Category Archives: Writing

Surreal Worlds of Southeast Asia

Worldcon-SEApanel

Photo courtesy of Patricia Mulles

On 11 August at 10:00 in the morning, I moderated a panel at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, called “Surreal Worlds of Southeast Asia“. Joining me were Aliette de Bodard and Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, two great writers whom I admire, and we had a fascinating discussion about speculative fiction in and about Southeast Asia; they also discussed their work and I talked a bit about LONTAR (which needs your help right now).

The audience was a decent size for a 10am event, and I discovered afterward that all the copies of Red Dot Irreal and LONTAR that I brought sold out at the convention. I was very happy to see that we had spread the word, and hopefully folks will go looking for more Southeast Asian speculative writing in the future.

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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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Filed under Books, Lit Festivals, Reading, Southeast Asia, Writing

Carol the Coral: My New Picture Book!

Carol the Coral cover

A couple of months ago, I was approached by Goodstuph, a brand manager and advertising agency in Singapore, about writing a new children’s picture book for a campaign they were doing with development company Keppel Land, concerning marine ecosystem conservation in Keppel Bay. As part of their “Homes in the Sea” initiative, they’ve been growing young coral in a nursery and then transplanting them to an existing coral reef at King’s Dock.

After meeting and discussing the idea, I came up with Carol the Coral, a story about a feisty young coral who discovers King’s Dock while looking for a new home, and who must contend with a grumpy clam who wants the spot that she has claimed. The book was to consist of four chapters, all of which had to be approved by the client, and after a bit of fumbling at the beginning while trying to understand what they were looking for, I sent them a plot summary for each chapter, and then got to work on breaking these down on the page level.

Once the text was written, artist Annabella Goh went to work on adapting it visually and laying out the text on each page. And she did such an amazing job enhancing the story through her whimsical art style. Carol is incredibly cute (while also quite capable of handling herself), and there were even some surprises that made me laugh out loud (such as seeing the pistol shrimp henchmen in chapter 3 really look like gangsters; one has a missing eye, and the other wears a trilby).

Chapter 1 was released at the Keppel Land Live FB page on 28 May, and each subsequent chapter every three or four days later; the final chapter went up today! Each chapter is introduced with a question to the viewer, and if you answer correctly, you’re put in the running to win to tickets to the new Pixar film, Finding Dory! (Which I’m totally taking Anya to see in the theatre.) The contest ends on 12 June 2016, 11.59pm UTC+08:00, so don’t delay!

In addition, Keppel Land will be producing a limited-edition print book that publishes the entire story. As much as I wish it would be available in bookstores along with my other books, they’re not interested in becoming a publisher, and will only be using the book for giveaways. So really, the best way for you to see it is online.

I have to say that this has been a great experience, and I’ve learned a lot from it. I had the preconceived notion that doing corporate work would be soul-deadening, but the collaboration with Anna, and the working relationship with the folks at both Keppel Land and Goodstuph, has been quite fulfilling! Also, since Bo Bo and Cha Cha is currently on hiatus, I’m especially glad to have a new picture book come out this year.

So please enjoy the adventures of Carol the Coral!

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Where You Can Find Me at the Singapore Writers Festival

It hasn’t even been two weeks since I got back from New York, but I already need to gear up for the 2014 Singapore Writers Festival. Once again, I’ll be heavily involved this year; Anya’s also old enough now that I think she’ll enjoy the Little Lit events, so we’ll be hitting quite a few of those as well.

