The Mythogenetic Grove

Author News and Updates

Publication Notes: Being An Account of The Sad Demise of The Body Horror Book Club in The Dark Magazine , Issue 35, April 2018.

by on Apr.08, 2018, under Author News and Updates, Publications!

Being An Account of The Sad Demise of The Body Horror Book Club started life quite simply, as Drip. It was to be a realist work of fiction of quiet psychological horror and middle-class despair, featuring a book club, and elements of crime fiction. It was going to be my first Granta submission so I carefully worked on it. I was mildly inspired by Margaret Atwood’s short story writing style, which could be a bit chatty and gossipy. But I am not quite a realist author and I couldn’t stop the fantastic from creeping in, especially after it was finally rejected from Granta after being held for months. So in crept the creepy and the supernatural elements! It’s so far my only story set in Puchong and reflects my life living in a condominium.

And yes, I’ve heard some scary things in this apartment. And yes, I’m one of those people who bug security and management about things. But it’s easy to let things slide, isn’t it? It’s easy not to think about the sounds in the night. And in a land drenched with folk horror and superstition, who is to say what you’re hearing is human after all? I think this is why more than one of my stories waver between crime and horror — it’s the stuff in the papers and the magazines. It’s the sinew of our existences as Malaysian. Also, I finally dove into J.G. Ballard’s books last year and was chomping at the bit to say things about them. Delighted when I found a way to weave that into this story, and super-chuffed when it got accepted! I keep thinking people won’t buy my odd stories but they keep proving me wrong! Gosh!

Anyway! After I re-shaped this story, I submitted it to a couple of places. Then I sat down, and improved it some more. And lobbed it at The Dark shortly after When The Night Blooms, An Artist Transmutes: A Three-Act-Play came out. Two days after, as a matter of fact. Boy was I gobsmacked when it was accepted. But thrilled! And very happy it found a home at one of my favourite magazines. Also happy with the positive reception!

In case you’re wondering, no I’ve not set up a Book Club in this condominium complex, though I did fantasize about doing so, and about screening applicants. But not after this has been published. That’ll be tempting fate! 8)

(If people I actually knew were to actually agree on a SFF/fairy tale book club however, I may be persuaded — I keep trying to set up reading groups AND KEEP FAILING FFS WHY DON’T PEOPLE WANT TO CHAT ABOUT BOOKS ONCE A MONTH)

On another amused note: I found out there’s actually a “Ranjini” on our home-owners’s board. I giggled a bit to myself when I heard. It may have been a nervous giggle.

Being An Account of The Sad Demise of The Body Horror Book Club in The Dark Magazine , Issue 35, April 2018.

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Publication Notes: “Violets On The Tongue” in Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue #139, April 2018

by on Apr.07, 2018, under Author News and Updates, Publications!

Sometime between October-December 2014, I’d decided I’d probably never get my short fiction traditionally published, and I set about putting together a chapbook with Tower of the Rosewater Goblet, Butter-Daughters, and other stories of Sesen. In December, over an intense fortnight, I penned three new stories, and completely revised/revamped the three I had already written. Violets On The Tongue was as much an afterthought as was Eggs aka Morning Cravings. You see, I was going to call the stories by these titles:

Eggs (Morning Cravings)
Cream (Redacted since it’s still in submissions)
Butter (Butter Daughters)
Rosewater (Tower of the Rosewater Goblet)
Honey (Violets on the Tongue)
Blood-Oranges (Still being revised, never submitted anywhere yet)

My clever idea was then to come up with a recipe that had all of these ingredients. I haven’t done it yet but I rather think a Rosewater and Blood-Oranges cake might actually work.

(If you make a recipe with these ingredients, feel free to share it!)

Anyway, somewhere along the way I was convinced that self-publishing was maybe not a good idea and there was hope for me yet. I got a couple of acceptances, and more than one person reached out to me and talked me down off that ledge. I appreciate that still after all these years. So in 2015 I spent a lot of time refining those stories, and then I added What The Stories Steal to what seemed to be a collection still in my mind. (hint, jolly big hint)

So, during that intense period in December 2014, Honey was written and it was around 2-3k words, focused on the living crystal, the alien bees, also on Lashav and Eshe. I didn’t quite expect how it turned out, honestly! I wanted it to have the elements that I always wanted to write about the first generation of Arrivals on Sesen. A first contact story, but this isn’t quite that. I certainly didn’t expect to include string theory and pragmatic philosophy but it sort of happened. As did the fact that this story became a sort of meditation not just about identities, but about ontology. I also had great fun playing with Putnam’s hypothesis along with other philosophical concepts. I’ll forever call this my qualia-punk story.

