Interview #101 – Author, Editor, Academic, Jaymee Goh, Part 4

Welcome back for part four in our talk with Jaymee Goh , co-editor of The Sea Is Ours: Tales of Steampunk SEAsia.

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.

Read Part Three here.


Airship Ambassador: For the aspiring writer, what suggestions do you have as an editor, regarding their submissions, your feedback, and general collaboration?

Jaymee Goh: Firstly, I would advise all aspiring writers to read as widely as possible. It’s good for stimulating one’s writing. It’s also good to have a think about how one wants to write in response to the stuff one reads.


Secondly, as an editor of short fiction, I say, submit! Do you love this one magazine? Does it inspire your writing? Submit to them! Maybe you’ll get rejected, maybe you won’t—it’s not your job to determine whether your writing is good enough. Got a thing which might fit an anthology? Submit! Don’t worry about wasting the editor’s time with your submission (I’ll get to this in a hot minute). The worst thing that happens is, we roll our eyes, sigh, and send you a form rejection. The best thing is, over time, as you keep sending things out, as you keep writing and honing your craft using the feedback you get from us editors, you will improve. Joyce already said don’t self-reject; I’ll repeat it, and share with you an editor’s perspective, Rose Lemberg’s, who originated the motto #dontselfreject.

Thirdly, the way to waste an editor’s time? Is by arguing with them! It’s also a waste of your time! Don’t do that. Just keep writing, and keep submitting, and keep improving your craft. Take your time! We are not all geniuses off the bat, and there are few of us who start so strong early in our careers. Your journey is yours.


AA: You’re also a writer. What do you do to keep a balance between writing, editing, and the rest of your life? Any new projects coming up?


JG: Uhm, I flail a lot. I’m not a full-time editor, so that’s one thing. I’m also not a full-time writer (yet; hope springs eternal). I do write a fair amount in the rest of my life as a graduate student who is dissertating. Since my research feeds into my creative work, and my creative work is what spurs on the academic stuff, I don’t really get to separate them very much. And while I am capable of multi-tasking, I’m actually not good at keeping it up for too long. Since I live with mental illness, I also have to walk a fine line between being productive and tiring myself out, which could lead to a disastrous crash.


So, I set myself goals and deadlines, and carefully portion out my energy. I’ve mentioned that I didn’t start reading the submissions until after I was done quals—quals is dreaded in the graduate student’s world as being one of the hardest tasks to accomplish, with a lot of mental energy dedicated towards studying and mastering one’s material. After I finished it, I rested my brain for several weeks before I started reading submissions. Fortunately, editing an anthology has an end-date: when the book is out!

I tend to let my creative work percolate in my brain until such a time as I have a good chunk of time to write. I write a draft, and then either revise it immediately for sending it out, or leave it alone for some amount of time and go away to do something else.

A strategy I use is to switch out the kind of thinking I have to do, so in between writing sprees, I may do something which requires a different kind of problem-solving skill, like baking, or sewing. You follow a plan, and there’s an end result which is usually immediate, unlike writing where you send it out and hope the end result is you get paid.

I’ve had a pretty good run recently of fiction—two of my short stories recently came out, one in Interfictions Online, and another in Hidden Youth: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. I have another short story coming out in Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation in Spring 2017. There’s another short story which I wrote under a different name… I have no idea when the book is coming out, and I shan’t tell you what my other name is, but the story will be in one of the Like A Spell anthologies coming out from Circlet Press! See if you can find me!

Right now, I’m quite focused on finishing my dissertation, tentatively titled “Steampunk Semiotics: Entrenched Eurocentrism in the Steampunk Aesthetic.” It is an exploration of psychological affects generated by popular steampunk iconography and how white supremacist narratives are reiterated through the quest to create these affects, and how it plays out in the discourse surrounding multiculturalism in steampunk and the resulting popular fiction. The final chapter looks at how centering the non-white perspective changes these affects. Technically this should become a book at the end of the day, but I may slowly release it onto Silver Goggles… for a crowd-funded price! At the same time, I have to apply for jobs so I can graduate as a fully-functioning adult who has a steady income to look forward to. That is also a project.

