Category Archives: Singapore

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.

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

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(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.

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

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(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.

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

windling-autograph
(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.

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(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.)

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(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.)

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(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).

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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.

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

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

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

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

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(Anya playing with her Yiayia.)

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

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

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(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 Tor.com. 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.

outpouring

***

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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Filed under Books, Lit Festivals, Parenthood, 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

BNSSS Honourable Mentions

The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One is now out and available and making its way into all of Singapore’s major bookstores. Yay! I just can’t express how excited I am about this book.

Last month, I posted the anthology’s table of contents, and now I’ll be revealing the Honourable Mentions that are listed in the back of the book (very much inspired by the same practice of Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling, Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link for The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror series):

  1. Andrea Ang, “The Dark Star,” Ceriph no. 4.3 (Sleet) (2011): 13-18.
  2. Ann Ang, “Communion,” Ceriph no. 5 (2012): 84-89.
  3. —. “What He Want to Say, Which Is Right to Say,” Bang My Car (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 32-40.
  4. David Bobis, “Child,” Ceriph no. 3 (2011): 40-43.
  5. Felix Cheong, “In the Dark,” Vanishing Point (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2012), 15-25.
  6. —, “The Little Drummer Boy,” Vanishing Point (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2012), 35-47.
  7. Joyce Chng, “Metal Can Lanterns,” International Speculative Fiction no. 1 (2012): 3-5.
  8. Dave Chua, “The Beating,” The Beating and Other Stories (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2011), 19-49.
  9. —, “The Disappearance of Lisa Zhang,” Fish Eats Lion, ed. Jason Erik Lundberg (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 365-384.
  10. —, “The Divers,” Innsmouth Free Press no. 9 (2012), http://www.innsmouthfreepress.com/?p=16366.
  11. —, “Fireworks,” The Beating and Other Stories (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2011), 183-201.
  12. —, “The Vanishing,” The Beating and Other Stories (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2011), 115-119.
  13. Ian Chung, “Snowflakes,” Weirdyear Flash Fiction, May 5, 2011, http://www.weirdyear.com/2011/05/5511.html
  14. Noelle de Jesus, “Mirage,” Fish Eats Lion, ed. Jason Erik Lundberg (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 261-276.
  15. Gwee Li Sui, “Grandfather’s Aquaria,” Balik Kampung, ed. Verena Tay (Singapore: Math Paper Press, November 2012), 71-78.
  16. Manoj Harjani, “The Man Who Skipped Breakfast,” Ceriph no. 2 (2011): 35-38.
  17. —, “Primordial Clam Chowder,” Ceriph no. 4.5 (Cosmic Latte) (2011): 7-9.
  18. Judith Huang, “The City,” The Ayam Curtain, ed. J.Y. Yang and Joyce Chng (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 133-135.
  19. Lucas Ho, “KY USB,” The Ayam Curtain, ed. J.Y. Yang and Joyce Chng (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 29-30.
  20. Isa Kamari, “Green Man Plus,” Fish Eats Lion, ed. Jason Erik Lundberg (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 251-259.
  21. Amanda Lee Koe, “Coast,” Coast: A Mono-titular Anthology of Singapore Writing, ed. Daren Shiau and Lee Wei Fen (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2011), 147-153.
  22. —, “Star City,” Microcosmos: Orbital Decay (Singapore: Kaleido Press, 2012), 11.
  23. Wei Fen Lee, “The Acoustics of Living in an Interval,” Microcosmos: Orbital Decay (Singapore: Kaleido Press, 2012), 7.
  24. —, “Coast,” Coast: A Mono-titular Anthology of Singapore Writing, ed. Daren Shiau and Lee Wei Fen (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2011), 111-114.
  25. —, “Swimming Upstream,” Quarterly Literary Review Singapore 10, no. 1 (2011), http://www.qlrs.com/story.asp?id=814.
  26. Annabeth Leow Hui Min, “Ascension,” The Steampowered Globe, ed. Rosemary Lim and Maisarah Bte Abu Samah (Singapore: AS¡FF, 2012), 5-15.
  27. Desirée Lim, “Coast,” Coast: A Mono-titular Anthology of Singapore Writing, ed. Daren Shiau and Lee Wei Fen (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2011), 210-213.
  28. Jeffrey Lim, “Last Supper,” Fish Eats Lion, ed. Jason Erik Lundberg (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 75-97.