I’ve always known (since teenhood) that Sesen was a planet occupied by humans who then evolved into their own society with tribal custom and histories (blame star trek, star wars, Ursula k LeGuin, Poul Anderson and various other SF authors I read during my nerdy teenhood). I then toyed with the idea of the tensions/resentments brewing amongst the Arlishya/Barlishya because of it (you see that in nearly all of my published Sesen stories to date), so I felt this story explained the beginning of that as well as the connection to the Bunian Empire stories on earth.

I bounced this story off several slushpiles but while my other Sesen stories sold, this one languished. It’s a strange thing that’s very hard-SF in its ethos in one sense but fantastical in another sense. But my short-story writing craft also improved and I took out a lot of unnecessary scenes and explanations. I also went deeper into the interactions and motivations between all three characters.

Originally it was going to be an entirely different story and Eshe/Gyasi were going to be a couple but you know how characters are. You plan one thing for them and they go down an entirely different direction altogether. This is because characters aren’t us — they exist within their own worlds and I’ve always listened to what my characters want to say because I’m a strong believer in the fact that every storyworld has its own inner logic and verisimilitude. I’ve become very fond of Eshe/Gyasi/Lashav and I hope you’ll like them too!

Also, several easter eggs are strewn throughout this tale. I revised What The Stories Steal after I wrote this one and well, the connection lies in a stack of pragmatic philosophy books 🙂

There are other easter eggs which may or may not become apparent if you read the other published Sesen short stories. There are more on the way! Plus! The Yrole Triptych!

(I do hope both “Cream” and “Blood Oranges” also find homes, because that would be really neat. Also, I think if you like my other Sesen stories, you may dig them. Yes, they’re all also connected through gustatory metaphors and imagery as conceived as integral parts of our ontology. What happens when a literary scholar and thinker writes SFF. I am so sorry, it’s a feature, not a bug of Nin Harris stories.)

Violets on The Tongue in Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue #139, April 2018.

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Publication Notes: “Benefactors of Silence” in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 243, January 2018

by on Apr.06, 2018, under Author News and Updates, Publications!

I’m still gobsmacked by the way this story got accepted and published!

It happened like this: Every semester I make my class on dialogue with students rather adventurous. I tend to make 2-3 students stage an impromptu sketch, and I ask the rest to write their own flash fiction based on the sketch their friends come up with. Additionally, I teach them to format dialogue by writing my own short dialogue for them.

I do this in real time. It’s a no guts, no glory situation. Also, I’m a bit of a show-pony sometimes like that.

So I sat down last year in class and typed out this dialogue between two characters. And as I typed it, the story grew, and grew. Students watched as I wrote “You will never be Lusini”, watched as it became a 300-word flash piece, on the powerpoint slide. Later, after their sketch, while they were writing down their own flash fiction pieces, I finished the story and turned it into a 700-word flash piece. I was also talking to them about narrative voice and mentioned that Beneath Ceaseless Skies had very specific editorial directions when it came to voice. I wrote it in a limited first person POV, and showed them how to format it in Standard Manuscript Formatting to illustrate the voice/style that might fit this publication.

Later that night, after coming home I was going to send it to DSF because it was short. But the story grew, and grew into a tale of Lusini, that’s been haunting me since I finished writing Butter-Daughters, and then started penning its sequel. And I thought about how much I wanted to be published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

The story was already over 1k words and so with a deep breath I lobbed it at BCS and was completely astounded when it went into revisions (customary for BCS) and then I was given a contract. It was — almost fairytale-like in how surreal the whole process was. I kept pinching myself. I’m still pinching myself, to be honest!

But I was also so happy to be able to give my students a happy ending to that adventurous exercise in teaching creative writing and I hope they will also be brave enough to submit more of their own works!

Another thing I love about this piece is that it returned to me a kind of lyrical style of writing I had when I was younger but which disappeared during and after my work on my PhD dissertation. I mourned the loss of that voice and was so glad it came back to me.

Benefactors of Silence in Beneath Ceaseless Skies  , Issue 243, 18 January 2018. 

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Publication Notes: “When The Night Blooms, An Artist Transmutes: A Three-Act Play” in Issue 31, The Dark Magazine, December 2017

by on Apr.06, 2018, under Author News and Updates, Publications!

Starting from this post Publication Day posts will be transformed (gradually) into “Publication Notes” posts, given my tardiness! This short story/play was published in December, which was over 4 months ago!

I wrote the first draft of this play in 1996 after spending many nights painting a Gothic/surreal painting of a woman coming out of a flower, with a tower in the background. It was always a painting and play infused with my homesick longing for Penang. I grew up on the island and it feels like I spend most of my life missing Penang or being haunted by events that occurred there in my childhood. These dreamscapes and nightmares infuse my sleeping hours.

