Uncanny Year 3 Kickstarter!

Uncanny Year 3 Kickstarter!

A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to have a story published in the very excellent Uncanny Magazine, in an issue that boasted an otherwise intimidatingly stellar lineup. Somewhere after that, M Sereno and I had an hour-long conversation with Uncanny’s podcast interviewer, Deborah Stanish. We talked about our stories in the issue (Mia had a poem in the very same issue), and what it’s like being a queer, non-white, non-Western woman writing SFF.

As part of the Uncanny Year 3 Kickstarter, that joint interview has now been released as a special episode after the campaign hit 250 backers! So you can listen to it in all its glory.

 

As I’ve previously written about, 2015 was a tough year for me writing-wise, and in the fight between crushing self-doubt and feeling hopeless about the state of SFF, I nearly quit writing (this despite being enrolled in a creative writing MA. I was convinced I’d never complete another short story, much less sell one).

Throughout this the Thomases were amazing in their encouragement of their writing. I’d sent Uncanny a story for their open subs period in 2015, for which I got an rewrite request, which never materialised due to aforementioned struggle with writing. Despite this they still encouraged me to send them something for their 2016 open subs period. That something turned out to be The Blood That Pulses In The Veins Of One, and the rest is history.

Having support from editors as fantastic as the Thomases was deeply crucial on my journey to recovering my writing groove. I was so discouraged, I was thinking, “Nobody cares about the kinds of stories you write, nobody will read you or remember you, nobody will consider some rando from Singapore as a proper SFF writer ever”, and there they were, telling me that they did. That they noticed, that they remembered, that they cared. And it wasn’t just about me– Uncanny publishes such a wonderful, diverse slate of authors, and I am so very glad for that.

This is why I’ve offered a bunch of rewards to go with the Year 3 kickstarter– I’m offering an hourlong Google hangout/Skype session where you can pick my brain about anything (anything!), and 3 short story crits (up to 12,000 words each). Heck, I think the magazine subscription itself is its own reward, but the fact that so many people (dozens!!) chipped in to offer additional backer rewards speaks to the wonderful community that Uncanny has built up in just two years.

If you can afford it, go get one of the awesome higher-tier backer rewards. Or just pick up a year’s subscription. It’s totally worth it, I assure you.

 

Fire! And Embers!

Fire! And Embers!

Elements: Fire kickstarter!

If you, like me, exist at the intersection of SFF and comic stuff, then you’d be familiar with the gorgeous, award-winning Beyond anthology of queer SFF comics. The same press is now running a Kickstarter for a new anthology, Elements: Fire, an anthology of comics by creators of colour!

When anthology editor Taneka Stotts approached me to ask if I’d like to take part, I was ecstatic. My contribution, A Burner Of Sins, will be illustrated by the amazingly talented Yasmin Liang

The story is set in Singapore. Nadya burns away people’s regrets, for a price. When an old friend from school asks her for help, she has to consider the consequences of her vocation.

This week Yasmin put up a WIP panel from the story and I nearly yelled because of how amazing it was:

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Look at that. Look at the incredible amount of detail. I cannot, cannot, wait to see what the finished version looks like.

The Kickstarter campaign runs until the end of July. Because the project is so fabulous, it has already hit its funding goal, so what this is, is really a pre-order campaign. So go. GO AND PREORDER THIS AMAZING BOOK I WILL HAVE A STORY IN.

DO IT NOW.

 

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ALPHABET OF EMBERS

I have a story in this very lovely collection of ethereal flash fiction that is now available for sale! Transfers To Connecting Flights was birthed during Nine Worlds in London, 2014, when the convention was held at a hotel next to Heathrow and planesong accompanied me on the way back to my room. It’s about love and wants and devotion and I’m very fond of it. Plus, have you seen the author lineup??

You can pick the book up from Amazon. Do it. You won’t regret it.

WHO HAS TWO THUMBS, A BRAIN FULL OF WEASELS AND A LITERARY AGENT? (it might be me)

WHO HAS TWO THUMBS, A BRAIN FULL OF WEASELS AND A LITERARY AGENT? (it might be me)

I didn’t think I’d be at this point so soon.

