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Blog hop: on writing

14 Apr

I am doing a blog hop thing! I was invited to do it by Shannon Phillips, who has a story in a new anthology from World Weaver Press. It is like a promotional meme — you answer a bunch of questions about writing and then you link to other writers and tell people about them — so here goes.

This is Shannon Phillips:

Shannon Phillips lives in Oakland, where she keeps chickens, a dog, three boys, and a husband. Her first novel, The Millennial Sword, tells the story of the modern-day Lady of the Lake. Her short fiction has been featured in Dragon magazine, Rose Red Review, and the upcoming anthology Fae from World Weaver Press.

And these are the questions she sent me!

 

1) What am I working on?

I’m working on yet another revision of my Regency fantasy of manners about England’s first black Sorcerer Royal. This has been my main writing project since late 2012, but in intervals between working on it I’ve also been working on Space Villette (not its real title), a novella based on Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, but with a space opera setting influenced by the early kingdoms (or should I say mandalas?) of maritime Southeast Asia.

Well, I say it is a novella, but it’s almost 30k words in and the Lucy Snowe character hasn’t even started to make googly eyes at the M. Paul equivalent. That said, I plan to rewrite the whole thing from scratch once I’ve got the first draft done, so pretty much everything I say about it now should be discounted!

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

All of my stories are about colonialism. I guess the most obvious point of difference is that the main characters are usually non-white. To the extent that I can, even when I am playing with very Western/Eurocentric genres or tropes, I try to infuse my stories with a non-Western sensibility, to refocus the narrative around characters who aren’t as often in the spotlight in English-language fiction. I don’t know how successful I am at doing that, but I keep trying.

Of course, when I am actually writing my main goal is not to make some big political point or other. My main goal is to write as many long rambling conversations and dumb jokes as people will let me get away with.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I remain profoundly shaped by my childhood reading and am processing it the best way I know how. I got told a lot of stories by my mom that I want other people to hear. I like reading long rambling conversations and dumb jokes myself. I think comfort reading shouldn’t come in just one flavour, or have just one kind of character as the focus. I’ve got a niche and I might as well keep going with it. History is interesting. I can’t write other stuff — I mean, in theory I could write a baseball economics book instead, but I don’t understand baseball or economics.

Lots of reasons!

4) How does my writing process work?

(i) Do anything except writing for as long as I can.

(ii) Bash out some hasty words just before bedtime, when I can no longer put it off.

(iii) Repeat the next day.

I generally take off one day a week, and don’t tend to write on holidays or if I’m travelling.

 

I’ve tagged the following authors, who will be posting the meme next week:

Alexandra Singer graduated from SUNY Purchase with a B.A. in Creative Writing. The is the author of the ongoing independent comic, Sfeer Theory. An avid fan of historical fantasy and fairy tales, her short stories have been featured in publications such as Chamberton Publishing’s Spotlight anthology and Crossed Genres Magazine. Her blog is at http://moonsheen.dreamwidth.org.

Eve Shi is an Indonesian writer. Her YA supernatural/horror novels are available in Indonesian bookstores. She’s working on more books of the same genre, as well as planning to write books in other genres.

A couple of belated updates: interview and book giveaway

24 Mar

Interview

Bristol Festival of Literature organiser Peter Sutton posted an interview with me on his blog:

Interview at Bristol Book Blog

I talk about writing, and my plans for conventions and festivals this year, and the fact that I secretly want to be a sort of Power Ranger giant robot combo of Edith Nesbit and Pankaj Mishra. Which is something I had not known until I did the interview, but is now my life mission!

Book giveaway

Anna Tan edited the Fixi Novo short story anthology Love in Penang which I’m in, and she is running a Love in Penang giveaway! I will put the giveaway code at the bottom of this post so you can enter it from here if you would like. She is giving the book away to one person based in Malaysia and one person based elsewhere.

I wrote a bit about my story in my post about the anthology here, but it’s basically a romcom about mistaken assumptions and misunderstandings. As all romcoms are, I guess! There is a happy ending, of course.