So here’s my schedule, including events in which I’ll just be in the audience, if you’d like to catch me:

SWF 2014 Opening Ceremony
(By Invitation Only)
SMU Campus Green, Makeover Tent, 31 Oct, 530-730pm

Little Lit: Storytelling for Little Ones
(Free and Open to All)
National Museum of Singapore, Children’s Wing, Explore, 01 Nov, 1200-1230pm

Little Lit: Guided Craft: Dinosaur Art
(Free and Open to All)
National Museum of Singapore, Platform, 01 Nov, 300-400pm

Panel: Worthy Failure vs Mediocre Success (panelist)
(Festival Pass Event)
Singapore Art Museum, Glass Hall, 01 Nov, 530-630pm

Brand New Books: Trivialities About Me and Myself by Yeng Pway Ngon
(Free and Open to All)
SMU Campus Green, Festival Pavilion, 02 Nov, 1000-1100am

Brand New Books: Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me and Other Stories by Cyril Wong and The Space Between the Raindrops by Justin Ker (moderator)
(Free and Open to All)
SMU Campus Green, Festival Pavilion, 02 Nov, 1000-1100am

SWF Makan
(By Invitation Only)
Food For Thought, National Museum of Singapore, 02 Nov, 1230-130pm

Panel: Superheroes Aren’t Everything
(Festival Pass Event)
SMU, Campus Green, Makeover Tent, 02 Nov, 530-630pm

Brand New Books: Junoesq Literary Journal edited by Grace Chia Kraković
(Free and Open to All)
SMU Campus Green, Festival Pavilion, 05 Nov, 700-800pm

Kirstin Chen in Conversation with Alvin Pang
(Free and Open to All; Non-SWF Event)
BooksActually, 07 Nov, 730-900pm

Meet the Author: Karen Joy Fowler (moderator)
(Festival Pass Event)
National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre, 08 Nov, 1000-1100am
(For those unable to make this session, Karen is doing another MTA event at Kinokuniya Neo SIMS at 430pm.)

Brand New Books: Tibby and Duckie by Emily Lim, Bo Bo and Cha Cha Cook Up a Storm by Jason Erik Lundberg and A Boy Named Harry by Patrick Yee (panelist)
(Free and Open to All)
SMU Campus Green, Festival Pavilion, 08 Nov, 230-330pm

SWF Lecture: “Words Are Not Paint: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Cultural References” by Jonathan Lethem
(Ticketed Event)
National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre, 08 Nov, 500-600pm

Panel: The State of Literature
(Festival Pass Event)
SMU, Campus Green, Makeover Tent, 09 Nov, 1130am-100pm

Meet the Author: Paul Theroux
(Festival Pass Event)
National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre, 09 Nov, 230-330pm

Panel: Writing for the Global Audience
(Festival Pass Event)
SMU, Campus Green, Makeover Tent, 09 Nov, 400-500pm

Whew!

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Where You Can Find Me in NYC

Next month, I’ll be flying from Singapore to New York City to be part of the inaugural Singapore Literature Festival in NYC, alongside a baker’s dozen other remarkable fiction writers, poets, and dramatists. I’m only there for a week, sadly, and it’s looking like that week will be jam-packed; when I’m not involved in the festival itself, I’ll also be spending some time with family and friends (and meeting with Juliet Ulman to discuss my novella, The Diary of One Who Disappeared). So if you want to catch me while I’m in town, your best bet is to check out one of the events I’m participating in.

So here’s my schedule:

SFWA Annual Reception for Industry Professionals
(SFWA Members and Guests Only)
The Manhattan Penthouse, 06 Oct, 700-1100pm

PEN American Center Members Mingle
(PEN Members and Guests Only)
Prohibition, 503 Columbus Avenue, 08 Oct, 630-830pm

What Writing Means in Singapore
(SLF Related Event—Free and Open to All)
WORD Bookstore (Brooklyn), 09 Oct, 700-830pm

The Local Cosmopolitan
(SLF Opening Party—By Invitation Only)
Book Culture, 10 Oct, 700-900pm

Book Signing
(Entry by ticket to one of the 92Y events)
92nd Street Y, 11 Oct, 600-630pm

Reading Culture
(Free and Open to All)
Book Culture, 12 Oct, 200-400pm

Encore
(SLF Closing Party—By Invitation Only)
McNally Jackson Books, 12 Oct, 700-900pm

More details at the full SLF programming schedule.