Really. If you’d asked me anytime last year whether I thought I’d get agented before the end of 2016, I would have laughed. “I write short fiction. I don’t do long form, I don’t have enough for a collection. I’m years away from being in a position where I can query agents.” That was my utter and sincere belief.

It turns out that I am also incredibly lousy at predicting the future.

All that is a roundabout way of saying that I am thrilled, absolutely thrilled, to announce that I am now represented by DongWon Song at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, a.k.a. I now have a literary agent, a.k.a. how in the green rubber-encrusted hells did I get here?

Well, it happened, and here I am. I’m extremely pleased. DongWon has been on my “one day when I start looking for agents” list since he started at HMLA. We’ve had some really good chats and I’m excited to work with him on my weird secondary-world, science-fantasy etc etc projects!

Hopefully I’ll have more exciting news to announce soon, but in the meantime:

AGENT ACQUIRED

(DON’T JUDGE ME, YOU KNOW I HAD TO)
FICTION ROUNDUP JULY 2016

FICTION ROUNDUP JULY 2016

I wanted to do a roundup of the stories I had out in the last few months, but a quick check has revealed that I haven’t done a “here’s what I have out” thing since June 2015. It is now July 2016 and I am apparently much worse at blogging than I thought.

SO,  like, I’ve had a few stories out in the past couple of months…

The Blood That Pulses In The Veins Of One

“You lie dead, but not lifeless. For life resides in you still, its signature imprinted upon the architecture of your bones, in the webbings of your brain, in the atoms knitted into meat. Since we last met, your being has inhaled the world around it, spinning nitrogen flesh around bone moulded out of metal and dust. These atoms lie vibrating, locked into place, eager mouths waiting for my knife to set them free.”

My immortal-alien-cannibals story appeared in Issue 10 of Uncanny Magazine, in a TOC that was spectacularly amazing, and that I’m still not over two months later. It’s about two immortal aliens, last of their kind, locked into an endless cycle of consuming one another. This is what happens when I attempt to write a happy love story.

Four And Twenty Blackbirds

“The doctor congratulates them. The baby is human, and healthy. Richard is on her instantly, bruising her shoulders with his joy, planting kisses on her forehead and neck and face. His—their—fortune is the five-month-old smudge in the grain of the sonogram, soft-boned and quivering and reassuringly feather-free. It’s been six long years: Years of cajoling, years of trying, years of navigating the risks. Now they are here.”

Earlier this year, the paper I used to work at made a typo and inadvertently invented a virus that turned pregnant people’s babies into birds. I was like “hands off all of you, I’m writing that story.” And I did. And I sold it to Lightspeed’s POC Destroy SF issue for their flash section.

Her Majesty’s Lamborghini And The Girl With the Fish Tank

“Like the first stroke of lightning from an oatmeal sky, Her Majesty’s Lamborghini escaped its pen the day before the world ended.

It had been a Tuesday. The Prime Minister and the Defence Minister were deep in a game rolling peppermint candies across the green plastic grounds of the Royal Palace when up ran the Minister of Education. He was the kind of thing that wore suits that clashed with his fur, matted and brown now with fear and perspiration. “Her Majesty’s Lamborghini is on a roof garden and won’t come down,” he chittered, murine whiskers twitching.”

This was my Clarion West week 4 story, an odd little tale about rogue supercars, war giraffes, and a strange girl with a very large fish tank. I had almost given up on selling it, so I was extraordinarily pleased when it found a home in LONTAR.

The wonderful folk at Storyological (amazing podcast discussing short fiction, subscribe!) did an episode where they reviewed this story, which you should check out after you read it! (Transcript here for people like me, who have issues with audio…)

Other stories:

I’ve also had a bunch of other things come out! (It’s been an entire %^$^ing year). A short rundown:

  • A House Of Anxious Spiders: In The Dark, Aug 2015.  Set in a world where, instead of having arguments, spiders come out of your mouth and fight instead.
  • Temporary Saints in Fireside, Oct 2015. Flash fiction. A mortician reflects upon the supernatural deaths of children in her town.
  • Song Of The Krakenmaid in Lackington’s “Dreamings” issue. Sapphic tentacle porn. Not kidding. And editor Ranylt got the amazing M Sereno to illustrate it.
  • Secondhand Bodies in Lightspeed, Jan 2016. Body-swapping, lesbian sex, race and class and body image in Singapore.
  • Unshaken  A short written for thinktank Nesta on the theme of “collective intelligence”, set around a fictional earthquake in Japan.
  • Dismantling London Written for the charity Geeky Giving, this short is a slice-of-life look at a woman who is tasked with… well, tasked with dismantling London. Available in the April bundle; proceeds go to neurology research.

