Sunday, December 31, 2017

"'M'a fuckin' doctor."

In 2003, my aunt, who hitherto had been my favourite aunty, pulled me aside to tell me about how my mother had complained about my choice of major (English). She said to me, "you cannot write." Not as in "I forbid you to write" but as in "you don't have the talent/knack/skill to write." My mother was very adamant against my discipline of choice. I went to Canada to start my English degree without her blessing--but you really only need the support of the parent with the pursestrings to help, which I had. I flew out of KLIA with my best friend, her parents, and my dad.

In 2010, that supportive parent came to Canada to help me move from Nova Scotia to Ontario, on a three-day road-trip. This was a little after I received my first short story acceptance. My mother, by that time, was resigned to my career choice, and her only feedback was to get a PhD after the Masters since that just seems to be a natural course of action. (I hadn't actually considered it back then. I kind of wanted to work between degrees and return to school once I felt more secure.)

When I began my PhD in the fall of 2012, I knew I would finish, because not finishing wasn't really an option on the table. I had funding; I was in a good school with welcoming faculty and staff; I had my family's support - somewhat conditional emotional support, and definite financial support. And while Riverside wasn't exactly an ideal place to be in terms of thriving socially (and psychically; the desert doesn't agree with me), the university was enough, I had a decent place to live and a little garden to keep me going, and an end goal. 

I wrote my qualifying exams in the Spring of 2014 after I finished coursework. I was fortunate in having begun my studying in the fall of 2013 and putting together a committee that was an eclectic mix of people. When I reached coveted ABD status, I flubbed and failed to defend my prospectus by the end of fall, and had to do that the fall after. 

All the while, I did my best to keep writing short stories and staying in the genre publishing world and social media. I didn't get out to steampunk conventions like I had hoped for my research, and couldn't score myself any fellowships that would enable me to do so. As an international student, I had additional conditions for finishing and funding, so I decided to get more involved in university politics than I had planned. 

I drafted the first three chapters of my dissertation in the '15-'16 year, struggled to edit the following year, and somehow managed to push out a fourth chapter and a conclusion right as it was due to my adviser. (I also walked at commencement in the spring, having delusions that I would finish and defend over the summer.) I had to go on filing fee status this fall in order to remain a student (and not have to pay obnoxiously expensive tuition fees as an international student) but on October 11, 2017, my dissertation committee met, and decided that I passed. I finished some final edits afterwards, filed the graduation paperwork, and on December 5, received my letter from the Dean of Graduate Division confirming my finishing the program. 

While walking home from my defense, I sent a WhatsApp message to my parents that read something to the tune of, "your offspring is now officially a doctor." (Well, that was to my dad. To my mother I was simply "your daughter.") 

So far, so good, every so often I remind people that I've finished, and say, "I'm a fuckin' doctor now."

Over the course of my PhD, I became pre-diabetic, and yearly tests showed my blood sugar climbing and climbing. I couldn't even begin thinking of fixing until the spring of my final year when I grew so exhausted and unable to concentrate, my doctor suggested that it had something to do with my physical health. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, so for months I ate no rice and no chocolate. With a bit of discipline to walk or swim every day, by September my diabetes had been reversed. I am ending my PhD slightly healthier than when I went in.

So. M'a fuckin' doctor now. I don't really feel any different. I still have crazy Impostor Syndrome, I am unemployed, and I live in a country that doesn't really want my kind.

But I am a doctor, though. I'm the first to get a PhD in my immediate family (a first cousin on my father's side will be the next; I'm so proud of him!) and possibly a good chunk of my extended family. I've been incredibly privileged to have gotten this far, which wouldn't have happened if my parents hadn't saved enough money to send me overseas for my first degree. I'm also privileged to have stuck it out this long on a subject that I still care about, thanks to the incredible people in the steampunk community I have met over the years.

I don't know whether I'll stay in academia. I don't know whether I'll find a job and stay in the States or have to go home and start over. Lots of things I don't know.

But I've done a PhD. I wrote and published several short stories and poems. I've edited anthologies. I may not have won prizes or awards, but I feel I by and large have the respect of my peers. I cope with mental depression and I still know joy. I took advantage of my privilege to get the healthcare I needed. I am friends with some of the most wonderful people. I am only 33.