  29. Sharanya Manivannan, “Coast,” Coast: A Mono-titular Anthology of Singapore Writing, ed. Daren Shiau and Lee Wei Fen (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2011), 164-168.
  30. Natalie Marinho, “Savour,” Quarterly Literary Review Singapore 10, no. 3 (2011), http://www.qlrs.com/story.asp?id=849.
  31. Ng Yi-Sheng, “Coast,” Coast: A Mono-titular Anthology of Singapore Writing, ed. Daren Shiau and Lee Wei Fen (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2011), 140-143.
  32. O Thiam Chin, “The Good Husband,” The International Literary Quarterly no. 17 (2011), http://interlitq.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/the-good-husband-a-short-story-by-singaporean-author-o-thiam-chin-will-constitute-interlitqs-fiction-in-english-for-04-02-2012/.
  33. —, “What Are You Hiding?” The Rest of Your Life and Everything That Comes With It (Malaysia: ZI Publications, 2011), 102-120.
  34. Alvin Pang, “A Better Place,” The Ayam Curtain, ed. J.Y. Yang and Joyce Chng (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 141-146.
  35. —, “A Brave New World?” TODAY, August 9, 2012, 8.
  36. —, “Patience,” What Gives Us Our Names (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2011), 41-42.
  37. Gemma Pereira, “The Tissue-Paper Man,” Quarterly Literary Review Singapore 11, no. 4 (2012), http://www.qlrs.com/story.asp?id=955.
  38. Phan Ming Yen, “Symphony No. 5,” That Night By the Beach and Other Stories For a Film Score (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2012), 45-86.
  39. Jayanthi Sankar, “Read Singapore!” Ceriph no. 2 (2011): 84-87.
  40. Alfian Sa’at, “Child,” Malay Sketches (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2012), 213-217.
  41. —, “The Morning Ride,” Malay Sketches (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2012), 67-70.
  42. —, “Notes From a Sacked Relief Teacher,” Quarterly Literary Review Singapore 10, no. 1 (2011), http://www.qlrs.com/story.asp?id=811.
  43. —, “The Sendoff,” Malay Sketches (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2012), 105-109.
  44. —, “Three Sisters,” Malay Sketches (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2012), 25-28.
  45. Lina Salleh, “Artifact #1N-327,” The Ayam Curtain, ed. J.Y. Yang and Joyce Chng (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 101-106.
  46. Prabhu Silvam, “Trees Don’t Die In September,” Ceriph no. 2 (2011): 71-76.
  47. Michelle Tan, “Garisan Kuning,” The Ayam Curtain, ed. J.Y. Yang and Joyce Chng (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 67-70.
  48. Verena Tay, “Floral Mile,” Balik Kampung, ed. Verena Tay (Singapore: Math Paper Press, November 2012), 137-150.
  49. —, “The Land,” Spectre (Singapore: Math Paper Press, November 2012), 25-46.
  50. Gwyneth Teo, “Battery,” The Ayam Curtain, ed. J.Y. Yang and Joyce Chng (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 55-59.
  51. Royston Tester, “A Beijing Minute,” Quarterly Literary Review Singapore 10, no. 3 (2011), http://www.qlrs.com/story.asp?id=851.
  52. Jeremy Tiang, “HOPE,” 2012 Singapore Writers Festival: Passages, last modified November 1, 2012, http://www.singaporewritersfestival.com/index.php?option= com_content&view=article&id=99&Itemid=66.
  53. —, “Sophia’s Honeymoon,” The Istanbul Review no. 2 (2012): 51-57.
  54. —, “Stray,” Philippines Free Press, November 5, 2011, http://philippinesfreepress.com.ph/?p=4388.
  55. Jen Wei Ting, “Belle and Sebastian,” Quarterly Literary Review Singapore 11, no. 4 (2012), http://www.qlrs.com/story.asp?id=949.
  56. Samantha Toh, “Swimming Pool,” Quarterly Literary Review Singapore 11, no. 2 (2012), http://www.qlrs.com/story.asp?id=918.
  57. Kristina Tom, “So Far, So Good,” Ceriph no. 5 (2012): 52-60.
  58. Catherine Rose Torres, “Coast,” Coast: A Mono-titular Anthology of Singapore Writing, ed. Daren Shiau and Lee Wei Fen (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2011), 219-232.
  59. —, “Her Sacred Dust,” Ceriph no. 4.2 (Ivory) (2011): 5-7.
  60. Tse Hao Guang, “Salt,” The Ayam Curtain, ed. J.Y. Yang and Joyce Chng (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 137-139.
  61. Ronald Wong, “The Taxi Ride,” Ceriph no. 5 (2012): 66-68.
  62. Daryl Yam, “Apocalypse Approaches,” Fish Eats Lion, ed. Jason Erik Lundberg (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 153-185.
  63. —, “The Girl and Her Giant,” Ceriph no. 4.2 (Ivory) (2011): 9-20.
  64. J.Y. Yang, “Captain Bells and the Sovereign State of Discordia,” The Steampowered Globe, ed. Rosemary Lim and Maisarah Bte Abu Samah (Singapore: AS¡FF, 2012), 114-144.
  65. —, “Where No Cars Go,” Fish Eats Lion, ed. Jason Erik Lundberg (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 213-248.
  66. Stephanie Ye, “The Billion Shop,” The Billion Shop (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 43-65.
  67. —, “Bons at Sirius A,” Ceriph no. 2 (2011): 12-20.
  68. —, “Coast,” Coast: A Mono-titular Anthology of Singapore Writing, ed. Daren Shiau and Lee Wei Fen (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2011), 58-73.
  69. —, “The Story of the Kiss,” Fish Eats Lion, ed. Jason Erik Lundberg (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 19-29.
  70. Yeow Kai Chai, “Coast,” Coast: A Mono-titular Anthology of Singapore Writing, ed. Daren Shiau and Lee Wei Fen (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2011), 99-100.
  71. —, “Tahar,” Balik Kampung, ed. Verena Tay (Singapore: Math Paper Press, November 2012), 39-53.
  72. Yong Shu Hoong, “The Great Dying,” Balik Kampung, ed. Verena Tay (Singapore: Math Paper Press, November 2012), 57-67.
  73. Yuen Kit Mun, “Feng Shui Train,” Fish Eats Lion, ed. Jason Erik Lundberg (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012), 279-297

