anthology series, The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories (Epigram Books); the first issue of a new literary journal, LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction (Math Paper Press); and a new collection of short fiction, Strange Mammals (Infinity Plus Books). The first item is a small offering at 14,000 words, and the second and third were projects on which I was the editor, so I’ll talk a bit more about the fourth.

Strange Mammals is a representative collection of my short fiction published over the past decade, which didn’t already appear in either of my previous two collections, Red Dot Irreal and The Alchemy of Happiness. It’s what is called a “kitchen-sink” collection, in that the stories are not linked by theme or character, and gathers together twenty-five of my short stories published in various literary journals, magazines and anthologies since 2003, including some pieces original to the book.

All of the stories are what could be thought of as literary speculative fiction, which is set in a place that looks an awful lot like our world, but one that is slightly off-kilter or sidewise, so that the fantastic is possible and metaphors can become literalized. Other names for this type of writing include slipstream, irrealism and interstitial fiction; it is very much in the vein of writers like Neil Gaiman, Salman Rushdie, Aimee Bender, Haruki Murakami and Ursula K. Le Guin (although I fully recognize the presumption inherent in putting my work in their company).

Who and what influence you? Or do you write under the influence?

When I was a bit younger, I tried writing under the influence a few times, but upon later examination the prose just didn’t make much sense, and was far less shiny in the sober light of day. It was a lot like dictating a dream, which may make complete sense within the internal dream world, but reads like utter nonsense once fully awake.

I’m naturally influenced by other writers, and make a habit of keeping up my relentless reading schedule even when working on something long-form, like a novel or novella. But I’m also very much influenced by visual art and music; I’m a bit busy now to make regular museum trips, but the Internet is fantastic for finding a wealth of visual stimuli. Often, I write while listening to the music of Nine Inch Nails, and Trent Reznor’s other sonic projects; his songs often put in me into a sort of in-between dream state that facilitates creative thinking.

What are your dreams like? Describe a recent one—it can be bizarre or silly or just incredibly mundane.

I actually don’t remember my dreams as much now as when I was younger. However, I did have a dream recently where I was in my bedroom and my four-year-old daughter came in and slept on the floor at the foot of my bed. In the dream, I got out of bed and tried to pick her up to carry her back into her room, but she was as heavy and immovable as a boulder. She said, “Daddy, I like it here,” and so I shrugged and got back into bed. I’m not sure if it means anything, other than to remind me that she has her own preferences that sometimes differ from mine, and that I need to respect that difference.

What things/hobbies (esoteric and otherwise) are you into?

The typical content consumption: reading, watching movies, listening to music. I’ve recently gotten back into console video games after a gap of about seven years; at the recommendation of some trusted friends, I bought a PS3, and have so far finished L.A. Noire, Sleeping Dogs, Red Dead Redemption, Uncharted 3, LEGO Batman 2, and Rocketbirds. I’ve got Bioshock Infinite and the Mass Effect trilogy on deck, but won’t get to them until after I’ve finished revising my novel. [N.B. I did crack open Bioshock Infinite a couple of weeks ago, and am quite loving it so far.]

How do you spend a typical Friday or Saturday night?

Having a small child, most weekend nights are spent at home, although every so often, I’ll drag her along to a reading or literary event at BooksActually or The Arts House.

What were you like as a kid? Any childhood dreams?

My path in life has been fairly linear: from the time I was about seven years old, I wanted to be a writer, and most of my choices since then have been in support of this goal.

What’s funny to you that other people don’t seem to get?

I like to think of myself as a classy, reasonably sophisticated guy, but fart jokes just crack me the hell up. I saw the South Park movie on opening weekend in 1999, and was sore all over for a week afterward for all the laughing.

What turns you on?

Besides the obvious things, intelligence. I have little patience for stupidity (and even less for purposeful stupidity), so people who display intelligence are almost immediately attractive to me, and I try to surround myself with as many of them as possible. An example of someone I haven’t actually met yet is Junot Díaz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant; he’s so effortlessly smart about any number of topics, and I could just listen to him talk all day on YouTube.

Describe your day job.

I’m the literary fiction editor at Epigram Books, so my mornings are filled with editing manuscripts that we’ll be publishing, communicating with authors about contracts and reviews and book launches, liaising with the in-house designers on interior and cover design, reading submitted manuscripts and deciding whether to acquire them, managing the books under my care on Goodreads and our own website, applying for arts grants, and discussing publicity strategy with our marketing department.

Of course, I don’t do all of these things every day, but it’s sometimes surprising how many things I have to juggle at once. I only work there part-time, and often the most difficult part of my job is actually finding the time to read the manuscripts, both the ones I’ve already acquired and those I’m considering.

In the afternoons, I typically head to a café with my laptop and either work on my own writing, read submissions for LONTAR, or focus on publicity for my book(s) that have just come out or are coming out soon (of which I’ve had to do a lot lately).

What do you do when you want a break?

Sadly, writers never get a break. The times when I’m not directly writing or revising, I’m still constantly thinking about the current work-in-progress, and counting the minutes until I can get back to it.

What annoys you?

People who are inconsiderate. If your head is so far up your ass that you can’t bother to show the slightest shred of human empathy or kindness, then you are utterly wasting your time on this earth.

What makes you sick to the stomach?

Violence against children, whether it is physical, sexual, or emotional. It always bothered me, but now that I have a young daughter, any news of this type reduces me to a blubbering mess. I honestly cannot think of a worse thing a person could do than assault a child, who is by nature defenseless and at the complete mercy of the world around them.

When was the last time you committed a sin or a crime?

I consider myself a law-abiding citizen; however, a few years ago, I did receive over email an MP3 of a song I did not pay for: “Home” by Nine Inch Nails. It was released on international versions of the album With Teeth, and was very difficult to get ahold of; it was also, at that point, the only NIN song I didn’t have in my collection (the rest of which I did buy), and its absence was driving me a bit batty. A friend had a copy and emailed it to me, and it has since become one of my favorite NIN tracks.

Do you have any political or religious persuasion?

I’m a Humanistic Buddhist, in that I treat Buddhism more as a life philosophy than a religion. This follows the Mahayana tradition in the optimistic belief that human beings are at their core good people, and that harmful thoughts or acts are the result of unawareness of the true nature of reality. I don’t necessarily do a lot of chanting of mantras or meditation, but I do try to carry this attitude into every facet of my life.

In terms of politics, I’m very concerned with social justice and civil liberties, so I definitely lean leftward. I’m not affiliated with any specific party, but for a while I was a member of the Green Party of the USA.

What do you live for?

The moments spent playing with or just being in the presence of my daughter. She’s in preschool now, and is a brilliant little person. She’ll say things that are unexpected, which show incredible empathy and understanding for someone so young, and which just blow me away. She also has a wonderful sense of humor, so we laugh a lot together as well.

Wax poetic about a topic of your choice.

So the café in which I do much of my writing is in the CBD, which means that it attracts customers who work at the nearby financial institutions. I typically write with headphones on, but every so often I’ll eavesdrop on their conversations, which are full of corporatespeak and euphemistic buzzwords and all are concerned with either the acquisition or retention of wealth. And I’ve discovered that I’ve developed a nigh-pathological revulsion for this type of interlocution.

This persistent emphasis on money money money at the expense of almost everything else, including happiness, is anathema to my sensibilities. I taught at an independent secondary school in Singapore for four years, and my principal was shocked into silence when I turned down a promotion in favor of fewer working hours. I now make enough money to live on, and a bit more for the occasional nice dinner out or movie or new books or toy for my daughter, and that’s enough for now. To strive for so much more than that just doesn’t make sense to me; I have much more useful and fulfilling ways of spending my time.