The painting itself is not very good but I may revisit the theme at some point when I’m able to dedicate some time to the visual arts again. The idea of the story being postcolonial Gothic existed at the time even though I didn’t know postcolonial theory existed as a thing (that happened years later during my M.A. in Literature). But I was always a history nerd and had written more than one thing around the time of the East India Company. This one seemed to spool out as a play. I went with it. A few years later as an academic who had started to do research in postcolonial theatre and who discovered monodramas, I formatted it accordingly (circa 2006-2007), but I was never fully happy with it so I didn’t submit it. Was it a play? Was it a short story?

Of course, now we know the answer is “both”. Around the time I started wanting to submit to The Dark, I was attracted to the call for submissions that asked for unusual formats they’d never seen before. “Ahah,” sez I. “I’m going to send them this play one day!”

But I was still never sure so I lobbed my other creepy stories at them, which they never quite liked enough to buy. And then last year I went on a one-week adventure in Penang while having health issues — that in itself made it a rather intense trip. This story was edited and made fully a three-act play while in Penang, while ingesting that surreal magical creepiness I always associate with nights by the beach in Penang, but it was also in part influenced by my emotions at that point in time.

I submitted it as threatened, and a few weeks later, it was accepted. And I was absolutely gobsmacked at the positive response to this murder pontianak play of mine! Thank you everyone!

And to my surprise, more than one reviewer read it as “a short story, framed as a play”! Well, of course. But I’d still love to see it performed one day 🙂

And there you have it. A spoiler-free publication note!

When The Night Blooms, An Artist Transmutes: A Three-Act Play in The Dark Magazine , Issue 31, December 2017

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2017: A Review of the Year in Publication

by on Dec.06, 2017, under (post)colonial Gothic academia, Author News and Updates, The Escritoire

Updated 8 January 2018:

Hello, I like to do yearly review posts rather than merely eligibility posts because I strongly believe that things like accolades and awards are outside of my control. Besides, I’ve been raised to be a very proper lady and though I always failed and disappointed elders while growing up — there’s still a lot of those imperatives hiding inside me, telling me not to push myself forward too much. But it’s become an industry norm so I decided to capitulate and make this a bit clearer for everyone. I would be very happy indeed if nominated, yes. So thank you if you’re nominating — I don’t know you, and I don’t know if you will but if you do, <3 <3 <3

I don’t really think it would happen so I’d be quite contented with more readers. I say this every year, and it’s true every year.

Anyway, before I get into my rambling holistic review of the year, here’s what I have published in 2017. I have three eligible works of short fiction, and I think the IF may be eligible for *some* things but I’m not sure what so I’ll let you decide if you liked it enough 😀

Fiction

  1. Prosthetic Daughter in Clarkesworld (Issue 125), February 2017.  (SF: time-travel cyberpunk space opera, eligible for Hugos, Nebulas, SF thingies) — placed in Nebula Reading List.
  2. Reversion in Clarkesworld (Issue 131), August 2017. (SF: planetary romance, space opera, eligible for Hugos, Nebulas, SF thingies) — placed in Nebula Reading List, Tangent Recommended Reading List (2 stars)
  3. When The Night Blooms, An Artist Transmutes: A Three-Act Play in The Dark (Issue 31), December 2017 (Gothic/dark fantasy/horror, eligible for Hugos, Nebulas, fantasy and horror thingies) — placed in Charles Payseur’s Recommended Reading List.
  4. Bungalow Sari One (Twitter Interactive Fiction/poll story), on Twitter, December 2017. (Gothic/science fantasy/Horror, ???)

Poetry

  1. Jean-Luc, Future Ghost, in Uncanny Magazine (Issue 14), January 2017. (SF, eligible for Rhyslings)
  2. Tinwoman’s Phantom Heart, in Strange Horizons (Fund Drive Special Issue), August 2017. (SF, eligible for Rhyslings)
  3. Spice Islands, in Uncanny Magazine (Issue 19), December 2017. (not SFF)

Reprints (not eligible!)

  1. Auto-Rejection: An Outro (2016) was reprinted in Lackington‘s Summer Issue, 2017. Edited and improved version with a slightly tweaked ending because I felt I needed to make the irony more overt.
  2. Tower of the Rosewater Goblet  (2016) was reprinted in Shirtsleeve Press’s Event Horizon anthology for people who were eligible for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Note: I’ve also recommended some of my favourite short fiction, novelettes, novellas, and novels by others in 2017 here.

My Personal Review of 2017 in Writing

2017 has been good to me in some ways, not so good to me in other ways. I’ve written 14 new stories thusfar, inclusive of 1 new novella. I finally finalised Watermyth, the first novel of the Cantata of the Fourfold Realms and started querying it. I then started working on Rosemirror, the second novel of the sequence. I’ve had some publications and good reviews.

