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.
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!
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
Gosh, it’s been some months since I updated this! Mostly it was because I was simply terrified at the number of “Publication Day” posts I needed to do, and I told myself I would wait until everything I was in for the year was out!
It’s been a pretty fruitful year as far as publications go. I’ve had reprint requests as well!
Here’s a picture of all the print anthologies I am in thusfar for this year (excluding Up-and-Coming, which was in ebook format only):
I am grateful to everyone who has reviewed and read my short stories. I am pleased about being in all of the publications you see in that picture.
Individual belated “Publication Day” posts will happen eventually.
For now, know that I am hard at work at finishing Watermyth, and am still actively sending out short stories and academic articles. I’m also still working on my academic monograph on Helen Oyeyemi.
I’ve had an acceptance towards the end of August. I’m really pleased about this because it’s a Borgesian planetary romance culinary flash fiction piece with a soupçon of body horror, set on Sesen. I was really worried it was too odd for most markets, but the editors who bought it apparently really liked it, so yay! 🙂
In many other ways, it’s been a pretty challenging year for me. There have been nonstop deadlines, and two deaths in my family. I’ve also had health issues and have been adjusting to life with insulin. But I can’t complain about the amount of publications I have this year. It’s just getting to the next level that’s been incredibly challenging, lately.
I hope everyone who reads this website is doing well, and that you’ve all had a fruitful and happy few months.
Till the next update!
This is just a general news and “catch-up” post. Hope everyone’s doing well. I’m trying to get my ducks in a row as usual, as I have many deadlines and things I want to do before the new semester starts in February. I’m almost (phew!) done with grading, thank goodness so that’s a load off my mind. I also submitted a chapter to an academic book and am trying to finish various other bits of academic writing. But, onwards to more creative stuff!
(1) My speculative poem Reversed Polarities was nominated for the Rhysling Awards (long poems). My thanks to whoever nominated me, and to my awesome editor Adrienne J. Odasso who is also a candidate! Good luck to everyone who is in the running! I’m still gobsmacked and happy people actually thought of me and my poem.
(2) K. Tempest Bradford listed “Your Right Arm” as an honorable mention on io9’s newsstand in the December edition.
(3) Charles Payseur reviews “Tower of the Rosewater Goblet” over at Quick Sip Reviews. I am still a newbie pro writer so it really makes my day when people discuss and actually understand what my fiction is trying to do!
(4) I was also on A.C. Wise’s December edition of “A.C Wise Recommends Women to Read” over at SF Signal. I was incredibly pleased, especially since it includes a review of “Sang Rimau and the Medicine Woman”.
(5) Rashida J. Smith, the editor of Giganotosaurus has compiled a list of the stories she published in 2015, inclusive of my “The Faerie-Maker”. Do check it out. It’s an excellent publication and I am proud to be published there.
Do note that there are other reviews, mentions and recommendations for my stories, but I am listing the most pertinent. My thanks to everyone who took the time to read, think about, discuss and review my stories.
(1) (a) Mythic Folk was hacked, alas. And in my attempt to fix things I bungled up and deleted the whole site without making backups (shamefaced look). Fortunately I had the layout saved but that is about it. This means the Mythic Folk Community
is no more, but I’m slowly working out what I want to do with the domain, since I have it and the design will need to be rebuilt from the ground up. I will likely be using it for media reviews and for my Aural Chambers posts but I have happily also found some of the missing posts so am in the process of reconstruction! (ETA: Not giving up on this community yet! But the new Mythic Folk Community blog will be focused on articles, reviews and posts. No poetry or fiction. I think this will make it a stronger blog as it will be more focused.)
(b) I am slowly moving my poetry back here. There may be a *small* poetry gift next month!
(2) Still working on Truancy 2. Sorry for the delay, the roundtable is still happening!
(3) Domus Exsulis is now back up on the internets.
(4) What to expect on this blog in the future:
(a) More fiction and SFF recommendations, when I have the time. In keeping with my policy on my now retired book blog, I will only write about things I like, and will not be posting negative reviews. I leave that to professional reviewers as it’s a part of my life I have no desire to return to. When I was reviewing for other publications, I felt like I’d murdered a kitten every time I had to write a negative review so I clearly do not have the stomach for it. However, I would like to amplify voices and stories I think deserve more notice. So those will be a part of (hopefully) Arthropod Trails in 2016.
