Category Archives: Red Dot Irreal

Get Red Dot Irreal For Free!

Red Dot IrrealIn November and December, four new books of mine were released (I know! Four!), but because of some personal issues that arose, I wasn’t able to devote the proper time to promote them. So I’m doing a bit of catch-up now.

As you may know, my 2011 collection Red Dot Irreal, which was originally published in paperback by Math Paper Press, was 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. It’s now available at all the major ebook stores, and DRM-free at Smashwords and The Robot Trading Co.

One thing that got buried in my previous announcement of the ebook edition was the fact that you can get it for free. Free! Here’s what you do:

  1. If you own the book already, either the paperback or the previous ebook edition that I self-published, take a photo of yourself either with your copy of the book or with your e-reader with the book on the screen, 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 at Smashwords. Or;
  2. Buy the ebook of my brand new collection The Alchemy of Happiness, and you’ll find in the back of it the same coupon code to download Red Dot Irreal at Smashwords.

Of course, I’m more than grateful if you still want to buy the Red Dot Irreal ebook, as it will make my publisher happy and willing to keep working with me, but I didn’t want to penalize folks who already owned the book in another form. Plus, I want to drive eyeballs to the new collection, which I’m really quite proud of, and will discuss more in the next post.

You like free stuff don’t you? Well, now you know what to do!

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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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Filed under LONTAR, Red Dot Irreal, Singapore, Teaching, Writing

Grasping for the Wind

Thumb UpEarlier this week, I got a very nice surprise: John Ottinger III reviewed Red Dot Irreal for Grasping for the Wind. It’s an overwhelmingly positive review, an absolute love letter, and it truly made my day. I’ve been publishing for almost ten years now, and although I’ve tried to build up a thick skin against criticism, it’s always extremely flattering and ego-boosting to see someone enjoy your work so much. This is the first actual review of the book I’ve seen; I was actually starting to wonder if it would get reviewed, despite all the copies I sent out.

However, that said, there are a few things that need to be clarified or corrected here.

1) “Lundberg is currently a professor of English”: I wish this were the case, but it’s not. I was an adjunct professor for SMU back in 2007 (which is where I got much of the material for “Dragging the Frame,” although that story is highly fictionalized), but that was only for one semester. After that, I taught at Hwa Chong Institution (High School Section) for four years as an English teacher. Now I’m not even doing that. The only teaching I’m doing at the moment is conducting writing workshops for BooksActually, and mentoring two young prose writers for the Ceriph Mentorship Programme.

2) “All set in the exotic ‘red dot’ nation of Singapore”: I really did try very hard when constructing these stories not to “exoticize” Singapore, or to paint an unrealistically rosy picture of the country. Instead, my aim was to show life as lived by the people here, whether local or expatriate, in a believable yet fantastical milieu. I might be accused of an overt mysticism in “Kopi Luwak,” which takes place on Bali (the only story in the book not set in Singapore), but this was done for a reason as well, to show how the asshole protagonist has exoticized that tiny island in order to take what he wants from it.

3) “Married to a native of that island nation and father of a biracial child”: This quote was brought to my attention by Lavie Tidhar on Twitter, and while it’s technically true, the wording is a bit problematic. “Native” has colonial Othering connotations, and was often used by the British (and others) to justify the theft and destruction of the property, land, resources, and people they wanted to “civilize.” “Local” is a slightly more neutral word, and would have been more accurate, although Janet is also quite international; she’s traveled all over the world, and went to university for three years (iirc) in the USA. Replacing “native of that island nation” with “Singaporean artist and writer” would have been better, but eliding this fact altogether probably would have been best, as it’s a bit distracting and not really relevant to the rest of the review.

4) “A tale of pirates (known as bogeymen in the local parlance)”: Actually, that’s not quite right. The etymology of the word “bogeyman” comes directly from the Bugis, a seafaring Indonesian ethnic group who were largely fishermen and farmers for centuries. Some of them were also pirates, and they were known to be particularly fearsome throughout the seas of Southeast Asia. Not all the Bugis were pirates, and not all SEA pirates were Bugis. But it was because they were so scary and efficient that they were transformed into mythological monsters by the British sailors who survived encounters with them. Oh, and “Bogeymen” would technically be clockpunk rather than steampunk; in the mid-1800s, steam-powered devices were not yet evident in Southeast Asia, and they’re not in the story.

5) “Oriental history”: Again, some problematic language. “Orientalism” was mostly used to Other the cultures of the Middle East, but this extended to the “Far East” as well, and was almost always used as a term of derogatory contrast to Western culture; the brilliant Edward Said wrote a whole book on this subject. See “native” above.

6) “‘Lion City Daikaiju’ is a flash fiction that is a metaphor for Singapore’s search for a place in the global culture”: Sort of. It’s more of a diatribe against shallow consumerism, materialism, advertising, pandering to tourists, brainless entertainment, and the destruction of history in the relentless pursuit of progress. But mostly I just wanted to write Godzilla story set in Singapore.