But I have not abandoned my fiction! I have several short story drafts, mostly from the Clarion workshop I took, that need tending to. I also have a standalone novel, a steampunk fantasy trilogy, and fantasy romance quartet on the backburner because the universe hates me. In the meantime, I’m quietly jangling poetry in my head for a poetry collection about a generation ship.


AA: There’s my reading list getting longer! I’m eagerly looking forward to reading your dissertation. Do you get to talk much with other writers and editors?

JG: I wish. The problem with being in grad school and having bad brain at the same time is that I never have the time or brainspace to exchange critiques with other writers and editors. And I like to be thorough in my critiques so I always put it off for when I have more time, except, of course, I don’t. Not unless I get to pay or be paid!

The last time I had such an opportunity was at the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop, which is a full-residency program. For six weeks, literally all we had to do was write and critique, and it was a very intensive thing where every single weekday morning was spent in critique so we had to make sure we did the work of reading everybody else’s work the day before! And write a new story every week to boot. However, the beautiful thing was, we didn’t have to cook or clean or do anything else, really, so it was a lot easier than if we had been working full-time alongside it.

But brainstorming new ideas is a joyous thing to do, and I recommend it 100%.


AA: Be paid to do something you love? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could be in that position? The world might be a better and happier place. Some people might say that writers need to be readers, too. What do you think about that and what would you say your ratio of reading to writing is/was?

JG: Goodness, if you don’t read, where would you get your words from? Even if you don’t read within your genre, you still need to read. The way I see it, writing fiction and poetry is about encapsulating experiences with language, and there is no room in a single person’s life to experience ALL THE THINGS. So, to compensate for this limitation of the single lifetime, one reads widely to learn as much about the world as possible. This enrichens the writing, because otherwise, you’re just regurgitating half-baked ideas and it doesn’t make for good fiction or poetry.

I don’t read as much or as widely as I would like, and in graduate school, it’s guaranteed that for every seminar paper you write, you probably read (or at least skim) maybe 20 articles. I have of course read more novels than I have written them, and I try to read a lot of short fiction to compensate for having no energy to read whole novels. But I also try to keep abreast of new literature, just to see how the genre changes.


We’ll pause here in our chat with Jaymee. Join us for part five when she talks about editing and changing over time.

Keep up to date with Jaymee’s latest news on her website, blog, and on Twitter.

You can support Jaymee and our community by getting your copy of The Sea Is Ours here.

Also, check out her exhibit page at The Steampunk Museum.

Published in: on January 4, 2017 at 8:16 pm  Comments (2)  
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Interview #101 – Author, Editor, Academic, Jaymee Goh, Part 3

Welcome back for part three in our talk with Jaymee Goh , co-editor of The Sea Is Ours: Tales of Steampunk SEAsia.

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.


Airship Ambassador: What is some of the feedback about this anthology which you’ve heard about?

Jaymee Goh: Lots of people seem to like us, which is nice. Most people have favourite stories, and then people will have criticisms of specific stories, which does happen. Can’t expect everyone to love everything, after all.


The most interesting statement I’ve heard is that it’s “not really” steampunk. Because I’m not an asshole, I didn’t respond to the review, but I have to say I’m incredibly interested in what makes it “not steampunk”—is it the lack of steam? Is it the lack of industrialization? Is it the type of stories that have been chosen to showcase Southeast Asia? Who knows. It’s just very fascinating—I am a scholar of steampunk, after all, as in, my PhD study is, actually, literally, in steampunk, and part of my study is in how readers determine steampunkiness and what the implications are in these determinations. So when I hear a judgement of whether something is steampunk or not, my ears practically beg to hear the reasons behind it.

My favourite review, however, remains the one-star review whereby the reviewer lamented that she couldn’t get into the anthology, because she couldn’t recognize the Asia in the stories. And she had lived in Asia for quite some time, so she was fully expecting to enjoy the book, but alas, it did not cleave to her expectations of what stories set in Asia should have been like.