As mentioned above, the events at WORD on the 9th and Book Culture on the 12th are free, but all the ones scheduled at the 92nd Street Y are ticketed. Also, I’m likely to be at all the events on Saturday the 11th from 2pm onward, in the audience, so please do come up and say hi (and don’t worry that you’ll be bothering me, because meeting folks is a big part of the whole trip). I’m also happy to sign books at any point, not just during the official signing slot on the 11th.

Hope to see some friendly faces there!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYC-Bound in October!

I’ve been sitting on some exciting news, and have just been given the go-ahead to announce it: I will be in New York City in early October as part of the inaugural Singapore Literature Festival! So excite!

The festival takes place on 10-12 October at the 92nd Street Y, and is being organized by Paul Rozario-Falcone and Jee Leong Koh. It is a “community-led, grassroots event that aims to build awareness of Singaporean writing among readers, editors, and publishing professionals in New York; connect Singaporean and other writers; and offer a platform for regular readings of Singaporean literature in New York during the rest of the year.”

I’m joined by a fantastic array of Singaporean authors, in whose company I am honored and flattered to be included: Alfian Sa’at, Kirstin Chen, Christine Chia, Tania De Rozario, Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen, Haresh Sharma, Joshua Ip, Isa Kamari, Pooja Nansi, Alvin Pang, Wena Poon, and Cyril Wong.

In addition to the festival proper, I’ll also be appearing at a bookstore event along with Alvin Pang and Cyril Wong at WORD Bookstore in Brooklyn on 9 October. Kinda like a pre-festival fringe event. We’ll be discussing Singaporean prose and all kinds of other stuff.

I’m meeting with Juliet Ulman to go over the edits to my novella The Diary of a Man Who Disappeared (recipient of a NAC Creation Grant), and would love to be able to meet up with other NYC-based peeps as well; just shoot me a message via email or Facebook, and we’ll see if we can’t make it happen during the limited time when I’m there.

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AGENTED!

Apologies for the lack of updates here, but I’ve been working hard on a number of big projects lately, which has occupied most of my writing headspace. However, I now have some big news to share.

I am thrilled, no, make that piss-my-pants ecstatic, that I now have a literary agent for everything except for my children’s fiction.

You guys, I have an agent! AN AGENT!

Henceforth, I’ll be represented by Kristopher O’Higgins at Scribe Agency. I’ve been a big fan of Scribe since they started hosting parties at WisCon years ago, and they also represent a bunch of authors whom I greatly respect and consider friends: Darin Bradley, Mark Teppo, Forrest Aguirre, Berrien C. Henderson, and Marguerite Reed (you can see the full list here). I’m also jazzed that I’ve signed with Scribe during the year of its tin anniversary.

Kris has my 130,000-word novel, A Fickle and Restless Weapon, and will be working with me to tighten it up, and then shop it around. I really feel that this is my breakout work, and I look forward to seeing what he does with it.

SUPER YAY! SNOOPY DANCE!

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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.

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

swf-bnssslaunch
(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.

swf-medean1
(L to R: me, Rajeev Patke (mod), Dean Francis Alfar. Photo by David Seow.)

swf-medean
(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.

swf-meterrijasmine
(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.

swf-fringedebate
(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.)

swf-fringedebate3
(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.)

swf-fringedebate2
(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).

swf-memohsin

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.

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

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

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

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

xmas-anyamom
(Anya playing with her Yiayia.)

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

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

xmas-anyame
(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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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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Guest Blogging for Strange Mammals

This past week I got paperback author copies of my three Infinity Plus titles, and have done a couple of guest blogs in the service of promoting my new kitchen-sink collection Strange Mammals.

The first was for the “Story Behind” feature at Upcoming4.me:

Kitchen-sink collections are bizarre beasts. There’s not a single unifying theme that connects the stories, nor are they linked with characters that continue throughout the book. What they are instead is a representative gathering of an author’s output over a given period of time, and they present a wider sense of the writer’s thematic and philosophical preoccupations. My own preoccupations tend toward the bizarre in the everyday, whether this is showcased by an alcoholic talking wombat with a penchant for Greek food, an encounter between a rock god and a djinn, or a supervillain henchman with a giant screw for a head.

