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Four, Oh!

This past Saturday, I celebrated my 40th trip around the sun. This birthday kinda snuck up on me; for some odd reason, it doesn’t invoke nearly the magnitude of momentous anxiety as my 30th birthday did, possibly because that occasion felt like a funeral for my twenties. This one, despite society’s arbitrary assignation as the peak of one’s life, is more of a relief. I’ve now made it through my thirties, a decade both contentious and thrilling, full of the most extreme highs and lows in my life, and I’m still in one piece. I’m ready to get on with the rest of it.

The day itself was probably the best that it could have been, despite the noxious haze that still continues to plague Singapore. Adan and Felicia, two of my best friends in my adopted home, treated me and my daughter Anya to brunch at Batter Fluffy Flaps, a great pancake restaurant in Katong (I had Eggs Benedict, but with a pancake instead of English muffin, so good). Afterward, the four us went by bus into town to Kinokuniya, for an event featuring Felisa H. Batacan’s Philippine crime novel Smaller and Smaller Circles. Dinner that evening was sushi from Cold Storage; dessert was black forest cake from the neighbourhood bakery, and I even managed to find a birthday candle to stick on top.

JEL-40th-bday-cake

Anya sang “Happy Birthday to You,” and the fact that the song is now in the public domain made it doubly sweet.

It was a low-key day, but I’m now finding that those are the best kind. Even so, I got to spend it with some my favourite people (including my favourite person in the world), eat some of my favourite foods, and be surrounded by books. All things considered, I couldn’t have imagined a better way to mark this particular milestone.

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Goodbye, Jay

I found out about Jay Lake’s passing last night before bed, which is a terrible time to hear such devastating news. Not enough time to really process things, and I was angry. Even though I’d known this was coming, for a long time now, it still hit me hard, and I was pissed off once again about the unfairness of the world.

Waking up this morning after tossing and turning all night, I was heartened to read the great tributes on Facebook from people who knew him, as well as the remembrances at io9 and Tor.com.

I don’t remember the first time I met Jay. He was a force of nature in the speculative fiction crowd for years before we actually shook hands. But when we did, it was like seeing an old friend again after a long absence, as though we were buddies in a previous life. He was generous and welcoming right away, even though I was still a nobody, and I was struck by how incredibly full of life he was.

I was there at WisCon for the infamous three-way pool noodle fight between Jay, Tim Pratt and David D. Levine to determine the winner of the Campbell Award that year, and laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. David was master of the noodle, but Jay ended up winning the award, and was effusively gracious in his acceptance speech.

At another WisCon (or maybe it was the same one, I can’t remember now), a big group of us went to lunch on the streets of Madison one day, and happened upon a pub that was open. As we were chatting, someone on the other side of the pub lit up a cigarette. Upon seeing my wrinkled-up nose and sour expression (even though the guy was across the room and I couldn’t really smell it), Jay asked what was wrong. I pointed at the smoker, then Jay laughed and patted me on the back and said, “Jason, we’re in a bar. What did you expect?” I had a rebuttal all ready to go about the smell destroying the taste of my food, and second-hand smoke, and reasons, but then immediately realized that he was right and I had to get over myself.

Jay was phenomenally prolific, which initially shamed me, but then inspired me to increase my rate of output. He forwent a lot of the media consumption that I was (and still am) involved with (I don’t think he even owned a TV), and took his writing career extremely seriously. For a while there, he was writing a story a week, and they were wonderful, beautifully rendered works of prose.

I was privileged to share a table of contents with him in Intracities (edited by Michael Jasper) and Text:UR—The New Book of Masks (edited by Forrest Aguirre), and to be able to publish his writing in A Field Guide to Surreal Botany. He came very close to buying a few of my stories for the groundbreaking Polyphony anthology series (which, along with Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and the Leviathan anthologies, helped to shape speculative fiction of the last decade), and his rejections were always filled with encouragement.

2004 Strange Horizons Oregon Workshop

Pictured, l to r, top to bottom: Jason Erik Lundberg, Jason Stoddard, H. Courreges (Harry) LeBlanc, Jay Lake, Brian Wade, Diana Sherman, Mark Teppo, Brenda Cooper, Dawn Burnell

I had the very good fortune to attend the Strange Horizons Oregon Workshop in 2004, run by Jay and Mary Anne Mohanraj. I learned an incredible amount, and got to experience some wonderful camaraderie with other writers at similar points in their careers. Above is the group photo of us that Mary Anne took, with Jay in one of his trademark brilliantly colored shirts with a big grin on his face. This is how I choose to remember him now.

The way he approached his cancer, knowing from the outset that it was terminal, was incredibly brave. He documented every step in the process on his blog, and when his health worsened and he was too weak to do so, his partner Lisa updated in his stead. He faced death with integrity to the very end.

Jay was an incredibly kind and generous person, and my life is better for having known him.

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What a Week I’m Having

I was remarkably productive this week, to my surprise and delight. Here’s what I did.

1. A big chunk of novel revisions for A Fickle and Restless Weapon. These had been weighing on me for a long time, so it was great to finally get some progress done on them.