And that’s all for now, I think. I have things on the sales front I hope to announce soon– stay tuned for that!

One Step At A Time: How writing, like running, isn’t always the Olympics

One Step At A Time: How writing, like running, isn’t always the Olympics

I’ve never been an athletic person. As a child I hated PE lessons: I was the heavy-limbed, rotund child at the very back of the class, chest tight and miserable, suffering in the swamp that is Singapore’s idea of acceptable weather. Every year we had to take a national physical fitness exam consisting of six parts, and every year I struggled to pass the most daunting section of the exam for me: The 2.4-km (1.5-mile) run.  Six rounds on the inside of a running track, and I’d start walking in the second round. To pass you needed to finish the run within seventeen minutes; I usually took more than twenty.

I’m not good at running.

I hated running and PE lessons so much that the moment I got into college and exited the regimented timetables of public education, I stopped exercising altogether. For eight years I performed as much physical activity as a sea slug. There was an actual point where my body tried turning itself into one. I had to see a doctor for mysterious knee pains and she told me my thigh muscles had atrophied  so much my kneecaps had come loose and were grinding against the bones of my lower leg. Intervention meant doing squats and lunges and other things to strengthen the muscles of the legs. No running.

Eventually, as a working adult, I started going to the gym, doing weights and mat exercises and group yoga classes. Slowly, my fitness level improved. I went from turning into a limp noodle after the warm-ups for dance class, to managing to survive a whole hour upright. I thought, I’m alright at this. Working out is fun! It’s stress relief and I eat and sleep better and my mood always improves after a good hour or so of sweating. I kept at it and it made me happy.

When I moved to the UK, an income-less student clinging to her life savings in a currency half the strength of the pound sterling, I needed some way to work out that involved no money whatsoever.  I had my trainers tucked into one of my suitcases. My university has long roads and a sweeping green next to a lake. The answer seemed obvious.

The first time I ran the circuit encompassing dorms, university and lake green, I had to walk down stairs sideways for a week. After that, it got easier. My leg muscles adapted to the new demands I was putting on them.

By the markings on the map they handed out to new students, the route I run is just about 2.4km long, more downhill bits than uphill ones. I run it about two to three times a week, in the mornings when the student body remains stubbornly rolled in their blankets. The lake half of the run is always a delight. There have been sunrises in a hipster’s pastel palette, there have been rolling sheets of fog.  In subzero temperatures the spongecake ground firms up and the grass crunches with white frost. I take it easy, slowing on the uphill bits and speeding up going downhill only if I feel like it. Running along the green I always put on the Dragonborn theme from the Skyrim soundtrack to get myself pumped up.

For the first time in my life, I’m enjoying it.

I’m still a terrible runner. I’m slow as hell. 1.5 miles two times a week is practically nothing. Pushing my heart rate too fast will give me a migraine later in the day, so I make sure I never get too out of breath.

This morning, as I ran through a university still hollow and quiet at 7.30am, a man joined me as I hit the last stretch of the route, 300m uphill along the lake green. He was going a lot faster than I was. He came from behind, overtook me, and then continued going, footsteps sure and competent as he drew away from me.

I felt suddenly self-conscious, watching the red back of his shirt growing smaller in my vision. I thought, damn, I should try keep up. This leisurely jog isn’t even proper exercise. You suck at this running thing.

And then common sense took over, and thought, so what? So what if I suck at this running thing. I’m not running a marathon, I’m not training for the fucking Olympics. I run because it feels good and I enjoy it. Why do I have to measure myself against this stranger, who’s probably also enjoying his run?

When I was a kid, I hated running because there was a teacher at the end of the track, stopwatch in hand, timing every round and failing whoever didn’t make the cut. It made me afraid of running because measuring myself against everyone else’s abilities made me feel defective and worthless. The idea that I might just like running seemed unthinkable.

I’m glad I was wrong.

