Interview: Jason Erik Lundberg

Hi there! =D

Ok, this was supposed to be out yesterday but I was out the entire day and was so tired out by the time I reached home, it completely slipped my mind. Sorry about it. >.<

Today’s special guest is gonna be Jason Erik Lundberg. If you’re a writer who also happens to be following the Singapore Writers Festival 2012 very closely, you’ll notice that he’s one of the very talented writers on display. XD

He’s the author of Red Dot Irreal (2011), The Time Traveler’s Son (2008), Four Seasons in One Day (2003, with Janet Chui), and over 80 articles, short stories, and book reviews.

Born in Brooklyn, Jason now potters around Singapore with his lovely wife Janet and a beautiful daughter Anya.


We know you as a writer, editor, and owner of Two Cranes Press, but tell us something that isn’t in your profile.

I’m a huge Nine Inch Nails fan. I bought Broken in a used CD shop when I was an undergraduate at North Carolina State University, and I have followed Trent Reznor wherever his musical path has led ever since. At current count in iTunes, I possess 841 music albums equal to 7,290 songs, and I can guarantee that I have listened to NIN the most out of all of them. Getting to hear the band live for the first time when they came through Singapore a few years ago was one of the highlights of my life.

How did you get into writing in the first place?

It seems like it was something that I was always doing. I wrote all kinds of little stories when I was a little kid; I remember one in particular when I was around seven years old that I even turned into a little book, complete with stick-figure illustrations, called “The Pulsar NX is Missing,” which was about ninjas stealing my mother’s car.

I saw praise for my narratives when I was a student, and even won an at-large prize in a literary contest while I was in high school. It seemed to be something for which I had some talent, and I was encouraged by my parents and teachers to pursue it. I started writing with the goal of publication when I was in college, and I haven’t looked back since.

You run Two Cranes Press with your wife, Janet Chui. What kind of stories do you look out for and why?

Unfortunately, we aren’t looking for any stories right now; since our daughter Anya was born in 2009, the press has been on indefinite hiatus. However, while it was still going, the anthologies that we put together featured strange short speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction) that dealt with a specific theme.

These days, my editing work is for other publishers. An anthology of Singaporean speculative fiction called Fish Eats Lion will be launched this November at the Singapore Writers Festival by Math Paper Press, and the first issue of a literary journal called LONTAR will be out in March 2013; for the latter, I’m looking for speculative fiction set within Southeast Asia, from both SEA and non-SEA writers. Plus, by the time this interview is posted, I will have started work as an editor for Epigram Books, helping to shape the publisher’s line of novels and other long-form fiction.

The Time Traveller’s Son

In your opinion and in view of the local scene currently, do Singaporean writers stand a chance of having their voice heard in the international world of fiction?

Absolutely. Singaporean writers are already being heard all over the world in a variety of genres and publications. It’s important for emerging writers to realize that they are in no way limited by the shores of this little island-nation. Most literary journals and magazines accept submissions online, so there’s no excuse for not submitting to these venues.

How do you get your audience (and publishers) to take you seriously as a writer?

The most obvious response is to write the best that you possibly can, and never stop trying to improve or learn new things as a writer. Tell only the stories you can in the best manner that you can.

Also, don’t be an assbag in public, and this absolutely includes the Internet. If you want to be taken seriously, period, you have to be as professional as possible, which means reigning in any impulses to let your metaphorical ass show in a public setting. If people see you behaving like a dick, whether in person or online, they’ll be much less willing to want to read your writing.

Four Seasons in One Day

But then this question gets to the whole crux of what “taken seriously” means. I write in the vein of Salman Rushdie, Aimee Bender, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, and Italo Calvino, which is to say in the style of “magic realism” or “slipstream” or “fantastika” or a half-dozen other similar labels. I use “magic realism” instead of “fantasy” because the gut reaction of many people is to look down their noses at you if you confess to writing in genre. I’m in no way ashamed to be thought of as a fantasy author, but I’d rather try to disarm preconceived notions so as to invite potential readers into my own writing. Then, once they’re hooked, they might be willing to read more fiction in a fantastical milieu in the future.

Which do you think is a better option for local writers: to query a publisher or self-publish their books?

When I was first getting published around ten years ago, self-publishing was still saddled with the stink of desperation and impatience and amateurism. This is no longer entirely the case (although the vast majority of self-published books, either in print or electronically, still display these qualities), and so there are more avenues now for a writer to release his or her writing to the world. The first book my wife and I put out through Two Cranes Press was a self-published chapbook called Four Seasons in One Day, which featured fiction from both of us and artwork by her; it was an experiment to see if anyone would even be interested, and we sold-out our 100-copy print run in just a few months.

However, self-publishing is an immense amount of work. Book publishers take care of editing, cover design, marketing, publicity, and a dozen other duties in order to get the book into as many stores and as many readers’ hands as possible; self-publishers have to do all this work themselves, and it is hard. Amanda Hocking is held up as one of the outlying cases in that she sold millions of copies of her ebooks that she self-published, but she worked damn hard to acquire that readership; plus, it should be noted that she has now gone with a traditional print publisher for her future titles because she was spending so much time on publicity and not enough on the writing itself.

A Field Guide to Surreal Botany

I’ve used both methods, but I’m still old-school enough to believe that if one wants to build a fan base and to see writing as a lifelong career rather than a get-rich-quick scheme, one should go through the traditional channels of approaching a publisher (and for larger publishing houses, this also includes acquiring an agent).

What will you say to a writer who has been rejected many times or even one who has never published before?

Don’t give up. The world is littered with millions of would-be writers who decided to stop at the first sign of rejection. I’m not the flashiest of writers, but I do pride myself on my faith in my abilities and my perseverance. Even when everyone around you seems to be getting published, it’s important to keep at it.

If after several years you don’t seem to be getting any better, and you feel stuck on a plateau of competence, maybe it’s time to take some writing classes, or attend a residential workshop, or join a writing group. You could apply for mentorship programs such as those run by Ceriph or the NAC in Singapore.

Also, try to surround yourself with people who see writing as worthwhile, and who encourage you in your pursuits. Honest criticism is important too, but you’ll need a support structure for those bleak times when you think your writing is shit, and the world’s out to get you, and the whole publishing landscape is a sham. These friends can help you to keep a positive mindset during those moments when the depression comes, to ride out the waves and put you back on track.