Famous last words.

“I hope I left the world better than how I found it.”

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Bo Bo & Cha Cha Goodreads Giveaway Update

Bo Bo and Cha ChaThe book giveaway for A New Home For Bo Bo and Cha Cha ended a few days ago, and Goodreads’ magical random contest-deciding gnomes have chosen the ten lucky people who will receive a free copy of the book:

  • Ashima Gupta (India)
  • John Taggart (UK)
  • Fauza Sari (Indonesia)
  • Melissa Crump (Canada)
  • Zoe Brockway (California)
  • Christina Browne (UK)
  • Laura Scott (Michigan)
  • Monti McCauley (Tennessee)
  • Katelyn Lucio (California)
  • Sara Mansavage (Wisconsin)

Congratulations to all the winners! Epigram Books will be mailing out your copies this week. Once you’ve read the book (it won’t take very long), please consider rating and reviewing it on the Goodreads page!

I was astonished to discover that 924 people had entered the contest, which was far more interest than I ever could have expected, especially for a picture book that’s gotten close to zero publicity so far. Yay for cute pandas and complex emotional journeys! For the other 914 people who weren’t able to get a free copy, and for anyone else reading this, the book is available for order on Amazon, as well as in fine bookstores that sell picture books all over Singapore (Books Kinokuniya, Littered With Books, MPH Bookstores, Popular, Select Books, Times Bookshop, Woods in the Books).

I’ve also just created a Bo Bo and Cha Cha Facebook page, so feel free to “like” it and keep updated on this book and the rest of the series to come. There will be at least three more books forthcoming, which will see the two pandas in various other new experiences (Book 2: May 2013; Book 3: September 2013; Book 4: January 2014).

Book 2 has been written, and Patrick Yee has already turned in preliminary sketches for it; by all accounts, it’ll be even better than Book 1, which makes sense. With A New Home For Bo Bo and Cha Cha, I had to learn how to write a picture book, since I’d never done it before; for Book 2, I was able to use that prior knowledge and experience, and the process is already going a lot smoother. Book 1 was also incredibly hurried, in both the writing and artwork, and since both Patrick and I have a bit more breathing room this time, it’ll result in a better book.

Also, after writing Book 2, it hit me that picture-book writing is also damn fun. It’s challenging in different ways than my adult prose writing, and audience feedback is much more immediate and enthusiastic. I was talking to a friend this weekend, and mentioned that after Book 3 and 4 are done, I’d like to write another picture book, or series of picture books, which is completely different, and explores some new themes. I’ll still be doing my other writing (my very grown-up novel is waiting for me to revise it), but it’s exciting to add children’s books to a regular part of my repertoire.

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Bo Bo & Cha Cha Giveaway on Goodreads

Epigram Books is giving away 10 copies of A New Home For Bo Bo and Cha Cha (free PDF sample) on Goodreads! For those of you who might not have easy access to the book, this is an excellent chance to get your hands on a copy. Open to residents of the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, India, China, Japan, and the ASEAN countries. The giveaway ends on 31 January, so enter to win a copy today!

Two pandas, Bo Bo and Cha Cha, have come to the Mandai Zoo! Bo Bo is excited, but Cha Cha is not. Everything here seems too strange: the other animals, the heat and the food! Cha Cha wants to leave—until a caring sloth shows her what being home really means.

The book is also available in fine bookstores all over Singapore (Books Kinokuniya, Littered With Books, MPH Bookstores, Popular, Select Books, Times Bookshop, Woods in the Books), as well as for order on Amazon.

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Last-Minute Christmas Ideas

I know that things have been fairly quiet here at the blog as of late. Work, both at Epigram Books and in my freelance life, got quite busy, and I also had to deal with some upheavals in my private life. But I’m back just in time to pimp my books for your holiday gift-buying! Yay?

Anyway, the last four months of 2012 have been especially fruitful in terms of my published work, and so I therefore offer a plethora of strange and delightful fiction for that special person in your life (or maybe even you). Let’s start with the most recent and work our way back.

Apologies, but this is a bit long.

Red Dot Irreal1) First off is the expanded second edition of my 2011 collection Red Dot Irreal, re-released as an ebook by Infinity Plus Books, with three new stories: “Big Chief,” “Bachy Soletanche,” and “Occupy: An Exhibition,” the last of which was especially written for this edition. The book is now available at the Kobo, Kindle*, and Kindle UK ebook stores, and DRM-free at Smashwords; it’ll be up soon for the Nook, iBookstore, and other venues, but those take a bit longer to get listed.

Now, I realize that it’s only been a year since the original print edition was published by Math Paper Press, and it may look like a bit of a dick move to release it with new content as an ebook so as to get folks buying the book again in order to read the new pieces. Therefore, to demonstrate my lack of dickishness, anyone who has already bought the print edition of Red Dot Irreal can also get the ebook for free. All you have to do is take a photo of yourself with your copy of the book (but not in a bookstore, since you could always just pick it up off the shelf and then put it back) and post it on Twitter with the hashtag #RDIandMe. Once I see your photo, I’ll DM you the coupon code to download the book (in multiple formats) at Smashwords. Pretty cool, huh?

For those of you who have not yet bought the print edition, please consider parting with three of your hard-earned dollars and buying the ebook.

The Alchemy of Happiness2) Released by Infinity Plus Books simultaneously with Red Dot Irreal is my brand new ebook collection, The Alchemy of Happiness: a triptych of stories rooted in Southeast Asian myth and legend. The book contains two previously published stories, one brand new novelette (“Always a Risk”), a hybrid-essay (“Embracing the Strange”), and an interview conducted by Wei Fen Lee (“Represented Spaces”). It’s just (like, just a couple of hours ago) been posted to Smashwords for sale, and will pop up at the other places soon.

I’m very proud of this new collection; it finally pairs “Reality, Interrupted” and “In Jurong” into the diptych that I always imagined them to be, and continues the strangeness in a tale that doesn’t so much as tie everything together as provide a satisfying resolution to the narrative as a whole.

“But wait a damn minute,” I hear you saying. (I have excellent hearing.**) “‘In Jurong’ is also in Red Dot Irreal! What the hell, man! There you go, being a dick again!”

First of all, I resent the word “again” in this context, but never mind. Yes, it’s true, the story does overlap both collections. So you know what? If you buy the ebook of The Alchemy of Happiness, you’ll find in the back of it the same coupon code I mentioned above so that you can download Red Dot Irreal for free. Happy? Jeez.

So to sum up so far, you can get Red Dot Irreal for free by either tweeting a photo of yourself with the book along with the hashtag #RDIandMe, OR if you buy the ebook of The Alchemy of Happiness. Good? Good. Okay, let’s move on.

A New Home For Bo Bo and Cha Cha3) Epigram Books, my current part-time employer, published my very first children’s picture book last month, called A New Home For Bo Bo and Cha Cha (illustrated by Patrick Yee). It’s the first book in a planned series about the adventures of a pair of pandas in their new home of Singapore (the next three books have been outlined already, and I need to get to writing them soon). I did an interview about the book last week for the Epigram Books blog.

