Category Archives: Issue #1

LONTAR #1 Launch at BooksActually!



This coming Friday evening, LONTAR issue #1 will be launched at BooksActually in Singapore! You can RSVP at the official Facebook event page.

For those of you who may not know, Math Paper Press, which publishes and distributes LONTAR, is the publishing imprint of BooksActually, so it’s totally apt to launch the journal at the cozy main store in Tiong Bahru.

Since the majority of our contributors will not be in Singapore, a number of folks in the local literary community have stepped up and agreed to read from the pieces in the issue. So here’s our line-up (in no particular order):

Ang Si Min
Patricia Mulles (for Kate Osias)
Alvin Pang (for Chris Mooney-Singh)
Wei Fen Lee (for Elka Ray Nguyen)
JY Yang (for Zen Cho)
Adan Jimenez (for Paolo Chikiamco)
Jason Erik Lundberg (for Bryan Thao Worra and Paolo Bacigalupi)

If you’re in Singapore and love excellent literary speculative fiction from Southeast Asia, come on down! (And even if you don’t, come on down anyway!)


Bryan Thao Worra’s Exploration of the Nak


This isn’t a direct behind-the-scenes entry, but it’s pretty close. In Bryan Thao Worra’s poem “Stainless Steel Nak” in issue #1, he explores the Lao supernatural entity through a number of fascinating comparisons. In this blog entry from a year ago, he also does so through the Lovecraftian figure of Nyarlathotep:

In the glossary of On The Other Side Of The Eye in 2007, I explained that a nak is “Sometimes synonymous with Naga. Typically depicted as a many-headed giant serpent, as a river creature, and sometimes as a subterranean being. Nak are believed to help the Lao during wars, floods and are associated with fertility. Some say the Lao are descendants of a giant Nak living in the Mekong. To some, Nak are snake deities who converted to Buddhism and now protect the Buddhist Dharma. In art, they appear on the balustrades of temple causeways and platforms (“naga bridges”), personifying the rainbow, bridging the earthly and celestial worlds.” The Tibetan parallel is Klu, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Nyarlathotep is an “Outer God” known by many names and forms, including the Crawling Chaos. It first appearing in Lovecraft’s 1920 prose poem of the same name, he was later mentioned in other works by Lovecraft and by other writers of the 20th and 21st century. The form above is often referred to as the Howler In The Dark.


The Nak are not entities a Lao writer would present as villainous, because they are historically protectors of the Lao. (Of course, nearby mythologies take a different view of the Nak/Naga due to politics, etc. but that’s not necessarily germane to this discussion.) However, if we were to postulate how Nyarlathotep appears, it might come as Nak Dam, the Black Nak, which would be a parody of the traditional form of the Nak.

If we were keeping consistent with prior appearances, Nak Dam would most likely appear with a tri-lobed eye, black scales, and numerous tentacles protruding from a number of obscene, terrifying heads. Based on Lovecraft’s poem, we can speculate Nyarlathotep’s aspect of Nak Dam would do similar things it does in Europe and America, wandering the earth, gathering devotees by demonstrating strange, almost magical technology that eventually causes them to lose awareness of the world, of the passage of time, eventually leading to insanity and plunging the world into madness. A protagonist in Laos or a Lao expatriate community might possibly be trying to fight Nak Dam by turning to the dham, the truths and lessons of the Buddha and Lao customs to retain their sense of sanity. But would they succeed?

Behind the Scenes of Zen Cho’s “Love in the Time of Utopia”


From issue #1, Zen Cho provides a behind-the-scenes look of her story “Love in the Time of Utopia”:

What first sparked “Love in the Time of Utopia” was the idea of someone saying to someone else, in horror: “You can’t message her on Facebook! That would be so forward!”

I liked the idea of writing a story about the interaction of Regency novel norms and modern social media. But as I tried to work out why you would have those sorts of norms in a near-future version of Malaysia, the story became more about the idea of meritocracy than about etiquette. “Meritocracy” is a word we throw around a lot in Malaysia, as a remedy for all our ills, but the story examines what it might mean if we did implement a strict meritocracy based on, say, academic achievement.

(I originally set the story in Singapore, but for some reason that didn’t work.)

So it’s kind of a gentle satire, but it’s also just a love story, and a coming of age story. Hopefully it works on at least one of those axes.

Behind the Scenes of Elka Ray Nguyen’s “The Yellow River”


From issue #1, Elka Ray Nguyen provides a behind-the-scenes look of her story “The Yellow River”:

While I’ve always loved to read—and write—mysteries, I was never attracted to stories about the supernatural. In fact, I thought “speculative fiction” meant “edgy”.