My dissertation, Shades of Sepia: Examining Eurocentrism and Whiteness in Relation to Multiculturalism in Steampunk Iconograpy, Fandom, and Culture Industry, will be available on ProQuest very soon, and I am considering ways to monetize it. (Not being married to the traditional career trajectory of the academy has been very freeing.) I hope you will stick around for that. I hope I will, too. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Annual Eligibility Post 2017

'Tis the season! 

I was not very prolific in 2017, because I spent a lot of it finishing my dissertation, but I still managed some things!

"Eruption" in Anathema Magazine #2 is a letter of a long-dead woman to her younger brother, who himself is in the twilight of his life, recounting the bloody history of their community. I jokingly refer to it as my #killallmen story but I was inspired by Robert Sapolsky's observations of the Keekorok Babboon Troop. In addressing the very concept of genociding an entire gender in order to start fresh, I also had to think through trauma, from abuse, war, systemic oppression, and how to dramatically transform all of that in a single generation. 

"The Reset" in Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation, edited by  Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland, published by Upper Rubber Boot Press is not available for online reading, but if you would like to read it, email me. I considered the consequences of a world that's suddenly "reset" to what it was 30 years ago, mostly to tell the story of a hapless grad student who has a fraught relationship with her parents. It was.... vaguely autobiographical and difficult to write. 

"The Last Cheng Beng Gift" in Lightspeed Magazine #88 is the story of a long-dead Singaporean matriarch (wow two stories about long-dead women) who becomes dissatisfied with the Qingming gifts she receives from her wayward daughter. This was part of a pact to write a fish spa story that I made with Joyce Chng. I think a lot about parental expectations and how sometimes they're a bit like a thousand papercuts, and the scars aren't visible but still hurt later on, and how parents try very hard but still don't get it. It doesn't mean they love their children any less. This one I addressed specifically to an audience of Asian women as the group most likely to "get it," and I feel, based on informal interactions on Twitter, that it got through. It's been really fascinating to see the difference in reception, though...

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Upcoming story! "When the Bough Breaks"

Mythic Delirium has just announced their mock cover for their 4.3 issue! The art is by Ruth Sanderson, based on Beth Cato's poem "The Body Made"! 

My short story "When the Bough Breaks" will be available in the January 2018 segment of the web issue. It is based on the Highland Towers collapse of 1993, in my home state of Selangor, Malaysia. This was the first major catastrophe I can remember being widely-televised--Berita Terkini, which usually ran for about 5 minutes every couple of hours, kept popping up on seemingly every single commercial break at this time as more survivors and dead were found. 

In this short story, I tried to evoke the feeling of creepiness that some luxury condos in natural areas have, partly as a result of not being wholly lived in quite yet, partly because wooded areas have landed spirits who are often not happy that humans are moving in! The characters run a gamut of different races and ages. One of the opening scenes is based on a nightmare I had, and in fact the entire theme of the story is drawn from that nightmare. 

I hope you enjoy it when it comes out!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

New fiction! "The Last Cheng Beng Gift"

by Alan Bao

It's the day of the Hungry Ghost Festival! I went to the Thien Hau Temple on Sunday with my friend S. Qiouyi Lu and Nilah Magruder. There were monks chanting for most of the holiday weekend. It was also very hot, because there was a heat wave in Southern California (and about 7000 acres were burning near LA). 

Coincidentally, it's also the first Tuesday of the month, which means my Lightspeed Magazine story "The Last Cheng Beng Gift" is now up for free reading!! I also talk about writing the story in the Author Spotlight

Friday, September 1, 2017

Lightspeed Issue 88 is on sale!

The September issue of Lightspeed Magazine is now available for purchase! I'm really excited about it for several reasons. First, the incredible cover by Alan Bao:

It's a smaller version of the illustration he did for my short story, "The Last Cheng Beng Gift"!! It's my first ever story to become the cover story for a magazine, and hopefully it won't be the last! 