Strange Mammals has had a long and tortuous gestation. It originated as my Master’s thesis at North Carolina State University in 2005, when it was titled Lies and Little Deaths. After the manuscript was rejected by a small press a couple of years later, I reevaluated the stories within, took some older, less-accomplished pieces out and replaced them with newer (and hopefully better) ones. I kept tinkering and refining as my individual short story sales progressed, and in 2010 retitled the book Realities, Interrupted and submitted it to another publisher. It came this close to publication, but then the funding for it disappeared, and, therefore, its chances at existence.

The second was for the blog for Infinity Plus, the publisher of the book:

Human beings are strange mammals. Just thought I’d get that out of the way.

In the animal kingdom, all mammals eat, sleep, mate, and fight to defend themselves. (This, of course, applies to non-mammalian animals as well.) But human beings are the only type of mammal that also questions their own existence and identity. Who are we? Why are we here? What are we supposed to do with the limited time allotted to us?

Evolutionarily speaking, intuitively, this is exceedingly odd. On the face of it, wondering what you want to be when you grow up should actually interfere with, rather than aid with, your continued survival; debating the merits of becoming a fireman versus an astronaut is not entirely helpful if a lion is chewing through your stomach. But this strange and constant questioning has actually done the opposite, and led to human beings, as comedian Louis CK famously pointed out, successfully pulling ourselves out of the food chain. We have survived as a species not in spite of this preoccupation, but because of it.

These questions have spurred on both miraculous innovation and horrific atrocities, but regardless of the results, they are at the fundamental heart of humanity. Literature is one of the few avenues so thoroughly equipped to examine these questions, and speculative fiction is particularly keen, through its slanted focus, on transcending mere fact and approaching truth. (Although anyone with a definitive answer is selling something.)

And lastly, my brilliant little daughter, who turns four years old this week, gave a completely unprompted (really, I swear!) plea on her daddy’s behalf:

What other endorsement do you need? Obey the cuteness! #strangemammals

A post shared by Jason Erik Lundberg (@jelundberg) on

Available from: Amazon | Amazon UK | CreateSpace

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It’s a Three-Book Day!

Three-Book Day!

Third book, Strange Mammals, not shown.

Holy crap, today is an embarrassment of riches!

Strange MammalsI woke up this morning to the news that my new collection from Infinity Plus, Strange Mammals, is now available for ordering both in print and ebook formats. There was also this nice bit from Keith Brooke: “I really shouldn’t rave about individual titles – I genuinely love all the books we put out, otherwise why bother? But I did particularly enjoy this one – a real treat for anyone who loves stylish, strange contemporary fantasy.” Which is something that an author can never hear enough from his publisher. I should hopefully be seeing my author copies in a few weeks.

BNSSS Vol 1So I was already riding pretty high when I went in to work. Then, during our fortnightly Books-in-Print editorial meeting, our printer dropped off the freshly-finished copies of Epigram Books’ October titles, including The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza by Cyril Wong, Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe, The Wayang at Eight Milestone by Gregory Nalpon, and, most importantly, The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One! The printers did an amazing job, and all the books are just damn beautiful; they should start appearing in fine bookstores in a couple of weeks.

Embracing the StrangeAnd then, as if that wasn’t enough, I headed over to BooksActually after work, and picked up my author copies of Embracing the Strange: The Transformative Impact of Speculative Fiction, which just came out yesterday (just squeaking under the wire to still be considered a September book)! There aren’t any autographed copies in the store yet, because they ran out of “Signed Copy” stickers, but I’ll be heading back over sometime soon to put my signature in a bunch of copies.

Holy wow! All of this, on top of the release of LONTAR #1 a couple of weeks ago, has made me a bit drunk on publication ambrosia. My head can barely fit through a doorway right now.

Now it’s time to promote them! I apologize in advance for all the flogging I’ll be doing in the coming months, but now that they’re all published, we’ve got to sell them! Buy buy buy, people! And bye-bye!