Anyway, John could not have known most of this stuff, and I still greatly appreciate him reviewing the book. These are small details, but I hope I’ve clarified them better here.

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Read an E-book Week!

2012chillThis coming week, 4-10 March 2012, is Read an E-book Week! The purpose of this event is to “educate and inform the public about the pleasures and advantages of reading electronically. Authors, publishers, vendors, the media and readers world-wide are welcome to join in the effort.” One cool way to celebrate is to check out the almost 40,000 public domain e-books listed at Project Gutenberg.

In addition, the e-book distributor Smashwords is running a sitewide promotion:

At one minute past midnight Pacific time on March 4, a special Read an Ebook Week promotion catalog will appear on the Smashwords home page. Readers can browse the catalog and search by coupon code levels and categories. At the stroke of midnight Pacific time on March 10, the catalog disappears.

This sounds like a fantastic idea, and a great way to spread awareness of the e-books obtainable on Smashwords.

So for next week only, Red Dot Irreal will be available (still completely DRM-free, still in multiple formats) ABSOLUTELY FREE OF CHARGE.

In order to take advantage of this special offer, you’ll need to go through the regular process to buy the book, then enter the coupon code RE100 to receive the 100% discount. It’s that easy!

Once you’ve downloaded and read the book, here are some things that you can do to help with the book’s visibility (reposted and revised from an earlier entry):

1. Consider rating the book at Goodreads, and posting a short review. Goodreads is probably the most influential book-related social network right now, and if a book page shows a good number of reader reactions, it can help to gauge interest and possibly nudge a passer-by into trying the book for herself.

2. You can also cross-post your review to Smashwords, the book’s Facebook page, and your own blog (if you maintain one). If you email me the link to your review, I’ll give a thankful signal boost on Facebook and Twitter, and also here at the blog.

3. If you decide you want a physical copy, you can buy it from one of the following places — in Singapore: BooksActually, Kinokuniya, Grapheme Zine Lab; in Europe: Studio Circle Six; and Worldwide in Print-on-Demand: Lulu.com (hand to heart, the POD paperback edition looks fantastic, almost indistinguishable from the original offset-printed book). You can also email me if you would like to buy a signed edition directly from the author.

4. If you really dug the book and want to go that extra mile to help others also find it, you can recommend the book personally to your friends, loved ones, book club, etc. Nothing piques a person’s interest in a book like an enthusiastic devotee!

Any and all pimpage efforts will be greatly appreciated. The goal here is to enable as many people as possible to enjoy the book.

Have a happy Read an E-book Week!

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Filed under Books, Red Dot Irreal, Reviewing

Why I Won’t Do Business With Amazon

Amazon Is Nigh a MonopolyIf you’ve poked around this site, you’ll find ordering information for my collection RED DOT IRREAL on the main page. Some folks have asked why the e-version is available at so many outlets (Smashwords, Studio Circle Six, Weightless Books, iBookstore, Nook Store, Goodreads, Kobo, Diesel), but not at the Amazon Kindle e-book store (even though the MOBI file is available directly from Smashwords). Amazon* is the biggest seller of e-books on the planet, so it only makes sense to have my book listed there, right? The big outlying success stories with e-books (Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath, Michael Prescott, etc.) were only made possible because of exposure at the Kindle Store, and because my book is a story collection (a format that is generally not popular with book buyers), it could use all the help it could in terms of exposure, right? Am I just a doubleplusmoron for deciding against selling my book there?

The answer is no. Well, at least, I hope not (although if I was a doubleplusmoron, I wouldn’t have the cognitive capacity to recognize that I was in the first place). It’s true that Amazon is the biggest game in town, and I understand this quite well. When I still lived in the States, I frequently ordered from them in addition to supporting my local indie bookstores; it’s hard to say no to their aggressively low prices and prompt deliveries. However, I now refuse to do business with them anymore, as a consumer, an author, or a publisher. Here’s why.

1. Amazon is the Wal-Mart of the Internet.

Wal-Mart gained their reputation by having the lowest prices on the products they carry, lower than anywhere else. They accomplished this by pressuring their suppliers to give them increasingly deep discounts so that they could keep prices low. An effect of this is that the manufacturers of those products, very often found in China and India, were pressured by the suppliers to also reduce costs. This in turn has led to many unfair labor practices in those countries, such as inconsistent pay periods, mandatory overtime (with no extra pay), lax safety conditions, lack of worker’s compensation, militant anti-unionism, and zero job security. Another effect is seen at the consumer level, where Wal-Mart has pushed many independent businesses into bankruptcy because they just couldn’t discount as deeply.