AA: Can’t please everyone, especially when they have expectations. If someone likes “X”, then they’ll like The Sea Is Ours. What is “X”?

JG: I could be totally arrogant and say, “X is nothing. X is nil. There is nothing like The Sea Is Ours.” But that would not be true, and in fact, The Sea Is Ours owes its existence to many fine anthologies that come before it. One’s work must always be in conversation with one’s peers. I was greatly inspired by Grace Dillon’s Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction, and in fact, owe a lot of my approach towards technology towards her and her amazingly talented daughter, Elizabeth Lapensee, who writes comics based on indigeneity and was a contributor to the recent indigenous comics anthology Moonshot. Beth set a high bar in truly re-imagining steampunk, from an indigenous perspective! And of course, one must always nod to one’s elders, and to me, that would be Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, by Sheree Renee Thomas.

Contributors to our anthology are themselves editors of other fine anthologies: Paolo Chikiamco edited Alternative Alamat: Stories Inspired by Philippine Mythology and Kate Osias edited two Philippine Speculative Fiction Annuals, #6 and #7. Not only that, but artists of our anthology are comics creators in their own right! Stephani Soejono, who illustrated Olivia Ho’s “Working Woman” recently got her graphic novel The Tale of Bidadari published by Maple Comics. Writer Paolo Chikiamco and artist Borg Sinaban (who also illustrated zm quynh’s “The Chamber of Souls”) collaborate on a comic called Muros: Cemetery Girl. (Paolo also wrote a comic set in the same world as “Between Severed Souls.”) And of course, my co-editor Joyce Chng is collaborating with illustrator Kim Miranda (“The Women and the Insects Sing Together” and “Life Under Glass”) on Sun Dragon’s Song. If you like the art in The Sea Is Ours, then please support our artists!

A couple of upcoming anthologies which will be quite marvelous and have nothing to do with The Sea is Ours, but are similarly rooted in non-Eurocentric contexts, are New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean and Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation.


AA: Thanks for adding so many new books to my list! Amazon is going to be busy, lol. If The Sea Is Ours had a soundtrack, what would it be like?

JG: Oh, probably a lot of gamelan. But that is because when I was copyediting the final drafts, I had gamelan music in the background a lot. The Sea Is Ours does begin and end with music: Timothy Dimacali’s story is about how music vibrations literally help ships fly and the main character plays first the kubing, and then the viola, and Pear Nuallak’s story has men and women singing to each other, a lot of verbal teasing and smackdowns. The stories with more clockwork or automaton features, I imagine angklung music. (Examples, here is a cover version of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” on an array of angklung. Cool, no? How about Beethoven’s 5th?)


AA: As the co-editor, what was your publishing experience like for The Sea Is Ours?

JG: S-t-r-e-s-s-f-u-l-!!! Rosarium is a very small outfit, but with very big ambitions. So as editors not only did we have to pull our weight to make the anthology the best it could be—and as folks know, people of color have to work twice as hard to get half as much—we also had to strategize and market hard the IndieGoGo campaign, which was emotionally exhausting. Our project was delayed a couple of times, because life interfered, which was really frustrating. And even with a marketing intern, our publisher, Bill Campbell, ran himself ragged trying to get the notice of the big markets so that bookstores would carry the anthology. When our anthology was finally out, it was Bill who personally sent out all the IndieGoGo paperback rewards. I get to help him sell books here and there at conventions, but as an editor, there’s not much I can do beyond yell at the world, BUY OUR BOOK!!!!


AA: OK, readers, you know what to do! How long did it take to gather the authors, their stories, and make the final selections? What were the deadlines and publishing schedule like for you?

JG: Let’s see… the submission guidelines went up at the beginning of February 2014. We kept the submissions open until the end of June. This gave writers time to work on their stuff, and besides which, I wouldn’t have had the energy to look at submissions until the end of June, since I had my PhD qualifying exams at the end of May. (I passed.) Joyce and I spent July picking at the submissions, making decisions on what was good and what needed more work, and sending out rejections. Google Docs is the collaborators’ friend!


