Category Archives: Journal

“七星鼓 (Seven Star Drum)” by Zen Cho in L7

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LONTAR #7We have an additional surprise today! Zen Cho’s wonderful tale “七星鼓 (Seven Star Drum)” appears as the lead-off story in our upcoming seventh issue, and we’re happy to present it here in its entirety, completely for free. Enjoy!

 

七星鼓 (Seven Star Drum)
Zen Cho

 
“When Boris was a kid,” said Coco, “he was scared of everything.”

*

Boris had been born with an extra membrane around his brain that filtered in things other people didn’t see.

This was not unheard of. Everybody knows somebody who can see ghosts. But Boris’s peculiar tragedy was that his parents were sceptics. Marvellously, incredibly, they did not believe in spirits.

It was not just that they did not pray. Boris’s parents used to go jungle-trekking during their holidays. They were the kind of people who kicked tree stumps and shouted at the wind without fear of retaliation. They spoke openly of death as something that happened to everyone—something that would, one day, happen to them and people they knew.

This is all right, unless you are a child who sees ghosts. And Boris saw all kinds of ghosts. His eyes did not discriminate. He saw red-eyed, white-faced, long-tongued vampires, hopping horribly, reaching out for him with sharp-nailed hands. He saw pontianak and langsuir and toyol and penanggalan, orang minyak, hantu tetek, hantu kum-kum, evil genies, plain old dead people.

Even the quiet ones were terrifying, with their sad eyes and transparent bodies. They were so hungry.

Every ghost wanted something from Boris. Usually they wanted his entrails.

As a small child Boris started at everything. He was afraid of shadows and the dark, of loud noises, of whispers, of people with red faces, of cats and dogs, of old people and babies. He could not sleep if it was raining. He threw tantrums if he was forced to go to the bathroom alone.

This was irritating for his parents. Boris withdrew into himself. People started wondering if there was something—you know—funny about him. They felt sorry for his parents, though it was Boris who was suffering, at prey to the whims of the ubiquitous underworld.

*

In the picture on the lion dance troupe’s website, Boris looks strong and cheerful. His forehead is beaded with sweat from a training session; his lean arms hoist the lion head high in the air. He smiles fearlessly into the camera.

You can tell that here is a young man who has found a destiny to push him forward. He has the sunny conviction of one secure in the knowledge of what he is meant for.

But peel off the layers of time, roll him back to the child he was. Boris never got very large or tall, and he’s never quite lost the frown that drew his eyebrows together. With not too strenuous an effort of the imagination you can see in the dauntless lion dancer the child’s skinny legs pitted with scabs, the hunched shoulders, the small, guarded face.

He could easily have lived out his life with those hunched shoulders, pursued by the unfulfillable longings of the dead and spiritous, if not for the discovery.

*

It had happened when he was seven. It was Chinese New Year and for once his parents hadn’t gone hiking on some spirit-soaked mountain. They were in Ipoh, where Boris’s grandmother lived. His parents were buying kuih from a street-side hawker stall when Boris realised there was a man at the end of the street whom he should not look at.

Boris had learnt not to seem frightened no matter how much his heart shook and his breath stuttered. But his eyes stopped seeing; his mouth went dry. Because he refused to turn around he was not sure what the man looked like, but out of the corner of his eyes he saw the inhuman blue tufts of hair. He smelt the stale exhalations of the undead.

He must be calm. The man had not yet realised that Boris could see him.

Seeing ghosts was not really the problem. The problem was when they looked back.

“Ma,” he whimpered.

Boris’s tough, hearty parents ignored him:

“I’m getting the pisang goreng,” said his mother. “You know your favourite? You wait first lah. Mummy will get for you.”

Boris could not help himself. He looked.

He was wrong after all. It was only shaped like a man. When you had a proper look at it, it was not very like.

The thing looked back.

Nobody told Boris what happened when ghosts realise you can see them, but he knew it on a bone-deep level. He had escaped horror many times in his short life, but somehow he knew this time was different.

The thing started moving towards him, in a spiky mechanical shamble. Boris could not move or cry out, though doing that had saved him before. He was frozen. He knew his doom was upon him, that fate was about to touch him on the face.

That was when he heard the drum.

The thing paused and raised its many-eyed head.

The lion came flaming down the road, attended by golden clashings.