Secondly, I share an incredible table of contents... I'm in this issue with stories written by Genevieve Valentine and Tobias S. Buckell (who writes incredibly fun Caribbean space opera!!) and the non-fiction is by some of my favourite fiction writers, Amal El-Mohtar, Theodora Goss, and Joseph Allen Hill!!

Not only that (sub-second-point??), while my story goes live in the first week of September, my Clarion classmate Giovanni de Feo's story, "Ugo" goes live in the last week of September! That's like, a werejelly sandwich!!! Gio read his draft of "Ugo" to me and my roommates out loud, and at the end of his reading, I burst into tears. I'm so excited to be in this issue with him, and with that story, too!! It is a story of time-travel, determinism, the resentment of giving up dreams for some pre-determined narrative, and sacrifice for loved ones. I hope everyone else will recognize how great a writer he is!

Thirdly, it's Issue EIGHTY-EIGHT which is a really really really auspicious number in Chinese numerology!! "Eight" in Cantonese sounds like the word for "prosperity" so whenever people can choose a good number to use (for say, car license plates, or phone numbers), there's sure to be someone claiming some number of 8s in them. 

And finally, my story goes live on the Lightspeed website next Tuesday, Sept 5th, which is the day of the Hungry Ghost Festival itself! It's the fifteenth of the lunar month, which makes it the peak time when ghosts can get out of the Underworld... most people celebrate it around then, although some diaspora communities will caution their children to walk carefully throughout the whole month. I will attempt to attend one of the all-day rituals at the Thien Hau temple in Los Angeles Chinatown this weekend!

You can purchase the issue right now, or wait as the content is released. I will post on the day my story goes live with the full illustration by Alan Bao

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Upcoming story! "The Last Cheng Beng Gift"

Today marks the first day of Hungry Ghost Month. On the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, which is September 5 this year, Chinese people, at least in Malaysia and Singapore, will celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival. 

The Hungry Ghost Month is when the gates to the Underworld open, giving the ghosts reprieve for a time to wander the earth, and visit the living. Because ghosts don't eat in the Underworld, they are, as one might expect, hungry, so now is a really good time to feed the supernatural myriad. We will leave food out with our prayers overnight, inviting the ghosts to eat. It's good karma to feed the hungry, whether alive or dead.

It's also a very exciting time! There will be a lot of live shows, and the first row of chairs will be empty to make way for the ghosts so they can watch. Back In The Day the shows used to be traditional Chinese opera; nowadays they can be more contemporary entertainments, like live performances or stripper shows (because, you know, ghosts can still appreciate the sexy). 

It's also a spooky time! Because the dead walk among the living! During this month, we are cautioned to walk with care, especially at night, because you never know what ghost is out to prank you. 

What is especially exciting for me this Hungry Ghost season is that my latest short story, "The Last Cheng Beng Gift" will be out next month, in September! Cheng Beng, or Qing Ming, was actually in April--it's the time when we visit the graves of our ancestors and clean their graves. If they have passed recently, Cheng Beng is also the time to burn joss money and other joss things that family members may want in the afterlife, like a house, or clothes, or, these days, high-def televisions and laptops. 

I'm honoured to say that "The Last Cheng Beng Gift" will be in Lightspeed Magazine. I wrote it in Week 1 of my Clarion workshop under Kelly Link. It is about a Singaporean matriarch in the Underworld who receives a strange gift from her wayward daughter: a coupon to a fish spa! Joyce Chng and I made a pact to each write a fish spa story, so this one is dedicated to her. (You can read her fish spa story in Rambutan Literary #4!) Although it is centered around Cheng Beng events, Hungry Ghost Month is also an important time in the story. The illustration will be done by Alan Bao, and I think it is really cool! So keep an eye out for a little Chinese lady gracing a magazine near you soon!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Upcoming fiction in SUNVAULT

Sometime in the summer of 2015, I was tinkering with a story idea and asked my dad, "if you could go back thirty years and remembered everything that happened, what would you do?"

I was thinking something along the lines of, what stock markets would he invest in, or what different career moves would he make. But no, he said something completely different, way more personal, and laughed. Then relented and said he'd pay more attention to my grandparents, his parents, to make sure they didn't suffer declining health as soon as they did. 