Wal-Mart has an online e-commerce store, but the vast majority of their sales still come from their plethora of gigantic superstores that blanket the USA. They depend on the physical presence of these storefronts to drive their sales. Amazon has no need for actual physical shops, and they never have. All of their sales come from online. Amazon is also well-known for deep-discounting the many items on their site, and their tactics are very similar to Wal-Mart’s in being able to force those prices down. Yet in terms of e-commerce, they’ve actually out-Wal-Marted Wal-Mart.

As an increasingly ethical consumer, I want to support companies with fair business practices, who treat the people who work both for them and with them in a moral and ethical way. Amazon has repeatedly shown that their bottom line is the bottom line, and while customers get to reap these low prices and become brand-loyal to Amazon, every one else up the supply chain is hurting.

2. Amazon Treats Its Own Employees Like Shit

Taking a page from its suppliers in China, Amazon treats its own factory workers as dispensable and beneath the concern of basic human rights. They have to store all the stuff that they import in giant warehouses with either little or no ventilation, and where the temperatures rise to intolerable levels inside; during summer heat waves, workers pass out so routinely that “Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat workers.” Is this really the way to treat the people who physically store and ship the items you sell?

Amazon pushes these workers beyond their limits, then reprimands them for their “low” levels of productivity and threatenes to fire them if they don’t do better. “The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse.” If a worker is genuinely lazy and not pulling their weight, that’s one thing, but to systematically treat all its employees as discardable interchangeable exploitable robots is quite another. It’s horrible enough that theses practice are happening in China, but it’s abominable that they’re also taking place in the USA in the 21st Century.

3. Amazon Hates Brick-and-Mortar Shops

This past Christmas, Amazon launched a “Price Check” app on both the iPhone and Android stores, and encouraged people to walk into their neighborhood shops, scan the prices of the items they wanted, then walk out of the store and order them on Amazon instead. This deal didn’t apply to bookstores, but almost any other independent or chain store could be targeted. This was a despicable way for Amazon to get free labor in determining prices from their competitors, and further encouraged the idea that “cheaper is better,” no matter the impact to the businesses being infiltrated by this behavior.

As part of its “Wal-Mart Attitude,” Amazon wants to be all things to all people, the virtual analog to Buy N Large. It’s true that companies will send employees to visit their competitors in order to keep updated on selection and pricing; this is a legal practice and it encourages openness in competition. However, sending your customers to get this information, with the compensation being a tiny discount on an Amazon order, leaves a terrible taste in the mouth. I get the sense that if Amazon obliterated all physical storefronts everywhere, its stockholders would not be able to stop orgasming long enough to spend their massive stacks of money.

Note that this tactic was aimed both at chain stores and at independent shops, but the indies would have been hit particularly hard by this. Indie stores provide a sense of neighborhood and local import that chains do not, and the money earned by these shops tends to stay within the community; taxes from these local stores go toward improving infrastructure, maintaining public parks, keeping public libraries open, etc. Chain stores and e-commerce sites like Amazon owe nothing to any community, and the profits earned go directly into the stockholders’ pockets. Which leads to my next point.

4. Amazon Refuses to Collect Sales Taxes

Amazon only grudgingly collects sales tax in five US states, and has fought vigorously to avoid collecting taxes in the others, even “where Amazon has a clear physical presence via distribution centers and wholly owned subsidiaries.” This gives it an unfair advantage over other brick-and-mortar and online stores, and denies that tax money to the state governments. Their logic seems to be that because they do not have a physical storefront presence, the laws that apply to physical businesses do not apply to them, especially because there is no federal sales tax. Each state must negotiate with Amazon on its own, even though Amazon may own a warehouse or distribution center in that state, or the trucks delivering Amazon’s products must drive on roads that run through that state, or their employees must rely on public services such as police or firefighters to remain safe in that state, or the customers who buy Amazon’s products pay for them from that state.

Because Amazon refuses to collect these taxes, they can keep their prices low, and continue to cement their market superiority. And when state governments do indeed pursue sales taxes from Amazon, such as in California, Amazon “threatened to cut ties with more than 10,000 California-based websites that get revenue through the Internet giant’s affiliate program if California passes a law to tax online sales.” In Texas, Amazon closed “its suburban Dallas distribution center amid a dispute with the state over millions in state sales taxes.” Instead of working with these state governments, Amazon is content to bully them into a free ride, and then cut and run if they don’t get their way.

5. Amazon Wants To Be the Only E-book Retailer Anywhere

Ever since the Kindle was launched in 2007, Amazon has hawkishly pushed e-books as the next stage in consumer literature. The argument for e-books has been around since I was in high school (when my dad first showed me an article about e-ink technology), but it wasn’t until the last couple of years when e-readers, and Kindles in particular, became affordable to much larger groups of people. Amazon now sells its Kindle and Kindle Fire at a loss, because it knows it can make back its money by providing inexpensive content wrapped in DRM through its devices. Amazon also does this to drive out the competition, essentially forming a monopoly, at which time they are free to raise prices again because no one will have anywhere else to go.