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Jason Erik Lundberg will appear at the following Singapore Writers Festival 2012 event(s) so don’t forget to grab your tix!

  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Music | 7 November 2012 | 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm
  • Stories from a Shrinking Globe | 11 November 2012 | 11:30 am – 12:30 pm

moon

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Interview: Sir Fong aka Otto Fong

Hiya! Today I’m gonna be doing an interview with Otto Fong, the dude who is behind the wildly popular Sir Fong science series that has taken Singapore by storm.

When I first met him, he looked stern like a no-nonsense teacher. Having been a student who pretty much held her teachers in awe, his presence was commanding to say the least. But after getting to know him on Facebook & interacting with him at my Comics Xchange event last year, I found that he really is a very likeable guy with a great sense of humour. =D

Well, I hope you guys enjoy reading all about Otto Fong and his journey as an illustrator. If there is one thing I’ve learnt from him during this interview, it’s to treat your muse well. Don’t take it for granted!


Tell us something the public doesn’t know about Otto.

I find eating a waste of time. If I could, I’d rather pop a food pill than interrupt my drawing to go out for lunch.

How did you get started in illustration and why a Science series?

I was in China understudying a famous film director Zhang Jianya (his latest tv series, “Journey To The West”, is showing on tv this year). As early as 1996, Zhang wanted to make a live-action movie of the popular Monkey King mythology. Unfortunately, the investors ran out of money and the entire crew was suddenly in limbo.

As his assistant, I was illustrating storyboards for him and that reignited my childhood passion for drawing. I decided not to waste time waiting, and drew/inked my own comic story of the Monkey King. Surprisingly, a book editor from Beijing liked it and published my first comic book.

I returned to Singapore and became a science teacher. That re-ignited my passion for science and science fiction stories. I enjoyed using my comics to educate and entertain my students.

So when the opportunity arrived, I combined the love for drawing with my love of science, and created “Sir Fong’s Adventures In Science”. Book 1 did very well when launched at the first Singapore Toy Game and Comic Convention, so I kept growing the series by combining parts of the science syllabus with my characters.

It’s tough being a creative in Singapore. How did you navigate that path to your success today?

It is indeed difficult to be creative in Singapore. Singaporeans already have a formula for relative success and many prefer to follow the well-trodden paths. Being creative can even be seen as a threat to that formula by some. Fortunately, there is a minority of creative people who managed to be successful.

I actively sought out some of them in the fields of comics (such as Johnny Lau, the creator of “Mr Kiasu”) and science (such as Singapore Science Fellows Professor Lui Pao Chuen and Professor Leo Tan) for collaboration and advise. So, collaboration is important to me.

I think another key ingredient is to leverage on one’s own unique strengths. My passion and strengths lie in education, science and technology. As a teacher and an ex-student, I was keenly aware that our science education is flawed. We are strong in knowledge teaching and test scores, but not life-long thinkers and users of science.

Our textbooks drew heavily from the Western sciences and scientists, and we tend to neglect our own role models and stories in science. This is where my skills, knowledge and passion could be used in a unique way: to inspire a new generation of science-savvy young SE Asians. I believe it is a worthy cause and something that our society can benefit from. Young people, teachers and parents are excited and shared my vision – and supported my comic books both emotionally and rationally.

Adaptability is also important. I took 3 years to master digital art myself, as I find the medium has greater flexibility, ease of use and freedom. Vector drawings are very different from traditional drawing, almost like twisting wires sometimes, but it serves me well when printing and publishing became digital.

Technology is now a huge driving force in reading habits, and many bookstores are closing because of that. So I am creating Sir Fong ebooks on the iPad platform. But, since the books are committed to science education, my ebook of Book 1 contains science games that compliment and reinforce science concepts.

It must have been difficult getting your work out in the market initially, how did you grab your target audience or distributor’s attention?

After my book was published, I contacted my ex-colleagues and friends who are science teachers. I took every opportunity to speak at school assemblies. I spoke extensively to the press about my vision.

At first, sales were slow, and it took me some time to get used to speaking to hundreds. But I kept speaking, modifying my presentations and planned for the next book. A few bookstores gave Book 1 a chance – fortunately, the science syllabus never goes out of style, and my books enjoy a longer shelf life. After a couple of years, more schools hear of my books and more Singaporeans trust that my commitment is serious. I spoke with greater confidence and clarity. By Book 3, even Singapore Science Centre bookstore is carrying my books.

Have you considered going into other types of genre?

I have explored drawing other genres with one-off collaborations such as Liquid City Vol 1 and commercial tie-ins. My latest non-Sir Fong comic book was a collection of short stories based on the struggles of single-parent families.

The comic, titled “Balances”, was commisioned by HELP Family Service Centre in 2010. It took a year to produce, as I had to interview families, then script their stories into comic form. But again, it was meaningful for me if children of single-parent families can draw strength and inspiration from the comic book. Working on the comic also forced me to improve on my drawing skills, and you can see a leap in drawing style from Book 3 to 4.

I was also rather proud of another commission, an online comic strip called
“Star Child”. It was about a foetus whose mother was so kiasu, she sent a robot into her womb to tutor the foetus. Foetus’s other friends include his dad’s sperms, which are constantly dealing with the disappointment that the egg was already taken. It was unfortunate that the project did not last.

But each Sir Fong requires a creation period of six months and promotion of the rest of the year, so I have to be picky on other projects.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Another comic artist, Hup (Lee Hup Kheng of New Paper) advised that I draw from my life. So I looked at what got me excited as a kid: sci-fi and Doraemon are just two of my favorite areas and Sir Fong comics are strongly influenced by them.

Book 3 has a plot about a little girl Abby and her new pet dog. The story came out of my fear that, one day, instead of a bird flu or swine flu, there will be a dog flu pandemic. I cannot imagine hundreds and thousands of dog owners, including myself, having to give up our beloved pet for extermination. So I created Book 3 in 2010. Can you believe that in 2011, the first case of a mutated virus was found in a dog in Australia? That was 8 months after I’d completed Book 3!

What’s a piece of advice will you give to an illustrator who is just starting out?

A new illustrator will face a lot of negativity and indifference. Sometimes, one might blame himself/herself when the books do not fly off the bookstores’ shelves. Sometimes, a casual remark overheard somewhere can shatter the confidence.