I think the same thing applies to writing. It’s something that I’ve turned over and over in my mind lately. It’s awards season, and that means watching all my brilliant friends win nominations for the amazing work they’ve put out in the past year. It’s a time of great celebration, but also a time of intense impostor syndrome. I feel an immense pressure to keep up, to write that story that will get you on a ballot, get you in a Year’s Best, get your name as a footnote in history somewhere.

But harping on that pressure will send me sliding down a rabbit hole of insecurities that has no bottom. I don’t want that. I don’t need that.

I write because I like writing. I write because I have stories I want to tell. I write because I want to share these stories with people. There’s nothing more to it than that.

If I keep trying to measure my writing up to some arbitrary standard, it’ll never end. There’s always going to be someone more brilliant, someone who writes more poetic stories, someone who writes more crowd-pleasing stories.  Wins more awards or wins bigger awards. The teacher at the end of the track will never be satisfied.

I know that if I treat the art of writing like the fucking Olympics it will drain all the pleasure out of it for me. Writing isn’t a sport. There aren’t winners and losers. You can’t come last in writing.

Recently I read an article in the New Yorker where Haruki Murakami talked about his running habits, and how it relates to his writing. It’s a great article, full of lovely insights (as expected of the man), but what I keep coming back to is this particular bit:

I think that I’ve been able to run for more than twenty-five years for one reason: it suits me. Or, at least, I don’t find it all that painful. Human beings naturally continue doing things they like, and they don’t continue doing what they don’t like.

I realised I felt the exact same way about my running, even if what I was doing was on a scale miniscule compared to his (he runs marathons! That’s more than 40 km!)

I keep running because it suits me. And I keep writing because it suits me. If I try to make it anything more than that, I’ll ruin it.

And so it goes.

Do we count as real writers, too? (aka that thing about Clarion. that. thing.)

Do we count as real writers, too? (aka that thing about Clarion. that. thing.)

Before I begin, I must preface that these are entirely my personal reflections based on my very specific personal circumstances and are not quite meant to be a well-reasoned commentary on larger things, yet–

Here I am, dipping my toes into an ocean full of very large fish with equally large teeth to bite me with.

I want to talk a bit about Neil Gaiman’s tweet.

You know, that one.

Neil posted this a couple of days ago, and within hours of the tweet hitting the surface of the Internet the SFF patch of the pond was boiling over. The implication that attending Clarion, or a similar workshop, is a mandatory step on the path to successful writerhood, predictably went down like a lead balloon.

Many people rightfully pointed out that attending the Clarions, with their six-week, four-figure dollar commitment, is not one many can afford. Or are physically able to, due to health and disability access issues. I pointed out that this goes doubly hard for international applicants, who have to work in (often four-figure) plane tickets in addition to terrible exchange rates, deal with international travel, being in a different time zone, culture etc in order to attend.

Neil has since clarified that his tweet was meant, obviously, to be hyperbolic, and obviously you don’t need Clarion to become a writer! And lots of people had come on to Twitter to exhort their credentials (publications, awards, best-ofs), all achieved without the help of the workshops.

I fully agree. Said as someone who applied to Clarion West because Neil Gaiman was teaching that year. (I’d never heard of it before that. You’d be surprised by how few outside the pro/semipro SFF writing community know what it is.) “Attend Clarion/Clarion West/Odyssey etc. workshops!” is not even a feasible piece of advice I’d give anyone asking “how do I become a writer like you” because  it’s neither a helpful nor practical tip. I’d rather give them a list of markets to submit stories to and suggest they follow a ton of writers or writing blogs and also, read a fuckton of stuff and learn from it.

Yet.

Completely honestly? I know I would not be the writer I am today, if not for Clarion West.

This is not exaggeration.

I know what Clarion West did for me. Here: Before I attended, I had barely completed any short stories. I had no idea about submitting to venues outside of Singapore’s tiny writing community. I didn’t have beta readers I could send stories to for critique, or other SFF writers to talk to to bounce ideas off. None of my friends was in the business of regularly writing or submitting short SFF to anyplace. It was just me, alone, no idea what I was doing, no idea that it was even a sort of lifestyle that other people might do on the regular.