As you might imagine, book publishers aren’t too happy about this. Already, for years they’ve had to sell their books at massive discounts to be listed on Amazon’s site at all, and then, they’re being told that Amazon will be the only retailer to sell their e-books. Thankfully, EPUB became the e-book format standard rather than Amazon’s proprietary MOBI format, and pretty much any e-reader out there now can read it, including the Barnes & Noble NOOK, which seems to be the only major competition for the Kindle right now**.

Two years ago, Apple developed the iBookstore for the iPad and iPhone, and the big publishing conglomerates (often called “The Big Six”) leapt at the chance to make their titles available on such widespread and loved devices. Buy this action, Apple could take enough business away from Amazon that it would definitely impact their bottom line. So, in retaliation for this move, Amazon pulled most or all of the listed books from publisher Macmillan (including all paper editions, not just electronic) from their online store. The listings remained on the site, but the “Buy” buttons were removed.

This hit quite close to home. I’m not published by Macmillan, but many of my writer friends are (at publishers like FSG, Henry Holt, Picador, St. Martin’s Press, and Tor). They never asked to get caught up in this fight, but by delisting these books, Amazon denied them money from royalties that would have been made had the “Buy” buttons remained up during this time. Amazon purposefully took money away from my friends, and this pissed me off. Thankfully, Amazon backed off, and relisted the books, but there was nothing to stop them from doing so again.

And again they have. Just last week, Amazon pulled more than 4,000 books from its site in order to pressure the Independent Publishers Group, one of the USA’s largest book distributors, into renegotiating their contractual terms to move things more toward Amazon’s favor. The books by the publishers distributed by IPG are now delisted from the Kindle e-book store, and the situation remains unresolved at this point. In response, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) are now redirecting all Amazon.com links on their site, and replacing them with links to IndieBound, Powells, and B&N; I’ve had my criticisms of SFWA over the years, but I’ve been more and more impressed with them during John Scalzi’s recent tenure as President, and this action made me respect them so much that I finally, just yesterday, applied for active membership.

6. Amazon is All About Locking You Into Your Content

As I mentioned above, the default file format for Kindle e-books is MOBI, and these are designed to be read either on a Kindle device or in a Kindle app on the iPad (for example). If you buy a book in the Kindle store, you cannot read that book on a NOOK or a Samsung Galaxy Tab or a Sony Reader. That book has been restricted with Digital Rights Management (DRM), one of the most euphemistically insidious concepts to come out of the late 20th. DRM locks you into one device or one format, and it is non-transferable. Cory Doctorow, speaking at a writers festival in Melbourne, put it this way: “It’s as if every time you bought a book at Borders, you were locked into only shelving it in an IKEA bookcase. If you wanted to sell your books through the local independent bookseller down the road, your readers would have to throw away all the books they had bought and buy new copies to shelve on their new bookcases.”

DRM was ostensibly created to thwart piracy of electronic movies, books, and music, but any DRM can be (and has been) broken by a barely interested hacker with a free weekend, which means DRM has proven to be utterly useless in this regard. What it does instead is lock ordinary people into one device or format, and then punish them if they go outside of it. As Charles Stross mentions in “Cutting Their Own Throats“: “If you buy a book that you can only read on the Kindle, you’re naturally going to be reluctant to move to other ebook platforms that can’t read those locked Kindle ebooks — and even more reluctant to buy ebooks from rival stores that use incompatible DRM.”

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I got a NOOK Simple Touch from my parents for Christmas, and I’ve really enjoyed it in the two months I’ve used it thus far; however, I’m always aware that I don’t really own the books that I’ve bought for it, I’m only licensing them. As opposed to paper books that I can display on my bookshelves, or loan to a friend, or sell to a secondhand bookshop, the books I’ve bought for the NOOK exist only on my device and in my NOOK Library; I can’t actually access these files so as to, say, transfer them to my MacBook and read them with Adobe Digital Editions, so my philosophy is to only buy books through the NOOK e-book store that I wouldn’t have normally paid for, or may have only checked out from the library. That way, if I “lose” them for whatever reason I won’t be too terribly put out. For the e-books for which I would like to keep the files, I head to Weightless Books or Smashwords.

Now, as I say, DRM is by no means exclusive to Amazon, but because they are so singularly proprietary about their formats and devices, they are perhaps one of the most perfidious perpetrators of the concept. Amazon’s ideal situation is this: an author publishes her work through Amazon (either through the Kindle Direct Publishing program or through their new publishing arm), Amazon distributes the work through their website alone, and then readers read the work on their Kindles, with Amazon becoming a one-stop shop for everything related to the bookselling process.