See the pursuit of a career as the pursuit of the love of your life. Would you give up if he/she ignored you at first? Or would you find a different approach? It takes time for people to trust your work, to fall in love with your work. The only way to fail is to give up and stop trying. Don’t become an illustrator for the money – that’s like marrying someone you don’t love for his/her riches. Be committed that you will draw through thick or thin, for better or worse, riches and rags, health and sickness. Be so committed that you will part only in death. That’s the only way to live as an illustrator.

Don’t ever take your drawing muse for granted. Betray her/him, he/she can find another illustrator easily, but you would have lost the love of your life.

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Otto will be holding court at Booth G29 at the STGCC this coming weekend so don’t forget to drop by and say hi! XD

moon

Interview: A tale of one superhero

Hiya guys! This week, I have the pleasure of interviewing Aravind Menon who set up Jove Pater Media with 4 of his buddies. Jove Pater Media is also the Singapore company behind Salvation Sam, a western style comic about…SUPERHEROES! Glad to know that superheroes ain’t just limited to the Marvel flagship. XDD

And now, if you’re ready…let us jump into the mind of one who dares to dream about superheroes and bring them to life on paper!

 

All for one & one for all. Aravind & Alex are the dudes on flanking the group.

 


 

Why superheroes?

Having grown up on superhero comics, you kinda tell yourself that you’re either gonna grow up and become a superhero, or–at the very least–write about them. After hundreds of attempts of getting myself bitten by radioactive spiders and looking for toxic spills to bathe myself in ended with zero success, I decided to settle for being a superhero writer.

I guess on a more serious note, I’ve always felt that the comic book medium has always been the single best medium for superhero stories. Despite some of my favourite movies of all time belonging to the superhero genre, I can honestly say that I have never found a movie to be anywhere as satisfying as a good comic with superheroes.

What is Salvation Sam all about?

It would be easy to say that Salvation Sam is a coming of age tale about a person becoming a superhero, but Alex (fellow writer and creator) and I would like to say that it is something more. Having read and watched comic and superhero related stuff for our whole lives, there were some specific things that we wanted to approach and discuss.

The first thing–which is pretty obvious very quickly in the comic–is the importance of a good villain in a superhero’s career. We take for granted how famous Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the X-men are. However, if we were to look at their careers, a lot of their fame is directly linked to Lex Luthor, the Joker, Green Goblin and Magneto. So the question then becomes: what if a really powerful superhero–as powerful as most A-Listers–got stuck with a B-List rogue gallery? What happens to his career then?

Another thing that really struck us–and this was due to the trend of today’s superhero comics almost always having a shared universe–was the question of how special superheroes really are?

Salvation Sam, as a superhero, is pretty powerful. He’s in a world where superheroes are celebrated like rock stars and by all right he should be nothing less than a celebrity. But he isn’t. So in here we have the question of how does this super-powered being put the ‘hero’ back in ‘superhero.’

What is the collaboration process like between writer, artists and inker? Were there any cat fights?

The collaboration was actually pretty smooth. In total, we worked with 6 artists–1 penciller, 3 inkers, 1 colorist and 1 letterer–and the kicker was that none of them were Singaporean. In fact, all of them live in North and South America and that effectively meant a neat 12 hour difference that completely messed with my sleep cycle.

But other than that, it was an amazing experience. Despite most being freelancers or new to this, they were extremely professional. If anything, I was more concerned if I was over imposing or was stifling their creativity. As much as possible we kept our scripts simple and only offered directions if it was something of particular necessity to the story. Otherwise it’s just mostly suggestions and it’s actually quite exciting to see how they interpret the script.

Things will be slightly different the next time though, we’ll be streamlining our art team to one inker per project. The last time we had to resort to 4 inkers–our penciller joined in–in order to get the product completed before STGCC and this resulted in some inconsistencies. But of course, this was inevitable given our 6 month schedule and at this point we’re just grateful to have been able to have found such great and quick artists in short notice.

How did you work things out when the artist doesn’t agree with the writer or vice versa?

As mentioned earlier, we didn’t really have any disagreements per se. As long as there were no misinterpretations that affected the continuity of the story or hindered some portion of the story-telling that Alex and I weren’t ready yet to reveal, we kinda let Renzo–the penciller–have free rein on the art. And he’s really quite amazing at that.

Interestingly though–and I know this isn’t really part of the question, sorry–the disagreements ocurred between me and Alex. We were in kind of a unique position where there were two writers and creators on this project and that led to multiple differing views on characters, story and technicalities. But we’ve been working on writing scripts for 5 years now–and that’s in a team of 5–so these debates that we had were comparatively minute.

It’s just matter of how long a debate/argument/cage match would last before we realised that our discussion had brought about a bunch of whole new ideas. But I would say that it’s actually one of the advantages of working in a team with multiple creators/writers. Our different ideas always led to stronger characters or–more often that you’d think–new characters that better embodied the different ideas that we had.

What is the difference between working in a team or paying someone to draw for you?

I guess, again, we’re in a unique position that merges both of those fields together. Our company, Jove Pater Media, is composed of only 5 of us and we’re all writers with no experience in sequential art… or using a pencil for that matter. That was one of the main reasons why we turned to the friendly world wide web to look for artists talented and tolerant enough–very tolerant–to work with us.

As owners of the company though, we pretty much feel that it’s our responsibility to take the financial gamble and so we ensured that all our artists were remunerated on a commission basis. This does kind of add a hierarchy to things but we worked really hard on maintaining a team mentality to things. And hopefully, we get to actually include artists in the team soon. In fact, out priority for the next year is to build our art teams with local and regional talents for the multiple projects that are coming up.

How can a comic artist publish his/her own comics without needing to set up a company? Is there a viable self-publishing business model that you can advise us on?

Despite having started a company and being in one, I can honestly say that it isn’t essential to have one to self-publish. In fact I set up this company initially because I was freelancing for established production houses that didn’t regularly outsource script-writing to individuals. It later turned out to be a good platform for me to work with my friends and we started working
towards short film production.

It was only in 2009 that we decided that we would actively work towards publishing comics and very frankly I’d say that we’re also self-publishing our own stuff. The advantage of having the company during all of this was that we had 5 people working towards handling the problems that crept up on us.