“Ah,” said the hawker stall auntie, pleased. “Aiyoh,” said Boris’s parents, dismayed—just when they’d thought they’d be able for once to have an afternoon out without an exhibition from Boris.

They looked at Boris and seeing his still face, thought him struck with terror.

It was a great emotion that held Boris in its grasp, but for once it was not fear.

The lion was gold and red and silver; its head was white-furred like the face of a kind grandfather; the bounce of its feet was like the dance of sunlight on water. Its sequined body twinkled in the lights from the hawker stalls. The sky was blue with evening, but the lion was bright as the day.

When it landed in front of him his mother put a hand on Boris’s shoulder, to reassure her always-frightened son.

But Boris looked up into the lion’s round glass eyes and what he felt was love. The lion’s hinged mouth dropped open. The antennae on its snout quivered. Its hot stinking breath brushed his cheek.

Boris knew, for the first time in his life, that he was safe. For once the membrane showed him something worth seeing—the fact that the lion was real. He saw the muscles rippling underneath its fur-lined scaly hide. He saw the pulse throbbed out by the drum shake the lion’s flanks.

Under the clanging of the cymbals, he heard the ghost chitter with fear.

When the lion reared on its back legs and leaped forward, when its massive jaws closed around the ghost, it was only doing what Boris had expected it to do.

The other people on the street saw the lion eat air. Boris saw the lion’s first snap crush the ghost’s leg.

The lion bowed its head, blinking at a gourd quietly placed on the ground by a troupe member. A second snap.

One way of seeing: a human hand reached out from the lion’s mouth and grabbed the gourd. You could only see it if you were close to the lion, and only from a certain angle. It was so swift you could almost believe the lion had done it itself.

Another way of seeing, just as true: the lion swallowed the ghost. It snatched the gourd by the neck and chugged its contents down. It dropped the gourd and raised its shaggy head in triumph, shaking its rear, puffed up with pride:

“See what I did?” it would have said, if lions spoke human languages. “I have kept everyone safe.”

But lions don’t talk—or roar, for that matter. They let their hearts speak for them.

As the lion pranced away down the road, the drum and the cymbals following, Boris disengaged his hand from his mother’s and walked to the spot where the ghost had been slaughtered.

The lion hadn’t cleaned its plate. A great brown slug glared up at Boris from the ground. Bizarrely for a slug, it had six staring red eyes, and a lot of blue hair.

“Eeyer,” said Boris’s mother. “Don’t be scared, boy, come here and take Mummy’s hand. Insect is more scared of you. Boris, what are you doing!”

Boris squashed the slug under his heel.

The viscera of the slug was corrosive. Smeared on the road, it created the smallest of potholes. Boris inspected the underside of his shoe. There didn’t seem to be much shoe left, so he decided to take it off.

His mother could never understand what had happened to that shoe, and she never knew what happened to her son, either. He became outgoing and unflappable. He stared fearlessly into the corners of houses, went to sleep the minute his head hit the pillow, seemed to enjoy horror movies as if they were comedies.

At ten, he started to train with a local lion dance troupe. He went on with it when he went overseas to study, and founded a troupe at university.

“Otherwise I’ll have nothing on my CV,” he said when people asked, but really it was his favourite thing to do.

It was an expensive hobby, however—lion heads cost a few hundred pounds; the large drum costs more; and all these things must be replaced as they are worn down over time.

The university paid out a little to support cultural diversity, but it wasn’t enough. People are happy to shell out to have a lion dance inaugurate their shop or bless their wedding. They pay even more to have the skeletons cleaned out of their closets. Nobody likes having a ghost in the house.

*

“And that’s how the troupe ended up ghostbusting,” said Coco. “It’s a good story, right?”

“What happened to Boris?” said Jia Qi.

“Oh, he’s working at Goldman Sachs now,” said Coco. “I see him sometimes when I go to London. He wants to be a millionaire by the time he’s thirty.”

This seemed to Jia Qi a somewhat disappointing ending to the story. “Does he still do lion dance?”

“He gets about four hours of sleep a night,” said Coco. “I don’t think he does much of anything besides work. Anyway, the last time I saw him Boris said he wasn’t into it anymore.”

*

“Lion dance for fun, okay,” Boris had said. “To kill the hantu, not so much anymore lah.”