I’ve been told that you can now find the book in all fine Singapore bookstores that carry children’s books (Kinokuniya, Popular, Times, MPH, Select Books, Woods in the Books, and Littered with Books). But for those of you outside of Singapore, you can order it at Amazon*; right now, it’s listed as temporarily out of stock, but the more folks who order, the more copies Amazon will stock, so please don’t feel the need to wait. However you get the book, please do get a copy; the more support it sees, the more likely my publisher (and boss) will be willing to see the rest of the books in the series through.

Fish Eats Lion4) My first major solo editing project, Fish Eats Lion: New Singaporean Speculative Fiction, was released last month by Math Paper Press in time for the Singapore Writers Festival. It was a tremendous experience curating the anthology and presenting it to the world. It’s available in Singapore at BooksActually and Kinokuniya, but you can now order the book online from anywhere in the world! Just head over to the BooksActually Web Store, and if you buy more than three titles (by, say, adding the print edition of Red Dot Irreal and at least one more book, like maybe Coast and/or The Ayam Curtain, to your cart), you get a 20% discount.

I’ve blabbed about the book already here at the blog, so the only other thing I want to add is that if you’re into literary speculative fiction, and are curious about how Singaporean writers experience and convey the strange, then you’re really going to want to get this book. And hey, if nothing else, at over 430 pages, you can stun a burglar with it!

The Curragh of Kildaire5) In October, I released the revised edition of my 2001 collection The Curragh of Kildaire (illustrated by Jamie Bishop), with a brand new 3,000-word afterword written especially for this edition. I realize that this is probably really of interest only to folks who are completists of my work (you know, both of you out there), but it also makes me feel good that not only are these stories getting a second life, but so is Jamie’s artwork. This one is available directly from me.

All profits from the sale of this ebook will be donated to The Jamie Bishop Scholarship Fund in Graphic Arts and The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. In light of the terrible tragic violence a few days ago in Connecticut, this second charity in particular could use all the money it can get.

Complications of the Flesh6) And last, but not least, WAY back in September, I released on Smashwords an ebook single of my story “Complications of the Flesh,” which was originally published in Bull Spec. An American drug-runner in Southeast Asia discovers the surreal consequences of going against his gangland boss.

This is also the first published work that takes place in my fictional island-nation of Tinhau, which is also the setting for my first novel, A Fickle and Restless Weapon (which I should hopefully finish revising in January). Surreal setting plus crime narrative equals awesome. Or at the very least an appreciative noise in the back of the throat.

Happy shopping! Give the gift of strange fiction!

* Careful readers of this blog will know that I don’t have much love for Amazon or for the Kindle. And when I release my own work electronically, I will still refuse to have my works listed there. However, I cannot demand that my publishers also practice this same refusal; that would be unfair to them, and would actually prove me a dick. For Epigram Books, it’s the best way to get our titles outside of Southeast Asia, and Infinity Plus makes a majority of its sales from the Kindle ebook store.

** A blatant lie. My hearing is truly terrible. It’s actually quite amazing how bad it is at this point.

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Filed under Books, Parenthood, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Writing

Pretty Redux

I just received the following comment on my post “Pretty” (which I wrote over a month ago), and felt that it deserved a larger response than one limited to a comment reply.

I think I need to put some perspective here. I’m currently in my mid-twenties and hey, when I was growing up here in SG, that was how adults usually react. It’s part of the culture. You say you teach at HCI, try asking your students or the local personnel whether they’ve faced such a scenario. It’s no big deal, for us, its sort of a method to placate or sooth a child by distracting him/her from what she was crying. To put into context, cajoling, if I may say. Like how my elders tempt me with a few hours of cartoon time if I read a few books when I was younger.

If that librarian was middle aged, I’d understand why she did so even more.

We see this being done in TV series, we see this being done in Kindergarten and yes, our teachers have even said the same thing.
I’m not trying to justify that it is not wrong but I’m going to tell you, it is a HECK lot better than people just striding by and not giving a hoot.

You’re kicking up a mountain over a molehill by being overcritical, dissecting all sorts of reasons to paint the picture gray. Your reaction to this entire matter is only going to enforce many sentiments:

(Off the top of my head)

– Foreign dude not assimilating with the locals
– The librarians are probably going to take this as a lesson to never butt in to anyone’s matter ever again.
-Crying is a natural reaction, OF COURSE, but you my dear friend, are giving off the vibe off the cuff that you are overprotective (That’s not a bad thing at all actually) but you’re mollycoddling.

Oh well. you may not agree with what I have said but again, I beseech you to go chat with locals.

Just ask, how the older generation in SG react to situations like these.

Dear HelloGoodbye, aka A Random Person Who Feels the Urge to Comment Without Leaving any Identifying Information Despite the Fact That WordPress Logs Both Your IP and Email Address,

I find it fascinating that someone such as yourself would take the time to seek out a month-old blog post by a little known writer who lives in the country in which you grew up and condescend to such a person about his reaction to how his daughter was treated by a one particular librarian at one particular library. Do you also approach random strangers on the street and yell at them for what you see as “incorrect behavior”? In your off-the-cuff response, you have made a large number of assumptions and presumptions about me and the situation without bothering to ask if your speculations are even accurate, so I will do you the same courtesy here.

I think I need to put some perspective here.

I presume you mean to say “lend some perspective” as you cannot “put” perspective anywhere, it being an abstract concept rather than a concrete object.

I’m currently in my mid-twenties

Ah, a Singaporean in their mid-twenties. You must be the authority on parenting in Singapore, of course. I’m surprised that you have so much time to comment on my blog when the Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sports must be ringing you at all hours for your solutions to the country’s low birth rate, and the many parenting magazines must be hounding you constantly for articles based on your expertise.

My own presumption, since you mention being neither a parent or even married yourself, is that you are speaking as a single person still living with their parents (as most mid-twenties singles in Singapore do), and therefore have no first-hand knowledge of any of the issues that I bring up in my blog post. This leads to my tendency to ignore what you have to say, but I’m not in the habit of silencing anyone, unlike you (more on this below).

when I was growing up here in SG, that was how adults usually react. It’s part of the culture.

I find this reasoning hard to digest. Just because this was how adults acted in the 1990s doesn’t mean it’s how they act today; case in point being the other librarian I mentioned in my post, the kinder non-judgmental one. And if it’s “part of the culture,” does that make it right?

You say you teach at HCI

No, I say I taught at Hwa Chong, past tense. Do try to read more critically.

try asking your students or the local personnel whether they’ve faced such a scenario

It would have done no good to ask my students about this because the student population of HCI’s high school section is all male, which you should know, having grown up in Singapore. Boys do not have the burden of worrying about “prettiness” or societal reactions to their physical presentation. Were I still working there, I could have asked my female colleagues, but you also presume that none of my female friends have talked to me about this issue, when they indeed have.

It’s no big deal, for us, its sort of a method to placate or sooth a child by distracting him/her from what she was crying. To put into context, cajoling, if I may say. Like how my elders tempt me with a few hours of cartoon time if I read a few books when I was younger.

 Where to begin? Perhaps with some dictionary definitions, since you apparently have no access to a dictionary, or even to a completely free website such as

verb (used with object), pla·cat·ed, pla·cat·ing.
to appease or pacify, especially by concessions or conciliatory gestures: to placate an outraged citizenry.

verb (used with object), verb (used without object), ca·joled, ca·jol·ing.
to persuade by flattery or promises; wheedle; coax.

If your argument were to rest on the persuasiveness of your word usage, it would automatically fail at this point, and we’re still only in the first paragraph! Your example of receiving TV time for reading books would be closer to bribery or negotiation than to either of the words you use here.