In July 2014, I went home to Malaysia and began the tedious process of editing the stories. Some stories required major rewrites, some needed cosmetic changes here and there, and there were a couple which we weren’t even sure we wanted to keep without hefty changes. I met with Joyce sometime during my trip back to Malaysia (Singapore is only a causeway away!) and we determined the order in the table of contents together in the Esplanade Library.

By January 2015, the manuscript was by and large done, I was poring over everything with a fine-toothed comb for copyedits, and we delivered by the end of the month. Then came the frustrating wait because, as I said, small publishing outfit, which was also doing another anthology project at the same time. I took the opportunity to start making noise for the anthology and get the okay from the publisher to solicit art. We assigned the artists the stories, to be delivered by July (or so).

In September 2015, we had the IndieGoGo campaign, and by this time the manuscript was about ready. We did have a couple of SNAFUs in the background, but by October, we were set to print. We released this book into the wild in November!


We’ll pause here in our chat with Jaymee. Join us for part four when she talks about recommendations and personal reading.

Keep up to date with Jaymee’s latest news on her website, blog, and on Twitter.

You can support Jaymee and our community by getting your copy of The Sea Is Ours here.

Also, check out her exhibit page at The Steampunk Museum.

Published in: on January 3, 2017 at 8:26 pm  Comments (3)  
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Interview #101 – Author, Editor, Academic, Jaymee Goh, Part 2

Welcome back for part two in our talk with Jaymee Goh , co-editor of The Sea Is Ours: Tales of Steampunk SEAsia.

Read Part One here.


Airship Ambassador: How did you round up the group of authors for this anthology?

Jaymee Goh: There is always a selection process—an anthology is essentially a curated volume based on the tastes of the editors and the needs of the theme. But it wasn’t so much a rounding-up process as it was a headless chicken run hoping to receive enough submissions to start with.

The open call went out in June 2014, a little after my PhD qualifying exams. I used the principles espoused in Rose Lemberg’s essay “Encouraging Diversity,” most importantly the points she makes about solicitation, and talking to people. We knew we wanted the slush pile to be predominantly Southeast Asian—and if you say nothing and just plug the call for submissions to the main science fiction fantasy publishing circles, you won’t get that. Part of this is that most Southeast Asian writers don’t haunt those circles. The other part is that many are not inclined to submit to an English-language anthology if they feel their English is not up to snuff, or are intimidated by the fact that the publisher is American. There is a lot of unnecessary lionizing of American publishing, to the disadvantage of the slush pile.


So, if you want the slush pile to be predominantly Southeast Asian, then you must contact people who know them. Birds of a feather do flock together! We contacted friends, whether in Southeast Asia itself, or who knew people in Southeast Asia, and asked them to pass along the submission guidelines. We also sent emails to every single Southeast Asian science fiction writer we knew, asking them to consider submitting to us. (This is how we got Nghi Vo’s “Life Under Glass”!) Assume that for every 10 such solicitations, you’ll only get 1 submission. For every 100 people your guidelines reach, only 1 will actually submit. So you must spread it far and wide! And you must reiterate the process. You must remind the people you want to see submitting, that it is they you wish to see in your slush pile. I don’t know how many times you have to say it for it to sink in, but you have to say it a lot.

You can, after all, only have a selection process if you have things to select from. But we did not have the idea that there were specific people we had to publish—just people we wanted to hear from.

On a related note, I will say that Southeast Asians who worried about their English were much better readers of my guidelines than American writers whose first language was English. Indonesians for whom English was a second language were pointing out that I had left out Indonesia in my list of countries within the guidelines, whereas English-speaking Americans were submitting stories set in Japan or China.


AA: I’ve heard about that submission situation a fair bit over the years about very different kinds of anthologies. Sounds like so many times the message has to go out, and out, and out, before people ‘hear’ it. What are some of the ideas presented about Southeast Asia which you are really glad to see in the book?