“But that’s why you got into it, isn’t it?” said Coco.

“Yes, but,” said Boris. His eyes went filmy and distant—though maybe that was just the redness of sleep deprivation.

“Actually, no,” he said. “I started because of love. I really love that lion. You ask me if I love my girlfriend more than that lion, I also won’t know how to answer you. And you know the story about the origins of the lion dance? Why they all started doing it in ancient China?”

“They wanted to get rid of the Nian, didn’t they?” said Coco, who had read the Wikipedia page. “This monster came to the village and the lion fought it off.”

“That’s one story,” said Boris. “But the other story is, maybe the lion is the Nian. You look at the lion. It doesn’t look much like real lion, right? Where got real lion got horn? Maybe the Nian has horn. In the end maybe it’s the same thing.

“Somehow doesn’t seem right,” said Boris, “getting the lion to eat spirit. It’s like cannibal, right? That’s why I stopped.”

Coco shrugged. “Fish feed is made of fish.”

“You ask me if I love my mother as much as that lion, I don’t know if I would say yes or not,” was all Boris would say.

But to be fair to Boris, he was pretty drunk at the time.

 
“七星鼓 (Seven Star Drum)” is copyright © 2016 by Zen Cho, and is a companion piece to “起狮,行礼 (Rising Lion—The Lion Bows)”, which was published at Strange Horizons in March 2011.

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Cover and Contents for LONTAR #7!

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LONTAR #6

We’re only a month away from the release of LONTAR issue #7! And I’m proud to reveal both the cover and contents for the new issue, which presents speculative writing from and about Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia and Korea.

 

Fiction

七星鼓 (Seven Star Drum)
   Zen Cho

The Four Deaths of Taylor Ngo
   TR Napper

Blind Date
   Melissa De Silva

Candlenut Farm
   James Penha

Ink: A Love Story
   Vida Cruz

The Tigers of Bengal
   Manish Melwani

 

Poetry

This Island, New Laos
   Bryan Thao Worra

Eden and Our Habits
   Zeny May Recidoro

Funduk
The Sultan’s Tent

   Brandon Marlon

The organisation sends a suicide bomber with their best regards
   Subashini Navaratnam

In His Own Words
   Russ Hoe

Une Nouvelle Vie
Ichthyosaur Birth

   Christina Sng

from “The Anti-Art Anti-Evolution of Manic Piggy Dream Gurrl”
   Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

The Other Universe
   Cyril Wong

 

Non-Fiction

In Suspicion of Beauty: On Eka Kurniawan
   Tiffany Tsao

 

Sequential Art

Falling
   Elvin Ching

The issue will be available in mid-October in bookstores all over Singapore, on the Epigram Books website, and as an ebook through Weightless Books.

Payments Processed for L6

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Patreon has just processed patron payments for June, which means that everyone who pledged by the 27th has received both the epub and mobi files for the LONTAR issue #6 ebook, meaning that you can read it on virtually any e-reader in the world. Yay technology!

The Galaxy Level supporters ($25+ per issue) will also receive the print edition of L6 in the mail very soon. And you’re not going to believe how awesome it is until you hold it in your hands. 🙂

If you pledge anytime between 28th June and mid-October, you’ll be able to receive our seventh issue, which is another doozy. I’ll be releasing the table of contents and cover art soon, so be sure to pledge ASAP so that you can enjoy our patron-only content.

Figuring Out Patreon

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LONTAR at Kino

To become a LONTAR patron starting with issue #6, you must pledge by midnight EST on 27 June. More on this below.

LONTAR issue #6 has now been out for a couple of months (and is already a bestseller at Weightless Books, yay!), and after much back-and-forth with the folks at Patreon, I think I finally have a handle on how things will work for us there. Here’s how it’ll go:

On 28 June, I will put up a Paid Post that will give all current patrons immediate access to the ebook version of L6, in addition to any other rewards they get based on the tier at which they’ve pledged. Therefore, if you want to become a LONTAR patron starting with issue #6, you will need to pledge by midnight EST on 27 June.

This is because Patreon does not charge you if you pledge after a Paid Post has already been made (and therefore, you will not have access to that post), so if you pledge after midnight EST on 27 June, then your patronage will start with issue #7 in October.

