Category Archives: LONTAR

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Happy Friday the 13th! Just in case you missed it, or if you don’t regularly follow my Facebook feed, I released a LOT of announcements this week:

1) Fish Eats Lion is now available as an ebook from Infinity Plus Books, at all major ebook stores [full post].

2) My next picture book, Bo Bo and Cha Cha Cook Up a Storm, will be released in October from Epigram Books [photo proof].

3) LONTAR issues #1 and #2 took the top bestselling spots at Weightless Books for May 2014, and are also now up at the Nook and iTunes stores [full post].

4) The contents for LONTAR issue #3 were finalized, and the journal will hereon be published by Epigram Books [full post].

5) My story “Taxi Ride” appears in the Summer 2014 “Starry Island” issue of MANOA Journal, which will be available at Kinokuniya near the end of July, and can be pre-ordered now [press release | order page].

6) Amanda Lee Koe’s fiction collection, Ministry of Moral Panic (which I edited), made the 2014 longlist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award [award site].

7) I will be in New York City in early October, appearing at a WORD Bookstore event in Brooklyn and at the inaugural Singapore Literature Festival at the 92nd Street Y [full post].

A very fortuitous week, the best in some time, career-wise. I am doing my best to be grateful for the influx of good news, rather than expecting a falling anvil from the sky at any moment.

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Filed under Awards, Lit Festivals, LONTAR, Publishing, Singapore, Writing

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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Filed under Books, Buddhism, LONTAR, Nine Inch Nails, Parenthood, Publishing, Singapore, Writing

Announcing the Release of LONTAR #1

LONTAR issue #1 is now available!

lontar1_cover

Issue #1 Contents
01. Etching the Lontar | Jason Erik Lundberg (Editorial)
02. Departures | Kate Osias (Fiction)
03. Love in the Time of Utopia | Zen Cho (Fiction)
04. Philippine Magic: A Course Catalogue | Paolo Chikiamco (Non-Fiction)
05. Jayawarman 9th Remembers the Dragon Archipelago | Chris Mooney-Singh (Poetry)
06. The Immortal Pharmacist | Ang Si Min (Poetry)
07. Stainless Steel Nak | Bryan Thao Worra (Poetry)
08. The Yellow River | Elka Ray Nguyen (Fiction)
09. The Gambler | Paolo Bacigalupi (Fiction Reprint)

At long last, the first issue of LONTAR is now available for sale at BooksActually and online at the BooksActually Web Store, and very soon at all Kinokuniya branches in Singapore. We’ll also be releasing the issue as a DRM-free ebook bundle (PDF/ePub/Mobi) later this month.

My thanks to all the contributors, poetry editor Kristine Ong Muslim, and publisher Kenny Leck for making the issue a reality. And thanks to the amazing art direction of design superteam Sarah and Schooling for making it so incredibly gorgeous. This is really something you’re going to want to hold in your hands and rub all over your face.

I went and picked up my copies today. I was quite excited.

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Sweet Sassy Molassy Do I Need an Assistant

As I was last year, I am once again a writer mentor for the 2013-14 Creative Arts Programme; in an email to my mentees yesterday, I laid out exactly what I’m working on for the next several months:

  • Promotion for the first issue of my literary journal LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, being released any day now by Math Paper Press
  • Promotion for my chapbook Embracing the Strange, coming out in September from Math Paper Press
  • Novel revisions for A Fickle and Restless Weapon, to be finished by end of September and then sent off to literary agents in the US
  • Write a memoir-essay for the Math Paper Press anthology Altogether Elsewhere, and submit by end of September
  • Promotion for my new kitchen-sink collection Strange Mammals, released in ebook and paperback by Infinity Plus Books (UK) in September/October
  • Research and start writing a novella in October, The Diary of a Man Who Disappeared, which I am receiving funding for under the 2013 NAC Creation Grant
  • Promotion for the first volume in my new anthology series Best New Singaporean Short Stories (title tentative), released by Epigram Books in October
  • Write a story for the Math Paper Press anthology Skin, and submit by end of October
  • Publish my 2012 anthology Fish Eats Lion as an ebook through Infinity Plus Books (UK), likely in November
  • Write a story for the Math Paper Press LiterallyMaps project (by invitation only) and submit by mid-November
  • Promotion for my children’s picture book Bo Bo and Cha Cha and the Not-So-Nice Friend, released by Epigram Books in October January 2014

I’m also giving talks and workshops, moderating and sitting on panel discussions, and doing public readings (details on my Publicity page), as well as trying to accomplish my goal of having a work of flash fiction in every single issue of Twenty-Four Flavours.