There’s a lot of really great fiction being produced in Singapore right now, and one of the editor’s hardest tasks is narrowing this down to the very best; but these stories that didn’t get into the anthology have merit, and are well worth tracking down for further reading.

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Filed under Books, Publishing, Singapore

Announcing The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One

The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories

Cover design by Lydia Wong
Cover photograph by Darren Soh


Enter the book giveaway at Goodreads!

“Singapore’s fiction revival is on track! Thirty-five years after Robert Yeo’s landmark curation of the best national stories of his time, the project re-begins with a fresh slate of short fiction that rightly welcomes several new names. Jason Erik Lundberg has done an outstanding job of choosing stories you will want to return to—like rooms in the head—for years to come!”
—Gwee Li Sui, author and illustrator of Myth of the Stone


Contents

  1. Introduction | Jason Erik Lundberg
  2. The Tiger of 142B | Dave Chua
  3. The Hearing Aid | Vinita Ramani Mohan
  4. The Illoi of Kantimeral | Alvin Pang
  5. Lighthouse | Yu-Mei Balasingamchow
  6. Seascrapers | Stephanie Ye
  7. Because I Tell | Felix Cheong
  8. Sleeping | O Thiam Chin
  9. Agnes Joaquim, Bioterrorist | Ng Yi-Sheng
  10. The Dispossessed | Karen Kwek
  11. Harmonious Residences | Jeremy Tiang
  12. Randy’s Rotisserie | Amanda Lee Koe
  13. The Protocol Wars of Laundry and Coexistence | Koh Choon Hwee
  14. Zero Hour | Cyril Wong
  15. Walls | Verena Tay
  16. Copies | Eleanor Neo
  17. Welcome to the Pond | Wei Fen Lee
  18. Scared For What | Ann Ang
  19. Joo Chiat and Other Lost Things | Justin Ker
  20. Anniversary | Phan Ming Yen
  21. The Borrowed Boy | Alfian Sa’at

I am very proud to announce the contents and cover design for the first volume of The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories, to be published in October, and officially launched at the 2013 Singapore Writers Festival.

After spending months reading dozens of literary journals, magazine issues, anthologies, and single-author collections, I narrowed down the list to the above twenty stories, evenly split between male and female authors. A list of honourable mentions will also be provided in the back of the book for further reading.

The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One curates the finest short fiction from Singaporean writers published in 2011 and 2012. This ground-breaking and unique anthology showcases stories that examine various facets of the human condition and the truths that we tell ourselves in order to exist in the everyday. The styles are as varied as the authors, and no two pieces are alike. Here are twenty unique and breathtaking literary insights into the Singaporean psyche, which examine what it means to live in this particular part of the world at this particular time.

Until 4th of October, you can enter to win one of only two Advance Uncorrected Proofs of the anthology at the book giveaway at Goodreads. The scope of the giveaway is quite wide (the major Anglophone countries and Southeast Asia), so enter today!

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SWF 2013 Schedule

Earlier today, the programming was released for the 2013 Singapore Writers Festival (this year’s theme: Utopia/Dystopia), including the full list of invited authors and speakers. It looks like they haven’t yet linked up the authors with their events, but if you’re inclined you can check out my author page.

In addition to the usual suspects, I’m particularly excited to see the following folks at this year’s SWF: Dean Francis Alfar, Fatima Bhutto, G. Willow Wilson, Guo Xiaolu, Jo Fletcher, Mohsin Hamid, Paolo Chikiamco, Sjón, and Terri Windling (!).

Here’s my schedule of events:

02 Nov: Brand New Books: The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza by Cyril Wong | Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe | Best New Singaporean Short Stories edited by Jason Erik Lundberg
SMU Campus Green, Festival Pavilion, 1130am-1230pm

A psychological examination of a student-teacher relationship in the 1980s, The Last Lesson of Mrs De Souza is acclaimed poet Cyril Wong’s inaugural novel. Ministry of Moral Panic is Amanda Lee Koe’s fresh collection of short fiction that examines the improbable necessity of human connection in strikingly original prose. This launch of their latest literary offerings is moderated by author and editor Jason Erik Lundberg of Epigram Books.

Best New Singaporean Short Stories is Epigram’s biennial anthology series, with Volume One showcasing the best short fiction from Singaporean writers published in 2011 and 2012. Join Jason and five notable contributors in a discussion of their works.

(I’ll be moderating this entire session, since I edited all three books. Pressure!)

03 Nov:Alternate Realities
Singapore Art Museum, Glass Hall, 400-500pm

Life on this planet doesn’t seem to be panning out – is it time to build a new reality? Three speculative fiction writers discuss if it is easier to create stories or to live in the worlds they have created. Whose world would you like to be a part of?

Moderated by: Rajeev Patke

Featuring: Dean Francis Alfar, G Willow Wilson, Jason Erik Lundberg

(I can’t tell you how intimidated I am to be on a panel discussion with these folks.)

06 Nov:Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales Screw Us Up
Fringe 2013: Once Upon A Time
The Arts House, Living Room, 730-830pm

It usually ends with the prince and princess living happily ever after (or some variation to that end). However, life doesn’t often turn out that way. Do fairy tales skew our view of the world, and paint a picture too rose-tinted for our own good? Do they still have a role to play in our world today? Two teams of writers debate on whether fairy tales, in fact, mess with your minds, damaging you forever.

Moderated by: Carolyn Camoens

(I’m not a natural debater, but I’ll think of something to come up with.)

09 Nov: Brand New Books: The Tower by Isa Kamari | Confrontation by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed
SMU Campus Green, Festival Pavilion, 230-330pm

Join prolific authors, Cultural Medallion winner Isa Kamari and three-time Singapore Literature Prize winner Mohamed Latiff bin Mohamed, in conversation with acclaimed playwright Alfian Sa’at, for the launch of the English-language translations of their seminal works. Isa’s The Tower is a masterful allegorical tale of success and failure, translated for the first time into English by Alfian.

From Mohamed Latiff, Confrontation is a brilliant dramatisation of the period of uncertainty and change in the years leading up to Singapore’s merger with Malaya. Seen through the unique perspective of the young boy Adi, this fundamental period in Singaporean history is brought to life with masterful empathy.

(I don’t technically have anything to do with this launch, but I did edit Confrontation, and I published Isa in Fish Eats Lion, so want to support the both of them here.)

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Filed under Dystopia, Lit Festivals, Publishing, Singapore, Writing

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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Filed under Books, LONTAR, Publishing, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Writing

Dream Dream Dream

So it’s 6 a.m. and I’ve just woken from a dream that made me inordinately happy, and I don’t know if this is going to make any sense because the tendrils of the dream are still hanging about me like a fog, but I need to get this down before it evaporates in the light of day, so here goes.