A gift that a lot of talent have that we didn’t was that–as a group–we were mostly writers. But I think if you can pull yourself a strong and talented team that’s 50% of the battle won. The biggest problem always turns out to be the actual publication and you find yourself thinking: “Geez, how expensive could paper be?”

The cost of printing and distribution is quite ridiculous and it usually seems impossible to recoup costs by sales alone. But the internet is kinda changing the scene and web comics have become increasingly popular. Earning through subscription or even by selling through an Apple or Android app store seems to be highly viable.

Of course, many people–my company and I included–are fans of the print medium and the dream is that we can all enter on that medium in the industry. And I guess that’s where I hope my company can play a part. One of our primary objectives is to publish independent work and basically remove the headache of publication so that they can focus on the actually fun part of things: creating the comic.

When is the next issue of Salvation Sam coming?

Well, we’ll actually be re-releasing Salvation Sam #1 as a 40-page special, fully coloured and so on for retail first. The art will also be redone to a certain extent and we’ll be introducing new story elements.

The series–which will be in 6 parts with 1 tie-in–is meant to be released on a monthly schedule and so the second part should be released the month after the first. By that point of time Salvation Sam–along with our future titles–should be available on the magazine shelves of 7-11 and Cheers to keep it accessible to casual readers who wouldn’t want to journey to specific points in Singapore to purchase the comic.

What made you guys go into comics? What inspired you?

As I mentioned earlier, our company initially pulled together for short film productions. But writing comics was always kind of one of those things that all of us wanted to get into. In 2009, a year after I had finished NS and Alex, just a month since, we just met for one of our usual dinners and decided that it was about time that we got proactive with our company.

At this point, the other 3 members of our company were all in NS and we had to realistically assess our available resources. And that’s when it hit us that this would be the perfect time to re-prioritise our company’s objectives and bring comics to the forefront. We started passively working on Salvation Sam and a few other possible ideas for about a year and when we heard
that 2010’s STGCC would be placing extra focus on the western genre of comics and bringing guests down we just decided that it would be now or never. The event itself didn’t turn out very well but it was definitely a good motivator.

That actually gave us 6 months to progress Salvation Sam #1 from a constantly expanding concept to an actually printed comic book with a cohesive story and awesome art. But to be very honest, all our difficulties–and my whining–aside, it was pretty damn awesome to be writing comics. I mean, if I met a guy who wrote superhero comics for a living I’d pretty much be burning with jealousy, so now I get to be jealous of myself. Which is kinda confusing actually.

I have a friend who started drawing her comics from right to left in the manga method. Do you have a workable solution such that she can convert those comics into the Western style (read: left to right) method?

Well, I’m thinking that you don’t mean literally rotating it with photoshop, right?

As a fan of western comics and manga, I can honestly say that there are many fundamental differences between manga and western comic books. The story-telling structure, utility of beats, mythos and many other elements come into play accordingly and are part of the baggage that follow the medium.

If your friend is considering changing her manga-styled story into a western-styled one, I’d first recommend having the script edited accordingly and then redraw it.

All of that being said, I think if any writer/artist is interested in marketing to a western comic audience, they should do it in whatever style they feel best fits the content. Cross culture entertainment is common now and I think it would do well enough with the chosen story-telling style.

Nevertheless, if anyone is interested in readdressing their content in the western format, my company and I would love to do anything we can to help.

 


 

You can now read Salvation Sam online here at Issuu! Start supporting Singaporean comic creators today. =D

moon

Interview: Wena Poon & the proper care of Singaporean writers

Woots! moon is in da house and she has managed to interview Ms Wena Poon! It’s really quite exciting because she is not only a Singaporean, she is also one of the better-known ones whose work has earned quite a few nominations locally and overseas. Quite an inspiration to us here in Singapore.

Of course, this interview serves more than just to showcase another successful writer. You see, thanks to Sarahcoldheart, I found out that even Wena has problems getting her books carried by major bookstore chains locally. Her books are available online of course but Wena needs all the love she can get from readers, hence this interview.

In fact, I was spurred to interview her because of this comment she made on Facebook,

Do you guys know, The Proper Care of Foxes (shortlisted for Singapore Lit Prize this year) is not even in most Singapore bookstores? It was written for people to take on airplanes. I talked to the Changi Airport bookstore managers re: stocking my book, they looked at me like I was insane. All they had were Da Vinci Code. I strongly believe that travellers in Singapore should have the chance to buy Singapore books. They don’t want to buy the same books they can buy at home.

I agree. So guys, don’t get stuck in the mindset that once you are signed on by a publisher (especially a small one), you have it made for life. Even as a published author, you still have to go about making sure people know about you. =3

The work never stops!

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Photo Credit: Shanti Mantulewski

First of all, congrats on being nominated for the Singapore Literature Prize for “The Proper Care of Foxes”. How does it feel to be picked out from so many writers? =)

It’s my second time! First time was 2008 (the prize is only once every 2 years). It is a big honor, it’s a national prize for a country of 5 million. I hope it means more people will read the book, it’s written for you all, all you young and lovely people out there. Read it and tell me what you think! It’s easy to read. Complex but not boring. Simple but not corny. Excellent bathroom reading. And good for plane rides.

Alex y Robert is a book on an American girl who aspires to be a matador. Who or what gave you this idea for the book?

A friend said, “Do a book. On Spain and bullfighting.” I was like, God no. I don’t know anything about either subject. Then I went to Spain. And I fell in love. And I was hooked. You have to read it to believe it. If you read Alex y Robert, you will want to go to Spain right away. And it will not be my fault.

Why the “y” between the two names in your book title? Does it signify anything?

“Y” means “and” in Spanish. In Spanish-speaking countries, very hip restaurants and cafes are called a boy’s name “y” a girl’s name. I thought it was kinda cool. Alex is Alejandra, Robert is Roberto, and since the book is a transatlantic love story about two young people in America and Spain, and the girl’s a bit of a tomboy, it’s Alex y Robert. I made it as a movie. I Tweeted Michelle Rodriguez (the Hollywood actress) and said, I wrote this book and you should star as Alex, she’s just like you (asskicking Hispanic female lead role). She actually Tweeted me back and said she was pleased to hear I had written a strong female role. But no promise to star. Sigh.

Photo Credit: Salt Publishing London

You mentioned Singapore bookstore chains do not carry small literary presses and I’m rather surprised because you had been nominated many times before for your work. Why do you think books written by local writers are not as well received here in Singapore?