In any event, the offending librarian neither placated, cajoled, bribed, nor negotiated with my two-year-old daughter while she was crying. She instead insulted and scolded her. These are very different concepts, and I recommend you become more acquainted with them lest you make such another incredibly embarrassing statement in the future.

If that librarian was middle aged, I’d understand why she did so even more.

Another presumption. This particular librarian was in her late 30s or early 40s, which is far from middle-aged.

We see this being done in TV series, we see this being done in Kindergarten and yes, our teachers have even said the same thing.

You state these three very vague examples without giving any specifics whatsoever. Which TV series? Was it your kindergarten? Does every single kindergarten teacher have the same thoughts and opinions and teaching methods, as if MOE has rolled them off an assembly line? What teachers have said the same thing? In which schools? When?

Your rhetorical technique here is to take a very specific event and make it represent the entirety of Singaporean culture, which, as anyone who is actually an expert in cultural studies knows (not that I claim to be so myself), is an impossible task. Culture is messy, resistant to any kind of homogenization, and as disparate as the number of people within it.

But even so, saying that this behavior were evident in these three examples, does that still make it right?

I’m not trying to justify that it is not wrong

Let’s unpack this very confusing clause. The two instances of “not,” or a double-negative, means both of them can be cancelled out; doing so leaves us with “I’m trying to justify that it is wrong,” which is patently what you are indeed not doing with your argument. Everything you have written up until this point has been, in fact, the exact opposite, to justify that this librarian’s actions are actually “no big deal,” i.e. “right,” i.e. “not wrong.” You have just undermined and contradicted your argument with this attempt at circumgraphy.

but I’m going to tell you, it is a HECK lot better than people just striding by and not giving a hoot.

Why? Why would it possibly be better to insult and scold a child than let that child’s father continue to soothe her and calm her down? As I very clearly mentioned in my post, this librarian saw that I was dealing with the situation; it’s not as if Anya were sitting there sobbing her eyes out all by herself.

If indeed the librarian had just “strode by and not given a hoot,” Anya would have stopped crying in another minute, peace would have returned to the children’s library, and the opinion of said library would not have been tarnished in my eyes. Why in the name of all that is good would this not have been the better alternative?

You’re kicking up a mountain over a molehill by being overcritical, dissecting all sorts of reasons to paint the picture gray.

One of the most tried and true methods of silencing someone is to tell him he is overreacting, or being overcritical, or being overemotional. And as you can see, HelloGoodbye, I will not be fucking silenced on my own blog. If you have any semblance of manners whatsoever, you would not enter someone’s house and then tell them that all of their opinions and emotions are invalid, and yet you have done the monumental discourtesy of displaying that behavior here.

Your reaction to this entire matter is only going to enforce many sentiments: (Off the top of my head)

Why should I honestly give a shit what you think? You, who have hidden behind anonymity in order to pass judgment on me in my own virtual home. But to be fair, let me take on your “sentiments” one at a time.

– Foreign dude not assimilating with the locals

What in anything I have said would lead anyone to believe this? Am I insisting that the librarian behave “non-Singaporean” in some way? My reaction to this incident is based on the fact that in every prior visit to the children’s library, the librarians there have been nothing short of wonderful, including the first librarian that I mentioned in my original post. That was the behavior I was myself under the assumption was “normal,” which would also mean it was the default cultural behavior, which would make the actions of the offending librarian the outlying ones, and therefore the “non-assimilated” ones.

I am married to a Singaporean citizen. I myself am a Permanent Resident. Our daughter was born in Singapore. We live in an HDB flat. I pay taxes to the IRAS every year. I patronize Singaporean businesses and restaurants. I take the MRT and buses to and from work every day. I taught in a Singaporean school for four years. I now work at a Singaporean publishing house. I have examined Singapore in my fiction. I have made a life for myself and my family in Singapore. Remind me again how I’ve not assimilated?

– The librarians are probably going to take this as a lesson to never butt in to anyone’s matter ever again.

Yet another presumption. Do you work for the National Library Board? Are you intimately knowledgeable of their policies? Why would this overgeneralized assumed reaction be the solution to this issue?

Never once in my original post did I call for all librarians to “butt out of my matters.” The librarian could have very nicely “butted in” and asked if there was anything she could do to help, but she chose not to do so and instead made the situation worse.

-Crying is a natural reaction, OF COURSE, but you my dear friend, are giving off the vibe off the cuff that you are overprotective (That’s not a bad thing at all actually) but you’re mollycoddling.

How am I giving off such a vibe? Because I bother to soothe my toddler when she’s upset? That’s not overprotective, that’s called parenting. But again, you wouldn’t know anything about that, I presume. Also this:

mollycoddle mol·ly·cod·dled, mol·ly·cod·dling, mol·ly·cod·dles
To be overprotective and indulgent toward. To pamper.

You are extrapolating behavior on my part based on your own assumptions. How exactly am I being overprotective by telling an overbearing insulting librarian who has increased my daughter’s upset by an order of magnitude, “Okay, that’s enough, you should go, please, thank you.” Had I actually been overprotective, I wouldn’t have let her anywhere near my daughter in the first place; I may not have brought Anya to the library at all for fear of disturbing any of her sensibilities with the simple interaction with other human beings. Again, your word choices are your argument’s greatest weakness.

Oh well. you may not agree with what I have said but again, I beseech you to go chat with locals.

As you can probably tell, if you’ve even bothered to read this far, I do indeed not agree with what you have said, not one bit. You also assume that I have not “chatted with locals,” as if I have locked myself in an ivory tower away from the influence of “ordinary” Singaporeans so as to not contaminate my existence with their words or presence. I have lived in Singapore for five and half years now, lived and worked and traveled among “locals” in all of that time. Your presumption  that I have segregated myself from the people on whom my livelihood, health, and well-being depend only reveals your unfathomable ignorance about me and my life.

Just ask, how the older generation in SG react to situations like these.

It boggles my mind that one would leave this sentence as one’s final statement on the matter because of its utter irrelevance to anything. The librarian was not in “the older generation,” and the way that “the older generation” reacts, as if every Singaporean above a certain age reacts in exactly the same manner, is not my concern with this issue.

But let’s make the wildly implausible speculation that this is the case, that every man and woman over the age of, say, fifty reacts with the same bullying tactics as did the offending librarian in this case; my question, repeated again and again in this response, is “Does that make it right?”

On a final note, HelloGoodbye, I would recommend you read “How to Be a Good Commenter” by John Scalzi before you decide to respond to this post or any other. It may help to prevent you from looking like an ass in the future.

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Filed under Parenthood


This is long, and sprinkled with f-bombs and other strong language. You have been warned.

Geylang East Public Library

I had my daughter Anya to myself pretty much all day yesterday, and we had a lot of fun. We spent several hours at the Geylang East Public Library, which she loves; I needed to return a few books, and I’d promised her a week ago that we’d come back (they’d been closed for the Hari Raya weekend, and I’d stupidly forgotten; duh, public holiday). We’ve been taking her there since she was only a few months old; it’s only a five-minute walk from our housing block. She even has her own library card. The children’s library takes up the entire first floor, and is well-maintained, brightly lit, very colorful, and has lots of seating and a really good selection of books.

The baby and toddler books are all along the rear wall near the big windows, and that was where we parked ourselves for a long time. Anya kept taking Chinese books off the shelf to look through, and narrating stories about them based on the illustrations. She’s gotten quite good about actually putting the books back on the shelf when she’s done with them (rather than just tossing them on the floor), and after a while she asked if we could look for some Thomas the Tank Engine books.