In the dream, Neil Gaiman was visiting Singapore, and we got to properly hang out this time, before a bookstore event where he was promoting Unnatural Creatures, the anthology that he just recently edited, and underneath the bookstore was a vast aquarium, and as we admired all the different species of fish, we chatted about all manner of things, and it was easy and normal and the opposite of what such a fanboy moment would be in real life, but after a while, I realized I had run out of things to ask him. Fortunately, at that exact moment, without transition, we appeared in the bookstore upstairs, a gigantic bookstore, like Kinokuniya on Orchard Road times ten, and of course the crowds were huge but he kept letting me hang around nearby, close enough to hear as he picked up his mobile phone and urgently left a message: “Terry, I don’t know if you’re there, but I really want you to come down if you can.”

And then, moments later, again without transition, Terry Pratchett was running in from another part of the bookstore, and Neil ran up and gave him a big hug and a kiss, and thanked him effusively for making it to the event, because in dream logic of course Terry Pratchett would also be in Singapore at the same time, and he was wearing braces on his teeth that glinted from the harsh fluorescents overhead, and one of his incisors was missing, but he couldn’t stop smiling as he caught his breath. As the two of them settled into their seats, because naturally the bookstore had provided chairs for the both of them, the enormous crowd (including me) sat down to listen, and I was so caught up in the moment that I missed the first part of what Terry  was saying, and then suddenly realizing that he had said my name and the title of a short story, and that he wanted me to read this story as part of the event, and that Neil had put him up to this so that I could be a part of things too, and that Terry was holding out a napkin to me with six lines of about fourteen words.

I took the napkin, and then started scrolling through the screen on my phone to find the story that Terry had mentioned, a story that, only in my dream, had recently been published to great acclaim in The Straits Times, and I was searching and searching and realizing I was holding up the entire event and everyone was staring at me to just get on with it, and then I felt a bit resentful for being put on the spot with no preparation before understanding that the napkin Terry had handed to me had the entire story printed on it, those six lines of about fourteen words, and upon that understanding I stood up, and smiled at Neil and Terry, and raised the microphone that was now in my hand, and started to speak, to thank these two amazing authors for being part of their event, for letting me share my own writing with everyone assembled, just beginning to get the words out, overwhelmed with the feeling of contentment and bliss.

And then I woke up.

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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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An Extract From “Represented Spaces”

When I approached Keith Brooke (the über-awesome proprietor of Infinity Plus Books) with the idea of publishing my new ebook collection The Alchemy of Happiness, I very much had in mind to model the contents after those in PM Press’ Outspoken Authors series of perfect-bound chapbooks: a small number of fiction pieces (no more than three), followed by an essay or some other work of non-fiction, and then an interview.

Two of the fiction pieces, “Reality, Interrupted” and “In Jurong” were previously published (and the third, “Always a Risk,” will see print publication in March in the anthology Eastern Heathens, edited by Ng Yi-Sheng and Amanda Lee Koe). The non-fiction piece, “Embracing the Strange: The Transformative Impact of Speculative Fiction (A Hybrid-Essay)” will also see print publication in March as a standalone chapbook in Math Paper Press’ Babette’s Feast chapbook series. But I wanted the interview, titled “Represented Spaces,” to be solely exclusive to The Alchemy of Happiness, and so I have no plans to release it elsewhere, either in print or electronically.

So, to whet your appetite, below is posted just a small extract from the nearly six-thousand-word interview by author and editor Wei Fen Lee; if you dig it, you can only find the rest of it in The Alchemy of Happiness:

> A motif of fluid identity and the potential for multiplicity is prevalent throughout the three stories in The Alchemy of Happiness, from the metamorphosis of characters into different stages of life, to more mundane details like just a change in outfit choices. Why the choice of this motif, and what are your own thoughts on the construction and destruction of personal identity?

I’ve always seen identity as very fluid; we’re different people depending on whom we’re around. I act differently whether I’m with my wife, or with my daughter, or with my female friends, or with my male friends, or with my parents. It’s just something we as human beings negotiate all the time. What’s interesting to me about speculative fiction is the ability to make it more concrete, to actually literalise this concept.

> I guess that’s the power of the strange as well: we have the ability to see how far these changes can stretch.

Right. You can make things more literal so that we can actually examine them. If Gregor Samsa changes into a giant beetle, what can we find out about his family dynamics?

> In “In Jurong” especially, memory is linked to identity, and the past is constantly seen as constructing us.

The past is what makes us who we are. Even if traumatic things happened in the past, even if things were really horrible or transformative, they make us into the people that we are. So I definitely see memory as linked to identity in that way, depending on how we think of ourselves and our memories. It informs how we act and react in any given situation.

> In David Eagleman’s collection Sum, his speculations about the afterlife agree with your own stories about the afterlife not constituting a single place. Why did you choose the afterlife to write about, and what do you think of the potential to play with this concept and space of the afterlife?

It’s the biggest mystery there is, right? One of my favorite writers, Jonathan Carroll, has been very preoccupied with death and the afterlife over the last 15 years or so in his writing; I presume that as he’s grown older, he’s been thinking about it a lot, and questioning what the afterlife might be like. It’s the great unknown. What’s interesting to me is that he hasn’t formed a comprehensive view of it yet; he’s come up with many different types of afterlives, in order to explore all these “what-if?” questions. And that tactic appeals to me as a writer as well.

> Asking questions about the afterlife also begs the question, what kind of death?

Exactly. I’m a practicing Buddhist (although my practice is a bit slack at the moment), and the typical Buddhist view is that there is no afterlife. If you don’t become enlightened, then you reincarnate into a new form and you do it all over again, with your new life determined by your previous karma. There are lots of different ways to look at the cessation of life, and part of the fun of writing this stuff is being able to explore big issues like that.

> On that note, the stories in The Alchemy of Happiness seem heavily imbued with Buddhist philosophy and thought. What do you personally subscribe to, and how do you see your personal beliefs mixing with your fiction to create new beasts, so to speak?

I look at Buddhism more as a life philosophy than as a religion, and so even if I’m not meditating every day, or chanting mantras on a regular basis, I still try to keep the Four Noble Truths ingrained in my thinking, and to exemplify the core ideas of compassion, connection, and consequence in my actions.