Much of my confusion came with how and when patrons were charged (I’d thought that it was automatically at the end of the month after they pledged, but nope), as well as how patrons could access the ebook version of the journal. Patreon has very firm rules on both of these matters, but only for creators who charge based on content released; for creators with monthly patronage, things are much easier.

This is all a learning experience, and so I hope you’ll forgive the little hiccups like these that may arise. I want to be fair to our patrons, and also make sure that we get paid for what is being pledged.

So one more time: if you want to become a LONTAR patron starting with issue #6, you will need to pledge by midnight EST on 27 June.

Thanks!

Increase in Contributor Payment!

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For the first time, LONTAR is increasing its payment rate for contributors! Yay!

Payment is now a flat $30 SGD per short story or non-fiction article, $15 SGD per poem or set of poems, $55 SGD per original comic and $30 SGD per reprint comic.

Publisher Edmund Wee has agreed to this increase in order to offset the 10% withholding tax for residents outside of Singapore. (Meaning that if you live in the US and sell a story to us, you’ll actually be getting $27, which is still a slight bump from before. This is unfortunately a financial rule by IRAS that we have to comply with, although if you live in Singapore, the withholding tax does not apply.)

These new payment rates will start with issue #7, which is scheduled for October 2016, and it’s another cracker of an issue.

And if you want to help bump those rates up even further, become a LONTAR patron today!

LONTAR Now Has a Patreon page!

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Patreon

LONTAR has a Patreon page!

In case you don’t know what Patreon is all about, an explanation: as opposed to Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which are project-based and only move forward if they’re fully funded, Patreon is a way for people to support an artist or organisation (in this case, a literary journal) on an on-going basis. Patreon takes its cue from the patronages of old, but instead of Leonardo da Vinci relying on the largesse of the Medici family and the King of France, this new model utilises smaller pledges from many people. The readers and supporters of LONTAR, including you reading my words right now, can directly support the efforts of our journal, and have a stake in its continued production and (hopeful) expansion.

We are hoping to raise $2,500 USD (~$3,500 SGD) to independently fund each issue; this will allow us to move beyond the dependency on government funding (with the caveat that NAC has never been anything but supportive of us, and has never tried to dictate our content) and become completely self-sufficient. Any money above and beyond this initial goal will go toward increasing the payment for our contributors to SFWA-qualifying rates, expanding our marketing and publicity budget, and maybe one day even paying yours truly. This is an obtainable objective, and you have it in your power to make it happen. There are also specific rewards for each pledge level, and the more you pledge, the cooler the stuff you’ll get in return.

If you love LONTAR as much as we do, please go to patreon.com/lontarjournal today to make your pledge, and spread the word, so that we can continue for many years to come. Become a LONTAR patron today!

“The Woman in the Coffee Shop” by Christina Sng

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LONTAR #5“The Woman in the Coffee Shop” by Christina Sng, which appeared in LONTAR issue #5, has been nominated for a 2016 Rhysling Award in the Long Poem category! We’re all very proud of Christina, and to celebrate the nomination, here is the poem in its entirety. Enjoy.

 
The Woman in the Coffee Shop
Christina Sng

 
She was elegant, more
Graceful than a swan,
Neck like the pale white
Inner bark of a young tree.

Her hair was onyx, woven
Like black dragon beard candy
Onto her head, held only
By a single wooden chopstick.

Oak, I recognised. Not
From around here. Just like her,
An old-world hardened weariness
That came only with age. Great age.

Yet she looked only 35,
Face pale and unlined, her ears
Distractingly almost elven. And
Her ebony eyes—

Abyssal,
Deeper than death;
Maelstroms opening gateways
To unknown alternate universes.

She turned those eyes on me now,
Staring piercingly into mine.
I must have frowned, for her lips
Parted into a smile.

“Which one is he?”
She asked, in a soft whisper.
I turned my eyes to him,
Sitting nonchalantly

Four tables away,
Counting his 4D tickets
And drinking teh tarik.
She looked back at me

With those peerless eyes
And nodded.
Time froze
In that instant.

And everyone in the coffee shop
Along with it: patrons with coffee
Cups in hand; a man labouring
A heavy tray, pausing mid-step

As if to collect his thoughts;
A prata suspended in the air,
Swirled like a faraway
Infinite galaxy;

Saffron droplets
Freeze-framed above
A child’s plate beside me,
Her face full of glee.