This doesn’t even get into the fact that Amazon can reach into any Kindle anywhere and remotely delete its content, nor does it address the stranglehold Amazon wants to have on its book data so it can dictate that third-party sites like Goodreads can only provide links to the Amazon store and no others (to which Goodreads said buh-bye to Amazon), nor does it bring up the many many companies that utilize Amazon Web Services (like Wikileaks before Cablegate) and Amazon Payments (like Kickstarter) who are beholden in their content and payment methods to Amazon’s increasingly restrictive and bureaucratically complicated terms of service.

One company should not have so much commercial power, because, to paraphrase Lord Acton (and not Shakespeare, to whom this is usually attributed), it has been absolutely corrupted by it. Amazon is the biggest bully on the block, and is able to dictate its unfair terms to the world, and so I will no longer have anything to do with them if I can possibly help it. As stated before, I’m not interested in punishing Kindle-users, and so if you would like to buy RED DOT IRREAL to read on the Kindle, you can find it in that format and in many others, DRM-free, at Smashwords.

POSTSCRIPT: An Anti-Amazon Addendum


* You may notice that I personify Amazon quite a bit in this blog post, although I am firmly against the belief that corporations have personhood. So when I refer to “Amazon” here, I’m typically talking about CEO Jeff Bezos and the company’s board of directors.

** In terms of devices, it’s hard to say that the Apple iPad is a competitor for the Kindle, as it was always intended to be a tablet first and an e-reader later, although with the recent release of the Kindle Fire and NOOK Tablet, these distinctions are slowly evaporating.

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Filed under Books, Publishing, Red Dot Irreal, Writing

My Brief Foray Into KL

Yesterday was largely spent in Kuala Lumpur, or in transit. I flew up via SilkAir, caught up on my New Yorker subscription on the Nook, arrived around 11:15, then took the KLIA Ekspres train from the airport to KL Sentral, which seems to be the train and LRT hub for the city. While on the train, I sent SMS messages to Sharon Bakar, who had invited me up for Readings@Seksan’s (which up until this time I’ve been misspelling as Seskan’s, sorry!), but discovered later that my messages didn’t go through. I also SMSed my friend Wei Fen, herself a writer and editor (Ceriph, Coast), who’d decided to get out of Singapore for the day, and bus up to KL with a couple of friends, and we made plans to meet at Bangsar Village for, what I was told, was truly awesome ice cream.

Teh Tarik ice creamFrom KL Sentral I grabbed a teksi, paying a set amount in the terminal and receiving a coupon to give to the driver, and made my way to Bangsar Village and the Marmalade Café. Wei Fen was there with three of her friends, two who’d come up from Singapore with her (Steven and Alex) and one based in KL whom she hadn’t seen in years (Abbi). At first, I felt a bit awkward intruding into such a close-knit group, but they immediately made me feel at ease. After hanging out there for a while, and trying the Teh Tarik ice cream (I was sadly denied the famed Salted Gula Melaka flavor, but apparently there was a run on it in KL yesterday because it was supposedly not to be found anywhere in the city), I finally realized that the number I was using for Sharon might not be the proper one (there was a zero in brackets which was messing things up), and after fixing it, I finally got ahold of her. She’d been waiting for me for an over an hour, panicked that I’d gotten lost, thinking that I was wandering the city by myself; I felt so terrible!

Anyway, she met us at Marmalade, chatted with us for a bit, then dashed off to get Seksan’s ready for the reading. After getting some lunch (eggs benedict for me, yum!), we walked to the venue, getting lost a few times along the way but finally making it there with about ten minutes to spare. Seksan’s is a landscape architect’s firm, and we were using the first floor gallery space for the reading. It was quite a lovely space, open on both sides, breezy, with natural light filtered in from a gap in the roof tiles.

Seksan

There were five other writers there to read from their work, and I ended up being the anchor reader. It was a varied group of writing:  short fiction, memoir, economic thriller (I think), and even erotica (although this was cut short of the sexy bits because of the kids in the audience). I read two short pieces: “Lion City Daikaiju” (from Red Dot Irreal) and “Bachy Soletanche” (forthcoming from Scheherezade’s Bequest in May, which I read off my Nook, something I think I’ll definitely be doing again). Both seemed to go over pretty well, which was a relief; it was the first time I’d performed “Bachy Soletanche” (which was written to be performed aloud), and I was worried it was just too weird to be appreciated (it was originally commissioned for a Futurism-inspired anthology that later folded), but I got laughs in the right places, and polite applause at the end, so it couldn’t have been too bad.

Reading in KL, photo by Lee Wei FenI’d lugged up a number of copies of Red Dot Irreal and A Field Guide to Surreal Botany for sale, and (wrongly) assumed that someone was manning the book table, and either because I wasn’t there in person after the readings were done in order to facilitate the transactions (I was chatting to folks about ten feet away), or because the audience just wasn’t in a buying mood, I didn’t sell a single copy of either book at the event. This was quite disappointing, and it meant I was going to have to hump them all back home again. I was a bit grumpy about this, but I have no one to blame but myself.