Here is the blurb for the book (it’s in English, in case you were wondering):

Penang, with its mix of old world charm and modern bustle, has captured the hearts of many – making it the ideal place for a little bit of romance. Bask in the sweetness of young hearts falling in love and cheer them on when circumstances stand in their way. Walk through the pain of broken relationships and rejoice at unexpected reunions. Whether you prefer it happy or bittersweet, straightforward or a little complicated, LOVE IN PENANG offers you 18 morsels of love in various forms.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I have a lot of L. M. Montgomery feels

14 Jan

As you may have seen if you follow my Twitter account, I have been reeling from Mary Henley Rubio’s biography of L. M. Montgomery, Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings. And I quoted this story on Twitter, but you don’t really get the full effect, and I love it so much that I want to reproduce it here.

This is a footnote from the biography, where Rubio talks about giving a copy of LMM’s journals to Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro:

When I handed Alice Munro a gift copy of the first volume of The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume 1, at the Ginger Press Bookstore in Owen Sound, Ontario, in late 1985, she looked at it for only a second to see what it was, and then, without missing a beat or without making any identifying reference to Emily of New Moon, she responded by quoting the end of the novel: “I am going to write a diary that it may be published when I die.”

I had a moment of intense geeking out over this, especially as Rubio’s book traces the decline of Montgomery’s critical reputation in the later stage of her career. Modernism was on the rise and apparently Toronto was full of sexist asshole male critics. >:(

[...]

The annual awards eligibility post, plus other things

6 Jan

I really didn’t want to make this post this year, which probably means I should. >_< But first, links to other people’s posts!

Aliette de Bodard has done her usual round-up including excellent Asian SFF by other people as well herself. Check out her links and download a free novelette at her post: Awards eligibility and awards recommendations.

Ken Liu has also got a fabulously comprehensive post linking to his favourite (mostly short) fiction of the year, plus his own eligible work (which includes two stories about litigators!): Nominating Stories for Awards.

Short stories I’ve had published this year:

Love in the Time of Utopia in Issue #1 of LONTAR, ed. Jason Erik Lundberg and Kristine Ong Muslim, Math Paper Press (September 2013). 6,200 words.

“You’re missing out. At least love is available to everybody, high station or low. It’s the one thing you can get without having to sit exam.”

The Fish Bowl in The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic, ed. Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber, Alchemy Press (November 2013). 5,600 words.

The koi’s mouth opened and closed, an intermittent surprised O. Its white skin was so smooth it seemed scaleless. It would feel like silken tofu if you touched it. Seen from above, the fish’s one eye looked heavy-lidded and wise.

“Are you a magical fish or a door-to-door salesman?” Su Yin whispered.

Balik Kampung (Going Back) in End of the Road, ed. Jonathan Oliver, Solaris Books (December 2013). 4,700 words.

Hungry ghosts were the spirits of the unfortunate, unlamented dead: those who were killed violently; who died burdened by unfulfilled longings; who had been greedy or ungenerous in life; who were forgotten by their living. It was obvious to Lydia which category she fell into.

These are all eligible in the short story category, and I’d be happy to provide copies to anyone who’d like to read them for awards — just comment with your email address, or email me. No obligation to nominate after reading, obviously!

(There were two more — Jebat Dies in Esquire Malaysia and Double-Blind in Fixi Novo’s Love in Penang (ed. Anna Tan) — but the first is Hang Tuah fanfic and the second is a totally non-speculative love story, so they don’t really count for these purposes.)

If you have had things published that are eligible, and you are dithering over whether to make this sort of post or not — do it. Do it even if you don’t think anyone reads your blog or follows your Twitter account who even votes for this kind of thing. Do it even if making the post makes you cringe. My blog doesn’t get a lot of pageviews, but I am absolutely certain that I wouldn’t have got the Campbell nomination if I hadn’t made this post last year.

***

I am going to piggyback off this post to post about two more things!

For some reason Fixi always gotta publish all its calls for submissions in pictorial form. Their English-language imprint is now seeking short stories and creative non-fiction of 2,000-5,000 words for a new anthology called Lost in Putrajaya. Deadline 28 February. See the call for submissions here.

If I were a better and braver writer I would venture out of my comfort zone and write hardbitten crime stories and political satire to submit to Fixi’s English-language anthologies. Sadly I am a wimp + lazy, so I don’t! You should do it for me.

Also, if you go to Google.com.my today, it has a picture of beloved filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad which makes me all misty-eyed — like her work itself. She would’ve been 56 years old today (going by Malaysian time la). Faster go! The art is lovely.