A few years ago I found a musty, dog-eared copy of Lost Girls in my local gym in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The debut novel of a Canadian writer named Andrew Pyper, Lost Girls came out in 2000 and won that year’s Arthur Ellis Award, the top prize for mystery and crime writing in Canada. If I’d known it was a ghost story I wouldn’t have read it. But once I started, I was hooked. Although I’ve lived in Asia for 20 years, I grew up in Canada. Maybe it was the small-town Canadian setting that reeled me in, or just Pyper’s haunting but wildly beautiful writing. While the ending was unsatisfying, I hardly cared. I can still feel that book, so mysterious and disturbing.

Since then I’ve written two short stories that classify as “speculative”. One, “The Yellow River”, is included in this inaugural edition of LONTAR. The other, “You Get What You Pay For”, will appear in Monsoon’s upcoming anthology Crime Scene Asia: Asia’s Best Crime Fiction. Much to my surprise, a Catholic miracle and a vengeful ghost have crept into my novel-in-progress, which recounts the 1930’s murder of a French priest in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. What’s next? I can’t even speculate.

Behind the Scenes of Paolo Chikiamco’s “Philippine Magic: A Course Catalogue”


From issue #1, Paolo Chikiamco provides a behind-the-scenes look of his non-fiction piece “Philippine Magic: A Course Catalogue”:

I have a confession to make: I’m not a big Harry Potter fan. Oh, I read and enjoyed all the books (maybe except for Book 5), and watched all the movies (still think the 3rd was the best), but every time the story would try to present itself as being a worldwide magical conflict, I’d have to battle an urge to sigh. I just didn’t see a lot of non-Western magical types/motifs represented in the Harry Potter world. As for specifically Philippine magic, yeah… no. While that’s hardly surprising, that kind of thing still keeps me from truly immersing myself in that world, even if I found aspects of it very inviting, because it felt like a world that has no place for people from my neck of the woods. And that’s a shame, because there’s a rich diversity of magical practices in the Philippines.

So I’ve always thought about what a Philippine magical school might be like, one which used and taught magic in a way that magic has appeared in our culture, our old stories and urban legends. When Jason asked me to contribute something to LONTAR, I realized I didn’t want to submit a story. What I wanted to do was imagine that Philippine school of magic, and in providing a list of courses that are taught within its hypothetical halls, give some insight into our own traditions of magic. It was a… much more daunting task than I’d originally anticipated, and in no way does the list I created even scratch the surface of the myriad magical traditions, ancient and modern, found in these islands. But it’s a start.

Issue #1 Mentioned at Boing Boing!


The subject line says it all! Check it out on Boing Boing.

For those few of you out there who may not know: “Launched as a print zine in 1989 and a blog in 2000, Boing Boing now has more than 5 million monthly readers and publishes a daily mix of short articles, long features, and video content online.” [source]

Needless to say, I’m very happy that Cory Doctorow posted about our little journal there. Hopefully, this will mean a good sized readership; at the very least, it’ll result in a larger awareness.

Also, there have been a number of queries about when the DRM-free ebook bundle of issue #1 will be available. My current estimate is mid-November. This is an extremely busy season for me, so I’ll get to it as soon as I can. Just take this as an opportunity to cultivate patience.

In the meantime, anyone can order the print issue online through the BooksActually Web Store or HipVan.

Behind the Scenes of Kate Osias’s “Departures”


From issue #1, Kate Osias provides a behind-the-scenes look of her story “Departures”:

The original concept for this story was to write it from the perspective of Enzo. Unfortunately, after a thousand words in, I realized that the story was much larger than I had originally thought. Which meant I would have to commit far more than I could afford. (Because of certain practical realities, I have a day job; also, I have a five-year-old who likes to explain to me why he likes Nightwing over Batman and how he absolutely needs a cape now and why I should listen to him hum the Angry Birds tune every time he feels like it.) I decided to scrap that monster of a story and turned my attention to Carla, who, thank goodness, had a self-contained journey.

One of the short stories I’ve been toying with recently (but have not actually written) is Natalie’s point of view. In my mind—as most stories are, I suppose, when they are first conceived—it is a beautiful depiction of love and growing up and how the world moves on as a contrast to a place that doesn’t. But the words have yet to obediently find themselves on paper so all I have are visions. Perhaps someday, when I myself have grown up, I will have enough craft and skill to actually write down.

Behind the Scenes of Ang Si Min’s “The Immortal Pharmacist”


From issue #1, Ang Si Min provides a behind-the-scenes look of her poem “The Immortal Pharmacist”:

My friend, Hemma, and I were in Penang for a holiday. One night, she asked me to tell her a story. So in the dark, I spun a yarn about the rabbit on the moon wanting a mate. The yarn got terribly tangled and bizarre, but it stayed wrapped around my brain. When I came back, this little poem unravelled from that yarn. I’m going to keep the rest of it to myself – it was really a story for the nighttime, not for print. 😉