Afterward, I tagged along with Wei Fen, Steven, and Alex again back to Bangsar Village, and Sharon was incredibly kind to catch up with us and buy a copy of Surreal Botany from me (so I did sell one after all). After hanging out a bit longer and tasting a few more Malaysian delicacies, I bade goodbye to Wei Fen, Steven, and Alex, and took a teksi back to KL Sentral, so I could wait for the KLIA Ekspres back to the airport.

As I sat there on the train, looking at my bag full of heavy books with my name on them, I had an epiphany. I stood up, walked to one end of the train, and made my way to the other, asking each group of passengers, “Would you like a free book?” I smiled, and acted as polite as possible, but I still must have looked slightly demented since a number of people just flat-out refused; some, understandably, as I discovered they didn’t speak or read English very well, but others were almost hostile. Still, enough people were open to it that I handed out eight copies of each book, and I did get some nice thanks from a pair of older Indian gentlemen.

My bag lighter, I breezed through the airport (having gotten my return ticket in the morning), took the skytrain to my terminal, grabbed some dinner, found my gate with ten minutes to spare, then flew home (reading a number of pieces from Unstuck #1 on the Nook), all without incident. When I arrived home, Anya was already asleep, and I was barely into my pajamas before I crashed as well.

It was a long and tiring day, but also exciting and very fun. Sharon was wonderful to invite me up in the first place, and she was a generous and warm-hearted  host; if any of you ever are lucky enough to have the chance to work with her, do it. I got to speak with Eeleen Lee, whom I’ve known on Twitter and Facebook, and Menon Dinesh, who I met for the first time and who shared very similar views to mine about books both paper and e-. And I was extremely touched that Wei Fen generously took the time during her brief holiday to support me and attend the reading, and to introduce me to Steven and Alex, who are both really cool guys, and with whom I hope to interact again now that we’re all back in Singapore. Bummed as I was about the lack of sales, the real point of spending the afternoon and evening in KL was the coming together of like-minded people to celebrate writing and literature, and in that case, the day was a roaring success.

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Brief Emergence From Radio Silence

Apologies for the lack of posting, folks. Dealing with some personal stuff I’m not at liberty to discuss right now. Hopefully, I’ll be back to normal (for relative values of “normal”) soon.

I’ll be up to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow for the day to participate at Readings@Seskan’s and get together with some friends. I’m bringing copies of both Red Dot Irreal and A Field Guide to Surreal Botany for sale and signing at the event, so if you’re in the Bangsar area of Kuala Lumpur around 3:30 pm, do please stop in and say hi.

On March 1, I’ll be doing a tripartite reading at BooksActually in Singapore with Wena Poon and Stephanie Ye. More on this when I know it.

I just this morning accepted two mentees for the Ceriph Mentorship Programme. I’ll be meeting with them once a month to work on their prose writing, discuss publishing, and so forth.

But coolest of all, I was recently approved for Professional Membership in PEN. I’ve been an associate member of PEN for some years now, and have been proud to belong to an organization that does so much for freedom of expression and human rights around the world. I’m honored to now be counted, thanks to the publication of Red Dot Irreal, as a full-fledged member.

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Reading in Kuala Lumpur

February Reading at Seskan's

Here’s the announcement poster for Readings@Seskan’s in twelve days, in which I’ll be participating. I’m quite tickled that Sharon Bakar gave me top billing on the poster, as I’m about 99% sure that my name will not be one that attracts Malaysians to the event. I’m just happy that I’m being given the chance to read with five other fine writers.

If anyone happens to be in Kuala Lumpur on the 25th, please come on down!

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“Indie”

It’s late, and I’m tired, and somehow I blew all my writing motivation for the day after getting 1400 words written in the novel this afternoon (which, all things being said, I don’t mind at all, since novel progress is terribly important), but I’ll throw some word juice at y’all for a bit.

It’s this word “indie.”

You see, it used to have cachet. If you were an indie musician, it meant you were making and distributing your music yourself, either because you hadn’t yet been signed to a label, or because you were giving all labels the finger. If you were an indie publisher, it meant you had looked at the major NYC-based conglomerates and found something lacking there, and decided to fill that niche with your own good taste by curating your own set of books and authors. If you were an indie bookseller, it meant you were either tired of the big box bookstores (many of which aren’t around now) with impersonal service and price slashing, or you wanted to sell books where they weren’t previously being sold, both reasons pointing to a love of community.

If you were an indie author, it typically meant that you purposefully eschewed the major NYC-based conglomerates and either went through an indie publisher, or you got in there, did the hard job, and published your own work. If you were smart enough to avoid the vanity presses, it also usually meant having boxes of your own books stuffed in your closet, to be hauled out at book fairs or meet-the-author sessions, or what have you, and you were doubly motivated to sell those suckers, firstly because you were proud of your writing, and secondly because they were expensive to produce and you wanted to recoup some of your costs.