And this is all on top of my day job as the literary fiction editor at Epigram Books; in addition to BNSSS, I have three more books that I edited coming out in October, all of which I’ll be spending time promoting: The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza by Cyril Wong, Ministry of Moral Panic: Stories by Amanda Lee Koe, and The Wayang at Eight Milestone: Stories & Essays by Gregory Nalpon.

So, yeah. I’m almost to the point where I feel like I need an assistant to keep all this straight. I’m not so privileged as to complain about being so busy with work that I love doing, and being at a point in my life and career where I can actually put my time and energy into all these projects, but it looks like I won’t be able to unclench until somewhere around December.

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Crazy May

This morning, I was talking with my children’s book editor (and colleague) Sheri Tan about how crazy this month is going to be. In terms of both deadlines and releases, it’s probably the busiest month I can remember lately.

Okay, so here are the titles coming out, all of which I’ll need to spend time promoting:

  1. Embracing the Strange: The Transformative Impact of Speculative Fiction (Math Paper Press): a chapbook hybrid-essay thingy. It can also be found digitally as part of The Alchemy of Happiness, but the chapbook promises to be a beautiful physical object that you’ll want to hold in your hands.
  2. Bo Bo and Cha Cha’s Big Day Out (Epigram Books): the second book in the BB&CC picture book series. This time, the pandas get out of the zoo and tour around Singapore, winding up in some unexpected places.
  3. LONTAR issue #1 (Math Paper Press): the first issue of a literary journal devoted to Southeast Asian speculative fiction. The journal has been gestating for a long time, and I’m so excited to see it soon emerge into the world.
  4. Nurse Molly Returns by Katherine Soh (Epigram Books): this was the first book I was assigned as literary fiction editor at Epigram Books, by a debut author. An exposé of Singapore’s healthcare system, a celebration of the nursing profession, and a charming quest to find the right man, this novel should have broad commercial appeal.
  5. Confrontation by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed (Epigram Books): the English translation of an award-winning Malay novel about the turbulent years leading up to Singapore’s merger with Malaya, told through the eyes of a  Malay kampung boy. A refreshing historical perspective, and likely one quite different from the one taught in Singaporean schools.

And here are my deadlines:

  1. Apply for the NAC Creation Grant (15 May): I’ve got everything done except for the sample for the proposed work.
  2. Write the next BB&CC book (20 May): I have a synopsis for this one, but no outline yet.
  3. Write two short stories, one of which has been commissioned (31 May): haven’t started either of these.
  4. Write two pieces of flash fiction (ASAP): also haven’t started, but both will be under 240 words, so they shouldn’t take long.

Not to mention the storytelling sessions, readings, and other speaking engagements to which I’ve committed (and which can be found in the sidebar of this blog).

And of course, I need to get all of these things done in May, because June is going to be devoted to revising my novel and nothing else dammit. I’ve started revisions, but only on the smaller things; the bigger issues have yet to be addressed, and I’ll need the whole month to work on them.

Like I told Sheri, it’s a crazy month, but a good kind of crazy. I’m doing what I love, and actually making a living at it. If I didn’t know better, it would feel like I’m cheating.

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I’ve also just announced the table of contents for the first issue of LONTAR. An exciting day for announcements today!

LONTAR

Since submissions were opened in June, I’ve been gratified at the interest LONTAR has received thus far, and am very happy to announce that the first issue is “in the can”. It will be released in March May 2013 by Math Paper Press; we had hoped to launch it by November 2012, but financial and editorial issues led to the slight delay.

This premiere issue of LONTAR showcases speculative writing from and about the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Laos, and Vietnam. Showcased are a post-apocalyptic Manila from Kate Osias, a utopian Kuala Lumpur from Zen Cho, a haunting military excursion down the Yellow River from Elka Ray Nguyen, and a reprinted novelette about a young Laotian journalist’s place in the sensationalist future of news reporting from award-winner Paolo Bacigalupi; speculative poetry from Chris Mooney-Singh, Ang Si Min, and Bryan Thao Worra; and an unusual…

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CAS: The Teachening

Creative WritingLast week, I once again taught two writing workshops at the Creative Arts Seminar organized on the campus of the National University of Singapore by the Ministry of Education’s Gifted Education Branch, as part of the year-round Creative Arts Programme. The kids who attend are largely already streamed into GEB classes in their schools, although certainly not all; any students in Secondary Year 2 and 3, and Junior College Year 1, who show a strong interest in creative writing can apply to the program (Sec4 and JC2 students who previously attended can come back as councillors). The biggest part of the application is the creative portfolio, which should show evidence of a sense of form, precision with language, truthfulness of feeling, originality of thought and imagination, and sensitivity to the world at large.