On the academic front, I jettisoned my Helen Oyeyemi monograph (for now) because a chapter I wrote was published in Telling It Slant, a Helen Oyeyemi collection (Sussex Academic) — and that collection overlaps too much with my PhD research on Oyeyemi. Therefore, a great deal more work needs to be done before I can make a monograph I’d be happy sending out to publishers. Instead, I started work on my Malaysian Genre monograph and have done quite a bit on it thusfar and am fairly confident about sending out a proposal. I have also embarked on exciting new research collaborations, and am working on new articles and research ideas.

Things I like about 2017

I’ve managed to get coveted acceptances at both The Dark and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It’s been my most prolific year in terms of poetry publication — and I’m not really very prolific where that’s concerned.  All up, I had three poems published in professional poetry venues — two in Uncanny Magazine as one of their solicited poets for Year Three, and one in Strange Horizons for their Fund Drive Special. I also wrote a blog post for Strange Horizons. I also can’t get over the fact that I had TWO Clarkesworld publications this year: which means I’ve had FOUR Clarkesworld publications, and have been in at least one issue yearly since 2015. I like numbers and I like continuity so this pleases me a lot. I’ve been more low-key in promoting my stories this year as this is my post-Campbell year but this year a lot more random readers have reached out to me to tell me they liked my stories. This means a lot to me and I’m really grateful/humbled people are reading and recommending my works.

Apart from that, my short story Auto-Rejection: An Outro was reprinted in Lackington’s Magazine, with an improved ending, and a gorgeous illustration by Pear Nuallak.

I was also quite excited when Clarkesworld got a review in Kirkus Reviews in February because Prosthetic Daughter was up so by proxy I indirectly finally got into Kirkus Reviews. Hey, I’ll take it, man. Other indirect things: Lightspeed’s People of Colour Destroy Science Fiction (2016), edited by Nalo Hopkinson, Kristin Ong Muslim, Berit Ellingsen et al. won the British Fantasy Awards. OMG! As some of you already know, Morning Cravings is in that anthology, which means a Sesen story is in an award-winning anthology. Fourteen year old me is still doing cartwheels inside my head! Another Sesen story, Tower of the Rosewater Goblet (2016) made it into the Locus Recommended Reading List so that was another awesome validation for me in 2017, even if I didn’t wind up being nominated for the awards.

Apart from that, I didn’t get published much in 2017 in comparison with 2016 which was quite epic (and exhausting!)

But all the stories I had published, have now placed on recommendation lists! Three for three is not a bad thing at all! I am really grateful that both Reversion and Prosthetic Daughter have now been placed on the Nebula Reading List.  When the Night Blooms, An Artist Transmutes: A Three-Act-Play is also now in Charles Payseur’s excellent year-end recommendation list, while Reversion made its way into the two-star category for Tangent Online’s annual recommended reading list! I’m not really super-optimistic that they’ll go further than this — I’m just happy to be on a list where more people will read them 🙂

Thank you, from the bottom of my faulty heart. I appreciate everyone who read, recommended, accepted, and published my works.


Stats for people who like these things, according to the submission Grinder for 2017:

66 fiction submissions (give or take a couple I may have forgotten to log)
4 fiction acceptances. (1 acceptance from Clarkesworld + 2  from The Dark + 1 from Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

I tend not to log my poetry submissions. There may have been 5-6. I got 2 poetry acceptances in 2017.

 

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Publication Notes: “Reversion” in Issue #131, Clarkesworld Magazine

by on Aug.04, 2017, under Author News and Updates, Publications!

Phew! It’s been quite a week for me and quite a journey for this story! Amidst a pretty frightening health scare this week, I had the excitement of knowing this was coming out. Suffice it to say, I have A LOT to say about this story but I’m also worried that if I say too much I’ll detract from the actual experience of reading it. So I strongly recommend you read the story first before you read this! ;o)

First thing I need to say: No, sorry. This story is not autobiographical. Not at all. I am not on some fuel planet, and I have never worn a tuxedo. There are no lovelorn cephalopods waiting for me on distant shores! Having said that, it’s informed by real life experiences and emotions in ways that are not always obvious.

First, for those of you in the cephalopod-loving school, here’s a digital painting I made in 2010, which was a norty riff off Hokusai’s nortier paintings:

 

(Link to DeviantArt page for it with more explanation)

I have always been mildly amused by tentacle pr0n and cephalopod-lovers. But you can’t deny they are rather majestic creatures who are frighteningly intelligent. So it’s no surprise that it’s a HUGE Lovecraftian motif but no Cthulhus were maligned in the making of this story. I do have some Lovecraftian riff story ideas somewhere in my head — you can’t research and write about Lovecraftian motifs as a Gothic academic and not want to write your own — but this story comes from something else.

(even though in RETROSPECT I went “Ahah, shades of Innsmouth! Didn’t expect THAT to happen!”)

There were several OTHER influences for this story, presented in a haphazard fashion!