For Red Dot Irreal, my focus was more on the strangeness of the Singaporean psyche, seen through the lens of a foreigner living in Singapore. But with The Alchemy of Happiness, I was thinking a lot more broadly, and the Buddhist mindset is definitely more prevalent. Especially in “Always a Risk,” where this weird realm deals with magic and demons, yet Buddhism still has a place there.

> So is it a conscious choice, inserting these philosophies, or does it naturally arise just because of your paradigm of the world?

I think that with my older stories, it was more of the latter, but with “Always a Risk” and especially with A Fickle and Restless Weapon, the novel that I just finished writing, it was a much more conscious choice (the title even comes from the Dhammapada). I really wanted to put Buddhism front and centre. I don’t want to be prescriptive or anything, but I deliberately made the themes and ideas much more obvious.

> So how then do you prevent yourself from being prescriptive? What would constitute prescriptive?

I think if I was saying: this is the right way to believe. So as long as I can prevent myself from doing that, I hope I’m not preaching in my work.

> So just offering the view.

Exactly. Buddhism is not very prevalent in SF; it’s there, but maybe it’s based on cursory or incorrect information, used as this unconventional opposition to the Judeo-Christian tradition. There aren’t many writers using the philosophy or the core ideas of Buddhism in SF and fantasy yet, on anything more than the level of a curiosity. It’s something that’s important to me and I want to try to express that in my writing as well.

Buy The Alchemy of Happiness at the following ebook stores: SmashwordsNookKoboiTunesKindleKindle UKThe Robot Trading Co.

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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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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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BooksActually: The Documentary

Colourbars Media has produced a 41-minute documentary about BooksActually, the best, coziest, quirkiest, most eclectic, most wonderful, and most important bookshop in Singapore. I was just there this afternoon, discussing upcoming Math Paper Press projects with Kenny for 2013 (including my chapbook Embracing the Strange, which is expected to be released in March, the same month as the first issue of LONTAR), and for the millionth time, I was so grateful that the store was there. I dare you to watch this video and not want to make BooksActually your second home.

And hey, I even make a brief unexpected appearance at the 22:07 mark (I didn’t even know they were filming).

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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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Fish Eats Lion Cover Art Revealed!

Fish Eats Lion

Just look at it; ain’t it a beauty? The anthology will be on sale starting 2 November, and launching at the Singapore Writers Festival on 4 November at 4:00 p.m.

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Announcing Best New Singaporean Short Stories, Volume 1

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Call for Submissions for Reprint Anthology Series

Singapore, 8/10/2012 — Epigram Books and editor Jason Erik Lundberg are excited to announce the premiere volume of Best New Singaporean Short Stories, a new biennial anthology series of Singaporean short fiction, with an expected publication date of May 2013.

“We have wanted to put together this series for a long time,” said Epigram Books publisher Edmund Wee. “It is important to collect and promote the excellent new short fiction being published by Singaporean writers, and no one else in Singapore has yet done so in this way.”

Epigram Books is now considering nominations from periodical & anthology editors and book publishers who have published English-language stories by Singaporean writers, both in Singapore and abroad. Authors must be Singaporean citizens or permanent residents.

The original appearance of the nominated stories is required to have been published in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, or collections (both in print and online) between January 2011 and December 2012; OR achieved prize placement (third place or above) in a national/international writing competition. There are no restrictions on genre or subject matter.

Submissions are open until 31 December 2012. Full submission guidelines are available here.

For further information or queries, contact:

Jason Erik Lundberg | Editor, Epigram Books
jason@epigrambooks.sg | +65-6292-4456

* * *

ABOUT THE PUBLISHER

An independent publisher based in Singapore, Epigram Books is known for putting together well-designed and thought-provoking titles. Epigram Books began as a division of the award-winning design firm Epigram but registered as a separate entity in July 2011 in order to strengthen its focus on championing local writing.

Epigram Books publishes all manner of fiction—novels, short stories, plays, children’s books and some poetry. We have published works by Singapore literary pioneers Lloyd Fernando, Goh Poh Seng, Stella Kon, Edwin Thumboo, Kirpal Singh and Robert Yeo. Other prominent authors include playwrights Tan Tarn How, Ovidia Yu, Chong Tze Chien, Jean Tay, Haresh Sharma and Lim Chor Pee; authors Lim Thean Soo, Ming Cher and Tan Kok Seng; and children’s authors Adeline Foo and SherMay Loh (winner of the international Moonbeam Children’s Award). Epigram Books is the publisher of The Diary of Amos Lee series and a series of international award-winning children’s picture books.

Epigram Books also reflects Singapore’s obsession with food by publishing both recipe books and food guides. In 2011, the Wee Editions imprint was established to support local designers, photographers and artists through a unique series of compact coffee table books. In 2012, Epigram Books began its foray into comics with the commission of graphic novels by Dave Chua and Ng Xiao Yan, drewscape, miel, Ng Hong Teng and Oh Yong Hwee, and Eisner-nominated artist Sonny Liew.

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FISH EATS LION Table of Contents

(Note: the above is still a placeholder image; the final cover art will be coming soon.)

We’re now about two months from publication and launch at the Singapore Writers Festival, so it’s about time that I announce the table of contents for Fish Eats Lion: New Singaporean Speculative Fiction!