JG: There’re some themes which you can expect as a given from the anthology, such as that of anti-colonialism, and technology as a boon and bane. But I think the thing I really love most is the theme of family that runs in most of the stories. And I don’t just mean blood family, though there’s a lot of that—Nghi Vo’s story is of two sisters exploring a mountain range, and Pear Nuallak’s story follows two arcs, a mother’s and her daughter’s, as they come into their identities as queer women and, more importantly, ambitious women who dream beyond their village homes. There’s also the theme of chosen family, like in Olivia’s story where three incredibly different women come together, and they end with a relaxing breakfast, having chosen each other’s company. Ivanna Mendels’ story is also about this kind of love, a very deep abiding one that engenders fierce loyalty. A lot of these characters are petty, not necessarily likable, selfish in many ways, but ultimately they make choices that connect themselves with others around them.


AA: That’s quite a variety. I find it amazing how authors can make so much happen on several levels in a short story format. There’s only so much room for so many stories – how many more stories were there which just couldn’t be squeezed into the final book?

JG: For us it wasn’t so much a case of squeezing stories into the book, so much as it was about stories that were very good, but just didn’t ultimately fit our vision. It’s hard to let them go, but the nice thing about themed anthologies is that you get to read these marvelous stories that you hope to be able to pass along to other editors, so those stories can grace their projects.


AA: Any plans for a sequel?

JG: Not currently. Our publisher, Rosarium, has been trying to keep apace with its growth as a comics purveyor, and anthologies are rarely profitable. The chances of us getting a sequel are higher the more people keep buying the book! But we know for a fact that there are more stories out there to be told, and we certainly hope to be able to have a sequel sometime in the future so we can pull them together.

For now, though, all I’ve got is encouragement to Southeast Asian writers to keep writing their histories into these marvelous inventive ways and send them out, and when the sequel comes, we’ll pull them all into one spot.


AA: When people read The Sea Is Ours, what would you like for them to take away from the stories and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?

JG: Things that folks can “apply to their own lives”? That’s silly; fiction is first and foremost meant to entertain. Secondly, anything you can glean from The Sea Is Ours, I think you can also glean from practically many works of fiction out there.

Thirdly, The Sea Is Ours was a labour of love for fellow Southeast Asians. Anything anyone else pulls from it for their own lives is from their own perspective, and certainly not anything I intend. I want Southeast Asians to see themselves in these stories, or people who at least look like them. I want them to know that they, too, are incredible and inventive and brilliant. Because when you don’t see yourself enough, it becomes hard to imagine yourself in the mirror we call stories.

Perhaps, then, the most simple takeaway I want readers to take away is this: that Southeast Asia is a rich, vibrant place, full of interesting human beings whose cultures and perspectives are different, not so much for novelty value, but as a basic fact of life.


AA: As editor, did you have to be very selective to have a balance of the stories?

JG: This is a very vague question!

Sometimes editors do not have a choice as to what “balance” means. We received many stories featuring the Philippines, so sometimes people think The Sea Is Ours is an anthology of Philippine science fiction since it skews so heavily towards that archipelago (5 out of the 12 stories are set in the Philippines). Ideally I would have had a wider geographical spread—we received no stories about Burma, for example. I would like to have had at least one story for each Southeast Asian country, but that is not how selection works—you have to pick the best stories that fit the anthology theme and shape. And then for the stories which are very good and make the final cut, you work hard with the writer to improve the story until it is the absolute best it can be at the hands of the writer.


We’ll pause here in our chat with Jaymee. Join us for part three when she talks about anthology feedback, comparisons, and the editing experience.

Keep up to date with Jaymee’s latest news on her website, blog, and on Twitter.

You can support Jaymee and our community by getting your copy of The Sea Is Ours here.

Also, check out her exhibit page at The Steampunk Museum.

Published in: on January 2, 2017 at 7:32 pm  Comments (4)  
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