(1) The first impulse for this story occurred during a brief beach vacation in Port Dickson in 2000, around the time when I was an editor at a Johor publishing house. It was a vacation with family and one of my very good friends who was also a colleague (one of the rare HS friends I’m still in contact with). A beach holiday in Port Dickson felt like being on a fuel planet. There were ships, offshore rigs, and the sands were red. Completely red! This made the South China Sea look green, and I immediately started having SFnal daydreams. I was at the beach but my mind was imagining a fuel planet with an engineer stationed there. She was unhappy. And that was because she would rather  be somewhere else. In this story, I imagined that she would be learning new things about her heritage and her spirituality. Wasn’t sure what it was — but I really enjoy far future SF universes that dig deep into Earth cultures, even though the old school of it can be quite problematic. That night, I sat on the balcony with my SFnal imaginings and something peculiar was happening. There were people down on the beach with flashlights and they seemed to be looking for something. That intrigued me so much that it went into the rough story idea in my head — a mish-mash of different scenes and ideas without a cohesive plot at this stage).

Then I had another vacation in 2001, this time in Ipoh, across from the limestone cliffs where the Sam Poh Tong Temple was. And that gave me more ideas about there being a cousin who was this mouthy holy kind of person.

(2) I set this story aside as an idea because work, grad school (my MA studies) and various other things came in-between. And then I discovered, around 2005-2006, an entire universe of online SFF zines and blogs that I never knew existed (despite being a lurker on the SurLaLune fairytale forums). Well, my world kind of changed. I’ve been reading Clarkesworld Magazine off and on since the first issue in 2006. I yearned to be published in it but never thought I’d ever be good enough. And the moment — the MOMENT I started reading it, I suddenly knew I wanted this story of mine to be a story for this magazine. So there you go. This was always a story I wanted to be a Clarkesworld story even though I tried to play it cool by submitting it to two other places beforehand — mostly because I had Prosthetic Daughter in CW slush, also when you want a thing too much you’re kinda scared to go and try to get it. So no, I didn’t scare the good editors with this anecdote during my submission, I was still trying to play it as cool as I could, given that I submitted it directly — and bashfully– after the publication of Prosthetic Daughter.

(3) I started drafting this after my PhD studies began in earnest in Brisbane. Sometime between 2009-2010, but some elements were still unclear to me. Why was this engineer of mine unhappy? I left it aside and started making outlines about the ecosystem of Psychereon. One day, I wrote a passage about her changing identities, and driving tourists to the edge of dead volcanoes — and that imagery really struck me. Well of course she had been happy somewhere else, but why did she have to leave?

(4) I mused about the “why” of it until 2015 when I wrote a further rough draft about what she’d left behind — and then it became a story of “after first contact” and I really just dove deep into language, and longing. I was already immersed in cephalopodic images and I’ve been writing underwater passages and stories since forever so it was a natural progression for me.

(5) Last year, my grandmother died. Around the time when I was going for various ceremonies as an eldest grand-daughter “not of the faith”, I was struggling with grief, anger, and feeling out of place. I wanted to write a story that was a warm hug  to sooth my sadness and frustration because nothing made sense. And there’s this sense of sometimes as a hybrid you’re alienated from your own cultures, even if people are kind to you. But my grief is not Aakriti’s grief and she remains distinctly herself.  Ever had a character who argues back to you as you try to write her? That’s Aakriti for you.

IMPORTANT NOTE: none of my Tamil aunties was maligned in this story, although I’ll admit freely that the frank, mischievous and no-nonsense attitude of Cousin Sharanya may owe a thing or two to my Youngest Aunt. I even gave her one of Youngest Aunt’s favourite things to say (don’t worry, I’m buying her dinner!).

Mostly, I didn’t want this to be a tragic story. I have seen too much sadness. I wanted a story that says, “Hey, it’s okay to relate to your culture(s) in an awkward way, to have all of this love, conflicted emotions, and frustration — there’s a place for you and you can decide how/where you want to be.”

(6) Cephalopods! You can’t read and consume tons of things about Cephalopods in popular culture without eventually writing about them! First contact stories always fascinate me but also, I always wonder why the romantic ones are almost always humanoid. But a couple of Clarkesworld stories broke the mould where that’s concerned so of course I wanted to continue that grand Clarkesworld tradition.

(Incidentally, I’m somewhat amused by the fact that an ex-flame/crush is crazy about all things cephalopods, but no crushes were maligned in the making of this story. But I would be lying if I said not even a smidgen of that leftover emotion slipped into this story. Sorry bro, I’m not buying you dinner. Hope you’re not having sleepless nights! I could have left this out but I am a norty person.)

And there you have it. I could write about the other things that went into the weaving of this tale — thoughts about state borders, thoughts about repression, gender identities, language, immigration, family, the ethics of being an ally etc — but, I’d rather you read and unpack the layers yourselves. It’s one of my most straightforward stories, but for all that, it’s also one of my most layered.