Contents
01. Preface | Jason Erik Lundberg
02. The Story of the Kiss | Stephanie Ye
03. Agnes Joaquim, Bioterrorist | Ng Yi-Sheng
04. Punggol | Ben Slater
05. Welcome to the Pond | Wei Fen Lee
06. Last Supper | Jeffrey Lim
07. Rewrites | Shelly Bryant
08. Big Enough for the Entire Universe | Victor Fernando R. Ocampo
09. The Digits | Ivan Ang
10. Apocalypse Approaches | Daryl Yam
11. 010011010100010101001101010011110101001001011001 | Justin Ker
12. Dewy | Grace Chia Kraković
13. Where No Cars Go | JY Yang
14. Green Man Plus | Isa Kamari
15. Mirage | Noelle de Jesus
16. Feng Shui Train | Yuen Kit Mun
17. Last Time Kopitiam | Marc de Faoite
18. Chapter 28: Energy | The Centipede Collective
19. Waiting For the Snow | Carrick Ang
20. The Moon and the Stars | Andrew Cheah
21. The Disappearance of Lisa Zhang | Dave Chua
22. Open | Tan Ming Tuan
23. Zero Hour | Cyril Wong

Fish Eats Lion collects the best original speculative fiction—fantasy, science fiction, and the places in between—being written in Singapore today, a home-grown anthology featuring a refreshing variety of voices and perspectives. Here are tales that are recognizably science fiction and fantasy, but others that blend genres and tropes, including absurdism, police procedural, fairy tales, steampunk, pre- and post-apocalypse, political satire, and alien first contact. These twenty-two stories—from emerging writers publishing their first work to winners of the Singapore Literature Prize and the Cultural Medallion—explore the fundamental singularity of the Lion City.

This book is a celebration of the vibrant creative power underlying Singapore’s inventive prose stylists, where what is considered normal and what is strange are blended in fantastic new ways.

Anyone wanting a PDF Advance Reader Copy for the purposes of reviewing the book, please contact me at jason@booksactually.com. I want to spread the word far and wide about this anthology; it’s a book I’m damn proud to have put together, and the authors whose incredible fiction make up its 81,000 words deserve to have their voices heard.

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2012 SWF Schedule (updated)

SWF 2012 - OriginsThe schedule for the 2012 Singapore Writers Festival has just been released (here’s my SWF author page), so I can reveal the events in which I’ll be participating this year.

Brand New Books: Math Paper Press Anthology Launch
04 Nov 2012, 4:00 – 5:00 pm
Venue: ilovebooks.com Pavilion, Campus Green, Singapore Management University (Capacity: 80)
Free Admission

Three very different anthologies; three different aspects of Singapore. Balik Kampong: Stories of Connection/Disconnection with Different Parts of Singapore takes you back to the village of your imagination and memory, while Ayam Curtain is a mix of bite-sized speculative fiction which offers visions of possible and probable Singapores, from the quirky to the poignant. And in Fish Eats Lion, we have more speculative Singapore short stories; looking at the inherent strangeness of the island nation in a refreshing variety of voices and perspectives.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Music
07 Nov 2012, 6:30 – 8:00 pm
Venue: Switch by Timbre
Free Admission

Hosted by author Daren Shiau, come for an evening reading of literary pieces inspired by music . Featured writers include Alvin Pang, Jason Erik Lundberg and Grace Chia Krakovic performing their work to tracks by artists such as The Smiths, Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead.

Stories from a Shrinking Globe
11 Nov 2012, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm
Featuring: Krishna Udayasankar, Jason Erik Lundberg, Eshkol Nevo
Venue: ilovebooks.com Pavilion, Campus Green, Singapore Management University (Capacity: 80)
Moderator: Gwee Li Sui

Globalisation may have brought the world closer together, but has that really improved the lot of humankind? Come join three authors from varied backgrounds as they explore how globalisation has informed their writing. From recasting myths and local beliefs for modern readers to journeys and the role of English translations, this panel reflects on the complexities of today’s inter-connected world.

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Pretty

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

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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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Wound Up At the SAF

Toru and May at the abandoned well, photo by Lloyd Smith

A week ago, I was lucky enough to attend one of only three performances of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as part of the Singapore Arts Festival, directed by Stephen Earnhart, who co-wrote the play with Greg Pierce. Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s masterful book of the same name, the play did something I could not have imagined possible: distill a complex 600-page novel into a tight two-hour stage play, and retain all the wonderful surreal weirdness that initially made me such an instant Murakami fan (and which helped to inspire a recent tongue-in-cheek Bingo game at the New York Times).

It’s been several years now since I’ve read the book, and this was likely for the best; I didn’t have the plot and characters firmly established in my head anymore, and so I was free to go into the performance without any preconceived notions. Once things began, plot points once again resurfaced in my mind, and so moments of recognition peppered my experience, but filtered as they were through the mise-en-scène of the dramatic performance, they felt newly reimagined, as if encountered for the first time.

It’s difficult to describe the performance to someone who wasn’t there, mostly because of the innovative visual elements. This trailer for the play should give you some idea:

The use of both opaque and translucent projections screens, many of which moved on rollers across the stage (as well as, at one point, image projection onto a fish tank, which was really cool), allowed a multiplicity of locations without the cumbersome aspect of a set change. The photo at the top of this entry (credit: Lloyd Smith) is a good example of this technique, where Toru Okada (played by James Yaegashi) and May Kasahara (played by Kristin Villanueva) are having a conversation at the abandoned dried-up well that Toru later uses as a sanctuary for quiet and solitude; a circle of light, representing the entrance to the well, is shone on the stage between them, and the image projected onto the back wall is their view of the well’s interior, descending into blackness (although I’m not quite sure why they’re both looking upward in this photo).

Another cool technique was the use of minimalist bunraku-style puppetry, often as a stand-in for Toru’s actions in the real world, or his experiences in the dream world. The large articulated puppet was often manipulated by two or more puppeteers, who at other points in the play may have shown up as Dream Police. The photo below (also taken by Lloyd Smith) shows Toru falling asleep and entering the dream world, with the puppet rising from his prone form, then turning to look down on him, and then drift away into the dream. From where I was sitting, it wasn’t always clear what the puppet was doing, but when it was, the technique was incredibly effective.