Same old reasons lah, hiyah, no need to say already. So depressing. Perception issue mah. To be entirely serious, I don’t think Alex y Robert is particularly Singaporean. It doesn’t even have an Asian character in it. But it is a very Singaporean book. Read it and guess why. I’m being mysterious. For The Proper Care of Foxes and Alex y Robert, I’m interested in showing the true range of the Singaporean vision. We have always been a cosmopolitan society. These books show our range.

Share an instance or two when you ran into a brick wall when it comes to ensuring your books reach as many local and foreign readers as possible.

Hiyah, so depressing, dowan to say already. If you are a small press woman author, you’re at the bottom of the totem pole. Perception issue. Bookstores everywhere, in every country, feature the same few books published by the same few mainstream presses. Bookstores are going bankrupt; readers now buy online and seek out what they want directly, they hear of cool stuff via word of mouth. It’s the Internet Age. Please, please help me be a cult classic, like Donnie Darko. It’s the most I can hope to be!

What do you think can be done to ease this stranglehold on local writers?

I think the Gahmen can help by setting up a bookstore in Changi Airport to just feature local books – fiction, art, poetry, photography, cooking – alongside all the Bengawan Solo and Merlion keychains. I travel a lot to different countries – usually souvenir shops have local books, tourists want a sense of the country through its literature. We have good writers. We need to sell their products.

Your work has been described as having “mastered the art of writing with the cautious economy of Singaporean writers without the baggage of being/seeming local”. Do you think that local writers in Singapore have this problem of seeming too Singaporean, thus unable to gain recognition?

I think it’s their choice – they can write in a very Singaporean style, or they can decide not to. It’s a question of range. Every writer needs to think about his or her target audience. Why do you write? Who do you want to talk to? I write because I want to reach out to people in different countries; my books are my love letters to people, to celebrate the diversity of contemporary life and the technology age. If nobody reads, I mati. I want to bring cultures together, so I write for a diverse audience. I think Singaporean readers are very sophisticated; they want a lot of things. They hold local writers to international standards. The Business Times said how come I am still not as good as Kazuo Ishiguro. See? I have to catch up.

Did you approach BBC Radio 4 to adapt Alex y Robert into a 10-episode series or was it an initiative on their part?

It was their initiative.  A young American woman matador in Spain? It’s an irresistible premise!

Since you tweeted Michelle Rodriguez the Hollywood actress about the possibility of her starring as Alex, any plans to actually make this book into a movie?

I wrote this book as a movie.  I’d like to co-direct it with a Spanish film director, someone cutting-edge and my generation, like Alejandro Amenabar (The Others, The Sea Inside).  Magic happens when you let the creator co-direct, like Frank Miller and Roberto Rodriguez’s Sin City. It’s only when you cut out the creator that you get crap movies, like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  We have enough of those already; I don’t want to add to the pile. (moon: Wah! Can I have a cameo? =x )

For more information on Wena and her books, head on over to her website at WenaPoon.Com. You can also check out the GORGEOUS photos she took while in Spain plus download the “unofficial iTunes movie soundtrack” for Alex y Robert or buy the book and enjoy free shipping to Singapore!

moon

Interview: The crew behind Bubble G.U.M speaks

Thanks for agreeing to doing the interview for AMWC. Wow, it’s been only a year and you guys are out with your second book already! How did you guys do it?

Rosemary: The novel idea came before the short stories idea but as it turned out the novel was a lot more work because of the collaboratively element so it took longer to do. In effect it was 18 months rather than the initial six months we’d anticipated but it was definitely worth taking the time to do it well.

Sarah Coldheart: With a lot of time. Technically the book was written when Happiness at the End of the World was being done too. We just spent more time on refining the storyline and ending. The time most used for Bubble G.U.M was for fixing up the ending. Everything else was relatively “easy” once we went past that hurdle.

Raven Silvers: With a lot of prodding from our editor, hah. We actually started on Bubble GUM first, but with editing and everything, Happiness at the End of the World came out first because it was easier to edit, proofread and critique. After that we kind of lost steam, but our editor prodded us along and eventually we finished Bubble GUM properly.

Lina: A lot of effort and time. The writing process didn’t take that long actually but the editing part, that took the longest but in the end, it’s how much we wanted it to get done that pushed us to complete it.

Joelyn Alexandra: What Sarah said and loads of willpower. Just kidding. I think the synergy between the six of us works fantastically not only because we’re all genre writers but also because we work with a mindset that this should be stuff that local writers produce as well. So it’s not only just time management and what not, it’s also about a similar destination.

Notkieran (Yuen Xiang Hao): The net helped a lot. With one of us defining what was needed and wanted, it was easy for us to supply the parts needed to build a novel (although I think it would have ended up rather patchwork without some heroic editing work)

Happiness at the End of the World was a collaboration of short stories written by you guys, how does it feel to have a 6-people collaboration for a full-length story this time round? What was the process like? Is it more difficult to write as a group than as an individual writer?

Rosemary: It’s much more difficult to write as a group. Individual stories were easy to edit because each person was identified as the author of their own story. A collaborative work such as Bubble G.U.M. has six styles of writing, six different ideas of what should happen next and so on. Really it turned out to be a better novel because of that since characters developed strong personalities because of the input from so many people. The most difficult part, though, was keeping the three narrative voices distinct and consistent. The novel is told from the point of view of three characters and sometimes this slipped and had to be ironed out, re-written in places and sadly, in some instances, completely deleted. Overall, though, it came down to me as editor bringing it all together with a big red pen.

Sarah Coldheart: It was more interesting to me since it started out as a round robin and then it got refined into a draft by our editor and contributor Rosemary. I don’t know if it was more difficult but I know that with the 6 of us writing it, we had our own specialties such as romance, drama, weaponry etc. When combined, it turned out like a well read story… After edits of course.

Raven Silvers: It was a really a side project at first, but it grew into something really big. I’d say on hindsight, it was harder than the individual short stories because we all had to agree on plot points, characters, settings and stuff like that. But our editor and fellow writer Rosemary had the unenviable job of beating it into shape, in terms of style and punctuation since we all have very distinct styles.