But because I attended Clarion West, I found a community of friends to talk to about writing. I joined a neo-pro forum (Codex) which taught me about submitting, about rejectomancy, helped me create new stories (some of my best-received stories started off life as Codex contest stories). Having a support group, a group of excellent beta readers, kept me writing and submitting enough that I began to sell stories. And then started being asked to write them.

Getting to know people in the community meant that I actually had reason to attend conventions, and it also meant I was asked to be on the programming at conventions when it came out that I was attending them.

Getting to know people in the community meant getting to know editors and agents. And that’s important if you want to be a writer.

Without having attended Clarion West,  would I have been able to break into this SFF community that I’m part of right now?

I’m really, really not so sure. No question I’d still be writing, but I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be writing as often. Opportunities to have stories published in Singapore are a lot fewer, and they tend to be for very very small print runs. We don’t really have much in the way of online zines.

What would people see when they looked at me? “I’ve never heard of any of these things you’ve been published in. Are they even any good?”

Would they consider me “a writer”? Eh. What do you think?

So. Million-dollar question. Am I saying Neil’s hyperbole was actually right?

I want, desperately, to say no. Of course not! That’s such a terrible idea!

But I feel that saying that would be lying to myself. That for somebody like me– living and working outside of the UK or US– different culture, different continent, different context–  breaking into the SFF publishing scene, getting people to actually sit up and notice you, even getting better at your craft, is extremely. fucking. difficult. Selling one story, or two, or even five, is not enough (see my previous whiny post on this topic).

For somebody like me, attending a major workshop like Clarion is an instant way to break down that giant, looming, daunting barrier. And that helps. That helps so much.

But, as I said, I’d never give that advice to anyone who asked me for advice, because IT IS TERRIBLE ADVICE. Even if you could get the funds (and the Singapore government is good with disbursing grants, especially if you can convince them of how prestigious the workshop is), it’s six fucking weeks, and who can take six fucking weeks off work and family and life??

I wouldn’t say that. I would say– Go. Write. Submit. And then pray. Pray that the Nameless Deities of the realms of publishing smile upon you. Then I would send the young hero-to-be on their way, and try not to think of the long, merciless desert roads ahead of them, and hope that they would not come to hate me.

The point of this post– if it were to have a point, and not merely be a rambling collection of thoughts– is not that workshops are necessary to become a serious writer. The point is that for people who don’t have easy access to a support system, it feels like it’s necessary in order to break into the global SFF scene. And it shouldn’t be.

The question is, then,  how committed are we to diversity if we rest so much of a person’s legitimacy as a writer on the same old systems that are skewed, if everything that we consider SFF is still largely tied to the Western, Anglophone publishing sphere. Where do writers from backgrounds like mine belong, unless we break into that system?

Do I have good answers to this? Fuck no. I’m just some schlub who has no idea what she’s doing. But I’d like people to think about this, at least. Because we are here. We exist. And I’d like to think we count as real writers too.

 

 

2015, the year I quit writing

2015, the year I quit writing

aka I am a wreck of a human being and you should not attempt to be my friend, ever

This is an attempt to do one of those year-end summaries that people have been doing, in the middle of January, because I am a fuckup with little to no time management skills and have just spent the last two weeks writing 13,000 words worth of fiction for submission to various things, which is basically the only way I ever get writing done anymore, with the threat of shame from breaking deadlines looming over my worthless head. But more on that later.

2015, in many ways, has been a watershed year for me, both good and bad (more bad than good, in my estimation). The major change was that I secured an Arts Council scholarship to fund my MA/MFA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. So I started grad school.

That entailed me selling or giving away 90% of my material possessions — all my books, art supplies, almost all my clothes and every last one of my musical instruments — packing what little I had left into two and a half suitcases, and flying halfway across the globe to the United Kingdom. My crowning achievement in 2015 was that I purged the numbers of my belongings enough that I managed to include my PS3 and its 23-inch TV monitor in the 35kg baggage allowance my airline gave me. At this point I outweigh the sum total of all the things I own.

Being in the UK has been its own trial. Norwich is small and vaguely provincial, food and transport are hideously expensive, and I have no friends here. I’m a deeply introverted and solitary person. I don’t make friends easily.  When I have neither the time nor disposable income to socialise, I don’t make friends at all.  Yes, the weather is amazing and the campus I live on is beautiful, but I can literally go weeks without any form of meaningful human contact whatsoever.(Ask me how my entire Christmas break has been. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve spoken to another human for longer than five minutes. One of those times was a dental appointment.)