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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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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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A Metric Pantload of Updates

It’s been a couple of months since my last proper blog entry, and things have been remarkably busy during that time.

Embracing the Strange and LONTAR #1 still haven’t come out, but indications are good that the journal issue will at least be out by end of July or beginning of October. *crossing fingers*

I’ve been writing flash fiction pieces for the new Math Paper Press broadsheet magazine, Twenty-Four Flavours, and having a blast. I’ve really missed writing such short pieces on a regular basis, as I did during the halcyon days of The Daily Cabal, and it’s great to have a friendly venue with which to explore the form once again. So far, I have sold stories for the first five issues (the second one, Century Egg, was launched this past weekend at The Arts House), and I’m hoping to have a piece in all twenty-four.

I turned in the manuscript for the third panda picture book, called Bo Bo and Cha Cha and the Not-So-Nice Friend, and am quite happy with how it came out; I think it’s the best of the series so far. It’s expected to come out in October, and  Patrick Yee is at work now on the illustrations.

I’ve been doing a surprising number of writer appearances and storytelling sessions lately, so many that I needed to create a separate Publicity page just to keep it all straight. If you’re keen to invite me for an appearance or talk, please check there first to make sure I’m not already booked.

I taught at the Creative Arts Programme‘s annual seminar once again, and had a great time, as usual. If I ever fear for the future of Singapore’s creativity, I just need to think about the eager and talented students at CAP and my fears are allayed. I’ve also agreed to be a CAP mentor once again this year, to guide a select number of mentees through their writing process in order to improve.

I’ve also been invited to be one of the international judges for the for the 2013 Quantum Shorts flash fiction contest organized by the NUS Centre for Quantum Technologies, along with media partners Scientific American, Tor Books and Tor.com. I’m in some very distinguished company; the other judges are John Scalzi, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Mark Alpert, Mariette DiChristina, Artur Ekert, Paweł Frelik, Tania Hershman, and Lisa Randall (you can find bios for all of these remarkable people on the judges page). I can’t wait to read the stories submitted for the contest; one of my own, “TCB,” was posted as a “seed” story to provide some inspiration.

Revisions on A Fickle and Restless Weapon continue apace, and although it looks like I won’t make my self-imposed end-of-July deadline, I hope to get the book ship-shape by mid-August, and ready to send out to agents.

Whew. I think that’s enough for now. 🙂

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Announcing Strange Mammals from Infinity Plus Books

In September 2013, UK publisher Infinity Plus Books, which released ebook editions of Red Dot Irreal and The Alchemy of Happiness, will be publishing my new collection, Strange Mammals! As opposed to the previous two, which were organized by a loose theme, this will be a kitchen-sink collection, bringing together nearly all my remaining published fiction not already in book form.

In addition, I+ will also release POD paperback editions of all three books in uniform covers, which will look beautiful all together on a bookshelf.

I’ve had a wonderful experience working with Keith Brooke (the creative force behind I+) on these books, and indeed all the way back to when he first published some of my pieces on the Infinity Plus website, and I’m excited that these books will be available all over the world now, in both digital and dead-tree format.

Here’s the table of contents for Strange Mammals (subject to change); many of the pieces can be read individually for free, linked here on my website:

  1. Most Excellent and Lamentable
  2. The Artists Pentaptych
  3. Don’t Blink
  4. Avoirdupois
  5. Great Responsibility
  6. Strange Mammals
  7. Screwhead
  8. The Time Traveler’s Son
  9. King of Hearts
  10. Bodhisattva at the Heat Death of the Universe
  11. How To Make Chalk
  12. One Big Crunch
  13. Lachrymose Intolerant
  14. Jimi and the Djinn
  15. Multifacet
  16. Night Off
  17. Enlightenment
  18. Stuck
  19. TCB
  20. One Less
  21. Solipsister
  22. Wombat Fishbone
  23. Air is Water is Air
  24. The Apokalypsis Pentaptych
  25. Complications of the Flesh

These are very exciting times. 🙂

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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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Hidden In the Leaves

Jamie tombstoneYesterday was the six-year anniversary of the Virgina Tech shooting and the day that Jamie Bishop was killed. I was mostly occupied with breaking news about the bombing in Boston, and making sure that my family and friends who live in the area were okay. Today, after some slight temporal distance, I’m saddened even further that the 16th of April will now be remembered for two separate tragedies.