So what you get at the CAS are students who really want to be there. As someone who has taught from Sec 1 all the way up to university, it is a welcome and rare experience to have a roomful of students who are actively excited about what you may have to say. They’re engaged and enthusiastic, they ask good questions, they take lots of notes, and they thank you afterward for teaching them. A nice change from what a teacher normally experiences, and I never take such instances for granted.

In addition to teaching the workshops, however, this year I was also invited to give a plenary lecture on a topic of my choice. The time slot was an hour, so I was asked to talk for about 45 minutes, and then allow 15 minutes for Q&A. Lecturing is not usually my forte, but I was still keen to take up the challenge. I knew that I wanted to talk about speculative fiction, and on the transformative effect it can have on the reader, so I decided to write a speech about four key moments in my life where speculative fiction has had a profound impact. I titled it “Embracing the Strange: The Transformative Impact of Speculative Fiction,” and it seemed to go over quite well.

What I hadn’t been told in advance, and this is probably for the best, was that my plenary speech was the very first program item during the week-long seminar; the students spent Monday morning at registration and orientation, then had lunch, then filed into the lecture theatre to listen to me. So I basically opened the entire seminar with my speech. Had I known about this prior to walking in the door, I would have likely been a nervous wreck, but as it was, I didn’t have time to worry about it, so I just got down to work and did my thing. The kids laughed, and went “Aww,” and got very quiet in all the right spots, and then gave generous and flattering applause at the end.

During the Q&A, spurred by my assertions that they should all “embrace their strange” (whatever that might mean), many of the questions were about my impressions of the divide between “high” and “low” culture, and between mainstream and speculative fiction. It was incredibly interesting to see that the students were already thinking about these issues, and also disheartening to hear that authority figures actively dissuaded them from reading genre fiction, labelling such reads as mere “airport books” (with the assumption that they are both disposable and low in literary merit). I reinforced the notion that no one has the right to tell the students what to read for pleasure, and that if they get something (whatever that may be) out of reading Michael Crichton or George RR Martin or even Stephanie Meyer, that they should continue to do so proudly.

My Sec2/3 workshop was entitled “Worldbuilding 101: Strange New Worlds” (lecture notes) and focused mostly on setting and building a fictional world. This replaced last year’s workshop, which was much more introductory and covered a lot of ground but not very deeply; this year, I wanted to just focus on one topic for these kids, and go much more in-depth, with the result that they would have a much stronger foundation for working on their own speculative work.

My JC1 workshop was entitled “Tripping the Heavy Fantastic” (lecture notes), which was a repeat from last year (albeit tweaked slightly), and focused on cross-genre fiction (slipstream/fantastika/magic realism/etc.). I had high hopes for this one, as it went over so phenomenally well last year, and although the group wasn’t quite as active with their participation, and cliques of students tended to chat during the writing exercises, it still went quite well. By the end of the three hours, they each had the beginning to a new slipstream short story, and the ones who shared displayed vivid imaginations and some quite fine writing, even in rough draft. I encouraged them all to submit their work to LONTAR once they felt it was ready for publication.

Apparently, to my delight, both of the workshops filled up extremely quickly. It’s gratifying to see so much interest in what one is offering. However, if any of the students who wanted to get into one of my workshops and was unable to is reading this, I hope you’ll at least take a look at the lecture notes linked above at Scribd; it’s not the same as being there, and listening to me explain it all, but at least it’s something.

I was also quite chuffed to be able to sell so many of my books while I was there: 50 copies of Red Dot Irreal and around 40 copies of A Field Guide to Surreal Botany. I set special discounted prices for the CAP students, and many bought both books together. Here’s hoping that they enjoy what they read in them, and that it spurs a lifelong love for speculative fiction. If anyone was unable to get your copy of either book, the best place to find them in Singapore is BooksActually.

It was a great few days, and I had a lot of fun. I wish I could do events like this much more often than just once or twice a year.

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LONTAR Now Open For Subs

In case you didn’t see the announcement on my Twitter feed or Facebook profile, LONTAR is now open for submissions! Do please read the submission guidelines carefully at the Submittable portal, and be sure to send your very best work.

There is no deadline, as this will be a quarterly journal, and we will look at submissions on a rolling basis. Be sure to give us 90 days to consider your work before querying us.

As mentioned in the previous entry, we’re hoping to launch the inaugural issue in November at the Singapore Writers Festival, so if you want your piece to be considered for our very first issue, make sure to submit it by mid-July; any later than that, and we can’t guarantee inclusion in Issue #1, even if we accept your piece.

Best of luck!

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