Category Archives: Journal

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. 😉

Conversations With Jason Erik Lundberg at the BooksActually Blog


As part of the release of LONTAR #1, I’ve been interviewed at the BooksActually blog:

Jason Erik Lundberg

Jason Erik Lundberg was born in Brooklyn and has lived in Singapore since 2007. He is the author of nearly a dozen books, including the new collection Strange Mammals; he is also the series editor of The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories, editor of Fish Eats Lion (2012), and co-editor of A Field Guide to Surreal Botany (2008) and Scattered, Covered, Smothered (2004).

Q: What was the inspiration behind Lontar?

LONTAR continues a project begun with my collection Red Dot Irreal (2011) and continued with my edited anthology Fish Eats Lion (2012), both also published by Math Paper Press: to increase awareness and celebrate the creation of the speculative fiction being written in [and about] Southeast Asia in English. On the world stage of speculative fiction, Southeast Asia is still largely underrepresented, both as a setting, and in terms of writers in the region. LONTAR is my attempt to shine a spotlight and bring more attention to this type of writing, and to do it in a regular periodic fashion.

Q: Why speculative fiction and what do you hope to do with that?

SF is my chosen genre, and is the only method of prose writing that allows for the literalization of metaphor in order to go beyond mere facts and examine issues at the level of truth. The fantastical tradition is the oldest storytelling convention there is, way on back to myth-making and god-creation used to explain the world, and it is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago.

Q:  What can we expect from following issues of Lontar?

Issue #2 contains stories that take place in the DMZ between North and South Korea, in the elevated educational society of a far-future Singapore, at a magical floating market accessible only from a village river in Vietnam, and in a mansion apartment in New York City gained by a homicidal monk and a Bangkok madam. Plus an all-Singapore contingent of poets exploring aspects of the strange in verse. Our authors will include emerging writers, a winner of the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, and a bestselling British crime novelist.

Q: As an American living in Singapore, and as the literary fiction editor at Epigram Books, what are some of the key themes you have observed in Singapore writing which differs from American publications?

I’m not sure that it necessarily differs from American writing, but one trend I’ve seen in recent years in Singaporean prose writing is the focus on loss. As a country, Singapore continues to do well in terms of economic stability and providing a fairly comfortable existence for many of the people living and working here, but in exchange, the cost seems to have been something profound, something deep in the collective soul of the nation. There is a melancholy tone that pervades much Singaporean fiction right now, a period of recovery from that lost thing, a time of healing and reflection.

Q:  What next? What can we expect to see from you in the near future?

My Babette’s Feast chapbook, Embracing the Strange, should be out sometime later in September from Math Paper Press. In October, my new collection, Strange Mammals, will be out both in paperback and as an ebook from my UK publisher, Infinity Plus Books; ∞+ is also releasing The Alchemy of Happiness and the expanded edition of Red Dot Irreal in paperback editions, after publishing them last year as ebooks. And at the Singapore Writers Festival, I’ll be launching my new anthology, The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One, as well as two other books that I edited for Epigram Books—Cyril Wong’s first novel, The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza, and Amanda Lee Koe’s debut collection, Ministry of Moral Panic.

I’m currently at work desperately trying to finish revising my novel, A Fickle and Restless Weapon, which takes place in a fictional alternate-universe version of Singapore. If you want to get a more regular dose of my fiction, I have pieces accepted for the first twelve issues of the Math Paper Press journal of flash fiction, Twenty-Four Flavours, and have made it a goal to write stories for the remaining twelve. Just recently, I received a 2013 Creation Grant from the National Arts Council to write a steampunk novella, The Diary of a Man Who Disappeared, which shares the world of my novel, and which I’ll start writing next year.

LONTAR #1 Now Available!


LONTAR #1LONTAR #1 is out at last!

I want to thank my contributors—Kate Osias, Zen Cho, Paolo Chikiamco, Chris Mooney-Singh, Ang Si Min, Bryan Thao Worra, Elka Ray Nguyen and Paolo Bacigalupi—for being part of the inaugural issue of what I consider a very important literary endeavor; without their amazing writing, there simply would be no journal.

I also need to thank Kristine Ong Muslim for her keen poetic eye, and for being a wonderful sounding board during this entire process. In addition, thanks to Kenny, Renée, Jocelyn, and everyone at Math Paper Press for believing in the journal enough to help me bring it into being, and to Sarah & Schooling for making it such an unbelievably gorgeous physical product.

I am working to get the ebook bundle (PDF/ePub/Mobi) done by the end of the month, but it may be sometime in October before it’s ready.

We will be having a launch in mid-October at BooksActually; details coming soon.

If you’re in Singapore, you can pick up LONTAR at BooksActually; if you’re outside of Singapore, please buy it at the BooksActually Web Store.

Onward! To issue #2!

Issue #1 Table of Contents


Since submissions were opened in June, I’ve been gratified at the interest LONTAR has received thus far, and am very happy to announce that the first issue is “in the can”. It will be released in March May 2013 by Math Paper Press; we had hoped to launch it by November 2012, but financial and editorial issues led to the slight delay.

This premiere issue of LONTAR showcases speculative writing from and about the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Laos, and Vietnam. Showcased are a post-apocalyptic Manila from Kate Osias, a utopian Kuala Lumpur from Zen Cho, a haunting military excursion down the Yellow River from Elka Ray Nguyen, and a reprinted novelette about a young Laotian journalist’s place in the sensationalist future of news reporting from award-winner Paolo Bacigalupi; speculative poetry from Chris Mooney-Singh, Ang Si Min, and Bryan Thao Worra; and an unusual exploration of Philippine magic systems from Paolo Chikiamco.

I can’t wait to show it to you all.

Issue #1 Contents
01. Etching the Lontar | Jason Erik Lundberg (Editorial)
02. Departures | Kate Osias (Fiction)
03. Love in the Time of Utopia | Zen Cho (Fiction)
04. Philippine Magic: A Course Catalogue | Paolo Chikiamco (Non-Fiction)
05. Jayawarman 9th Remembers the Dragon Archipelago | Chris Mooney-Singh (Poetry)
06. The Immortal Pharmacist | Ang Si Min (Poetry)
07. Stainless Steel Nak | Bryan Thao Worra (Poetry)
08. The Yellow River | Elka Ray Nguyen (Fiction)
09. The Gambler | Paolo Bacigalupi (Fiction Reprint)

Please note: we’re now looking for fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and sequential art for issue #2; our submissions work on a rolling basis, so we will consider them all year long. If you think you might have a piece that would fit our journal, submit that sucker to us!