Lina: I must say that it wasn’t easy but it was mightily fun. All six of us have different writing styles and with our own ideas on how the story should go. It started out being a round robin but after a few chapters, we just divvied out the different parts to each of us and we wrote what we’re good at; drama, romance, naughty bits and especially the fight sequences. After that, it was just editing everything into a smooth story line.

Joelyn Alexandra: Many people tell me that it’s not easy because of the different styles and the need to standardise the styles and make sure that everyone knows what’s going on. But many people also don’t realise that this is not a magazine or a reporting medium. It is a novel. And while everything needs to be standardised and stuff, everyone in the team knows the style of each other so that we can write accordingly while not compromising on our own style and still going with the story.

So what was the inspiration for this book? National Service for females seems…well…a little daunting in my opinion. =x Why that particular theme for Bubble G.U.M?

Rosemary: The inspiration was the idea that eventually a huge bubble will be built over Singapore so that the whole country can be air-conditioned. Next came bikinis. Bikinis were very high on the list of must-haves in the novel. After that the ideas just came out thick and fast (we’d had a lot of coffee by that stage) and then it just took on a life of its own.

Sarah Coldheart: Heh, the future was the inspiration and we figured why not? Everyone needs to do something to contribute to Singapore and we wondered how it would be like.

Raven Silvers: The NS inspiration came from an idea. I mean, you always hear guys complain that girls have it easy because we don’t spend two years doing NS. We wanted a strong female character who was more like us – funny, smart, and who could stand on her own feet when it came down to it. And what better way than to throw her into strange, stressful situations than NS?

Lina: With the climate change happening, we thought, why not do it and see how the world would be like if the worst did happen. Why not have females doing NS? I’m thinking that the ladies of the future would be stronger and hardier than we are now, especially if the world as we know it is gone.

Joelyn Alexandra: Also, it went along with Happiness at the End of the World, which was thought off at the same time as well. And also, I feel that the HSWG, being made up of so many girls with strong characters, had some kind of a “strong female character” influence on the story as well. Of course, our guy gives us a lot of useful pointers with regards to the NS area, without actually downplaying the female characters, which is highly commendable.

Notkieran: National service is a convenient setting for a novel about coming of age; traditionally this has only been reserved for boys in Singapore, so why not the ladies? It seems to work for the Israelis.

Being writers, have you ever been tempted to pretend you were one of the characters in the story you’ve created? Did that happen for Bubble G.U.M? If so, which character would you say is most modeled on yourself? If not, which character would you say is most like you?

Rosemary: Oh yes! I’m often in bits of my characters, although not all me is there and not of them is me. But I did put in a real Mary Sue moment in the novel and told the rest of the writers that this was an “I wish” moment. I’ll let you see if you can spot it for yourself!

Sarah Coldheart: I started the intro of Bubble G.U.M since we did the round robin thing as one of the earliest drafts so I wrote the intro of Prix. So I wrote her with a bit of me in it but as I wrote more of the other characters, there was one particular lady called Slider that I started to like more. She was actually unnamed the first time round although I wrote her rather descriptively. You’ll really see what I meant by descriptively in the first few chapters so if I were to pretend to be one of the characters, I’d like Slider. Or Prix. Either of the two.

Raven Silvers: Grandpa. HAHAHAHA. I guess because I wrote a lot of Prix’s grandfather’s lines, so the way he talks and thinks is pretty much modeled on me when I can’t be bothered to speak proper English – and, if you think about it, I would probably be around Grandpa’s age in 2045, so it makes sense that he’d talk and feel like my generation. Plus, I’m always scolding people like he does 😀

Lina: Personally, I think that each character that we write has a part of us in it. As for G.U.M., I didn’t come up with Slider but I think she’s a lot like me since we both date younger men. hur hur hur 😉

Joelyn Alexandra: I juggle between Prix and Holly. I think many of us may identify with Prix and Slider because we either keep talking about them and stuff. Holly is because I’m the eldest in the family and I’ve always wanted an elder brother who is somewhat (note, somewhat) like Jax. Oh and the fact that I like the whole “still water runs deep” thing though I utterly fail at that.

Notkieran: While we’re on the subject of Slider, I want to put it on the record that I was the one who created her name. She then ran away and somehow merged with another character and when I saw her next, she’d grown quite a bit, in every sense of the word. I imagine that’s how it feels to be an absentee parent. Seriously: No, I don’t imagine that I am one of the characters. I do believe, however, that there is a bit of me in every one of the supporting characters you meet in the NS parts of the story, especially the older ones. But probably not Slider.

You guys are like SO active in the writing scene! Where do you get your energy from?

Rosemary: I think the energy for writing is always there. It’s getting the energy to do all the other stuff that is the problem.

Sarah Coldheart: We just do it. There are few others that are “loud” about being active even though they do write! We just want to get loud and known so that others will know that writing genre fiction is ok and that we’ll eventually make it a regular staple in the local fiction instead of what serious or horror fiction you see there. Plus, we have enough imagination to write our stories.

Raven Silvers: Each other, I think. Alone, there’s no way we’d be able to do what we do regularly, but put us together and suddenly we’re like batteries in a torchlight. And probably a certain sense of indignation that there isn’t stuff that we like, written by local authors – or if there is whatever genre stuff written by local authors, it’s depressing. And we do not like depressing.

Lina: Caffeine. Lots and lots of caffeine. Actually, that’s only partial true. We want to see the local writing scene be more diverse and so we want, no, needed to do something about it.

Joelyn Alexandra: It’s my comfort blanket, honestly. I always tell people that I already have the perfect career only that it may not exactly feed me as people will expect. I get a lot of energy and inspiration from almost anything and everything I do and see – the adventures with friends, stuff you see on the streets and dreams. And opening yourself to see that anything is possible (no matter how bizarre) works as well.

Notkieran: Sugar helps. An irresistible urge and habit to write helps more. What helps the most, though, is a base state of insanity.

Who would you say are your writing muses, mentors or inspiration?

Rosemary: Everyday life probably. But for the comic element in Bubble G.U.M. I’d just have to read Janet Evanovich or Terry Pratchett to get in the mood to write some of the funnier scenes.

Sarah Coldheart: Tamora Pierce, Terry Pratchett, Meg Cabot. They’re all pretty much different in styles but in the end, they entertain and the stories they write are fun. And S. Meyer. She is… a certain inspiration alright. Bwuahahahaha!