And as you sat there looking at the boxes and boxes of printed paper with stories you wrote down from your own head inscribed on them in ink or toner, you might have wondered why they weren’t selling so well. Maybe it was because you skimped on the cover art and snagged a public domain piece that didn’t really fit. Maybe it was because you couldn’t be bothered to find someone to edit the text, because who really cares about typos anyway? Maybe it was throwing together the internal design because you figured people just want the text and it doesn’t matter how it’s presented. But then, as you sat there, you maybe started thinking that those things are important, that maybe you should improve the quality of your books next time. Maybe then, the next book might sell better, although it may not.

But now, “indie,” at least in terms of referring to writers, has come to mean anyone with Microsoft Word who feels the urge to vomit a sludgy trail of words, and then slap it up onto the Internets for sale. Creating e-books has never been easier (I went through Smashwords for Red Dot Irreal, because of their quality control, their automatic format conversion, and their distribution to multiple outlets, but it’s just as easy to go through B&N’s PubIt program, or Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program), and because of this, the online stores have gotten flooded with e-books that look as if a lower-than-average third grader had put them together.

And because of this, “indie” has now lots its cachet, its sense of cool rebellion. Now “indie” = “anyone,” which has completely sucked all meaning out of the term.

I am proud to be an independent author, but I have only self-published twice in my career. In 2003, Janet and I put together Four Seasons in One Day, and the main reasons to do so were to showcase both of us and to get in a “trial run” (so to speak) on forming our own indie press. Every other one of my publications has been published by someone else (most of the pieces in 4Si1D were also reprinted, by the way). (I’m not counting The Curragh of Kildaire here, as I never intended to sell it, but yes, if you want to get pedantic, that was self-published too.) Even the ebook of Red Dot Irreal went through a rigorous editing process with Kenny and Karen at Math Paper Press first, and it wasn’t until the final print version was ready that I felt comfortable converting it to digital.

So please, can I ask for some common sense, and ask folks to stop using “indie” when you mean “self-published”? The terms are not interchangeable, not even semantically similar. My blood pressure thanks you in advance.

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Published Works Eligible for the WFA

The judges for the 2012 World Fantasy Awards have just been announced; for those of you who are attending WFC 2012 in Toronto, or attended last year in San Diego, or in 2010 in Columbus, Ohio, and who might be nominating works for this year’s WFA, following is a list of my eligible fiction published in 2011, should you feel so inclined to do me the honor of placing any of it on your ballot:

  • Red Dot Irreal, Math Paper Press (collection)
  • “Bogeymen,” Subterranean Magazine no. 8 (novella) (rep. in Red Dot Irreal)
  • “Coast,” Coast (short fiction) (rep. in Red Dot Irreal)
  • “Dragging the Frame,” Red Dot Irreal (short fiction)
  • “Ikan Berbudi (Wise Fish),” Red Dot Irreal (short fiction)
  • “Kopi Luwak,” Red Dot Irreal (short fiction)
  • Strange Mammals,” Zouch Magazine & Miscellany (short fiction)
  • Taxi Ride,” Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (short fiction) (rep. in Red Dot Irreal)

So it appears that the overwhelming majority of my fiction published last year was also reprinted in Red Dot Irreal, or saw publication in the collection for the first time; the only outlier is “Strange Mammals,” which can be read online for free.

So, that said, if you are a WFC attending or supporting member for 2010, 2011, and/or 2012, and can email me proof of your membership, I’ll send you a coupon code so that you can download the DRM-free ebook version of Red Dot Irreal for your nominating consideration. Offer expires on June 1, 2012, when WFA nominations are due.

Happy voting!

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RED DOT IRREAL Now Available To Order (Updated)

RED DOT IRREAL at GoodreadsIf you live in Singapore, Red Dot Irreal is available for purchase at BooksActually and, by next week, at Kinokuniya. Since the awesome folks who published the book through Math Paper Press also run BooksActually, if you buy the book there until 31 December, you’ll also get a coupon code for the free e-book version of the book.

For those of you outside of Singapore, the book is now available for ordering!

The paperback can be ordered from the main book page. The shipping zones are set by Singapore Post, although it’s a good bet that many of you who may want to order are in Zone 3; if you’re not sure, just read the description for each PayPal button on the page. I’m happy to sign and personalize your copies. Prices are in Singapore dollars (SGD), with the book at $25.00 SGD plus variable shipping (Z1 = $5.00 SGD, Z2 = $7.50 SGD, Z3 = $10.00 SGD); currency will automatically be converted by PayPal upon transaction. Please allow 2-3 weeks for delivery.

The e-book edition can be purchased and downloaded from Smashwords for only $3.99 USD. I’ve just been informed that it has been accepted into the Premium Catalogue, which means it’ll be available at the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble NOOK bookstore, Kindle ebook store, and several others in a couple of weeks; I’ll update here once this is the case.

