By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
I write because the world is a weird damn place, and I’m just trying to make some sense out of it. I do this by writing out even weirder stuff—precognitive talking fish, a hyper-invasive bird park, belligerent alcoholic wombats, a man who copes with the death of his daughter by dressing like a superhero—yet by literalising these metaphors, strange as they are, it seems to add some meaning to the world.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
The project was a quasi-steampunk novella called The Diary of One Who Disappeared. The National Arts Council awarded me with a Creation Grant to write it, and I completed the third draft in May 2015. I got to work with Juliet Ulman, a phenomenal New York editor; the process was incredibly enlightening, and made the novella far better than I’d originally envisioned. My intention was to describe (in a veiled way) how one might come to a Singapore-like country and fall in love with it (the story takes place in a parallel-world analogue country called Tinhau), but it turned into a meditation on politics and inclusiveness, and the choices we make when any choice is possible.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
I’m honestly the last person to comment on my own aesthetic. And it often changes from project to project.
Who are your favourite authors?
Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, Jonathan Carroll, Karen Joy Fowler, Jonathan Lethem, Jeff VanderMeer, China Miéville, Aimee Bender, Salman Rusdhie, Jeffrey Ford, Victor Pelevin, Clarice Lispector… honestly, we could be here for a while.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
My novel, A Fickle and Restless Weapon, which is currently on a number of editors’ desks in New York. It’s 130,000 words long, and I’d never before attempted something at that length; it also took eight years to write, and it was a challenge keeping the story fresh and present in my mind during that time. Plus it’s also complex both philosophically and on a plot level.
What’s your idea of bliss?
Sitting on a beach reading a book, with my daughter playing and reading next to me.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
There are just so many things, but one of my top hot-button topics is censorship, in any form. I believe that when you become an adult, absolutely no one should have the right to tell you what you can or cannot read, or write, or distribute. Period.
What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
The Woman Who Married a Cloud: The Collected Short Stories of Jonathan Carroll (it’s 600 pages long and includes every piece of short fiction the man has published), all four of Kelly Link’s collections (Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, Pretty Monsters and Get in Trouble), the entire ten-volume run of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series The Sandman, John Kessel’s brilliant time travel novel Corrupting Dr. Nice, and all of the issues of the quarterly literary journal A Public Space that I haven’t yet read. That should about do me for three months.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
This question always fills me with unfathomable anxiety, because I can’t imagine taking just one thing! Leaving aside more pragmatic things, like my passport and my daughter, I’d want to try to grab at least one copy of the books I’ve written, and my signed first edition hardcover of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. And maybe some pants.
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
My life philosophy is based very much on the core tenets of Buddhism—compassion, consequence and connection. So to sum it all up: Be kind to everyone you meet, act knowing that every choice you make will have significant repercussions for you and those around you, and know that your life is intertwined with countless others.
Jason Erik Lundberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and has lived in Singapore since 2007. He is the author of several books of the fantastic—including Strange Mammals (2013), The Alchemy of Happiness (2012), and Red Dot Irreal (2011)—as well as the Bo Bo and Cha Cha children’s picture book series and more than a hundred short stories, articles, and book reviews.
Lundberg is the literary fiction editor at Epigram Books, and has served as a prose mentor with Singapore’s Creative Arts Programme and Ceriph Mentorship Programme. In addition, he is the founding editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, series editor for The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories, editor of Fish Eats Lion (2012), and co-editor of A Field Guide to Surreal Botany (2008) and Scattered, Covered, Smothered (2004). From 2005-2008, he facilitated an occasional podcast called Lies and Little Deaths: A Virtual Anthology.
In 2013, Lundberg received a Creation Grant from Singapore’s National Arts Council, in support of writing a steampunk novella titled The Diary of One Who Disappeared. His short fiction has been nominated for the SLF Fountain Award, shortlisted for the Brenda L. Smart Award for Short Fiction, and honorably mentioned twice in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror; his children’s book writing has been shortlisted for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Member Choice Award, and nominated for the Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award and POPULAR Readers’ Choice Award.
A 2002 graduate of the prestigious Clarion Writers Workshop, Lundberg also holds a Master’s degree in creative writing from North Carolina State University. He is an active member in PEN American Center, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, the National Book Critics Circle, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators; he is also a Buddhist lay practitioner in the Mahayana tradition, formally taking Refuge in 2008 and receiving his refuge name (Thubten Jangchub, which means “Enlightened Mind of the Buddha-Way”) from Venerable Thubten Chodron. He recently completed his first novel, A Fickle and Restless Weapon.