Stephanie Bishop Loftin, Jamie’s sister, posted the photo at right (taken by Janet Frick) on Facebook sometime yesterday, and it hit me with all the severity of a punch to the chest. Up to now, I hadn’t seen Jamie’s tombstone*, and it staggered me to realize that the sight of it could still affect me so much emotionally. There have been times over the past six years when I thought I might have finally come to terms with his untimely death, but it’s clear to me that it’s not something I’ll soon get over.

And so, apropos of this day, I’ve decided to post here a short-short story that was published in The Ayam Curtain, included in my ebook collection The Alchemy of Happiness, and found as a postscript to my print chapbook Embracing the Strange that will be released next month. It’s one of my more autobiographical pieces, but I hope that doesn’t distract from any enjoyment to be gotten. Cheers.

* After posting this entry, Stephanie informed me that the image is not of Jamie’s tombstone, but of one of the many memorial stones erected to honor the 32 victims of the 2007 campus shooting. You can see an image of the entire memorial site here at NPR.


“Hidden In the Leaves”

The day before Chinese New Year break, Sophia walked home alone from school with heavy steps. All of her primary school friends were full of excitement for the holidays, for the reunion dinners, for the many ang pow they expected to receive. There was no more Chinese an event in Singapore all year long, but Sophia always felt left out of the festivities. Her father was American, and her mother didn’t get along with her extended family, so Tara never got to see her cousins, or learn Teochew, or eat the Peranakan dishes that her great aunt was famed for cooking. She might receive a red packet from her grandparents, but that was about it. Sometimes, she felt as if she was the only one among her classmates who didn’t get to do all of the fun cultural things surrounding the celebration.

These troubled lonely thoughts took her away from her shuffling steps and the sweltering afternoon heat, and it wasn’t until her shoes scraped red clay tile rather than rough concrete sidewalk that she stopped, looked up, and realized she was standing in front of the haunted tree.

The ancient banyan occupied the dark center of the small park adjacent to her housing block, and the area around the tree always felt occluded and gloomy. She had previously obeyed the warnings of her friends at school not to stare at the tree, for (according to them) it was the home of malevolent spirits; but in a fit of pique at the jealous thought of them having such happy times with their families for CNY, she ignored the superstition and peered into the banyan’s depths, eager to prove them wrong. Just a tree, she thought, nothing wicked whatsoever.

The darkness where all the branches sprouted outward from the trunk wavered a bit, and then, to Sophia’s surprise, a patch of shadow shifted position, detached itself like an intelligent oil slick, flowed down the aerial prop roots surrounding the trunk, slithered toward her on the clay tiles, stopped several feet away, bubbled upward, and then settled itself into the featureless form of a tall thin person, its edges hazy. The sounds of nearby traffic and birdsong receded into silence, and Sophia’s fingertips tingled. She held her breath.

“Hello, Sophia.” Its soft male voice came from a vague area in the middle of its chest, its accent surprisingly similar to her father’s. Though the spirit knew her by name, she sensed no negativity or ill intent.

“Hullo,” she said.

“I have been watching over you for some time.”

“Who are you?”

“In life, I was a good friend of your father’s. My name was Christopher.”

“You knew my daddy?”

“Yes, dear. Many years ago.”

“Would you like to see him now?” she asked. “He’s home sick today with a sour tummy. Too many pineapple tarts. And I can make you some elderberry juice. I know how, you know.”

“I am sure you do.”

And so the spirit of her father’s friend followed her the rest of the way home. Sophia looked over her shoulder several times, and though the spirit was more translucent in the harsh sunlight, his form remained. No one else around her, apparently, could see him.