In the meantime, you can buy the DRM-free multi-format e-book directly from Smashwords. You only need buy it once and you can download it as a PDF, ePub (for Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, others), mobi (for Kindle devices & apps), Palm Doc, RTF, and Plain Text. Then, all you have to do is upload it to your preferred e-reader(s). Since there’s no DRM, you’re free to move the e-book between devices. Easy!

I’m going to be getting the word out on the book soon, so if you’re interested in reviewing a copy for a print publication or high-profile blog, please let me know.

Update: The paperback has now been confirmed as stocked at Books Kinokuniya on Orchard Road, and the e-book is now available at the Apple iBookstore, the Barnes & Noble NOOK Book Store, and the Diesel eBook Store.

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RED DOT IRREAL and the Power of Fiction

RED DOT IRREALThis past Saturday night, Red Dot Irreal, my debut short story collection, was launched at the Singapore Writers Festival as part of their “Brand New Books” programming track. About 30 people showed up, only half of whom I actually knew, and I spent an hour reading selections from the book, talking about the publishing journey, and answering questions from the audience. On stage with me were Karen Wai and Kenny Leck, my awesome publishers at Math Paper Press, as well as Jasmine Tan of You & Me Creative, who designed the cover and formatted the interiors. Afterward, to my surprise, a signing queue actually formed, and I happily chatted with those who’d attended the launch and decided to buy the book. (And after that, I got the chance to reconnect with Mario Sismondo (@mingolbacon) and Juria Toromae (@JuriaTRM ), two good friends that I really need to do a better job keeping in touch with.)

It’s been about a year from submission to publication, and at this point, it seems very strange to think that the book is now out there in the world, having to survive on its own, not completely “mine” anymore. I’m simultaneously excited that people are now able to read and (hopefully) enjoy the stories, and also terrified that those readers might instead demand their money back, decry me as a fraud and charlatan, and tell all their friends to boycott my writing from now on.

And it’s an entirely different feeling from publishing a singular story in an anthology or magazine. The fact that it’s a book, that it’s a collective artistic statement about the strange experience of living in Singapore, that it represents years of hard work and an incredible amount of faith from Karen and Kenny — it’s as if somehow things have gotten much more serious, that my writing (and therefore I myself) is being intensely scrutinized for what I have to say.

Scott McCloud, in one of his amazing books of sequential art analysis starting with Understanding Comics (I forget exactly which one), details the different stages of an artist’s development, starting with the imitation of other artists, all the way up to a profound self-examination of one’s motives in creating art. I’d like to think that I’ve passed into that upper stage in the last decade, and that the choices I make as a writer have become much more considered and deliberate, to use fiction as the most apt vehicle for what I have to say, not only as a form of entertainment (although the entertainment cannot be divorced from the text either; if the reader isn’t entertained on some level, she’s not going to keep turning the pages).

In my story “Ikan Berbudi (Wise Fish)” (the second piece in Red Dot Irreal), there’s a passage where I briefly lay out my philosophical justification for both writing and reading fiction. The protagonist, Mrs Singh, has complained to her son Vishal that fiction just isn’t practical, like reading a medical or law text. This is his response:

He’d tried to explain how experiencing life through someone else’s eyes would make him a more empathetic and understanding person, less likely to be closed-minded or judgmental, more willing to think for himself rather than blindly follow a given ideology. But she wasn’t sure she accepted his argument.

Karen re-read this passage during the book launch in order to talk about why she and Kenny decided to publish the book in the first place, in that they feel much the same way about the power of fiction. BooksActually is a physical manifestation of this same mindset, in the carefully curated literary stock that they sell to the willing Singaporean public. She also talked about the effect of my writing style, that my decision to work within the tropes of slipstream consequentially result in the feeling of passing through or within a dreamscape, with all the wisdom and weirdness that come from dreams.

I hope that this level of profundity exists within my fiction, but on the surface, I also just hope that people enjoy the writing, and come out of the experience of reading my fiction with a slightly expanded sense of how strange and wonderful our own world can be.

I’m very proud of this book. I’m glad that it’s only 160-odd pages long, so as to be a pleasant and brief introduction to my work. I’m ecstatic about the design and production of it as a physical object; it’s just damn beautiful to look at, and the layering effect of the translucent dustcover adds to the multi-layered motif of the writing inside. Here I am unwrapping a hot-off-the-press copy about a week and a half ago, after the copies were finished printing and delivered to BooksActually:

As of right now, the original paperback version of the book is only available in Singapore, at BooksActually and (starting tomorrow) Kinokuniya. I’ll put up a link soon for anyone to buy a signed copy via PayPal, and will be officially releasing the e-book in the next week or two. I’m also looking into possibly having a POD version available for folks outside of Singapore to be able to order. More on this later. If anyone has any suggestions for distribution (especially in the US), please let me know.

These are exciting times.

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