Category Archives: Southeast Asia

A Taste of My Long-Form Fiction

My agent, Kristopher O’Higgins (Scribe Agency), is currently shopping around two pieces of my long-form fiction, and I realized recently that there’s almost no trace of them here at my website (aside from a brief mention in my bio). So I’ve decided to put up a preview of each work, just a few thousand words, to give y’all a taste, and hopefully whet your appetite for more:

A Fickle and Restless Weapon — a 130,000-word Calvino-esque psychological novel about transnational characters using varied art forms to struggle against a Southeast Asian surveillance state. With explosions.

Quek Zhou Ma (who goes under the stage name Zed), an internationally successful dramatist, arrives home in the equatorial island-nation of Tinhau after a long absence in order to attend the funeral of his older sister, who has committed suicide by train. As he deals with conflicting feelings about a homeland he hardly recognizes, and the lingering questions surrounding his sister’s death, he decides to produce a lavish spare-no-expense production in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture, but opening night is marred by a nearby bombing attributed to a local resistance group calling themselves PAKATAN.

Tara, a transplanted Indian by way of America, works for the Ministry of Culture as a graphic designer, and leads Buddhist meditation circles on the weekends, which is where she first meets Zed. With an uncanny knack for both reading and influencing the behavior of others, she has found herself uneasily associated with PAKATAN, and despite her stance on non-violence she is charged with bringing Zed over to the cause. But as the pair begin to grow closer, she has doubts about whether she can complete her task.

Vahid Nabizadeh, Zed’s creative partner and a master puppeteer, stays in Tinhau after the end of their production. An Iranian Briton, already once removed from his native country, he finds a home in the culture and cuisine of Tinhau, and an unlikely friendship with Kelvin de Vries, an Indo-Dutch son of Tinhau’s most successful business magnate. As Vahid comes to grips with his new life, he inadvertently becomes embroiled in political and financial intrigue that threatens to unbalance the stability of the government itself.

A Fickle and Restless Weapon explores the relationships between these characters, and the ways that they deal with their disaffected identities, as well as the disruption and chaos that occurs when Tinhau is abruptly attacked by the Range, a mysterious cloud formation that appears without warning and destroys without mercy, a weapon as fickle and restless as the human mind.

***

 
The Diary of One Who Disappeared — a 30,000-word novella that takes place 25 years after the events of A Fickle and Restless Weapon, and shares the same fantastical milieu (but can be read as a standalone piece).

Peak oil, the climate crisis, and the economic collapse of the USA in the late 20th century have impacted Tinhau, one of many countries that has depended heavily on the American capitalist engine; yet Tinhau’s government not only has survived the shock, but appears to be thriving.

Lucas Lehrer is a minor functionary in the Department of Economic and Spiritual Development, headquartered at the North American Union’s capitol in New York City. He is tasked with traveling from the NAU to Tinhau via airship to liaise with officials there and extend the offer of partnership. Lucas’s immediate supervisor on the mission is his estranged wife Ailene, and he hopes that the trip will also reinvigorate their failing marriage.

After arriving at their destination, they are met with religious and cultural differences that cause negotiations to break down. Ailene announces her intention of divorce as soon as they return to NYC, and in an act of rebellion Lucas decides to request asylum to stay in Tinhau. As he begins his new job at Tinhau’s Ministry of Stability, he encounters an odd series of coincidences, in which his deep-seated desires start coming true. He also befriends an emerging Chinese-language poet named Yu-Wei, a young woman who is not what she seems, and who may not be from our universe at all.

***

 
Hope you enjoy!

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Read The Question of Red for free

I was recently asked by Gareth Richards of Gerakbudaya Bookshop in Penang to pick the three best books I read that were published in 2016. It was a real challenge narrowing it down to only three (I could have easily listed 20 or 30), but in the end I chose one graphic novel / collected comics volume (Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda), one short fiction collection (The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu), and one novel (The Question of Red by Laksmi Pamuntjak), the last of which I want to talk just a bit more about.

US edition of The Question of Red

Laksmi Pamuntjak has published collections of verse and short stories, and five editions of the Jakarta Good Food Guide. She is proficiently bilingual in both Indonesian and English, and has translated two works of Indonesian poet and essayist Goenawan Mohamad. The Question of Red was first published in Indonesian in 2012 by Gramedia Pustaka Utama, and became an instant hit. The German edition did so as well, winning the LiBeraturpreis in 2016, appearing on the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Top 8 list of the best books of the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015, and being named best work of fiction from Asia, America, Latin America, and the Caribbean translated into German on the Weltempfaenger (Receivers of the World) list.

An English translation was hurriedly produced by Gramedia in 2013, but Laksmi later did a ground-up revisiting of the text, transcreating the novel in English, and this is the edition published earlier this year by AmazonCrossing in the US and by Speaking Tiger in the Indian Subcontinent.