And if you like it, you might (if I may be so vain as to say) be happy to know I’m writing a sequel about another figure I have come to love from this story. I love this Tamilian family I created almost as much as my own family and I want to tell more of their stories.

In closing, thank you Neil, Sean and the rest of the Clarkesworld team for making one of my dearest SF dreams come true! I can’t believe this is out in Clarkesworld! OMG! YOU HAVE NO IDEA!!!!1111

(I have no chill you guys, seriously no chill when this is concerned!)

Reversion in Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue #131, 1 August 2017

 

 

 

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Publication Notes: “Prosthetic Daughter” in Issue #125, Clarkesworld Magazine

by on Feb.02, 2017, under Publications!, SFF

Hi!

I am still super-excited (and super-nervous) about having a THIRD story out in Clarkesworld. I may get black and blue from all of the pinching of self that’s happening right now.

Today’s publication day post is about the intro story for a series of stories I’ve been plotting out about Admiral Zhen-Juan since 2015, after the publication of “Your Right Arm” in Clarkesworld. But the core idea of taking “prosthetic brains” to their most melodramatic conclusion actually came from a Memory Network conference I attended at the University of Roehampton in 2014. I’d had a crash course of sorts in the directions Memory Studies had taken while I was working on postmemory based on LaCapra and Hirsch’s work for my PhD dissertation. I was intrigued by the idea of prosthetic brains, and excited by the papers presented about “neurolit”. I wasn’t really thinking about writing academic articles about “neurolit” (although I still have a couple of William Gibson articles in drafts). Instead, I badly wanted to write neuropunk type space opera.

So. “Your Right Arm” sold. Directly after, I started drafting my first story about Zhen-Juan on Teja-II. She was sneaking away in the night from her spouse to go on a covert mission for the Bunian Empire. She resented this a lot. I knew she’d been exiled, but I didn’t quite know why. It evolved into a kind of military SF-space-opera-neuropunk hybrid, but it was missing several important components. It took me nearly a year to work out what I wanted to flesh out.

When I write any story, I tend to start with a strong sense of the characters in my stories. My narratives are influenced by my perception of those characters. I don’t think I’ve adored a character as much as I adore Zhen-Juan. Writing her felt natural, with her long face, with her self-effacing lack of ability to see her own qualities (and her faults). And I always wanted to write about a lady time-traveler. I’m not going to say too much about her disabilities because that would spoil the story, but at least two are ones I partially share, one as someone who has been partially paralysed due to spinal injury. So, there was Zhen-Juan.

I had a sense something terrible had happened to estrange her from her home planet. I couldn’t really work out what it was. It really bugged me for a few months. I’d sit down with my paper journal and just come up with several ideas but none seemed to fit who she was as a person, not in an organic, natural progression sort of way. Everything clicked into place after I wrote an academic review about Letters to Tiptree, which required me to read not just the book, but Tiptree’s short stories. It was love at first read for some of those short stories (I’d read “The Women Men Don’t See” when I was a teenager). What I loved about her narratives were how generous they were, how expansive in some ways of the sense of character and place, while a searing anger underscored so many of her stories. It set off a fire in my brain. And I asked myself, “What frightens you?”, which had me remembering that masterclass I took with Ian McDonald about “writing down your fear” in 2015. I freely admit I was skeptical during the workshop because it was all so touchy-feely to my INTj brain but yo! Later, it made SO MUCH SENSE.

So I sat down and tried to work out what scared the ever-loving shit out of me (pardon my french).

And I had my answer.

I’ve known many Yun-Lis in my life. Since my days in primary school. When I was an undergraduate. In my working life. Since I’ve had (mild) successes in both the academic and authorly sphere, I’ve had to endure an escalation of various shenanigans by people who exhibit “zero-sum game, winner takes all” mentality. To no avail would I say or try to demonstrate that, “really, there’s no competition, it’s great if everyone succeeds”. They’d agree but they’d still be obsessed and bizarre. Honestly, the more published I get, the more I feel like a scared rabbit. So  there was something to write about, I thought.  Needless to say, in real life, I generally shy away from these sorts. They terrify me, though so what better antagonist?  I thought that would make an interesting kind of adversary, especially in a space opera military setting. But I don’t like writing outright bad antagonists — and I wanted to show that Yun-Li was a flawed but rounded character. I also wanted Zhen-Juan to be unaware of her own actions and motivations. It was a bit of a challenge, one that required me to sit inside Zhen-Juan’s head quite a bit.

So there you have it. Thematically, I thought to write a story about prosthetic and collective memories (me having fun with the idea of personal and public memory, which I’ve written so many thousands of words about as an academic), family, identity theft, survival, and of course, time travel. But really it’s up to anyone to make of the story what they will, reading is a subjective experience, after all. Don’t let my views as an author determine how you read 8)

I have no real knowledge if I’ll ever sell another Admiral Zhen-Juan story (impostor syndrome never goes away!) but I’m going to keep on writing them because I have never written a character that I liked this much, flaws and all. The next one is more fun!