My response to this question, and the little exchange we had after, is in my upcoming story "The Reset," in Sunvault: Tales of Solarpunk and Eco-speculation, forthcoming from Upper Rubber Boot Press. The story starts thus:

"It is now five years after the Reset. I have stood trial for my complicity in it and come away innocent."
I drafted "The Reset" in a single day. I had the kernel of an idea from the morning's conversation with my father, and for lunch, I packed my laptop and went to a new-ish cafe near my house. (SS 15 has seen a lot of new cafes open over the last 14 years since I left home. My favourite of these cafes closed down a year before, alas, so I had to try out someplace new.) I ordered a chicken chop and a pot of tea, settled down on a low couch with a coffee table, and started to write.

I finished the draft within four hours. I also managed to not cry in public.

It took me several months to place this story, and each time I tweaked it some more. It was a hard process because the emotional core is so complicated and I just didn't know how to communicate it. I hope it gets through. It's a weird and complicated and fraught core. I hope you like it.

Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation will be available Aug 29, 2017. You can pre-order it through various means, and there is a drop-down menu of indie bookstores across the United States and Canada! Support local bookstores! *waves flag*

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

New fiction! "Eruption"

Anathema Magazine #2 is now up, which means my latest short story, "Eruption" is now up and available for reading online! 

I wrote "Eruption" in Week 3 of Clarion, under Andy Duncan. For some reason all the stories that day were somewhat of a similar theme: mine is essentially a misandrist utopia (I call it my #killallmen story); another classmate wrote a misandrist dystopia (in which boys are locked in a giant enclosure for a certain time); and a third wrote a somewhat misogynist attempt to establish a utopia free of women (but in ways that also harmed young men). It was a day

This story combines two ideas I had floating about: the story of a woman slowly succumbing to mental degradation, which surfaces a lot of terrible memories about the founding of her city, and a story of an underground slave people rising up to destroy their oppressors. It is inspired partly by this 1906 illustration by William Balfour Ker and a dream I had:

with added "the floor is..." meme
I've never read the novel that the illustration is supposed to be for, but I might sometime in the future. 

#killallmen as a hashtag often gets criticized or derided by men as being misandrist, boohoo feminists are showing their true violent colours. MRAs often ignore the reason why it's a joke. I wanted to think through what it would mean to actually carry out a genocide of an entire gender known for its violence and oppressive history, what it would take, what kind of consequences there would be. The establishment of a utopia is never an uncomplicated thing.

I hope you enjoy "Eruption"

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Table of Contents--The WisCon Chronicles Vol. 11: Trials by Whiteness

What with stress, depression, anxiety, dissertating, diabetes, and WisCon, I haven't had energy or time to think beyond a day. But getting to WisCon41 was wonderful because it is so life-affirming, even if I managed to do exactly zero panels and spent most of my time either sleeping, walking, eating, socializing, or working on my dissertation in the lobby. Which as it turned out was a good thing. 

Amidst all that, THE WISCON CHRONICLES VOL 11: TRIALS BY WHITENESS was out! I found it first in Room of One's Own, and at the Aqueduct Press table! It's beautiful! It's shiny! It turned out even better than I expected!! And more importantly, IT IS NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Here are my brilliant brilliant contributors!! 

Nalo Hopkinson
Justine Larbalestier
Sofia Samatar

WisCon40 Opening Ceremonies: WisCon is my Family Reunion -- Kat Tanaka Okopnik
All Our Relations -- Nisi Shawl
Who Is Safe? -- Beth Plutchak
Legacy of the Past and Foundation for the Future -- Isabel Schecter
On WisCon, and Who is Allowed to Feel Welcome -- K. Tempest Bradford
Navigating WisCon 39 as a Local POC on the Ground or, A Tale of Two WisCons: WisCon 39 & WisCon 40 -- LaShawn Wanak
Five Scenes Between WisCons -- Kat Tanaka Okopnik

Being Jewish, Being White? -- Veronica Schanoes
Where in the WORLD is WorldCon?: A Twitter Thread -- Crystal Huff
Ansibel (excerpt) -- Tea Hvala
Far Away Enough to Count: Ansible Q&A -- Tea Hvala & Jaymee Goh

asian flavours -- Joyce Chng
The Long Arm of the West -- Nibedita Sen
The Lies You Learned -- S. Qiouyi Lu
I Used to Call Myself a Coconut -- Susheela Bhat Harkins