Raven Silvers: I’d say Terry Pratchett for his funny, Neil Gaiman for the way he can weave different mythologies into one coherent world, and Jim Butcher for his ability to write funny, believable characters who’re like the average guy, even if they have powers or whatever.

Lina: David and Leigh Eddings, Mercedes Lackey, James Mallory, Patricia Briggs, Kelley Armstrong, Nora Roberts. They write about strong yet flawed characters, plots that drag you in and leave you gasping for more and best of all, they’re entertaining. Their female characters are strong, independent and absolutely no damsels in distress, which is a big draw for me and inspires me to write about strong female characters too; characters that, hopefully, can be role models for others.

Joelyn Alexandra: I will sound absolutely cliche here but James Patterson, Stieg Larsson, Wena Poon, David Hosp and Eoin Colfer. All of whom have written Crime or Action fiction, which is what I’m inclined to. I also like Shoko Tendo, the person who wrote Yakuza Moon, while it is not fiction per se, her “biography” of some sorts did give me a good idea of how it’s in another person’s shoes and not falling asleep halfway like I usually do with other biographies. Looking to TRY and read Freud though. TRY.

Notkieran: Arturo Perez Reverte, Sergei Lukyanenko and Raymond Chandler. All of them are genre writers who have never surrendered the sense of beauty in their writing.

Complete this sentence: If I had just one day to live, I will…

Rosemary: … die the next day.

Raven Silvers: Go to Disneyland and drink bubble tea until I explode.

Lina: Spend the day with the loved ones and indulge in everything possible.

Joelyn Alexandra: Simulate the Millenium trilogy as Lisbeth Salander from start to finish. And I mean everything. HAHA.

Notkieran: Live it up with my loved ones. But first I need to check if my life insurance is still paid up.

Sarah Coldheart: Do non-PG things.

Thanks guys!!!

moon

Interview: Joyce Chng has finally made it!

I’m happy to announce that one of my writer friends, Joyce Chng, has FINALLY MADE IT! BY GETTING HER BOOK ACCEPTED BY A PUBLISHER! Ahem…of course, you may think it’s nothing to get excited about but hey, when you’re a writer, any form of positive recognition is more than welcome. =3

Here is the interview I did with her so enjoy!

==============================================================

First of all, I’ll like to congratulate you on getting one of your books signed up with Lyrical Press! How did this miracle happen? =3

Thank you. How did the miracle happen? Well, I started looking for publishers in the beginning of the year and threw out query letters. I had a couple of rejections. Then Lyrical Press picked it up.

 

Tell us more about Wolf at the Door. What gave you the idea of werewolves roaming among humans in Singapore?

“Wolf at the Door” is an urban fantasy novel set in Singapore, revolving around the Lang (Chinese word for ‘wolf’). For a long time, I have been wondering about writing an urban fantasy story set in Singapore. I mean, we have urban fantasy tales set in other places like the US, the UK and Australia. Why not Singapore? Singapore is also urban and rich with legends and stories. So I wrote the novel as last year’s Nanowrimo project. It was quite an exciting (and frustrating) ride!

 

Why Singapore in particular? Why not another country or universe of your own making?

Why Singapore? As I have said, Singapore is urban and she is rich with many legends and stories. The immigrant races brought in their own cosmologies. Add them to the already existing cultures. I mean, we have ghost stories packed with local ghosts and spirits. Likewise, if you read about the local legends and myths, we have a lot to tap into.

 

You call yourself a mother wolf on your online profile, any reason why?

I see myself as a wolf. Metaphorically, that is. 😉

 

Do you have any tips on how to make queries to publishers?

I think, if you ask many writers, you will probably get a hundred answers regarding publishers. Publishers will have their submission guidelines listed clearly on their websites. FOLLOW THEM. They can be strict in that way. Also, try to find out what kind of stories the publishers are looking for. They will have submission calls. Please follow the dos and don’ts. Know your market. Know your genre. Be clear. Your synopsis has to be clear and concise. To tell you the truth, I am also learning all the time.

 

When will ‘Wolf at the Door” be out?

It will be out by 2011.

 

Can you tell us more about Lyrical Press?

Lyrical Press is a primarily digital/ebook publisher, although they publish print books (for novels that meet the length requirements) as well. Lyrical Press publishes erotica, but they are also open to science fiction and fantasy, urban fantasy and romance.

 

What was your first reaction when you received the good news from Lyrical Press?

I danced around the room!

 

Thanks, Joyce!

moon

Interview: A Tweeterview with Happy Smiley and Friends

Sarahcoldheart & friends recently published an interesting book called Happiness at the end of the world. She sent me a free copy of the book in a neon blue package which stood out starkly from the rest of my mundane mail. Shall get around to reading it soon. But before that, just to let you guys know that for the first time, I’ll be conducting the interview via Tweeterview where questions and replies are limited to the creative use of 140 characters. So stay tuned for updates on the time and date of that interview. =D

Update: I know this is a little last minute but the above interview will be held tomorrow at 11am, Singapore time! See you then! My apologies. My internet was down for the ENTIRE MORNING and I only just managed to get online. Will do the interview after 2pm. Shall put the link here for your convenience! Sorry about it!

LIVE NOW. Done.

moon

Interview: The Resident Tourist~Troy Chin

Howdy guys! How’s things going this week? It’s the start of the Chinese New Year this coming Saturday so let me wish you guys GONG XI FA CAI! :3

Up next, an interview with the creator of Resident Tourist, Troy Chin! :3

How and when did you decide to use art as a mode of expression?

For comics, it would be mid 2006. It’s exactly like what is written in the Tourist. While undergoing therapy with my doctor, we discussed drawing and how I was terrible at it since my childhood days. I started drawing and got better and decided to try doing comics. The rest is…well, history. As for art in general, I started to use music a very long time ago. But that’s another story altogether.

Was it difficult getting publishers for both Resident Tourist & Loti? Tell us about your publishing experience.

I pretty much couldn’t find any publishers locally who would be interested in comics, let alone the kind of comics I do. Adrian Teo, who paid for the first 2 books, is a comics fan, so that doesn’t count. We don’t have any dedicated comics publisher here. Chuang Yi is only interested in licensing Japanese and Taiwanese material. And regular publishers like SPH don’t take comics seriously. It’s a dead end. That’s why I decided to publish TRT3 and Loti myself.
What do you hope to achieve with your publications?