So we moved to a different area of that section and took a look at the shelves there. We didn’t find any Thomas books, but we did discover several Peppa Pig and Wonder Pets books; I also found a small Dr. Seuss board book called The Shape of Me and Other Stuff. We sat on the floor. She looked through them a bit and then asked me to read them to her. At one point, she sat in my lap and snuggled against me, just like she does every night at bedtime. While we were doing so, a kind, smiling librarian approached us, noticed the books we’d picked out, and asked if we wanted any Dora the Explorer books; I thanked her and said no, that Anya didn’t watch that show.

“Really?” she said. “Wow, a couple of years ago, all the kids wanted the Dora books. We couldn’t keep them on the shelves long enough!” She laughed, reminded us that they were giving away balloon animals if we checked out 12 books (which was far more than I wanted to cart home), waved goodbye to Anya, and stepped out of sight.

As I was finishing one of the books, Anya looked up and shouted, excitedly, “There! That one!” I asked what she was looking at, and she jumped out of my lap and ran the short distance to a low bookshelf, where a middle-aged Chinese woman was browsing by herself. Anya started to pick up a book that was lying on the top of the shelf, and the woman reached down quickly and grabbed it. I guess the woman had picked out that book for her own kid or grandkid, but the sudden movement startled Anya, and she ran back over to me with a frightened look on her face, bursting into tears when she got to me.

The woman, who I’m assuming realized that yanking a book out of a two-year-old’s hands kind of made her look like a dick, approached and tried to offer the book to Anya, but Anya only cried harder. It wouldn’t have done any good to try and explain that she’s highly sensitive to stimuli (as am I, part of our introverted natures), and that getting up in her face while she was upset wasn’t really helping, so I just said, “It’s okay, she doesn’t want it anymore, just take it, it’s okay, it’s okay,” while trying to soothe the thoroughly upset toddler clinging to me like a koala. The woman got the idea, apologized, and then went away.

When Anya’s upset, it takes her some time to calm down, like most children. After a minute or so, she sat back on the floor again next to me, and picked up one of the books we’d been reading, still crying, less intensely but still audibly. I stroked her back, handed her a tissue so she could wipe her eyes, and talked to her about the book, hoping to get her mind on something else. Then, as if apparating out of thin air, a different librarian in a tudung appeared, bent down, and in a loud forceful voice said, “‘Ey, where your mommy, ah? Where your mommy?”

Anya, jolted at the sudden utterance, went quiet for a moment, and then the wails started up again. The librarian repeated herself, “Where your mommy?” and I finally said, “Her mommy’s not here. I’m her father.”

Ignoring me, the librarian squatted down on her haunches and said, “You should not cry, you know. It’s not good.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” I said, “she just got scared at something. Don’t say that.”

Still ignoring me, she continued, “Should not cry, make you ugly, you know. You cry and you not pretty anymore.”

Anya found her voice and shouted, “I don’t want pretty!” and exploded into a fresh batch of tears.

Out loud, I said to the librarian, who had stood up in surprise, “Okay, that’s enough, you should go, please, thank you.” And she moved off as Anya latched onto me again.

In my brain, I was shrieking, “OH MY GOD, WHAT THE FUCK, LADY?!!”

I was only stopped from yelling this aloud by three things:

  1. I didn’t want to upset Anya even further by engaging in a shouting match right in her vicinity;
  2. There were lots of other kids in the library, it being a Sunday afternoon, and it wouldn’t have been appropriate to either make a scene or use such strong language; and
  3. Misguided as the librarian’s execution was, she did have good intentions, and didn’t say what she did out of mean-spiritedness (at least, I don’t think so).

I’ve worked as a librarian, as part of my teaching duties at Hwa Chong Institution (the school where I used to teach), and I understand the impulse to keep the noise level down and defuse any overly vocal situations (although the children’s library was already quite noisy because of the amount of kids there yesterday), but this was absolutely not the fucking way to handle this situation.

First of all, it appears that the librarian in the tudung made the assumption that Anya was not my kid, and that the reason she was crying was because the big bearded ang moh had scared her for some reason. Not once did the librarian directly address me, or even ask if I was the crying child’s father. But then, after I told her I was, it seems as if she accepted the fact.

Secondly, trying to get a crying toddler to stop crying by scolding her is probably the stupidest tactic I’ve ever seen. Anya’s tall for her age (taking after her old man in that department too), yet she’s not even three years old. Trying to reason with her in such a forceful manner was the thoroughly wrong approach.

Thirdly, hoping to appeal to Anya’s sense of vanity was equally stupid. She’s two. She doesn’t have a sense of vanity yet, and I’m hoping to prolong that for as long as I can. When I talk to her, I ask her about the activities she does or the books she reads or the things she learns; I don’t talk about appearance ever. If I have to put up her hair, it’s so she’ll feel cooler in Singapore’s equatorial heat, not because it makes her look cute (although it does).

When she shouted, “I don’t want pretty!” (and I can’t tell you how proud of her I was for doing that), it wasn’t any kind of comment on vanity either. When she’s distressed, the Don’t Wants come pouring out: “Don’t want milk!” “Don’t want shirt!” “Don’t want Thomas train!” “Don’t want Daddy!” Even “Don’t want Anya!” In this case, she was trying to communicate that she didn’t want to have anything to do with what the librarian was saying, and that she wanted to the lady to just go the fuck away.

Fourthly, crying is a perfectly natural human reaction to being upset (and it’s a physiological way to relieve the stress of being upset). As we get older, we get better at suppressing this action out of embarrassment of making others feel awkward or uncomfortable, but it’s a natural instinct, and does serve a bodily function. When I was little, my parents bought me the record album Free to Be… You and Me, and my favorite song was “It’s All Right to Cry.”

Kids cry. It happens. The librarian could obviously see that I was calming Anya down, but either it wasn’t happening fast enough for her, or she wanted to somehow swoop in and save the day by getting Anya to stop crying herself. Either way, she fucked up big time, and ended up making everything worse.

Fifthly, has anyone ever told a boy to stop crying because it makes him look ugly? (It immediately made me think of misogynist spy Sterling Archer saying something similar to his mother’s secretary Cheryl on the animated show Archer.) Boys are told not to cry because boys (and men) don’t do that sort of thing; crying is relegated as a feminine action, and so boys who cry must be “pussies” or “pansies”. But then girls and women are told not to cry because crying makes them “ugly”. What the fuck is up with any of this logic?

It’s true that when we cry, our faces screw up, and we become less attractive, but so the fuck what? What is this need to force girls to quash their emotions so that they’ll be “pretty” all the time?

I’m sending a strongly worded letter to the National Library Board about this incident. I don’t expect or even want an apology, but I’m going to recommend sensitivity training for their librarians, especially the ones working in the children’s libraries. This could have been handled so much better than it was.

Thankfully, Anya didn’t take too much longer after Mean Librarian Lady went away to calm down again. We read some more books, and had a potty break (both of us), and wandered around a bit upstairs in the Big People Library before checking out the books we’d found and then walking back home. We played some more when we got back to the flat, watched some DVR’d episodes of Denise Keller‘s Passage to Malaysia, and ate some Koka mushroom-flavored ramen for dinner (the only instant noodles we’ve found that don’t contain MSG, and actually taste better for it). Anya was slightly subdued, but she seemed to have put the incident behind her. I gave her a bath, and then got her ready for bed, hoping that she’d konk out quickly; she fell asleep as I was reading her Dr. Seuss’s The Sleep Book (awesomely appropriate) right around 9 p.m.