It would be her first taste of curry:
Her mother capturing the moment
While grandma beamed proudly
And big sister sipped her tea.

I did not see the chopstick
Pierce his throat till
The world unfroze
And the first screams began.

When I turned, she was gone.
Later, by Papa’s bedside,
I held his still hand, stroked
His unruly hair from his face.

“Mama is avenged,” I told him.
“Please wake up now. Please.”
His breath quickened. I knew
He heard me. I thought of

The woman in the shop
And how she appeared
Out of nowhere to help me.
What did she want?

And why did she wear
My dead mother’s face?

 
“The Woman in the Coffee Shop” is copyright © 2015 by Christina Sng.

Cover and Contents for LONTAR #6!

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LONTAR #6

We’re only two months away from the release of LONTAR issue #6! And I’m proud to reveal both the cover and contents for the new issue, which presents speculative writing from and about Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Laos.

 

Fiction

Running Shoes
   Ken Liu

Caronang
   Eka Kurniawan (trans. Tiffany Tsao)

See It Coming
   Jennifer Anne Champion

Her Majesty’s Lamborghini and the Girl With the Fish Tank
   JY Yang

Brother to Space, Sister to Time
   Victor Fernando R. Ocampo

 

Poetry

I See Clouds
   Russ Hoe

Three Poems
   Christina Sng

quaere :: seek and ask
   Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Stealth
   Marco Yan

Changi Mermaid
   Ang Si Min

Two Poems
   Jonel Abellanosa

Baptism
   Sokunthary Svay

Two Poems
   Brendan Walsh

Objects of Revolution
   Krishna Udayasankar

 

Non-Fiction

The Boy, the Swordfish, the Bleeding Island
   Ng Yi-Sheng

 

Sequential Art

The Feast
   Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo

 
The issue will be available in late April in bookstores all over Singapore, on the Epigram Books website, and as an ebook through Weightless Books.

Notes on “The Spurned Bride’s Tears”

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Issue #5Gord Sellar’s striking novelette, “The Spurned Bride’s Tears, Centuries Old, in the Rain”, was just published as the anchor story in LONTAR issue #5, and he’s assembled some notes on what inspired him to write it:

During the winter of 2010, I spent approximately two months in Indonesia (with much of that time spent in Depok, an exurb of Jakarta), where my then-girlfriend—now my wife—was studying Bahasa Indonesia, the official national language of the country. Indonesia’s not an easy place to be, at times: Jakarta’s traffic is pure insanity, and I got the worst food poisoning of my life there. But the place had a powerful effect on me: rereading the story at some remove, I find Depok rushing back into my mind with vivid, overwhelming immediacy.

One interesting thing about Jakarta is that, despite the nation’s official semi-secularity, and the overwhelming popularity of Islam there, the’re a certain amount of Hindu cultural material that still is very visible in Jakarta (let alone over in Bali, where Hinduism is still commonly practiced). Hinduism in Indonesia (as in much of Southeast Asia) predates the arrival of the now-dominant religions of Islam (in Indonesia) and Buddhism (in much of the rest of Southeast Asia) by a significant margin. Angkor Wat depicts scenes from Hindu, not Buddhist, religious narrative. The Ramakian of Thailand is a localized remix of the Ramayana. It got me thinking about Hindu cosmology underlying modern Indonesian religious practices and identities: what if the Indian model of the afterlife—reincarnation for as long as people need to work out their karmic and dharmic balance—were correct, despite the majority of Indonesians adhering to a different model of the afterlife today?

Read the rest of Sellar’s entry at his website. And read “The Spurned Bride’s Tears, Centuries Old, in the Rain” in LONTAR issue #5.

LONTAR #6 Lineup

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LONTAR issue #5 is now out in the world, and should be appearing in bookstores soon. You can already order it directly from Epigram Books, and the ebook will be up at Weightless Books in the very near future.

I am also happy to announce that the contents of LONTAR issue #6 have been finalised! This jam-packed sixth issue presents speculative writing from and about Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Laos. Inside these pages, you’ll find:

We are now reading for issue #7, to be released in Autumn 2016, so if you want your work to be considered, send it to us via the Submittable portal. If you’re still waiting for a reply on your submission, please be patient and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.