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Conventionally speaking

Conventionally speaking

The dust has settled and I’m peering over the precipice of a new job which begins September 1st, so I thought it would be a good time as any to get this pesky con-report-blog thing out of my way.

See, I’ve never done this before. I attended NineWorlds and WorldCon, and they were the first proper SFF cons I ever attended. It involved several long-haul flights, layovers in airports steeped in 38C weather, and living out of a green suitcase for two weeks.

In between rolling chains of hotel lobbies and rooms in other people’s houses, I met folks. Folks I was meeting for the first time in person. Folks I was meeting for the first time, period. And folks I was meeting after too long a time apart.  At the end of my travels, back in Singapore, I made a list of people whom I met, and whom I wanted to thank on Twitter. The list had over fifty names on it. I ended up just tweeting a picture of the list instead. It was that kind of experience.

I mostly made this post to address this Daily Dot article that went around earlier this week (How The Growing Generation Gap Is Changing The Face Of Fandom) The basic premise was that NineWorlds = good and inclusive because it’s a young con run by young people! And WorldCon = awful on the diversity front because old white men.

Well. I attended both cons as a young queer Asian woman and I think that’s a pretty unfair assessment of what the cons were actually like.

With my CW2013 classmates Vince and Allison
With my CW2013 classmates Vince and Allison at WorldCon

I think the article was trying to make a point about the difference between the classic SFF establishment and the diversity-oriented, for-inclusivity trend that the fandom and business has been swinging towards in recent years. Unfortunately, it chose to do so by making a ham-fisted division between Older People and Younger People, which is not just reductive, but also kinda shitty. There have been queer and minority folks in SFF fandom for decades, agitating for change, and reducing classic fandom to “full of old white men” pretty much erases them.

I’ll say this: Most of the folk I met at the two conventions were older than I. We had such insightful conversations. It isn’t about age, it’s about mindset.

That’s not to say there weren’t differences in the way the two conventions felt to me. The panels I attended on representation and non-western SFF in NineWorlds were, on the whole, much less 101 and a lot more to my taste, while the ones I attended (or rather, were on) at WorldCon had a much higher percentage of folks in the audience who were clueless or said things which had been discussed and debunked online over and over. But I think that’s to be expected with larger cons. Larger cons equal larger groups equal a larger number of casual fans, who are not as well-versed on SJ topics. For most part these audience members were usually shut down fairly quickly by moderators and panelists, so it was all good. (If a bit annoying).

The thing that stood out to me most about the two cons, if I had to say anything, was that they were both felt very white to me. And this is coming from someone who probably hung out with more POC than the average con-goer. SFF fandom, in general, is still very white. Most of the SFF spaces I’ve been in–even those which make it a point to be inclusive– are majority white by sheer numerology.

In fact, WorldCon felt like it was much more diverse to me, possibly because NineWorlds was more of a local con and it looks like the British SFF scene is very white (which doesn’t surprise me). LonCon was a big-ticket event which people would travel further for. It was noticeable to me, but, as I said, I didn’t feel unwelcome, or alienated by, the con atmosphere.

At the Strange Horizons party at WorldCon
At the Strange Horizons party at WorldCon

I have hope. At the Hugos we watched Sofia Samatar take home the Campbell. John Chu win Best Short Story and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice be awarded the Best Novel prize. We also witnessed the SFF community collectively thumb their noses at old-school bigotry by ranking Vox Day’s nomination lower than No Award. I’m very glad to have been part of both conventions. These are my people, and no, we aren’t perfect. But I believe we’re taking steps in the right direction.

LonCon 2014 Schedule! Storytelling! And representation!

LonCon 2014 Schedule! Storytelling! And representation!

Hurrah! The schedules for LonCon are finally out!

This is the first big, people-from-all-over SFF con that I’ll be attending and also the first con of the same kind in which I’ll be sitting on panels. With that in mind, I’m hoping that four panels isn’t more than I can chew…  this is a reasonable schedule, is it not?