(b) Poetry! Things I have published on this domain in the past will be published here again because I can’t submit them to magazines anyway, so might as well keep an archive here.
(c) Apart from my literary hypertext project Domus Exsulis, 2016 may be the year when Thresholds finally goes live.
It’s been a rather hectic week so this is actually 3 days late, given that publication day was on the 4th of January, 2016.
Every story I write is special to me in a different way. This story had its genesis in a very dark place I was in, during the “Annus horribilis” of 2009 when I suffered a major injustice that I knew would never be redressed. It had me questioning the nature of storytelling, and of originality. Anyone who has ever read or worked on TS Eliot’s Tradition and the Individual Talent (I wrote a paper about his essays during my MA days, back in 1999) will know that old saw about “there’s nothing new under the sun”. But there are other complicated questions, questions about ethics, questions about what some of us simply will not do and what others will do without guilt or shame. As I asked in the old Arbitrator story I wrote in 2009–how does any storyteller accuse another of this when all that we are is made out of stories and the ideas of others?
Tower of the Rosewater Goblet began as a sort of meditation on that, but I set it in Sesen, and the story grew into a meditation into various other intersecting concerns: appropriation, colonization, autonomy. But that sounds very political, doesn’t it? It started that way, it didn’t end up that way, once I got to know Erheani and her family, and then Madame Li-Yan, and started to care for these characters. They dictated the story. The pamphlets did the rest. I was and remain passionate about pamphlets and pamphleteering culture. While working on Nigerian-English Literature for my PhD dissertation I did some side-research on the Onitsha pamphlets, and last year I did some pretty intense research on the Early Gothic Revival pamphlets. I wanted to capture some of that freewheeling grandiosity in this story, and the romance/love of printing presses and how they’ve been integral to the blossoming of more than one post-colonial nation.
One of my long-lost uncles was a newspaper man back in the 60s-80s in Ipoh, Perak. He died a few weeks ago. I’m thinking of that, and the history of the press in my country as well. And how fragile all of these apparatuses for voicing ourselves and telling our stories are. How vulnerable we are to censure, and sometimes worse than that, erasure.
If this story was political, it’s political because it is a story I wrote to deal with my own demons and vulnerabilities. I wish I was as strong as Erheani, but maybe that’s why I wrote her. I wrote her for people like me, for the kind of heroes I want to read about, and I hope she’ll mean to you what she means to me. If even a little bit. Because this story is my antidote for all of those inner demons that tell me I cannot write, that I’m never going to amount to anything, that I’ll always be this fat, this ugly, this worthless. But inner demons are like that, aren’ they? They’re the internalization of all of the ugliness we endure in life, the things that are said to us, the things we are made to believe, because they reflect the self-hatred and the fear of others.
This story I wrote so I could laugh in the face of all of those inner demons. But I can share this medicine, this anti-demon spell. It helped me. If you need it, I hope it’ll help you as well.
Tower of the Rosewater Goblet, 4 January 2016, Strange Horizons.
Since I won’t have any more publications in 2015 (but look out for me in 2016, as there will be both online AND print publications), here’s a list of what was published this year. I’ve had an epic year for acceptances. My first professional publication was on the 2nd of November 2015, which means that I will be eligible for the John W Campbell award in 2016 and 2017. I am also eligible for various other things for both poetry (Rhysling) and fiction (Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy) although I post this with the knowledge that eligibility is no guarantee of anything. There is a HUGE number of excellent writings in the genres at this point by very brilliant authors.
I’ve been writing for a very long time, most of my stories take years to craft, and it’s only in 2014 that I got my act together and gained the courage to start finishing most of the stories, and started submitting them.
My Bunian Empire milieu stories straddle genres. Some stories are straight-up fantasy/alternate history, others are steampunk, and towards the space opera/planetary romance tales, they’re more SFnal than fantasy. This particular tale is alternate history and fantasy, and is the basis of the rest of the tales. The Medicine Woman started out as a tale within a tale in what was going to be my grand Malaysian mythic road-novel, Abeyance, but she needed her own story, so I started working on it around 2005-2006. It’s gotten some pretty decent reviews, and I’ll always cherish what Lois Tilton of Locus Magazine and Charles Payseur of Quick Sip Review said about it. A.C. Wise has also written a very thoughtful review about this story in the A. C. Wise Recommends Women to Read column over at SFSignal.