The ineluctable greatness of dragons

10 Dec

troisroyaumes suggested I blog about dragons and why they are awesome!

Dragons are my favourite magical creature because they embody such a flexible concept. There are lots of different kinds in different cultures, so lots of satisfying variations. They can look like almost anything — they probably have scales, but they might have whiskers and horns or they might not. They might be long and serpentine, or stubby and lizard-like, or like an apatosaurus with wings. They can be really little (e.g. Sybil Vimes’s dragons in Guards! Guards!), or they can span skies or oceans. They often fly. They swim quite a lot. They frequently shapeshift, so they can turn into hot human beings where necessary. (Twilight with dragons instead of vampires??? EVERYTHING WITH DRAGONS INSTEAD OF VAMPIRES!)

Also they are neither necessarily evil or good. You get Pern dragons, who are basically like a powerful flying badass special friend who will always like you best forever. (Temeraire dragons are like a slightly less id-satisfying version of this. But only slightly less iddy!) You get traditional European dragons, who fly around laying waste to villages and devouring maidens. And of course, you get Chinese dragons, which control the weather and inhabit a level of awesomeness that sort of goes beyond good and evil.

I guess the enduring appeal of dragons for me lies in two things. One is the idea of an intelligent species that is not remotely human — so I take a pleasure in dragons that is quite like the pleasure I take in Star Trek aliens and their various cultural traditions. The other is the cultural specificity of the concept of a dragon — the cultural weight of it — which means that whenever you read or write about a dragon, that brings with it a whole weight of tradition and perception and narrative. Narratives, actually, since as discussed above dragons come in all kinds of shapes and forms and cultures. So there are all these interesting tropes to draw upon and play with, and if there is one thing I like in fiction it is playing with tropes.

Dragons are so great *_*

PRUDENCE AND THE DRAGON in Spanish + writing about writing

27 Nov

Podéis leer mi cuento PRUDENCE AND THE DRAGON traducido al español en Cuentos para Algernon! Aquí:

PRUDENCE Y EL DRAGÓN

Is that mostly right? Tell me if not right k. I actually did Spanish for a year and a half at school (I got A* in the GCSE! And an A for the AS level. Which all goes to show how little standardised testing counts for anything). Tapi semua pun dah lupa. All gone already ….

If I properly remembered all the languages I’ve learnt in my life I’d be impressively multilingual lor. It’s a longish and rather sad list, probably starting with Hakka, which I only ever really had for the first two years of my life. The reason why this is a bit sad is that I actually am Hakka, on both sides of my family.

Anyway, that is a diversion. It is very exciting to see PRUDENCE in another language. It is similar to the feeling you get when you see fanfic of your stuff — that sudden weird knowing that the story really has left your brain and is having an independent life in the world outside. The translator behind Cuentos para Algernon was very patient with the intricacies of translating Manglish, for which I am grateful. She has translated stories by such authors as Aliette de Bodard, Ken Liu and others, so do check out the website if that sounds interesting.

Also, I linked this on Twitter, but I did a post on stealing your ideas for Gliphowrimo. I don’t really like doing writing advice — I mean, I write a lot about writing, but mostly to try to explain the process to myself and/or convince myself not to throw in the towel. But I am nervous of giving writing advice because frankly I don’t feel I know what I am doing! I (occasionally) have ideas, I (fairly regularly) arrange words on the screen, and once in a while a story occurs. It’s all very mysterious! But that’s part of the fun of it. As much as I like writing advice that makes the whole thing sound no more mystical than assembling IKEA furniture, there’s a certain appeal in leaving the veil drawn over some parts.

See, that half a paragraph was all just to reassure myself that it’s OK that I don’t know what I am doing. But it is also a digression >:( What I meant to say was, that is why my Gliphowrimo post boils down to a joke about putting in more dragons. orz

Aliens, Love in Penang and KL 50 years in the future

7 Jun

Aliens: Recent Encounters has been sighted in bookshops! Editor Alex Dally MacFarlane reports. Aliens contains my story The Five Generations of Chang E, which — considering it also features Le Guin, Ken Liu, Yoon Ha Lee, Lavie Tidhar, Sofia Samatar, Nisi Shawl, etc etc etc — is the least of its attractions. Table of Contents here; info on how to get a copy in Alex’s post.