Here’s what I’ll be on. Mostly discussions of ways to tell stories, and matters of representation in media.

1) Recentering the World Storm: John Clute’s “Fantastika” and the World

Thursday 14th August 16:30 – 18:00, Capital Suite 6 (ExCeL)

With Geoff Ryman, John Clute, Glenda Larke and Gili Bar-Hillel. Talking about John Clute’s definition of “fantastika” in the context of a world where non-Western, non-Anglophone storytelling traditions exist.

2) Content and Form: Writing SF/F in non-Western Modes

Friday 15th August 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 8 (ExCeL)

With Amal El-Mohtar, Aliette de Bodard, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Nick Wood. Talking about non-Western forms of SFF storytelling.

3) Beyond Bechdel

Friday 15th August 20:00 – 21:00, Capital Suite 7+12 (ExCeL)

With Kate Heartfield, Kate Elliot, Jed Hartman, Julia Rios. Discussing other tests of diversity in film and media.

4) The Knowable Other?

Saturday 16th August 19:00 – 20:00, London Suite 2 (ExCeL)

With Viktoriya H, Michael Morelli, Ashley Pollard, Justina Robson. Discussing the trend in media where “Others” are increasingly taking on human form (Cylons in BSG, androids in Almost Human, etc) (I don’t think it’s a trend and I don’t think it’s that new)

As a softener, to warm me up to LonCon, I’ll also be attending NineWorlds from 8-10 August. I won’t be on any panels there, but I might be doing a reading–more on that later!

Really excited at the prospect of meeting folks I’ve gotten to know over the past year or so in person. NOT TO MENTION A NUMBER OF MY CLARION WEST CLASSMATES. IT’S NOT LIKE I’M EXCITED ABOUT THAT PROSPECT OR ANYTHING.

August is going to be fantastic. Hope to see y’all there!

Write a ton

Write a ton

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A year. One year. Oh, how much a year can change. At around this point last year I thousands of miles away, in a gigantic house full of warm and amazing people I was only just getting to know, about to embark on an adventure I still haven’t properly managed to process in my head.

Clarion is one of those epoch-making experiences, I think, whose significance only becomes clear after you’ve passed through it. While you’re there it’s hyper-real, hyper-focused: Read those stories before class. Finish those words by today. Do your laundry before you run out of clothes. Six weeks on I left Seattle not knowing if I’d gotten any better at writing. Mostly I was just sad it was over, and sad at the idea that it might be a very long time before all my newfound friends and I would be together again.

Only now, after a year, have I begin to realise the impact the workshop has had on me. I’m more confident as a writer – did I not finish six stories in six weeks? I aim higher – I know I’m capable of writing better stories. I’m a better reader, critic, beta reader – workshopping 100+ short stories in slightly over a month will do that to you.

Since I’ve graduated from Clarion West I’ve sold two stories to pro markets – one came out in Strange Horizons this week and one will be in Crossed Genres next month (for their flash fiction issue). A year ago this would have been a pipe dream.

As a class, my Clarion West cohort has been responsible for over forty stories, published and forthcoming, since the workshop ended. Resident thing-gatherer and cheesestrawmaker Hel has listed them out on this page. Fantastic, isn’t it?

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So. You see. Clarion West has done many good things. It bears fruit, and the harvest is bountiful. I would love for it to encourage the flowering of emerging writers for many, many years to come.

I had help in getting to Clarion West. So did many of my classmates. Plane tickets are expensive and students from all over and all sorts of background get accepted into the workshop. Grant money has to come from somewhere, food and accommodation aren’t cheap, and there are instructor fees, and a dozen other things — the bottom line is, Clarion West is a non-profit organisation running a big, high-quality workshop every year, and relies on the generosity of donors to continue running the workshop.

So this is my plug for the Clarion West Write-A-Thon, their annual fundraising drive.