“Great, J!” you say. “The fewer friends you have, the more you can focus on writing!”

Which is a great sentiment. Except that I also haven’t been writing.

2014 was a pretty great year for me. Beginning March that year I sold an average of one story a month to a pro-paying venue. I had a couple of pretty good stories come out, that people responded very well to. People put me on their year-end lists. I managed to eke onto the Campbell longlist based on the strength of those two stories. I was a “writer to watch”. For the first time in my life I felt like my writing career might actually be heading somewhere.

Spoiler alert!! It’s downhill!!!

The majority of stories that I sold in 2014 came out in 2015. And those stories, when published, were met with a resounding chorus of fuck-all. What I did not know at that time, it that this is how the reception to the majority of stories published will go. A bunch of people will retweet or like the links you post, a couple more will say “this story was nice”… and that’s it. That’s it.

What I had run into, was the inevitable mathematics of publishing. It’s hard enough to get a story accepted by a good market. Hard. Hideously hard. But the struggle doesn’t end there. Once a story is out, it has to compete for attention with the literal hundreds which come out every month. And most stories just won’t gather that sort of traction. They just won’t. It’s the mathematics of it.

I got pretty lucky with my first two short stories. I did weird things with voice and structure which made them stand out. The stories I write tend to be a lot more run-of-the-mill than that. I’m not a genius. I’m not. I can’t churn out thought-provoking, genre-bending work with the regularity of an waxing moon. My initial momentum was not sustainable.

So I got discouraged. I got intimidated by the successes of others. I got– I got “oh god I’ve peaked in my career and I’m never going to write another good story and I’ll let down everyone who thought that I was a new writer with great potential”.

And let me tell you, all these things hit you harder when you’re outside of the US/Western SFF community. You can’t attend cons or readings or kaffeklatches because you live on another continent entirely. You’re in a different time zone. Your day-to-day lives don’t have the uniting factor of shared culture or politics. It’s difficult to make inroads or meaningful connections just through social media alone.

The only thing you have, are your stories. Which are drowning in a tide of other stories, struggling to be noticed. Publish or die, but even after publishing, die anyway.

Faced with these impossibilities I chickened out. It wasn’t even a conscious decision to stop writing. I didn’t think “oh shit, it’s too hard, I’m just not going to bother trying”. I just… found other things to do. I read more slush. I spent hours playing the piano. I started playing video games for the first time in my 32 years of life.

I haven’t written a new story for the slushpiles since March 2015. Writing for solicited pieces (or school deadlines, for that matter) has been like siphoning marrow from bone. I haven’t sent anything out to the markets since… I have no idea, actually. I’ve stopped keeping track. I have a revise/resubmit request from an amazing market I’m dying to break… from July. It’s now January. I haven’t revised the story.

So that’s where I’ve been, writing-wise, for pretty much most of 2015. I have one new story slated to come out in 2016, which is in Lightspeed’s January issue. That’s it, that’s the last of them. Even if I get around to writing and subbing new stories again, it’ll take months before I sell anything again–that’s just the reality of things. The mathematics of publishing. Given the lag time between selling a story and actually having it out, we’re looking at me literally not having any other stories out in 2016.

(Unless, of course, I manage to sell another story to Clarkesworld, which has the quickest sale-to-publication pipeline I’ve ever seen. But what are the odds of that happening? Like, seriously.)

This post isn’t even a “woe-is-me-please-come-tell-me-how-much-you-love-my-writing” ploy. I know at least some of you like the stories I write. I wouldn’t have sold them otherwise. This is a “state of the J” post, just in case anyone wonders why I stop having stories out in 2016. Sometimes I feel like I’ve let down all the people who were rooting for me to succeed in 2015. Sorry, guys.

It was good to get this off my chest, at any rate. I’ve been feeling this way for the greater part of 2015, but I didn’t have the courage to say any of it out loud, because as writers we’re not supposed to display our insecurities and weaknesses, else we exude the aroma of sour grapes and bitter never-was.

I say fuck that. Now you know.