Note on the title: The working title for this was the Tiptree-esque “Elision Elision The Teeth in My Spine” but I changed it during revisions because “Prosthetic Daughter” was perfect in so many ways (also that title felt a bit pretentious) — it is basically a neuropunk military space opera. This has nothing to do with the a certain anthology which started being publicized around the time my story had already been accepted.

Prosthetic Daughter, Issue #125, Clarkesworld Magazine, February 2017.

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SFF Works Published in 2016

by on Nov.22, 2016, under Lists!, Publications!, SFF

Hello!

I won’t be having (to my knowledge) anymore fiction publications in 2016. It’s been quite a year. I’ve had around 14 publications inclusive of fiction, flash fiction, academic articles, and various reprints. Of these 14, only 6 are actually eligible for awards nomination so these are the ones I’m going to be listing here. No new poetry for this year so I’m not actually eligible for the Rhysling for 2016. I did get on the list for 2015, which was a HUGE surprise to me but a very nice one — thank you to whomever decided to place me on the list! I’m still quite astounded!

Important note for people who want to know such things: I am in my final year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, so I guess in 2017 the training wheels for the wild and wonderful world of SFF pro publications come off. Eep!

I’m also eligible for all relevant awards: Hugo, Nebulas, World Fantasy, etc.

Mostly this page is here so I can keep track of what I have published this year, and so people will read my stories. Thank you!

Professional Publications 

  1. What The Stories Steal (November 2016) in Clarkesworld. Bereavement, loss, sacrifice, loyalty and what narratives take from us. A Sesen planetary romance. My publication day post is here.(SF: Planetary Romance/Science Fantasy)
  2. Moult (July 2016) in An Alphabet of Embers.  An urban dark/Gothic fantasy set in Kuala Lumpur, about skins, our outer defenses, and what it means to be vulnerable. My publication day post is here. (Dark/Gothic Fantasy)
  3. Morning Cravings (June 2016) in People of Colour Destroy Science Fiction (Lightspeed).  A  Calvino-esque flash fiction piece set on Sesen. Featuring food, taboos, and a lusty lycanthrope. My publication day post is here. (SF: Planetary Romance/Science Fantasy)
  4. Tower of the Rosewater Goblet (January 2016) in Strange Horizons. An embedded interstitial tale about appropriation, powerlessness, quiet resistance, pamphleteering culture, and printing presses. Also a story about relationships and finding your place in the world. Featuring a parable that retools Zeno’s paradoxes, the fable of the hare and the tortoise, and the Castle of the Grail. Yes, one of my more ambitious stories and I love it to death. My publication day post is here. (SF: Planetary Romance/Science Fantasy)

Semi-Professional Publications

  1. Butter-Daughters (October 2016) in The Sockdolager. I’ve described this as a Borgesian planetary romance with a soupçon of body horror (and with truly creeptastic goats).  People seem to really like it! My publication day post is here. (SF: Planetary Romance/Science Fantasy)
  2. Auto-Rejection: An Outro (April 2016) in Trash: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology (Fixi Novo).  A dark, urban fantasy featuring a penanggalan. My exact pitch when I submitted this to the editors was: “what if the Little Mermaid was a penanggalan-in-training?”. It’s one of my more literary, stream-of-consciousness pieces and is as much a love song to Kuala Lumpur as Moult was.  I used to work in Brickfields, where this story is set, in an NGO college, much like the one I describe in this story. My publication day post is here.(Dark/Gothic Fantasy)

 

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Publication Notes: “What the Stories Steal” in Issue #122, Clarkesworld Magazine

by on Nov.02, 2016, under Author News and Updates, Publications!

I really enjoy doing Publication Day posts not just because I get to tell the world I have a new story out, but because sometimes I get to talk a bit about the process and the backstory. Like most authors, I could probably write essays about my own stories. And it stops me from annoying people on social media by going on and on about it!

I am really happy and thrilled that Neil and Sean accepted this story. It took me a year (exactly a year!) but I am back on the Clarkesworld page! That was partially because I’ve dithered on finishing the stories I wrote that I filed away as “stuff that Clarkesworld would like”, because there’s always that fear the first time was a fluke. I mean I could have sent this in directly after “Your Right Arm” but it was at another pub (because “Your Right Arm” was in second round for a while). And then I was just. Too. Shy. To. Send. Another. Story. So. Soon.