***

I’m delighted that my story Double-Blind will be appearing in Fixi Novo anthology Love in Penang, due out in November. This isn’t a SF or F story, but one of my occasional mundane ones. I secretly envision it as being part of a series of short stories I will do some day, which will be interlinked within a framing narrative about a KL dating agency run by a burnt out businesswoman under the name Janelle Looi (her real name is Janet, but Janet was insufficiently romantic). It would basically be a written romcom set in urban Malaysia! (My first, unlamented drawer-novel about the romance of a crossdressing academic who wins a reality TV beauty pageant was also supposed to be part of this series.)

So far I only have Double-Blind, though:

Swigging her seventh glass of orange vodka, Mei Yi climbed to her feet and announced:

“It is time!”

She was a woman with a flair for the dramatic, who could not ask someone to pass the toothpicks without imbuing her voice with tragedy. Bee had met her when they’d both joined an amateur theatre group. Bee had done so in the grip of a quarter-life crisis and had withdrawn shortly, reassured that the mundane corporate life had been the right choice. Mei Yi remained a leading lady and now did voice-overs for milk powder advertisements.

***

I tell you what is SF, though: Futura! This is a collab between indie pulp press Fixi Novo, online mag Poskod.my, and #Word: The Cooler Lumpur Festival, which is a terrible pun and also an arts/media festival taking place this summer. (The programme looks really cool! Sigh, wish I could go.)

Futura brings together six writers and illustrators to imagine Kuala Lumpur 50 years in the future. Two short stories have gone up so far, The Domed City by Angeline Woon (art by Yeoh Yi-Piao) and Lungs by Shivani Sivagurunathan (art by Shahril Nizam). Checks it out!

Campbell — not just a soup!

31 Mar

I have just emerged from a 13-hour flight into a brilliantly cold Easter Sunday morning — and the public announcement of this year’s Hugo and Campbell award nominations. So, um, I’ve been nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer! The other nominees are:

Max Gladstone
Mur Lafferty
Stina Leicht
Chuck Wendig

I am terrifically pleased and honoured to be part of this list, and to be part of a longer list of past nominees which includes (to mention only names from recent years) Naomi Novik, Aliette de Bodard, Tony Pi and Karen Lord. Among others! (Jo Walton is, of course, also a prevous winner ….)

But more than anything else I value the nomination for what it implies — i.e. that a number of people valued my work enough to put me on their ballot. I’m pretty sure I know who some of you are! Thank you for that, and thanks to everyone who recommended my stories and linked to my awards eligibility post. I feel very undeserving, but will do my best to produce good work and retrospectively justify the nomination!

I’m also gonna hazard a guess that I’m the first Malaysian to have been nominated for the Campbell (though I’d be delighted to be contradicted, haha). That’s pretty cool! TBH though it was only officially announced yesterday I have been telling friends and family since I found out a week ago, because, as I said to my BFF Max, never mind six degrees of separation, it would take like twenty degrees before anybody I knew IRL would link through to somebody who actually knew or cared what the Campbell Award was. (It is a bit difficult to explain to people whose primary association with “Campbell” is likely to be soup. I start by saying, “Do you know what the Hugos are? Well, it’s not a Hugo! :D”, but my loved ones seem to find this singularly unenlightening.)

***

On another pleasing note, I am informed that I should have a short story in the April “Brilliant Malaysians” issue of Esquire Malaysia! If I sound uncertain about this point, it is because I am: I do not even know what Esquire ended up calling the story (I offered a couple of different titles, since the original — “The Many Deaths of Hang Jebat” — was too long).

It is basically a “Four Ways Hang Jebat Died, And One Way He Didn’t” story (see this Fanlore entry about Five Things for background regarding the format). Except I had to cut one of the ways Jebat died because, again, it was too long! So it’s more of a Four Things story.

Anyway, Hang Tuah fanfic is the best. You should buy Esquire Malaysia and let me know if the story IS in the magazine, and if so whether I should have included the “Tuah and the Hangs are a time-travelling boyband” scenario. (I suspect the answer to the second question is yes. You can never go wrong with a story that posits Tuah as the floppy-haired caramel-voiced lead singer of a boyband.)

ETA: Confirmation! The story is in Esquire under the name JEBAT DIES: see pictorial evidence.