I met Laksmi when she was a featured author at the 2015 Singapore Writers Festival, and she signed my copy of the Indonesia-only limited English edition (which may now be a collector’s item, as it’s now out of print), but urged me to find the new edition in 2016 and read it instead. Which is what I did. And no other novel I read this year came even close to what an amazing book this is. You can find the description and effusive blurbs on the author’s official book page, so I won’t rehash them here, except to say that I LOVED this novel. It took me two months to read, which is a long time for me, even for a book of this size, because I kept stopping to savour the writing and the imagery and the depth of feeling that infuses every page. I’m just in awe of how epic and heartbreaking it is, and written so beautifully. The Question of Red is an amazing work of art, tackling darkness and redemption and love, and it inspires me to get back to my own writing pronto.

Indian Subcontinent edition of The Question of Red

And I was puzzled that the novel has frankly received little attention in the American book world. It’s gotten a few reviews, but none yet in mainstream literary publications. It is unfortunately entirely possible that it has been overlooked by review venues and bookstores because of its Amazonian association (which, if true, is an incredible shame). I am no fan of Amazon myself, but I’m quite willing to put that aside in order to help shine a bigger light on this incredible novel.

The list price of the book on Amazon is $14.95, but it’s marked down to $8.67, which is already an incredible deal. However, starting now and continuing for the next three months, the book is absolutely free to read as part of the Prime Reading program in the US. Meaning that until the end of March, if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can read the book for zero dollars (you should automatically see the “Read for Free” option).

You owe it to yourself to read this remarkable book, and with prices so low (or free), there’s really no reason not to. And once you’ve read it, do leave a review on the Amazon page. Go on, make this one of your New Year’s resolutions.

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The 2016 George Town Literary Festival

This past weekend, I flew up to Penang for the 2016 George Town Literary Festival. It was my first time in Penang, and I definitely want to go back when I actually have the time to check the place out. George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and so many beautiful old buildings are protected, including Wisma Yeap Chor Ee (WYCE), which was the main GTLF venue. (Although this meant no air-conditioning during some very sweltering days.)

I had a wonderful time seeing some familiar faces (Marc de Faoite, Sharon Bakar, Amanda Lee Koe, Tash Aw, Darryl Whetter), as well as making new friends (James Scudamore, Tishani Doshi, Jérôme Bouchaud, Faisal Tehrani, Ismail Gareth Richards, Amir Muhammad). I was also happy to finally meet the indefatigable Bernice Chauly in person; we’ve been Facebook friends for years, and I’ll be editing her first novel for Epigram Books in 2017.

The festival theme, Hiraeth, was threaded throughout the many panels and readings over the weekend, in explorations of longing, homelands, identity, and the role of fiction. It was a privilege to hear from such thoughtful writers who’d come from all over the world to talk about their work in the context of this framework.

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Announcing the Release of LONTAR #1

LONTAR issue #1 is now available!

lontar1_cover

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

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

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

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

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Sweet Sassy Molassy Do I Need an Assistant

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

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

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

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

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

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Crazy May

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

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

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

And here are my deadlines:

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

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

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

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

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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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“Complications” Now Available as Ebook

Complications of the FleshMy 4700-word story “Complications of the Flesh” is now available as an ebook on Smashwords for only 99¢. This short story first appeared in issue #7 of the science fiction and fantasy magazine Bull Spec in Spring 2012.

In the Southeast Asian island nation of Tinhau, drug-running is a hanging offense. But the life is just too good for an American washout who would be in prison or dead if not for the intercession of a gangland kingpin called Moz, and his beautiful Indian girlfriend Savita. When the American is caught in an affair with Savita, the consequences become dangerously surreal, and echo into a metaphoric realm short on answers but heavy in meaning.

Cover design is by Robert Freeman Wexler. Cover photograph is by by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen. A short afterword was written especially for the ebook.

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LONTAR Now Open For Subs

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

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

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

Best of luck!

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Announcing LONTAR

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LONTARMath Paper Press and founding editor Jason Erik Lundberg are excited to announce the establishment of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction. The mission of this quarterly literary journal is to promote and celebrate quality writing with elements of the fantastic, which is in some way connected with the cultures, traditions, mythologies, folk religions, and/or daily life in Southeast Asia. Joining Lundberg is prolific poet and fiction-writer Kristine Ong Muslim, who will assume the duties of poetry editor.

Southeast Asia is a region that has thus far been under-represented in the more traditionally Western field of speculative fiction. Part of the reason for this in the past has been the language barrier, but this is no longer the case; with English as the lingua franca the world over, more and more people in Southeast Asia know the language fluently. And while publications such as The Apex Book of World SF and Expanded Horizons have created friendly venues for SEA writers in English, the support is largely not there for speculative writing in their own countries, because it may be deemed “frivolous” or “not pragmatic enough.” LONTAR aims to fill this need.

Unsolicited submissions of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and sequential art are welcome from both SEA and non-SEA writers. (Note: stories rejected from the anthology Fish Eats Lion should not be re-submitted for consideration at LONTAR; please send new work.) The reading period will begin on the 1st of June 2012; any pieces submitted prior to this date will be deleted unread. The first issue is planned for release and launch at this year’s Singapore Writers Festival.

Please visit the full submission guidelines at the LONTAR Submittable portal.

The editors look forward to reading your work!

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