2. Proof the layout for LONTAR #1, which looks great.

3. Proof the layout for Embracing the Strange, which is also looks great.

4. Query an artist friend about possibly collaborating on a graphic novel.

5. Write a piece for the “nasi lemak” issue of Twenty-Four Flavours.

6. Turn in the manuscript of Strange Mammals to Keith at Infinity Plus Books.

7. Organize a microfiction collection (which I probably won’t be done writing until late next year, but it was still fun to start putting it together).

I also got some really great news that I can’t share, because it’s not official just yet, but hopefully soon.

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Infinity Plus and Other Publication News

Infinity PlusI am very happy to announce that I have sold a small (37,000 words) ebook collection to Keith Brooke at Infinity Plus Books. It’s called The Alchemy of Happiness, and will include three long stories concerning my elemental characters Blue and Dane (the first two being “Reality, Interrupted” and “In Jurong“), as well as a 14,000-word hybrid-essay called “Embracing the Strange: The Transformative Impact of Speculative Fiction” (an expanded form of my CAP Plenary Lecture this past May, which will also hopefully be published soon as a standalone chapbook by Math Paper Press). We might also throw an interview in there too. The expected release date is sometime in October 2012.

Since Keith previously reprinted two of my stories (the other one being “Enlightenment“) at Infinity Plus’s previous incarnation as an online repository for groundbreaking science fiction, fantasy, and horror, I’m quite excited to be working with him once again on this ebook. He’s done an incredible job curating his current book line, and I’m proud to now be included among such writers as Robert Freeman Wexler, Anna Tambour, Neil Williamson, and Kit Reed.

In addition, as a wonderful kind of bonus, Infinity Plus Books will be re-issuing the ebook of Red Dot Irreal, with a brand new story written especially for the new edition. (As such, in the coming week, I’ll be removing my self-published edition from Smashwords, and it should steadily disappear from all the other ebook distribution outlets shortly thereafter.) Since both ebooks will be released at the same time, we’re going to offer a special deal: anyone who buys The Alchemy of Happiness will receive the new edition of Red Dot Irreal completely for free. More on this later.

Late 2012 is looking pretty sweet for me right now:

  •  I’m self-publishing ebook editions of my 2001 chapbook The Curragh of Kildaire (revised, with a new 3,000-word afterword and Jamie Bishop’s original “woodcut” illustrations, all proceeds to go to charity) and “Complications of the Flesh” (recently published in Bull Spec), and likely releasing them in September.
  • The Alchemy of Happiness and Red Dot Irreal 2.0 will drop in October.
  • Fish Eats Lion will launch in November.

These are exciting times, and they’re about to get excitinger.

N.B. The first issue of LONTAR will be delayed slightly, so instead of coming out in November as originally thought, it’s forecasted for release around March 2013.

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My friend Wei Fen Lee just posted this poem on her blog, and I dig it so much that I’m reblogging it. Enjoy.

here, my lungs are tea-stained & soft

One day a lean poem
reached Gandhi’s ashram
to have a glimpse of the man.
Gandhi spinning away
his thread towards Ram
took no notice of the poem
waiting at his door
ashamed as he was no bhajan.

The poem cleared his throat
and Gandhi looked at him sideways
through those glasses
that had seen Hell.
‘Have you ever spun thread?’, he asked,
‘Ever pulled a scavenger’s cart?
Ever stood the smoke
of an early morning kitchen?
Have you ever starved?’

The poem said: ‘I was born
in the woods, in a hunter’s mouth.
A fisherman brought me up in his hamlet.
Yet, I know no work, I only sing.
First I sang in the courts:
then I was plump and handsome;
but am on the streets now,
half-starved.’

‘That’s better,’ Gandhi said
with a sly smile, ‘but you must
give up this habit
of speaking in Sanskrit at times.

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It’s the first of May. You know what that means.

Whatever

It’s a hallowed tradition here on Whatever to play “First of May” by Jonathan Coulton on the first of May, provided I can remember to do so. I remembered! So crank it up, provided you are not some place where a sprightly song about springtime fornication will in fact get you in trouble. In which case, maybe headphones are appropriate.

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Star Player

All day, I have been expectorating my brain matter out of my nostrils, and so am not in any position to write a proper blog entry.

Instead, you get a picture of my feet from October of last year. Thankfully, they are covered by my pair of Converse by John Varvatos Limited Edition Star Player EVs (model #121776).

Star Player EV

I prefer Jack Purcells, but these are perhaps the most comfortable pair of Converse sneakers I’ve ever owned. (The only downside is that they are way slippery on any wet surface, so I have to be really careful when it rains in Singapore.) They were a birthday present from my parents, and have held up incredibly well for the almost six months that I’ve worn them.

This model seems to be sold out from Converse, but you can find them elsewhere online.

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V-Day

Janet and Anya in SC

Happy Valentine’s Day to the two ladies I love most in the world. They’re still in Hong Kong, but I’m sending love waves their way through the aether. Can’t wait until they return in two days. (Photo taken this past December in South Carolina.)

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