Toru enters the dream world, photo by Lloyd Smith

The last thing I’ll mention is the utilization of both recorded and live music throughout the play. Before even starting, the live musician, Bora Yoon, emerged from backstage, slowly made her way to the pit, and set the aural tone of the show through water effects and Tibetan singing bowls. Throughout, her use of synthesized sounds and real instruments created the eerie and often tense soundtrack of Toru’s descent into the sometimes frightening dreamscape of his suddenly disappeared wife Kumiko (played by Ai Kiyono) and her controlling politician brother Noboru Wataya (played by James Saito). At times ambient and at others driving, the constant undercurrent of music intensified the cinematic quality of the play.

It was an amazing, fantastic (in both senses of the word) experience, and I’m so glad I was able to go, and to share it with my friend and former colleague Krison Tan. It revolutionized my idea of what could be done in a live dramatic performance, and best of all, it made me want to read the novel again.

(Another much more coherent review of the play, at its premiere during the Edinburgh International Festival last August, can be found at Variety.)

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In the Weeds

In the WeedsHi all, sorry I haven’t been posting lately (I find myself saying this a lot, huh?), but I’m under deadline for several projects right now:

  • I’m conducting another BooksActually workshop tomorrow, and I just this afternoon finished preparing for it;
  • I’m writing an article for POSKOD which is due on the 30th, and I need to wrangle my research notes (taken just this past Wednesday) into a form that approximates creative nonfiction (25% finished);
  • I’m looking at the final submissions for Fish Eats Lion (only four days left to submit!), and trying to shape it all into a coherent anthology;
  • I need to read and critique the stories of my mentees in the Ceriph Mentorship Programme for when we next meet on 6 May;
  • I’m writing a story for the Eastern Heathens anthology, and have thankfully been given an extension, as it’s looking right now that it’ll be around 8-10K words long (40-50% finished);
  • I’m writing a 45-minute plenary talk for this year’s Creative Arts Seminar run by the Ministry of Education’s Gifted Education Branch at the end of May, and will pitch it later to Math Paper Press as part of the Babette’s Feast chapbook series (60% finished);
  • I’m conducting two workshops again at the CAS, and will need to change them a bit from last year, both to accomodate this year’s theme and to differentiate them enough in case students took a similar workshop from me in a previous GEB Literature Seminar; and
  • I’ve pledged to write a 500-1,000-word story for The Ayam Curtain, and I haven’t even started thinking about what I might do for this.

I also have a big announcement coming up in about a week, which will lead to more work for the rest of this year; it’s something that I’m very excited about, and it’s taking quite a lot of willpower not to just spill the beans right now, but y’all will have to wait. (I’m such a tease.) 😉

So yeah, I probably won’t be updating much here for the time being. But feel free to catch me at Facebook and Twitter, where I’m slightly more active. Hopefully, by beginning of June, I’ll be out of the weeds and able to get back on the Tower novel again; I really want to finish it by August if possible.

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Call for Submissions: FISH EATS LION

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

FISH EATS LION: NEW SINGAPOREAN SPECULATIVE FICTION

Math Paper Press and editor Jason Erik Lundberg are looking for new and innovative short fiction for an original anthology of speculative fiction (which includes science fiction and fantasy, as well as any associated subgenres, such as magic realism, space opera, steampunk, post-apocalypse, etc.) with a Singaporean flavor.

Anchor contributors for this groundbreaking anthology include Cyril Wong, Isa Kamari, Alvin Pang, Dave Chua, Jeffrey Lim, and Stephanie Ye.

In terms of what makes a “Singaporean” speculative short story, we’d like to see at least one of the following:

  • Your protagonist is Singaporean (i.e. born in Singapore)
  • Your protagonist (Singaporean or not) is living in Singapore at the time of your story (i.e. Singapore is the setting)
  • Your story’s themes are inspired by life in Singapore

As long as your narrative contains at least one of the above elements, you’re encouraged to write whatever story you choose. Please do not limit yourself to just writing about our current era; challenge yourself to write a story set in Singapore’s recent or distant past, or in the near or far future. The fantastical or science-fictional element must also be integral to your story (i.e. the story wouldn’t make any sense if you took it out). A good list of clichéd SF story premises to avoid can be found at online magazine Strange Horizons’ guidelines for “Stories We’ve Seen Too Often.”

We are hoping to have a print-on-demand version of the book available outside of Singapore in addition to the paperback being published here, so please consider that you are writing for an international audience. If the story is too all-inclusive, you risk alienating a reader unfamiliar with Singaporean culture. It’s a fine line to walk, with authenticity on one side and accessibility on the other, but it is quite possible to do both.

You need not be a Singaporean citizen or permanent resident to submit to this anthology, but you should have intimate, first-hand knowledge of life in Singapore; if your details ring false or shallow, we will be able to tell.

STORY LENGTH

Stories are recommended to be between 2,000 and 5,000 words; we may consider stories that go above the upper word limit provided that they’re not egregious in length. Also, the keyword here is “new.” Even if you have previously published fiction that might fit this theme, Math Paper Press wants to emphasize that these are new stories, not reprints. You don’t have to write a story especially for the anthology (although we hope you’ll take up that challenge), but your submission must be previously unpublished in any form.

PAYMENT

In terms of compensation, we are offering five (5) contributor copies of the published anthology, and a 40% author discount on further copies, as well as the pride of contributing to Singapore’s first anthology of original speculative fiction! In return, we’re buying First Worldwide Print rights to your story.

You may notice that we’re unable to offer monetary payment this time around. Sorry about that. We’re hoping that for future speculative fiction projects we’ll be able to pay in something other than copies, but right now, that’s all we have to offer (plus the author discount). So if we buy your piece, and if you’re hoping to sell your story to another venue afterward, it’ll count as a reprint, which means the pay rate will be less than it would have been if the venue was buying “first rights” to your story. If you understand this and are cool with it, we’d love to see your fiction.

SUBMISSION

The deadline for submissions is 30 April 2012. Please consult William Shunn’s article on Proper Manuscript Format. Send your story in RTF format as an attachment, along with cover letter, to jason@booksactually.com; submissions sent in other formats, or in the body of the email, will be deleted unread.