I lay in bed for a long time last night, thinking about the incident in the library, wondering if I’d done all I could have as a father, still upset myself that it had happened at all. I worried that Anya still might be troubled by it today, but when she woke up this morning, having slept almost twelve hours (more than she’s slept in some time), she was back to her normally happy chirpy self, giving me a big hug when she came out of her room. None the worse for wear, but oh, my heart.

Anya Reads at Home


Filed under Introversion, Parenthood, Public Libraries, Reading, Singapore

The Loneliest Number

Wow, when you don’t blog for five days, reader numbers plummet! Sorry about that, folks. I’ve been submerged in writing the Tower novel, which has taken a lot of energy away from this blog. As of right now, the word count stands at 83,700 words; I know that this isn’t very interesting for some of you, but it’s an important motivator for me. When people still used typewriters, they could mark their progress through the increasing size of the stack of papers next to them, but in the absence of that paper pile, progress instead is marked by the mounting word count.

Anyway, another reason I haven’t blogged is that Janet, Anya, and Janet’s parents left on Friday morning to visit family in Hong Kong. I didn’t really spend as much time with them as I should have before they left because of the novel-writing (I was feeling a bit reclusive as well), and after they took off on their flight, I was filled with profound sadness and loneliness. I couldn’t go back home all day because I didn’t want to face the empty apartment, so I took the train from the airport all the way to Orchard Road, and spent the afternoon wandering around. I picked up a few books at Kinokuniya (The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora GossThe Hall of the Singing Caryatids by Victor Pelevin, and No Enemies, No Hatred: Selected Essays and Poems by Liu Xiaobo), then saw a matinee of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (I’d seen it once already with my buddy Steven, but wanted to catch it one more time in the theatre; it was even better the second time).

Yesterday, things were even worse, and I didn’t even leave the apartment except to get food. I honestly tried to be productive, but every time I sat down at the laptop I just felt depressed. So I did nothing but watch TV and movies all day, and felt like a complete waste afterward.

This morning, I tried to get some work done at home, but again was too distracted by the absence of my ladies. When they were still here, I felt like I needed solitude to get writing done, but paradoxically, once I had that solitude, I couldn’t work. Turns out I’m not the only one; my pals Matthew Berryman and Paolo Bacigalupi have had similar experiences (the thread starts at the bottom of the image):

So finally, in the afternoon, I threw on some clothes and made myself leave the flat and take the bus down to the nearest café at the Singapore Post Centre. It was extremely crowded, but I managed to find a seat, order a coffee, and get to work. Two and a half hours and 1500 words later, and I was done for the day, and feeling much better about myself. The lonely blues are still there, but getting some writing done today really helped to ameliorate them. Here’s hoping I can stay productive until Janet and Anya get back on Thursday night.

(In terms of blog productivity, I think I need to be a bit more realistic about my goals; instead of trying to blog every day, I’ll pare things back to two or three times a week. That way, if I’m able to do more than that, bonus! Oh, and I’m still working on that Amazon entry; it’s coming up next.)

To top off this post, here’s Aimee Man singing “One (Is the Loneliest Number)”* (my favorite rendition of this song):

* This song was on the soundtrack for the film Magnolia, and was the best thing to come out of that movie, which was a pretentious waste time and made me loathe Tom Cruise more than I already did.


Filed under Parenthood, Writing

Introverted, Not Shy

This is a quick supplement to yesterday’s post on “Sense and Sensation“; today I read through Chapter 11 of Susan Cain’s Quiet (which I wish could be expanded and spun off into a book all its own), some while Anya read and played at the public library this morning, and I was blown away by the descriptions of introverted kids’ behavior (which I’m more and more seeing in Anya), and by the amount of incredibly practical information to make sure these kids grow up with self esteem and the understanding of their parents.

It makes sense that Anya would be introverted — both Janet and I are, and our fathers are as well — and in this light, some of her behavior, even at two years old, certainly fits in with this temperament. She’s reserved around strangers, and gets really upset if either someone gets in her face before she’s ready or there are too many people around for her comfort level. She’s slow to join in activities with other kids in a social setting, like a playground, preferring to hang back on the perimeter and watch the other kids first. It takes her a long time to brave a new experience, like going in the ocean, or riding her push-tricycle. She loves being outside, but not necessarily being really active. She really loves books — looking over the pictures and pointing out animals or colors or shapes, as well as listening to Janet or I read the text — and doing simple puzzles by herself on the floor.

Cain says the following about parents hoping their children will learn to self-regulate fearfulness or wariness:

If you want your child to learn these skills, don’t let her hear you call her “shy”: she’ll believe the label and experience her nervousness as a fixed trait rather than an emotion she can control. She also knows full well that “shy” is a negative word in our society. Above all, do not shame her for her shyness. (p. 247 in the ebook)

After reading this, I realized how many times I’ve labeled Anya as shy, never to her face, but to other people while she was nearby. It was typically after an invitation from another parent for her to play with a group of kids, or to ride a small carousel or other kind of kiddie ride with lots of  lights and noises. I don’t think that shyness has the same stigma in Asia as it does in the US, but if the constant push by the education system in Singapore is to produce outgoing leaders (and where class participatoin is a substantial part of a student’s grade), the Extrovert Ideal that Cain mentions is very much in effect here.

So now that I know, hopefully I’ll catch myself before referring to her as shy again, so that she’ll come to feel as she grows up that her introverted nature is nothing to be ashamed of, and is something that she can instead be proud of.


Filed under Introversion, Parenthood

Anya Is One!



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Anya’s Recovery

Back in January (holy monkey, has it really been so long?), I blogged about Anya’s cleft palette and the upcoming surgery to correct it. The palatoplasty was seven weeks ago, and those of you following me on Twitter got to read about the recovery both in the hospital and then later at home. It was a harrowing experience seeing my baby go for such major surgery, but she did extremely well. It took a long time to get a decent amount of fluids in her afterwards, which meant staying at KK Hospital two days longer than expected, but eventually she was cleared to come home.

The first few weeks were … well, “nightmare” isn’t really the right word, but they were exhausting and frustrating and stressful times. I had to go back to work, and Janet was having trouble coping by herself (Anya was still on a medicine regimen, and her diluted formula never seemed to be enough; Janet has more details at Paint Stains), and I was doing the best I could to help but had student marking pressing down on me, in addition to dozens of other work duties. Thankfully, Janet’s father’s sister flew down from Hong Kong and was able to help us tremendously to get over the worst of it (she’s since gone back, but the next sister in line came to visit and help out too, and she’s still here).

Anya was incredibly clingy for four weeks after the surgery, refusing to be put down in the crib, only falling asleep if someone was carrying her. It took her a long time to recover emotionally from the trauma of the surgery, longer than the physical recuperation. But at some point after Week 4, we were able to start putting her down, and it has gotten progressively better since. Janet was able to put her back on the sleep schedule Anya’d been on before the operation, and getting regular naps and sleeping longer at night did a world of good for her disposition, and all the rest of us as well.

She still has her cranky times, when she’ll cry and cry and refuse to sleep and we have to go through a whole routine (which includes reading Goodnight Moon) to calm her down so she’ll conk out. But for the most part, she’s sleeping much better.

After the surgery, we had to feed her via syringe, squirting the food into her mouth, because she couldn’t take a bottle (for fear of disturbing the stitches) and after one time of liking formula in a MagMag sippy-cup refused to take it from there anymore. But we’ve slowly been weaning her away from the syringes and relying on the MagMags more, and now she loves it. She’s discovered how to create suction in her mouth now (something she couldn’t do without a palette), and she hoovers down formula at an amazing rate.