The printed versions are purely for those who want to have a physical comic book to read. I was previously solely online and was happy with just putting stories out on my site. It is cheap and easy. Now that I am printing them and incurring actual costs, I guess I hope to recoup my losses. Self-printing is a monster though. I highly advise against doing it if possible coz you have to do a lot more than just sending it to the printers. It becomes a business.
What are your future plans for your comics?

My future plans aren’t anything great. The only plan is to continue with my existing series and perhaps try some random stuff along the way. Yeah, I don’t really make big plans more than 2 weeks away. I can’t work that fast and they all change in the end anyway.

If you could advise a struggling artist in Singapore, what words of advice would you give him/her?

Advice? Ha ha. I’ve only been doing this for about 3 years so I don’t have that much experience. What I’ve learnt is that making comics is a very SLOW process. If you want to do comics, you have to understand and realize that it is not something that you can do within an hour or even a week. It requires patience to complete a strip, a page, a chapter, a book (time length varies based on ambition and scope). You need to budget your time and money realistically to complete your panels. You absolutely do not want to rush and put out something you don’t like. Put in 100% of effort into your current comic. No less. If it takes you a week to do a 4-panel strip. Take a week. Everybody works at different speeds. Work at a speed you are comfortable enough to do the best panels you can at that time. If you need to do part time/full time gigs etc for wages, then go do those and come back later to continue your panels. I find that most people I’ve met who wanted to do comics but quit soon after is usually not due to lack of income, but due to an incorrect assessment of the marathon task of completing comics. Which is why I love this art form. Because it truly tests whether you love it on a daily basis, not like some throw-away, instant gratification that seem to exist in abundance today.

moon

Interview: Hu Jingxuan, mangaka of LAMENT

Hiya guys~! Today I have the privilege of interviewing Hu Jingxuan, thanks to the heads-up by annhell. =D

When and why did you go into manga drawing?

Since young, I had been enjoying cartoons and animations. The first few series that really sparked my interest in manga creation are Saint Seiya, Sailor Moon and Dragon ball. I started seriously drawing manga in 2003. I joined the Student Manga correspondence in Singapore Press Holdings and I submitted my works to be published in Friday Weekly every now and then.

Of all art forms, I especially love drawing manga. It is an escape from the real world into my own fantasy world. I can tell my own stories through manga and create characters based on personal experiences, making sure they are neither absolute monsters nor angels. But most of all, I love the challenge manga drawing requires.

Once I started drawing manga in 2003, I had decided that I would want to do this for the rest of my life. Since then I had been working consistently towards this goal.

Being a manga artist in Singapore is not easy, how did you manage to juggle both real life and drawing?

It had been really hard at first. Lament was produced when I was still in NUS High School. I had to balance between homework, exams and producing about 20 pages of manga per month. But I guess ‘when there’s a will, there’s a way.’ My passion had kept me going.

How long do you take to produce a page and where did you get your inspiration from?

It varies. It’s usually the concept and planning of the page that takes time. Inking takes around less than half a day usually.

I’m enchanted by myths and the ancient civilizations. Much of my comic and illustrations has setting in a fantasy or ancient world. My subjects tend to be mythical guardian beings or angels.

Over the years, I have developed an ornate and gothic art style. I’m obsessed with details, techniques and visual impacts. I put special attention to designs in my work, be it the clothing design or landscape design. Though I like painting and experimenting with colours, I’m more interested in the sharp visceral feeling created by the medium of micron pens and markers. I want to create in my art a surreal nightmarish dream realm. A worlds like an entangling spider web, where everything is crawling with pseudo-organic ornamentation and decaying roses.

You managed to publish “Lament” with the help of MDA and Chuangyi. Could you tell us how that came about?

I submitted my proposal for First-Time Writers and Illustrators Publishing Initiative in 2007, and I was chosen. Since then, I had been working on ‘Lament’. I had gained a lot through the process.

The experience and insights gained from working with editors. Lament is created from the team effort of me and the Chuangyi editors. Comic drawing is no longer a simple individual affair. It involves the combined effort in drawing, scripting, page layout and story development.

Along the way, I picked up invaluable tips from the editor’s suggestions. The main editor and Team Cy has helped me to develop my plot from its shaky beginning. They showed me how to add tension to the story. And with their help in scripting, my story becomes more polished and smooth. This project is a proper training for me to prepare me for future challenges.

Chuangyi and MDA had been selflessly promoting our works through conventions and autograph sessions. My experience at STGCC recently has really been fruitful and fun. Chuangyi had done a great job creating publicity for our works in STGCC from both the public and other publishers. I also had an interesting experience overcoming my shyness and learning a few promoting skills from Chuangyi. ^^

It’s an honour working with Chuangyi and it’s really a huge dream come true for me. At this moment, I need to say a loud, thank you for making it happen!

I still remember the first time I met the manager in Chuangyi, he looked at my art and told me that my works and my unique gothic style have the potential to go far, it has been one of my driving forces when I was drawing Lament =>

What was it like to contribute to “Liquid City”?

I felt both excited and honored. It’s a platform for me to polish my skills at telling a story in less than 20 pages. It felt totally different from drawing a long story like ‘LAMENT’.

Publishing anything of any sort is really challenging in Singapore, how would you advise an aspiring mangaka to see his/her dream come true in publication-land?

I would start by submitting my works to competitions and proposing my ideas to different publishers. Also, set up a good professional website to showcase your works. Or even start a webcomic to get feedback and create a fan base. And there’s always the option of self-publishing if you are confident that your work has market value.

Thanks to Jingxuan for granting us this interview. Check out her artwork at Deviantart. You can also find out details to purchase Lament there.

moon

自主制作アニメ – フミコの告白(Independent production anime)

Found this video via kura~! Very cute, don’t you think?

Pity there are no subs but here is a rough translation I found in the comments section of the video made by sullaxin808:

girl- ” um um… please go out with me!”
boy- ” sorry, I want to focus on baseball now”
girl-” Takashi is stupid!”
“Takashi !?”
” ILL MAKE MISO SOUP FOR YOU EVERYDAY!”
boy(takashi)-” sorry, I want to focus on baseball now”
END

It’s made by this guy called Ishida Hiroyasu. You can check out his website here. His Youtube channel is here and his gallery can be found here. He looks like a VERY talented fellow, no?

moon