For the past ten years a community of writers have spent six weeks writing, editing and submitting stories concurrent with the workshop, and sponsors donate money to Clarion West as they do so. I’ve signed up for the Write-A-Thon myself, and hope to revise the last of my workshop stories and write two new ones.

But more than asking for sponsorship during the Write-A-Thon, I want to encourage people to sign up for it.

The thing is, Clarion West has been offered a funding challenge: If 350 people sign up for the Write-A-Thon, they get US$2,000 in funding, straight up. That can pay for more than half of a student’s fees!

Guys, it’s really that simple. Even if you don’t manage to write a single word, or get a single cent in donations, just by signing up you’re already helping the workshop! It literally takes two minutes to sign up. It is so easy.

So! Sign up. Sign up. Sign up.

And who knows, with the encouragement and comradeship of dozens of folk plugging away with you, you might even write your next masterpiece!

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With Leslie Howe, who was the workshop director for Clarion West last year (we were her last batch!)
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With Neile Graham, who is the current director of the Clarion West workshop. <333
A plug for BooksActually!

A plug for BooksActually!

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Breaking my blogging hiatus to stump for my actual favorite bookstore in Singapore, BooksActually!

Now BooksActually are a fabulous indie bookstore, here, almost an institution in the local lit scene now. They, however, have been hit by rent woes in the past, because you know, Singapore.

So their ambitious new goal this year is to own their own space. No more renting, no more worrying about landlords jacking up prices once the lease is up– peace of mind to focus more on the business of book-selling and book-publishing!

To this end BooksActually are running a storewide fundraising sale – 25% off everything! – until the end of April. A FEW DAYS MORE! When I visited the place on Saturday I found it positively crammed with folk– a brilliant sign.

Here are some reasons why you should support BooksActually and support their sale.

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1) Because they’re a fantastic space for local lit events.

Here is a picture of my face courtesy of my friend Fikri. This was from the latest reading I did at BooksActually, as part of the 24-Hour Bookstore event on the 18th of April. Here, I am reading an excerpt from my story that’s in From The Belly Of The Cat. I also read a second story that night, from the excellent anthology of feminist writing, Body Boundaries.

Over the years I’ve attended many of such book launches are other literary events, sometimes as an author, sometimes as a reader. BooksActually is a great space for lit-minded people to meet up.

But you can also tell that this store needs more space. Anything above ten folk in the store and moving around the narrow corridors left by the TOWERING SELECTION OF BOOKS turns into this intricate, weaving dance which we are more familiar with on our morning commutes. “SORRY OUR BUTTS HAVE TO TOUCH AS I SQUEEZE BY BUT I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO GET TO THE OTHER SIDE OK THANKS”

BooksActually needs a bigger and better space so these awesome literary events can comfortably hold more people. And you can help them do so.


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2) Support local lit!

BooksActually supports a great deal of Singapore writing via Math Paper Press, which consistently puts out risk-taking and thoughtful local writing.

If you want to buy stuff that has specifically has my writing in it, you can find it in these collections: Ceriph volumes 3 & 6, Fish Eats Lion, Ayam Curtain (which I also edited), and From The Belly Of The Cat.

But don’t stop there because there are a lot of excellent books you can pick up from them. I recommend all the Ceriph volumes, poetry by Tania De Rozario and Pooja Nansi, the Babette’s Feast chapbooks (they are little nuggets of delight), the Balik Kampung books.

There are also non MPP titles such as Body Boundaries (mentioned above). I once bought a Croatian edition of a collection of Alvin Pang’s poems because hrvatski man, I still understand chunks of it and it’s beautiful. They carry Epigram titles too, such as Jolene Tan’s freshly-debuted A Certain Exposure. Which I have been told is excellent– I haven’t read it because it was sold out at BooksActually! But Kenny assures me he will be bringing in more copies.

Seriously, there is a staggering amount of excellent Singapore writing available there. I’d be here all day if I tried listing them all. Go there and see for yourself. And go nuts. (p.s. they also have a webstore for international readers! 30% off all Math Paper Press books now!)