"Entralink": A Quilting Q&A -- Annie Chen & Jaymee Goh
Science Fiction for My Failing Heart: On the Purposes of Speculation in Adverse Circumstances -- Regina Yung Lee
Rolodex -- Mark Oshiro
Mammie Don' Left the Plantation [and Took the Good Seasoning with Her]--How WisCon Helped Me to Stop Cleaning Up White People's Messes -- Jennifer Cross
Advice for the Broken: Curating Weaponized Love Amongst the Multiply Marginalized -- Medieval POC

Many thanks to Timmi Duchamp who gave me the honour of editing this WisCon Chronicles volume!! I am still vaguely breathless that she let me get away with the title. 

Also many thanks to Kath Williams, my managing editor, whose efficiency is something to be marveled at! I learned so much about editorial workflow from her. Also since she was the one preparing the proofs, she very patiently went along with my harebrained ideas, such as having Crystal Huff's Twitter thread on chairing WorldCon, and laying out Tea Hvala's story excerpt in two languages, Slovenian and English, on opposite pages. I wanted a very wide range of work and possibilities. I think fondly of past volumes which have included panel reports and comics! 

Special mention goes to Annie Chen who joked about making me a quilt instead of writing me an essay, and because I suffer from sarchasm, I said, "that sounds awesome! Do it!" and this is how we ended up with such a beautiful cover! She then donated the quilt to the Tiptree Auction, where Sumana Harihareswara wrapped herself in it as auctioneer and sold it off for $210! 

I hope you enjoy it!!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Appearance: "Science Fiction is For Everyone" Panel

I'll be on a panel to discuss science fiction and multiculturalism next week! Here are the details:

Science Fiction For Everyone: A Multicultural Discussion

Date: April 25, 2017
Time: 2.30pm
Venue: Tech 110, Los Angeles Harbor College
Moderator: Denise Dumars
Steven Barnes, SF writer, NAACP award-winner
Bryan Thao Worra, Laotian-American writer and president of Science Fiction Poetry Association
Gregg Castro, Salinan-Ohlone activist and SF consultant
Stephanie Brown, Mills MFA, Clarion 2010 grad

This event is hosted by the Cultural Equity Workshop of the LAHC! I'll have copies of The Sea Is Ours for sale, and should be able to spend some time signing. 

(I'll also be at the campus early-ish, since the kind hostess arranged a ride from Riverside for me. If anybody wants to say hi earlier, take me to a place with good eats, or a quiet place to work, that would be appreciated!)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Poetry: "The Golden Babbler"

Listen! Listen! The shining golden sea
glitters in the far distance; follow the brook
down to where it meets the river rushing
to its ultimate destiny.
If you get lost, listen! listen! to its
gurgling, its warbling, like a thousand
yellow-feathered orioles,
leading you back to its journey.
Greet its rocks washed by its
watery sunshine, and
where it is shallow, watch
the pebbles pushed along,
liquid and solid rubbing
against each other to form
smooth gemstones that clink
downstream in a senseless choir.
Listen! Listen! The golden river runs!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Poetry: Linguistic Bananas

One fine evening, I asked for poetry prompts, and a friend asked me to write a poem about bananas, the linguistic kind. I had to look it up. This was about three years ago, and it's still silly.

Fruit Flies Like A Banana, Part 1: 

“Mine,” snarked the snail.
“No, mine!” cried the slug.
claimed the fruit flies.

Thus was there a bloody war over the forgotten banana
carelessly thrown under the bush.

Fruit Flies Like A Banana, Part 2:

Whenever they flapped their leaves,
they tried very hard to mimick the grace of the
yellow boomerang swirling in the air,
leaving a smoothie in its wake.

Ah, if only they could be content
with the reality of being far-flung
instead of trying to be what they were

Fruit Flies Like A Banana, Part 3:

But I’m not sure
that this is a good idea;
banana trees may only produce a single bunch
in their lifetimes,
but they also never stop growing and keep
popping up new trees anyway.