Just before they reached her housing block, Sophia stopped and turned. “You’ve been in the tree a long time?” she asked.

“Yes. Almost ten years.”

“Why?”

“Your father is still upset over my sudden death. He hasn’t yet let go.”

“So why did you come down today?”

“Because you summoned me,” he said.

Satisfied with the simple explanation, Sophia led him through the block’s empty void deck, past the mama shop’s displays of convenience store junk food, and over to the lift lobby. A swift silent ride up the lift, and then the doors opened onto the eighth storey. Down the corridor to her flat, the painted metal gate unlocked, the front door wide open. After Sophia entered and then closed the gate behind the spirit, a voice from the third bedroom called: “Soph, is that you?”

“Hi, Daddy!”

“Be right out, sweetie. I just need to finish marking this test.”

Sophia dropped her book bag to the smooth white tiled floor, pulled off her shoes with two loud scritches of velcro, then headed into the kitchen with the spirit following behind. She extracted the pitcher of elderberry juice from the refrigerator and poured it into two glasses, which she then placed on the wooden kitchen table. She sat down in one of the chairs; Christopher’s spirit occupied the other, the opacity of his form pulsing, as though he were breathing hard.

Her father stepped out of his home office and into the kitchen, unshaven, hair mussed, still wearing the clothes he’d slept in the night before. He picked up Christopher’s glass and said, “Hey, thanks for pouring juice for me, sweetie.”

“It’s not for you,” Sophia said, then reached up, gently took the glass from her father, and placed it back on the tabletop in front of the pulsating spirit. “It’s for Christopher.”

A strange look came to her father’s face then, as if he had just eaten something particularly sour. “I’m sorry, honey, could you repeat that?”

“It’s Christopher’s juice,” she said, motioning to the chair in which the spirit patiently sat. “He’s visiting.”

And before her father could say another word, the surface of the spirit’s form rippled in polychromatic waves along its surface, faster and faster until the darkness and shadow faded and lightened and the form he had taken in life—a kindly Caucasian with shoulder-length brown hair, circular spectacles, prominent nose, spindly frame—resolved into clarity.

Sophia’s father gasped.

Sophia rose from her chair, maneuvered her father on wobbly legs into it, poured another glass of elderberry juice for herself, then slipped into the living room and turned on Animal Planet at low volume. Her father and his good friend had a lot to discuss, and she wanted to make sure not to disturb them.

<<<>>>

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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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Hell’s a Good Joke

Keith Brooke, the über-awesome proprietor of Infinity Plus Books (and an excellent author in his own right), asked me to write a short essay on the genesis of the main characters in my new ebook collection The Alchemy of Happiness, and it’s just been posted on the KB/I+ blog.

It’s called “Hell’s a Good Joke“:

It all started with a sculpture.

In 1999, when I was still an unpublished newbie, I attended the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, where some of the notable writer guests included Neil Gaiman, John Shirley, Michael Bishop, Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Ramsey Campbell. At that point, I thought that I might still be a horror writer, even though my innate squeamishness for violence and terror was beginning to win the battle for my chosen subject matter, and I attended very much because of the writers there. However, on the second day of the convention, at the urging of several new friends, I made my way into the art show, and beheld the gloriously dark and whimsical sculpture work of Lisa Snellings, who was the Artist Guest-of-Honor. Her smaller pieces made me smile and her larger kinetic works (including the moving Ferris wheel that inspired the anthology Strange Attraction, edited by Edward E. Kramer) filled me with wonder, but it was her largest piece on display that literally stole the breath from my lungs.

Named “If Love’s a Fine Game, Hell’s a Good Joke,” the sculpture consisted of two life-sized harlequins, one balancing on the knees of the other; the expressions that Lisa had so painstakingly crafted on their faces were so devilish and sly that, right there on that spot, I conceived of the siblings Blue and Dane: immortals, manipulators, elementals.

Read the rest here.

Buy The Alchemy of Happiness at the following ebook stores: SmashwordsKoboiTunesKindleKindle UK

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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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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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