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Books, Actually

BooksActually

I had been in Singapore for about a year before poet Cyril Wong recommended I check out BooksActually. I’d shopped at Borders and Books Kinokuniya and Select Books, as well as the smaller chains like Popular and Harris, but Cyril assured me that based on our few conversations (at the time; we’ve had many more since) and shared literary sensibilities, I’d find something unique at BooksActually.

So a week or two later, I looked them up, and found the store on Ann Siang Road, tucked into a space surrounded by upscale clothing boutiques, gastropubs, and fancy restaurants. It wasn’t a huge shop, but the shelves were packed, and their titles trended away from popular fiction and more toward those with a love for language. They also displayed lots of interesting knick-knacks, like old manual typewriters, vintage metal toys, instamatic cameras, and full runs of special Penguin paperback series.

I picked out a lovely Hesperus Press edition of Bulgakov’s A Dog’s Heart, and the young lady who rang me up did so with a smile, remarking that Hesperus always did a really nice job with their books. The owners of the shop, Karen Wai and Kenny Leck, were not in that day, but I was to meet them later.

On my next visit, some months later, that same employee was working, and almost as soon as I walked in the door, she said, “Hi! You’re the one who bought that Hesperus Bulgakov, right? We have another one, if you’re interested.”

I was stunned and mightily impressed. In my history of shopping at bookstores, never (and this includes Quail Ridge Books, my all-time favorite bookstore in the USA) has an employee remembered me after a months-long absence, remembered the book I last purchased, and then recommended another similar title all in the same breath. It was astonishing, and in that moment I became a superfanboy of BooksActually for life. (I also bought the book she recommended: The Fatal Eggs.)

(And I wish I could remember who this young lady was, but I just can’t. I don’t think she even works at the store anymore. Whoever you are, awesome person, thank you.)

As I say, eventually I met Karen and Kenny, and we became fast friends. They agreed to let Janet and me launch A Field Guide to Surreal Botany at the store, and have, since the book’s publication, faithfully kept copies of it in stock. They invited me and Janet to various other literary events hosted both at the store and elsewhere. Last year, they agreed to publish my first fiction collection, Red Dot Irreal, through their imprint Math Paper Press (forthcoming in June September). In sum, they made me feel as if I had a literary home in Singapore, which was something I’d dearly been missing since moving from the US.

BooksActually

They’ve moved twice since my early visits, once into a three-storey shophouse at Club Street around the corner from Ann Siang Road, and again recently to Yong Siak Street in the heart of Tiong Bahru (one of Singapore’s oldest neighborhoods). A week ago, they celebrated their grand reopening with an all-day sale and then a nighttime party with wine (and ginger-ale for vinophobes like me) and cheeses and bite-sized eclairs. I posted my photos of the event on Facebook. The new location is far and away the best space that I’ve seen for the store, the biggest advatage being the actual space itself; at last, there is a feeling being able to breathe easy, to traverse the aisles without worrying about bumping into someone else. It’ll be a great venue for upcoming events.

Jeremy Tan at Rediscover Singapore recently paid his own visit to the new store, and provided a wonderful write-up, accompanied by a beautifully shot video and series of photographs that provide a sense of the quirkiness of the store’s (and its owners’) sensibilities.

BooksActually

Big congratulations to Karen and Kenny and all of BooksActually’s staff on their gorgeous new home. Long may you stay and feed the heart of Singapore’s literary culture.

(All photographs are copyright © by Rediscover Singapore.)

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Big Publishing News: Book Book Book! (Updated)

I’ve been sitting on some pretty cool publishing news for the last several months, but have been waiting until details were ironed out before I felt I could announce it here. Tonight, before the launch/reading for Ceriph issue no. 2 (which contains my story “Air is Water is Air,” the first part of which I read to this packed audience at BooksActually), finalized contracts were signed, and so now it all feels official and very very real.

In June September 2011 (only five eight months from now), Math Paper Press, the independent press run by BooksActually’s amazing proprieters Kenny Leck and Karen Wai, will publish my debut collection of short stories, Red Dot Irreal!!! Yay and W00T!

The book collects many of my fantastical short stories set in Singapore, and one in Bali (just for shiggles), what I’m calling Equatorial Fantastika. With Math Paper Press, Karen & Kenny have begun branching out into publishing, and will be bringing their considerable talent for design and presentation (not to mention bookselling) to my little volume. I actually sold the book back in September, and have shown an unbelievable amount of restraint not to blab it all over the internets before now.

This isn’t a full collection, it’s only about 36,000 words and has a fairly tight focus, but I’m really jazzed about it. We’re currently discussing whether the budget will handle interior illustrations, which I think would be really cool. I’m also talking with Karen & Kenny about possibly having copies available to be distributed in North America, so my USian peeps could also have access to it, but nothing’s concrete yet.

Here’s the proposed table of contents for Red Dot Irreal (subject to change):

01. Bogeymen
02. Ikan Berbudi (Wise Fish)
03. Hero Worship, or How I Met the Dream King
04. Lion City Daikaiju
05. Dragging the Frame
06. Kopi Luwak
07. Paper Cow
08. Taxi Ride
09. Coast
10. In Jurong

Dragging the Frame” and “Ikan Berbudi” have been drastically expanded from their original flash format into fully-fledged short stories; I wrote like mad during the holidays in November and December so that I could get them done before the school year started again last week. “Bogeymen” sold to Bill Schafer for Subterranean Magazine nearly four years ago now, but I don’t know if it’ll show up there before the story gets published in the book.

So anyway: eeeee! Book book book! Happy happy happy!


N.B. This entry has been updated with the new release date; the book will now be published in September rather than June. Things were pushed back a bit by Math Paper Press’ ambitious publishing schedule, and the many many other events and activities being organized by Kenny and Karen. Still, all told, a three-month delay is hardly anything, and is still in time to launch for the 2011 Singapore Writers Festival.

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