The biggest development recently, however, is that we’ve started her on solid foods. We had to wait until the palette was pretty much healed, and decided last Thursday that she was ready. It’s astonishing how well she’s taken to it, trying lots of different combinations of both store-bought and homemade mush. Sweet potatoes and butternut squash seem to be the current favorites. She loves sitting in her high chair and eating at the dinner table along with the rest of us.

Anya’s also been trying out lots of new sounds now that she can make them properly. Nothing terribly coherent at the moment, but you can tell she’s trying to have a conversation. Janet’s pretty sure that she said “MUM MUM” last week as Janet was bringing in her food (mum mum is slang here for food, and Janet’s dad refers to it that way every time Anya has a feeding). She could have been referring to Janet (mum), but it’s more likely she was excited about lunch. No real repetitions yet, so we can’t confirm it as a first word/phrase, but it’s still exciting.

But the best thing is her smile, which has returned big time. The first four or five weeks of recovery, she was very serious all the time; still in pain and discomfort, and dealing with this weird new feeling in her mouth, and possibly feeling a bit betrayed that we would put her through it. But she’s smiling regularly again now, and it just melts me every time. I still have a helluva time getting her to laugh, but that’ll come too.

This is the last week of classes for Term 2, and I have some work-related things through Wednesday next week, but after that, for the rest of June, I’m on holiday. And because Anya’s doing so well, we’re all three going to take a trip to South Carolina for a bit of a family reunion. My mom was able to fly to Singapore last December, but my dad and sister have never seen Anya outside of Skype calls, and the rest of my side of the family has only seen pictures. My grandmother and aunt will fly in from Illinois, my sister from NYC, another aunt will drive up from Columbia, and there’s a possibility that my godmother might come up from Atlanta.

We’ll be in the States from 8-22 June, and though there are lots of family things planned, I have a desperate desire to drive up to Raleigh for a day trip. I miss my hometown like you wouldn’t believe, and it would sadden me to no end to be so close and not come back for a bit. A trip to Quail Ridge Books is quite likely, but other than that, I have no specific plans. Raleigh peeps who would like to meet up, let me know in the comments, and when we have a more definite date and time, we can work something out. My parents have agreed to take care of Anya for that day, so it’ll be just me and Janet, but it would be lovely to see some of y’all again.

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The Things You Plan For


Daddy's girl

Anya is now 14 weeks old, or just a smidge over three months. She has gone from an oblivious blob who only eats, sleeps, cries and poops, to a budding consciousness forming connections with the world around her, and discovering how she fits into that world. Who also, still, mostly, eats, sleeps, cries and poops.

It’s amazing to watch her get the hang of things, even at this young age. She’s figured out how to physically grasp things now, and her favorite toys are those with rings she can grip and then shake the hell out of. Her neck muscles are strong enough to hold her head upright now, and one of her favorite things is sitting up. She’s on the cusp of being able to support her own weight on her legs.

She’s officially in the middle of a growth spurt at the moment, and her feeding amount has spiked. When she’s hungry, all our neighbors know it.

I look at her and I see a beautiful, healthy, happy little girl. What’s not as obvious is that she was born with an abnormality that, while treatable, has meant a lot more work than both Janet and I had planned for.


Exhausted, but happy

About 20 seconds after Anya was born, the midwife conducted a series of Apgar tests to assess her general health and determine whether she needed any immediate medical attention. (She didn’t, thankfully.) Anya was then weighed, wrapped up, and placed under a heat lamp like a quarter-pounder-with-cheese combo meal awaiting order pickup. All during this, I was gently touching her fingers and stroking her head, astonished that I was inexplicably now a father. Afterward, she was brought over for Janet to hold.

Sometime in there (I don’t remember exactly when, as the activity after the birth was all a bit of a blur), the midwife ran her pinky finger along the roof of Anya’s mouth, and frowned. The surface was rougher than she expected, so after Janet and I spent a bit of time looking and touching and fawning over our new daughter, the midwife took Anya down the hall to the NICU for cleaning up and observation.

Janet and I got settled in her hospital room; they were out of single rooms that first night, so she had to share with a woman who had noisy visitors and kept the TV on all night long, which, added to the pain of childbirth meant she didn’t get a lot of sleep that night. On top of this was the news we got before I left to go home.

I’d heard that the pediatrician on duty, Dr Lim, wanted to take a look at Anya before letting her out of the NICU. After waiting and waiting for hours, during which time I tried fruitlessly to comfort Janet after the epidural drugs had worn off, and encourage her to eat something for dinner, I got tired of waiting and walked down to the NICU myself. I found Anya’s cot in the corner, and she was sleeping, unclothed but for a diaper, electric leads monitoring her heart rate and other vital functions. She was so tiny and fragile in that moment that I wanted to sob.

I looked up and spied Dr Lim making his way around the room to check on all the babies there. He finally made his way to Anya’s cot and I shook his hand. He relayed to me the widwife’s worries, and then took out a penlight so he could look inside Anya’s mouth. She fussed a bit, but after he examined her, she went straight back to sleep.

“Okay,” he said, softly. “You look like a calm and rational gentleman, so I’ll just tell this to you straight. Your baby has a cleft palate.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that when her head and face were forming, the tissues on the inside of her mouth didn’t close up. This feels like a fairly wide cleft, which basically means that the roof of her mouth, which separates the inside of the mouth from the nasal cavity, is missing.”

I can’t really remember the physiological effects that the news had on me, but I’m pretty sure that at the very least all the blood drained out of my face. I do recall the doctor putting a gentle hand on my arm, most likely in response to my expression.

“Is she going to be okay?”

Dr Lim smiled and said, “Yes, this is actually a very treatable defect. In about six months to a year, she’ll have a surgery to close up the cleft, and once she heals, no one will be able to tell that she ever had a cleft palate in the first place. She’s otherwise a very healthy baby.”

Dr Lim accompanied me back down the hall to Janet’s room, and relayed the news to her. Considering the amount of pain she was in, and the abruptness of the news, she took it well. The doctor added that because of the cleft, Anya wouldn’t be able to create suction, and would therefore be unable to breastfeed. Janet could still express breast milk, but it would all have to be delivered to Anya in bottles. I could tell that Janet was disappointed, but although it would mean more work to use the manual pump, Anya could still drink breast milk, although it seemed that the majority of her food would need to come from formula.

(For the rest of our stay in the hospital, Dr Lim came back a number of times to check on us, and his gentle nature and his office’s proximity to our flat led us to choose him for Anya’s regular pediatrician.)

The next morning after Anya was wheeled in, we were visited by a nurse from the Cleft and Craniofacial Centre (CCRC) at nearby KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, to show us the special bottles and teats (both made by Pigeon) that we would need to use to feed Anya. She demonstrated, and then had both Janet and I practice. The teats have a a notch at the top to help guide where it should be placed; the top side is stiffer to help Anya brace it in her mouth, and the bottom side is thinner and more flexible to allow her tongue to pull the liquid out of the bottle. We also had to make sure that the bottle was at a 45 degree angle so that the liquid could be pulled through a plastic regulator.

