Readers, Writers & Unexpected SWF Press Coverage

I missed the opening and a couple of key events that I had wanted to attend, but overall this year’s Singapore Writers Festival went well. I was part of three excellent panels and was able to meet so many readers, fellow writers and friends. I finally got to meet the amazing Ted Chiang and Bryan Thao Worra in person. I also got to have dinner with Eliza Victoria and her significant other, Jaykie Lazarte, after such an interminably long time.

Because of an unexpected family emergency, I had to fly to Manila and unfortunately missed my first panel on November 5, If You Can Believe It: Flash Fiction Flash Mob. Here’s the piece I would have read if I had been there:

You dress for success and head towards your job supervising maintenance robots at Raffles Place. Unfortunately, your industry-competitive paycheck isn’t enough to cover your bills, your mother’s mounting medical expenses, and pay off the loan you needed to get to this land of mythical plenty.

You cling to your dreams but belief is expensive. On the MRT ride you feel dark thoughts welling up inside you – do you really need both your kidneys? So what if you sold one lung, or your unique heartbeat pattern? Ovaries? You never really wanted kids anyway.

Thankfully, I made it back in time for my next panel Just The World I’m Looking For: The Multiverse and Fiction on November 12, which was with Meihan Boey, Nuraliah Norasid, myself and our always-excellent moderator, Jason Erik Lundberg. We talked about hos using the concept of the multiverse was a great tool for elucidating possibilities regardless of the genre you were writing (although one person in the audience was mildly disappointed that we didn’t dwell on comic book multiverses). This was followed by a book signing, where I was informed by Closet Full of Books that all copies of The Infinite Library and Other Stories had sold out.

I met up with award-winning US-based Lao poet Bryan Thao Worra for lunch on Saturday, 12 November. We had been corresponding for a few years but this was the first time we met IRL. Bryan has served as the president of the International Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association and is the author of over 8 books of poetry. We talked shop for about two hours (and had some ice kacang) before parting to prepare for our panel that evening.

I subbed as moderator for the panel A Southeast Asian Map for the Science Fiction Future at the The Arts House as unfortunately, Spec Fic writer Joyce Chng had become ill.

This was the first time I had moderated a panel with both IRL and virtual participants. Malaysian author and game writer, Cassandra Khaw, was Zooming from New York. Bryan and fellow Filipino Spec Fic writer Eliza Victoria were at the Play Den. Despite our 8:30pm timeslot, we had a full house. We talked about whether we could properly define a “Southeast Asian Science Fiction”, what were the commonalities and differences across the region and how writers could keep their fictional landscapes distinctly and believably Southeast Asian without falling into tired tropes or stereotypes.

Interestingly, a mini-rant I made about how the reading public in Singapore was the best market for poetry in Southeast Asia landed me a mention in a Poetry(!) article about the SWF2022 in the Straits Times (Singapore Writers Festival: Poetry now reigns supreme in Singapore, say panellists). Despite being slightly misquoted, I am very happy for the free publicity for me, our panelists, and SEA Speculative Fiction in general (BTW what I actually said was “It used to be that anything that had a ghost or spaceship, no matter how well written it is, is was considered junk,” and the last sentence was “That depends on the intention of the writer”). Thank you to ST reporter Clement Yong!

Also this amusing coincidence — on exact the same day I got 4 paragraphs from the Straits Times, an article in the Manila Bulletin didn’t include me in the complete list of Filipino writers at #sff2022. I guess I am not Filipino enough (or perhaps I am just too obscure for Pinoy readers)?

Later in the evening, I had dinner with Eliza and Jaykie. Unfortunately, we failed to take an acceptable picture. In the picture above, Eliza is holding her graphic novel, After Lambana, which I kept pestering her for a sequel.

The next day, 20 November, I was part of literarily the very last panel of the festival, (Don’t) Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before where I found myself with poets Christine Chia, David Wong Hsien Ming and Theophilus Kwek, who was our esteemed and very loquacious moderator. We talked about the concept of originality, retakes and retellings, as well as generative fiction. Again, it was a well-attended event despite the late hour (and being scheduled against Cyril Wong’s reading of “If This Is the End… What Else Is There?”).

On last thing, despite a late start, I had managed to make it back to Singapore in time for dinner with one of my writing heroes, the amazing Ted Chiang, as well as his wonderful wife Marcia and Epigram’s indefatigable editor, Jason Erik Lundberg. We all actually got to meet up again for lunch the following weekend, this time with my wife Patricia and Jason’s daughter, Anya.

Btw, apart from talking about writing, screenplay adaptations and his stories, did I mention that we also talked about Filipino food? Ted is apparently not a fan of banana ketchup (see below).

I am looking forward to next year’s edition of SWF. Thank you to the organizers, especially Pooja Nansi, the NAC, SBC, The Arts House and festival bookstore Closet Full of Books for making all of this possible.

Thank you also to all the readers who came. You give us writers and our work meaning.

My Panels at SWF 2022

The Singapore Writers Festival for 2022 is nearly here. It’s great that in-person events are back, after a hiatus of two years. I can’t wait to see everyone again.

Actually, I am not doing many events this year, but I am very happy to be part of the following panels:

Just The World I’m Looking For: The Multiverse and Fiction
12 Nov Sat, 6.30pm – 7.30pm at the Asian Civilisations Museum, Ngee Ann Auditorium
With Meihan Boey, Nuraliah Norasid & myself; Moderator Jason Erik Lundberg

The age-old struggle between fate and chance. The dreams and fantasies we cling to as testaments to all the versions of ourselves we could have been. We’re familiar with multiverse theory in science (and Doctor Strange), but does it hold any weight in fiction about the everyday, and do we need it? Four authors discuss the logic of creating alternate timelines, the recent interest in multiverse theory among fiction writers, and whether the multiverse provides us with answers about all the “what ifs” in our lives. This is your road not taken.

A Southeast Asian Map for the Science Fiction Future
19 Nov Sat, 7.30pm – 8.30pm at the at the The Arts House, Play Den
With Cassandra Khaw, Bryan Thao Worra & Eliza Victoria; Moderator: Victor Fernando R. Ocampo (subbing for Joyce Chng)

Do flying cars and androids alone make for a convincing sci-fi Southeast Asian world? As science-fiction writing continues to break new imaginative grounds, we talk to these writers from the region about how they keep their fictional landscapes distinctly and believably Southeast Asian without falling into tired tropes, stereotypes, loopholes, and paradoxes.

This programme is made possible with the support of the U.S. Embassy Singapore and co-presented with the Singapore Book Council.

(Don’t) Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before
This programme has been rescheduled to 20 Nov, 7pm – 8pm at the The Arts House, Play Den
With Christine Chia, David Wong Hsien Ming & myself; Moderator: Theophilus Kwek

Has this been said before? Well, we’ll say it again: it might finally be time to abandon the search for originality. What is it about the big ‘O’ that has paralyzed and haunted generations of writers seeking the next great unsaid? We’re busting this myth apart in pursuit of more generative ways of creating.

If you haven’t picked up your festival pass yet, now’s a good time to do so. I’m looking forward to the SFF opening this Friday night (4 November). See you all soon!