What I mean to say is,
I thought you wanted to get rid of the flies,
not clone them.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


I'll be at the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts again this year!

I'll be reading on the "Words & Worlds: Poetry I" panel, Thursday, March 23, 10.30am - 12pm, Captiva B!

And then I'll be discussing "The Politics of the Human in N.K. Jemisin's Fiction" on Friday, March 23, 2.30pm - 4pm in the Dogwood! I'll be among really big scholars like John Rieder, who wrote Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction (a key text in helping me shape my dissertation), as well as beloved colleagues like fellow UC Riverside grad Taylor Evans!

Outside of panels you'll likely find me grading in the Marriott lobby, or hunting Pokemon around the lake. I'm very excited to be seeing friends like Kathryn Allan (disability scholar), Emily Jiang (poet!), and K. Tempest Bradford, as well as seeing former Clarion instructors Andy Duncan (and probably also Ted Chiang). 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Poetry: "Perhaps Not Happy New Year"

i. The Proper Adjective

perhaps not Happy New Year
try a Furious New Year on for size
try determined new year, try
incandescent glorious righteous, try
full of fight, try
striving for justice, try
screaming to the heavens new year

ii. On Chickens

Chickens are delicious.
Chickens are also delightful creatures.
Unfairly maligned as stupid,
chickens are darling sweethearts that will sit calm in your arms,
clucking soothingly.
Chickens let their chicks find refuge in tender, warm, feathery hugs.
Wouldn't you want that for your children, too?
Be a good chook mom to them
and other chicks, too.

iii. The Moon, The Moon

Lunar New Year springtime sprouts
blossoms burst green shoots yellow pollen
sun glares snow storms maybe gray skies
lunar cycles lunatic songs
counting days by crescents

bright moon dark moon flickering lamplights
2% chance of rapists in the dark
80% chance of hurt at home
100% chance of fuckery in the big house making laws
1000% fed up yesterday last year
1,000,000,000 full moons ago
if not more

if you are unsure, howl at the sky
and listen to the wind's answer

iv. Phoenix

I have a cousin who was born in the year of the Rooster. "Oh, so you're a chicken!" I teased her, because I was not yet enlightened on the chicken question at the time.

She turned to me slowly, her eyes big and serious and liquid dark, and said, very definitively:

I think of that moment often.

v. Fire Rooster

Perhaps that is what we need for this year: the Fire Rooster as
Furious Mother Phoenix Hen
re-blasting itself in its own nest in the company of
other Furious Mother Phoenix Hens who are keeping watch
because if we don't watch each other's backs then who will keep the poachers from trying to kill us when we are at our most vulnerable who will keep the rains off our delicate new feathers keeping us warm through the cold springtime night who will whisper us memories as we stumble on new talons and find our wings' ways and help us remember our own strength and our own songs

let springtime be loving and warm,
full of an incandescent compassion and determination to be kind.
If we can't have a happy new year,
let the fireworks speak for our souls.

it's not new year's without the smell of gunpowder.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New review!

My first publication of 2017 is a review of Arrival, directed by Denis Villenevue, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker! I had the opportunity to catch an early screening at UC San Diego, which also included a reception with the author of the original story that the screenplay is based on, Ted Chiang! 

I refrained from getting too personal in my review, but I watched it at a time when I was really depressed, about ready to quit my PhD, and just overwhelmed generally. It's uplifting not only for its optimistic ending when nations come together in a unified purpose, but also for its echoes from the novella, that there is a future to create, a chronology to act upon. It's cheering, even a little, to think that there is a future, and one doesn't know just yet what's at the end of it, what is the sum amount of happiness to be gained. And that even the upcoming unhappiness is maybe worth it.

I want my curiosity to find out how it all really shakes out to get the better of my depression.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Old Fiction: "The Changeling"

As I publish more, it's been fun to look back on my old fiction to see what I used to do that I don't anymore, what concerned me then and how that has changed. So I thought I'd post some old old and possibly terribly embarrassing fiction over time.

Today's story is "The Changeling," inspired by Asimovian robots and the question of humanity and sentience in artificial intelligence. Further ruminations on the story afterwards.