This one quietly came out in October but wasn’t really noticed. It’s an urban fantasy desipunk tale set in Brisbane. It took me seven years to write. It’s one of my stories in which I grapple with culture, identity, what it is like to be marginalized, and what it is to mourn, written when I was away from home and grappling with my multiple identities. It is the first of my two bereavement tales to come out this year. There’s been no reviews thusfar for this tale.
This is my Bunian Empire milieu space opera, in which I talk about humanity, the problem of consciousness and sentience (part of my ongoing issue with the Consciousness problem as written about by the philosophers of mind: Dennett and Chalmers amongst other), and yes, it is my most romantic story. Charles Payseur wrote a lovely review about it here, Lois Tilton was not very impressed with the narrative, but I still enjoyed her write-up of it. I personally call it my “Waiting for Godot” in space, because it’s meant to be heard as well as read. It also received an honorable mention from K. Tempest Bradford over at the io9 newsstand, and was reviewed over at Tangent (where it was called “a very cool story”), SFRevu, and RocketStackRank.
This is also my first professional publication in one of my dream publication venues, the story that has now made me eligible for the John W. Campbell award.
Merlusine in Liminality Magazine, Spring 2015, edited by Shira Lipkin and Mat Joiner, 2015.
Reversed Polarities in Strange Horizons, edited by Adrienne J. Odasso and Sonya Taafe, 2015.(This has now been nominated for the 2016 Rhysling Awards for long poems).
This story took me seven years to write.
I got the idea for it sometime in 2006, and I knew I wanted it to have a crafter protagonist and I wanted the crafting aspect to be the heft of the story. I knew I wanted it to be a “big” story –I wanted to grapple with big ideas. Naturally, it took me that long to be satisfied with it. When I packed up to go to Brisbane in 2007, I promised myself it would be my Brisbane story. And so it was. I traveled with it. It made me brave. It took me to my first indie gig, it made me walk through Fortitude Valley alone at night, it had me travelling to various markets on the weekend. It had me walking across parks close to midnight because I wanted to find the best place for the fights.
It changed some more when I returned to Malaysia.
In 2013, it became the story I submitted repeatedly. It became the story that nearly broke my will to write more.
But it remains the story I love best. As I just told a friend, I knew I wanted to write about the big ideas in this story, I knew it had a concept, but I wanted to give it heart and heft. I’m still not sure if it’s there, but a lot of work and sweat and love went into this tale. With huge thanks to the very awesome editor Rashida J. Smith with whom an invigorating conversation about the story took place, which helped me smooth some of the transition issues. I learned so much just from the very incisive questions she asked me.
Happy February to all!
My two publications (Truancy 1 and Tower of the Rosewater Goblet) have been delayed due to way too many things happening at once and trying to do way too many things at once.
In my day-job, I’m running two research projects (one solo, and the other as the leader of a group of five scholars + a graduate research assistant), and I did a lot of research-related running around. Also, working on academic articles for publication, and doing a whole lot of grading!
But! Progress has been made on both counts.
We’re getting there, folks. Sorry for the delay, truly I am.
Happy News! Adrienne J. Odasso of Strange Horizons has accepted my poem Reversed Polarities. I’m beyond thrilled to finally be accepted by Strange Horizons. Way back in the day, my first SFF submission EVER was to SH, and it was poetry. Merlusine, in fact, which has been bought by Shira Lipkin and Mat Joiner over at Liminality Magazine. I put Merlusine on ice after it was rejected, but then brought it out, let it thaw, and then edited it to the version that was closest to the one before I submitted it, all those years ago. Unsurprisingly, in its rawest form, it was accepted. That was the one I loved best, that I was afraid editors would not get. They did!
I can also now announce that Sang Rimau and the Medicine Woman has been accepted by Ranylt Richildis over at Lackington’s Magazine for Issue 7, Skins. I am also really happy to be on the TOC with some really fine writers.
All of my submissions are now back except for my F&SF sub and my entry for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize competition. Both of which were rather ambitious and foolhardy submissions, but hey, you never know until you try, as the cliche goes.
I’d like to send out some more submissions this month, but I will be cutting it close. Lots of things happening in my personal life too. I’ve had a massive health scare, but I’m doing okay.
Oh, and if you don’t have me on my social internets, you probably have yet to read Alicia Cole’s interview with me.