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3) Support for other creatives in SG! 

Hi let me introduce you to my darling succulent plants. I love them very much and I keep them on my table next to me as I work and I have personally named each one of them Lars. Shut up, Lars is a perfectly reasonable name for succulent plants. All of them.

I bought the Larses from a Green Banana pop-up store that was at BooksActually for one weekend. It’s not the first time BA as done tie-ups with other creative enterprises in Singapore. If they had more space, I’m sure they’d do more. As it is stuff is relegated to the tiny bench outdoors right now.

(I might just have wanted an excuse to post a photo of the Larses.)


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4) They’re just generally awesome ok.

Because they are. I just found out this week that my AWARE membership will get me a 20% discount at the store, because they’ve got a partnership going on, and they’ve been more than supportive of local LGBT movements. It’s just a generally nice place to give your money, as far as commercial establishments go.

So get going!

CW 2013, Week 1: Rows Of Trousers…

CW 2013, Week 1: Rows Of Trousers…

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It has been, by my count, a little over a week since Clarion West began. One by one, the class has been making the trip to the basement, returning hours later carrying warm bags of laundry, smelling of soap and heated cotton.

The first load of laundry is a ritual of ownership, the dividing line between a traveller sleeping on a borrowed bed, and one who has come to stay. There’s a sanctity in its mundaneness and understated necessity, yet a startling lack of pretension: It is what it is. There is no glamour in stuffing your dirty underwear into a heavy-duty rotating drum, along with your socks and bras and everything else. You can romanticise sleep, and eating, and the the taking of baths, but taking care of a bagful of manky shirts just says “Yeah, entropy fucking sucks, now run to the bank to get more quarters.”

(There’s a confluence of history here: My mother’s mother was a washerwoman, raising eight children on the money she got from washing other people’s clothing. Living in my mother’s house, I was never allowed to do the laundry as it all had to be hand-washed. “SIX WEEKS OF LAUNDRY FREEDOM!” I literally yelled to my classmates on the first day I was here.)

When I was packing for Clarion West, figuring out what to bring in the way of clothes threatened me with aneurysms. Six weeks! I’ve never been away from home this long. I pack on an outfit-by-outfit basis for vacations; in between luggage weight limits and the size of my wardrobe, that was clearly no option. And the weather. I was told that it rained in Seattle all the time, and my fuzzy memories of Seattle from fifteen years back said: Cold. Yet I was also told that it had hit 38 degrees Celsius at some points at previous Clarion Wests. Bad enough that I was packing for one climate, but one that switched sides at a whim was too much.

In the end, I packed clothes by categories. Tops, leggings, overshirts, undergarments: A least a week’s worth of each. Warm things to top up with. So far, it’s worked. It’s 29 degrees Celsius in my room as I type this: Earlier this week it was 19. I’m still alive. (I don’t particularly look forward to next Tuesday, which is forecast to hit a peak somewhere in the thirties. I don’t have a fan or an air conditioner in my room.)

At some point, I’m going to have to run to the store to buy more detergent.

 

** Title from a bastardisation of Radiohead’s Street Spirit to make it about laundry: “Rows of trousers/All hanging down on me/I can feel their/Their blue legs touching me” … all the way to “IMMERSE YOUR CLOTHES IN SOAP”

Tender Cuts

Tender Cuts

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Here’s the funny thing about poetry. I hated it in school,  avoided it like the plague, and glowered at it from the other side of the room even while I took classes analysing poetry in college. Lost in the heavy words of the likes of Hughes and Heaney I was convinced I didn’t understand poetry and would never come to appreciate it.

It’s a strange thing. Sometimes the things that you never thought you would love come to find a way into your heart.