It was a lot to take in, in addition to learning how to hold Anya and burp her and watch for spit-ups. Cleft palate babies tend to take in more air whilst feeding, so we needed (and still need) to stop one or two times in the middle of a feeding to burp Anya, so that the air wouldn’t get trapped in her stomach. The spit-ups were even more harrowing, because of the linkages between nasal passages and ear canals; if fluid went up her nose, there was a good chance it could also get into her ears, and block sounds from fully reaching her eardrums. Persistant fluid build-up could lead to ear infections and possibly affect her speech once she starts learning to talk. So much to worry about, and we’d only been parents for one day.

Sometime during the day, we were moved to a single room (thank the Buddha, it was so much quieter and more spacious), which helped improve our moods. All new parents go through a period of anxiety at the beginning; my biggest worries, being a monster klutz, were holding Anya too tightly and dropping her. But we had a whole other level of worries on top of that. That said, the situation was fixable, and I kept reminding myself that there were many parents out there who had to deal with much bigger obstacles, such as premature birth, or glaucoma, or heart murmurs, or Down’s syndrome, or sickle-cell anemia, etc. Anya didn’t even have a cleft lip, which is much more visually obvious. Things could have been much more challenging. Remember, remember, over and over.


The many moods of Anya

When Anya was just over a month old, we headed to KK Hospital to meet the head of the CCRC, Dr Vincent Yeow, and to get his assessment of Anya. He told us that her cleft was quite wide, but that it was by no means the most severe one he had seen, and that it would be quite easy to close up with the surgery. In fact, it’s quite a routine procedure at this point, and she should recover quickly. We wouldn’t find out until later when exactly she’d be having the surgery, although he reiterated that it would be when she was between six months and a year old, and most preferably before she starts (a) learning to talk and (b) eating solid food. Even after the surgery, she’ll need to go in to the CCRC on a periodic basis for speech therapy to ensure that she’s forming the sounds correctly with her new palate.

A few days prior to the CCRC appointment, we’d taken Anya to the Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) doctor at KKH, and she failed to pass the hearing test that was given, despite the fact that after she was born she’d passed in both ears. The ENT doc said that in addition to any possible fluid buildup, cleft palate babies also had a harder time equalizing the pressure in their ears (like when you try to make your ears pop when descending in an airplane). This popping is usually aided by sucking during feeding, but she obviously couldn’t do this.

We made an appointment for January to test her hearing again, but my heart leapt into my throat once again. If her hearing didn’t improve, they’d likely have to surgically implant tubes in her ears to drain the fluid so that she’d be able to hear properly, and they would do it at the same time as the palate surgery so as to minimize the number of times she’d have to go under general anesthesia.

During this time, especially during the first month, Janet and I were struggling in taking care of Anya. Because of the special feeding methods, we couldn’t just pass Anya off to anyone else to take care of in case we needed a rest. People would have to be trained up, and be able to keep a lot of information in their head. Plus, it felt like we were constantly washing and sterilizing bottles, and laundry had to be done every other day, and the plants were dying from neglect, and the flat was getting dirtier and dirtier, and we just didn’t feel like we were getting the help that we needed.

It was an incredibly trying period, but I have to especially thank Janet’s parents for being champions during this time, and since. Janet’s father Raymond was over all the time, buying groceries, or putting together IKEA furniture, or cleaning ceiling fans, or fixing lights; basically doing the things that we didn’t have the time or energy to do. He helped to feed Anya, and occasionally spent the night to aid in the early morning feedings. If this doesn’t tell you what kind of person Raymond is, check out his conversation with Thubten Chonyi after attending a Chenrezing retreat at Sravasti Abbey last year. The man is a bodhissatva on earth, although he’d most likely say that sentiment was nonsense.

Janet’s mum Ivy was over almost every day, bringing lunch and dinner either cooked by one of her sisters or bought at the food stalls downstairs. Even though she wasn’t able to participate in the feedings, she was excellent at holding Anya afterwards and rocking her to sleep.

When my mom visited in December, she was also wonderful with Anya, helping with the feeding, soothing, bottle-washing, and other daily things that needed doing around the flat. She also talked to Anya quite a lot, letting her hear lots of new words in a calm tone of voice. I still greatly appreciate Mom making the very long trip to stay with us for ten days, and I know Anya enjoyed being with her Yiayia.

But we also needed more regular help. We attempted to hire a live-in confinement nanny, who would basically stay with us for the first month and take care of Anya so that Janet could rest and regain her strength, but the woman that the agency sent over only lasted a day, and barely that. She hardly spoke any English, she didn’t write down any instructions, she didn’t pay attention when we were telling her how to feed Anya or wash the bottles or do the laundry, and instead spent much of her time sitting in Anya’s room staring at the wall. A void, a black hole of a person, and she made everything worse. The following morning, I called the agency, vociferously complained and demanded a full refund; thankfully, I got it, and the nanny was out the door by 9:30 a.m. or so.

The biggest problem then, and one that remains, was sleep. Janet and I were both sleep-deprived trying to negotiate the feeding schedule, and this made us irritable and on edge for days on end. When we got married, we didn’t go through the traditional wedding vows (for richer or for poorer, in good times and in bad, etc.), but these were certainly bad times. As before, I kept reminding myself that it would be very rough at the beginning, but as with all things, the situation was impermanent, and it would get better. I would need to weather the crying, and the yelling, and the meltdowns, and the feelings of being unappreciated and unwelcome, and then try to be supportive and loving and steady. It was a real test of our commitment to each other and to this tiny new life that we’d created, but in the end, it was strengthening.


Anya and Daddy

This blog entry has been a long time in coming. I haven’t written it before now because, well, we were still dealing with the news ourselves, let alone telling the world about it. But the cleft palate is certainly nothing to be ashamed of (and we aren’t), and I’ve come to appreciate and depend on the community that reads this blog, so I hope you understand.

When I asked Janet if she was okay with me blogging about Anya’s cleft palate and all the difficulties that had resulted from it, she was a bit worried that we were “outing” Anya early, especially since in a year from now, no one will be able to tell that the roof of her mouth wasn’t always there. But I feel that talking about what we’ve gone through will enable further conversation with other cleft palate parents in sharing experiences and tips and commiseration.

We certainly didn’t plan for this eventuality, but that’s life for you. You accept the situation and you move on.

And I’m thankful every day that this is the only major hurdle that Anya will need to deal with for right now, that her situation is easy to remedy, that we live so close to such a kind pediatrician, that we’re only a short drive away from a government hospital that specializes in Anya’s condition, that Anya has such loving grandparents on both sides of her family. That health care here in Singapore is so affordable, that I work in a well-paid teaching job, and that we can get by comfortably right now on just my salary. That we have a cleaning lady come by once a week to do a good job making the flat free of dirt.

I’m also very thankful that on this past Saturday, Anya’s hearing was tested again at the ENT, and she passed in her left ear. (Yay!) Her right ear was inconclusive, and she may not have passed because of either fluid or wax buildup. Still, hopeful news. We’ll test her again in six weeks, and if she passes in both ears, they won’t have to implant the tubes.

As well, I’m thankful that we’ve discovered the source of her current ultra-crankiness: not enough sleep. After the last visit to the ENT, we stopped in to a bookshop on the bottom floor of the hospital, and Janet found a book on fussy babies which detailed the causes and strategies to deal with fussiness. We’ve had to make sure Anya takes more naps during the day, and does so in a quiet environment (which is tough in urban Singapore). It’s been a big adjustment for her, and the last few days have been nightmarish, but as of late last night her feeding has gotten better, and she seems more rested now.

But mostly I’m thankful for the precious gift of Anya herself, who already makes me laugh at unexpected moments and encourages me through her very existence to be a better father, a better husband, a better human being.

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