**cough**

This story is one of the oldest stories in my story folder. The idea for it came post 9-11, when the world was rent apart, when I was hurting. I had helped to look after one of my maternal aunts who, because of misdiagnosis, got to final stage of endometrial cancer before it was detected. I had learned the algebra of bereavement and guilt all caregivers undergo — especially so because my relationship with my maternal family is fraught. But my maternal aunt was always kind to me. She was the dean at the law school, and every academic term she’d give me money for my textbooks, a peptalk. I also got to do some light legal research assistant work under her.

To have that kind of history with someone you find intellectual and dynamic, to see them waste away because of cancer. That’s a pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I write this and it’s not easy because I have had two separate cancer scares this year. I’m now in the clear for breast cancer but I have to go through the invasive procedures to ensure that I’m just going through early premenopausal and hormonal issues and not endometriosis or endometrial cancer.

This year, my grandmother died. And before that, before even my aunt in 2001, my maternal grandfather, (a literature, geography and history HS teacher and inspector of schools), passed away. I saw him in those heartbreaking final stages too. Felt, even as a teenager — that guilt. Why couldn’t I do enough to make the people I love stay? What had I not done that I could have done so they could live?

So in 2001, my world broke. The IRC chatroom I was in for a couple of years was very close-knit, I even moderated some #mythicfolk sessions there. But when 9-11 happened, in the midst of all my bereavement, I found that in a collective shock and grief, also an anger as people I had liked turned on me because I was the only person from a third-world nation. I had gone from being a friend to being The Enemy. And that is how these things happen, really. Stories can change who you are from one minute to the next in the eyes of people.

[LIGHT SPOILERS START HERE]

 

This is my way of saying, the genesis of this tale was as a post 9-11 tale of bereavement and loss within a fraught relationship with this divide — and I wondered if love could ever be enough, if friendship could ever be enough. Or if something more was needed to heal the breach.

Around 2007, when I finally got around to fleshing out the story, I was going through another kind of heartbreak. I was also adjusting to living on my own in a different country for the first time. I wrote this story. I was a bit frightened and awed by it, but I was not happy with it. I submitted it, it was rejected. And I thought, “Well, that’s that.”

 

But eventually I decided I wanted to rewrite it, and I wanted to set it on Sesen.

So I slowly whittled away at it from year to year. A little frightened of the story but still believing in it. Then last year after I finished all of the Tower of the Rosewater Goblet stories, armed with the accelerated worldbuilding I had done for those stories (after 2-3 decades, I started writing Sesen stories when I was 14), I was finally able to work out what I wanted to say in this story, and why it was so right to set it four generations after the first human Arrivals settled in. This is a story in a world where people are still remembering, and grieving for Earth. And really, there are so many levels of grieving in here but I didn’t want it to be just about that.

Like the first story I had published this year, Tower of the Rosewater Goblet, I wanted this story to be medicine, but of a more soothing kind. That story was about what happens when we have our stories and our identities taken from us (and I’m not done with this theme as it’s still bugging me both epistemologically and ontologically). This story is about what stories do to us, what they wring out of us. How stories can either build walls, or become bridges.

And I hope I haven’t spoiled it too much, lol.

All my love and thanks to everyone who ever read and commented  on this story through its troublesome teenhood till its final maturity. Thank you. If I do not name you it is because I do not want to namedrop and presume upon your kindnesses.
What the Stories Steal, Issue #122, Clarkesworld Magazine, November 2016.

 

 

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Publication Notes: “Butter-Daughters” in The Sockdolager, Fall 2016, Issue 7

by on Oct.20, 2016, under Author News and Updates, Publications!

Hello!

Surprise story publication day!

I actually dreamed about the butter-daughters sometime in 2009. I woke up around dawn a bit scared of the dream because it was so totally vivid and surreal. So I typed out as much as I could remember in a notepad. This was before I had read Borges’s Fictions. I knew I wanted it to have the kind of first-person account you get in thick compendiums of supernatural sightings. When I returned to the story in 2014, it became a planetary romance but with that same folkloric kind of slant. Since this was post-my reading and rereading Borges, that was an influence.

This hasn’t changed much since I first wrote it all out and submitted it in 2014 to Alphabet of Embers along with Moult. Moult was accepted, and this got a lovely personal rejection that said it could not be accepted since Rose had accepted Moult! From then on, it got to that much coveted second round at DSF, also at FSI but never sold. I kept it on ice for a bit, and half-wondered if I wanted to flesh out the story to submit. But, I decided to give this story another chance. I modified the ending a bit so it was more obvious that the narrator was a male chef in his later years (sorry spoilers) and then sent it out again. I was so happy that the lovely editors at The Sockdolager decided to accept it and happy it was in such a good and spooky issue.

I really love this story and am very happy that I can now share it with the world. This is now my third Sesen story to be published this year. Squee!

Also, I suspect I AM going to be writing another, even more Borgesian story about the events at the heart of this one.

Butter-Daughters, The Sockdolager, Fall 2016, Issue 7, 20 October 2016.

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