On Friday evening my sensitive lungs and I waded through the haze to attend BooksActually’s launch + reading of Tania de Rozario’s first poetry collection, Tender Delirium. It was one of the bounty of poetry collections being launched that day. What a delight. BooksActually was keeping its doors open until the dawn as it marked a global 24 Hour Bookshop event, sponsored by Red Bull, which gives it something in common with Sebastian Vettel. When it gets this busy, its narrow aisles develop clots, and you have to fight your way through human thromboses just to get anywhere. A great deal of fun.

I’ll be brief about the event itself. It was co-hosted by Tania and her mentor Cyril Wong. The reading was lovely and tinged with humour throughout. Tania said there was not a single happy poem in the book (and having read it, it’s true) – but you wouldn’t know it from the energy and joy that filled the room.

As a bonus, the Q&A session turned into a lively discussion of the arts, literature and censorship in Singapore, particularly with respect to queer literature. There’s a lot of it published here, but you’ll never see it get into the mainstream, or discussed in schools.

I had a good time. Good conversations, good books, which I’ve spent the past few days reading over and over. I picked up several other poetry books that day, but Tania’s really resonates with me, with its tales of loss and longing. If you can’t make it to the bookstore itself, BooksActually has a BigCartel webstore! And plenty of other lovely books on offer as well.

Right. Selected photos of the event under the cut, featuring cats, people, and a Shameless Selfie.

Read More Read More

A Novel Idea (Perhaps)

A Novel Idea (Perhaps)

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Two weekends ago I attended a novel writing masterclass organised by Writing The City (a project of the British Council), taught by Jean McNeil and Julia Bell. It was held at the Arts House (one of my favourite places in Singapore), and it’s the first time in a long while that I’ve sat down and given my fiction writing 100% of my attention without drifting off to check tumblr do other things.

Like the procrastinator I am, it’s taken me more than a week to get around to writing this, at which point I’ve mostly forgotten what I’ve wanted to say. (Whoops.) It was a fantastic three days, I have to say. We went over concepts that should be familiar to anybody who’s been writing for a stretch of time: Character, point of view, time and narrative… Yet as a developing writer you can never discuss and explore these topics enough. We had themed writing exercises every day, and we got to share our work with each other. It was a small class, about 14-15 people, so we all got several chances to read our own work. I even read them Google Car At The End Of The World. Although I didn’t read them the title, because spoilers. (At the end of the class, one of my classmates came up to me and said, “I liked your story about the car.” I had to ask, “…which one?” The tragedy of being me.)

Quite honestly, I think the most valuable lesson I learned from this is that I not as slow a writer as I’ve feared myself to be. Under conditions of duress, I am able to put my nose to the grind and churn out writing– and not just that, but writing which actually satisfies me.

Maybe, just maybe, I won’t die a terrifying death by writer’s tardiness during the course of Clarion West.

 

Writing exercise I: Observation

“Heavy-waisted and large-bottomed, she stood fixing her hair while her baby played at her feet with dusty hands and knees.” Something about fleshing out character with minute details.

Writing Exercise II: POV

“The car had belonged to the old man. It was a Nissan Sunny, bought back in a year when Nissan was content to be seen as that plain and reliable friend you had, the one who could be relied on to get enough sleep and file all their taxes on time.” Telling a story about a neighbour’s neighbour, from two different POVs.

Writing Exercise III: Time & Narrative

“She can’t find a dry bench to sit on and she isn’t wasting tissue to do the public service of wiping them dry, so she squats on one of them to eat breakfast.” Thinking of an event, and writing about it from one set of time points before/after.

Writing Exercise IV: Character, Event, Setting

“Before her shift starts Mary goes to the washroom and washes her hands twice: Once after she exits the cubicle, and once after she’s fixed her hair.” Like a party game, we got a random character, event and a setting. I wrote a short piece set in a story world I am currently inhabiting.

 

Well. All in all, I met great people, was introduced to great ideas, and wrung a few pieces of microfiction out of myself over the course of three days. It’s not a bad way to spend a weekend.

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Our instructors, Jean McNeil (left) and Julia Bell (right).