Saturday, September 15, 2018

Laksa Media Group takes home the BPA Award for Speculative Fiction

My guest this weekend is Lucas K. Law of Laksa Media Group, producers of excellent and extremely relevant anthologies, the third of which, Where the Stars Rise, has just won the 2018 Alberta Book Publishing Award for Speculative Fiction.  Congratulations to Lucas, S.M. Beiko, and Tim Feist as well as all the contributing authors!

Now, to the questions I asked Lucas last week. You'll soon realize, as I did, that this is no ordinary publisher, and no ordinary vision for Speculative Fiction. 

Jayne: Laksa Media has the most comprehensive Mission Statement I’ve ever seen from a publisher, starting with “To listen, understand, learn, and connect: and finishing with, “to make a difference in social good.” Tell me what inspired it. And does one part or another mean something extra-special to you personally?

LUCAS: I would term those statements as "guiding principles" for Laksa Media. It is our "True North" compass, our directional guide to keep us grounded, to get us back to our core values if we are led astray by "new and shiny things" or when we are in “own bubbles” too long.

Before setting up Laksa Media, I kept asking myself numerous whys. Why do you want to be a publisher?  Why not continue on as an editor, which you have been doing for years? Why do you want to take on the extra work? Why is it so important to have Laksa Media now? Why do you need to curate more books when there are already so many in the world?

The answers point to a need to finding projects that share social issues that are dear to my heart, together with a charitable component to make it a holistic experience.

The people in my life—grandparents, parents, partner, relatives, friends, and work colleagues—have or had taught me the lessons of sharing, gratitude, humanity, and humility through their words and actions many times over.

I incorporate a number of those lessons into the guiding principles and tag lines for Laksa Media. We have three taglines we use at different times: “Read for a Cause, Write for a Cause, Help a Cause”, “Help Us Change the World, One Book at a Time”, and “Using Social Media for Social Good”.

Jayne: How did you end up working with S.M. Beiko and Tim Feist?

LUCAS:  I spent several months going through the book covers and interior book layout of numerous mid-sized and small publishers. And I kept circling back to ChiZine's books, and the trail led me to S.M. Beiko. One email after another and here we are—we are so lucky to have Samantha to brainstorm ideas with and guide us through the publishing landscape.

Tim is an easy find—I looked across the dinner table and said something along the line that I needed help and without hesitation, he suggested the name "Laksa." He has over 35 years of experience in media, communications, and editorial services, so that helps to steer me in the right direction.

Jayne: Laksa Media’s first anthology came out – out of the blue – only two years ago, yet already you’re making waves across the Speculative Fiction landscape, with a presence at many major conventions internationally and a stack of awards and nominations coming your way. How did this upstart media company come so far, so fast?

LUCAS:  I'm afraid that I don't have an overnight success story to share here. That would have been more interesting. Laksa Media was incorporated in 2012 but did not publish its first title, Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, until four years later. I wish I know the secret ingredients for each book. We can only do our best. But, if there is one secret, it is the kindness and generosity of the people who have touched Laksa Media and me in the past six years. Along the journey, authors, other publishers, editors, colleagues from other publishing houses, media professionals, and even strangers contribute their time, share their stories, and offer to assist (and often go out their way to help without me knowing it); they continue to provide their words of wisdom and encouragement. I am grateful and thankful every day for the opportunity to know these people and work with some of them in our projects.

Another secret probably lies in the old-fashioned values handed down by my parents and grandparents: work hard, do things the right way, stay real, and treat people with respect, and treat them the way you want to be treated by them.  

I have to be careful in defining the term "success." Success to me is when Laksa Media follows its guiding principles and the people in each project feel proud by their involvement and association with us. The rest is bonus, a beautiful gift to remind us to do our best and stay in the moment. However, I have to mention that I am so excited for our authors, Samantha, and my co-editors; they deserve all the accolades that come their way because they have put so much of themselves in our projects. The true recipe to Laksa Media’s success is them.

Jayne: I started counting this myself but got dazzled by the glow of the Sunburst Award. Tell me how many awards Laksa Media and its various anthologies have been nominated for, and won, so far in 2018.

LUCAS:  Listing the information feels like bragging, but if I don't do it, then it is not fair for those who have been involved with our three titles: Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound and Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy. They made Laksa Media and I look good. So, here are the stats:

For the anthologies—[Lucas got back to me this morning to update this bit officially in light of the win last night.] 
For the anthologies—two award nominations, two award finalists, THREE award winners.
For the short stories—seven award nominations (shortlisted), two award nominations (longlisted), one award winner, four award finalists, four selected for the year's best anthologies, nine listed in recommended annual reading list, twenty honorable mentions in the year's best anthologies

Jayne: *several moments of speechless admiration*

Jayne: One of the more popular panels at When Words Collide in Calgary this past August was on Writing to a Theme. What one concept would you most like people to take away from all that complexity of discussion?

LUCAS:  Theme is the relevance of your story to life: how does it relate to reality as seen through your characters and experienced through your storyline. We don't have to be authors or life coaches to tell a story with a theme. We are all artists—we have the abilities within us—be it writing, cooking, painting, photographing, journaling, gardening, etc. We often get into a situation of second-guessing ourselves—that we are not good enough, or we don't have the right tools and skill sets, or no one is interested—and we make it more complicated than it should be, and then we end up in a state of paralysis and not moving forward. So, when the time is right for you, be not afraid to share your story in whatever medium you are comfortable with.  

Jayne: Your next anthology, Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders, came out September 8, 2018. The theme is most timely given the outflow of refugees from Syria – both across/around the Mediterranean and via direct flight to safe countries where a refugee claim can be made on the ground – and the increasingly hostile anti-immigration rhetoric in both Canada and the USA. Did you have those issues in mind when you first decided on this theme? Did you get the type of stories you expected from your submission call? What do you hope readers take from the experience of these stories?

LUCAS:  I didn't have those issues in mind when this theme was conceived five years ago, along with the other anthology themes. It was part of the five year-plan for Laksa Media. Who knew back then, in 2013, it would be such a global issue now? Each of our anthologies comes from within—a part of who we are—the best and the worst in us and everything-in-between.

The concept for Shades Within Us came from my own upbringing and family history in migrations. I wanted to explore the human spirit that comes from individual and societal displacement—physical, psychological, spiritual—by choice or by force, for good or ill, for better or worse, to leave behind all that is familiar and to face the unknown.

The invited authors surprised Susan and me with their diverse voice and style, their varieties of approaches—literally or metaphorically—to the theme of migrations and fractured borders. They use science fiction, fantasy, and horror, sometimes cross-genres, sometimes genres that don't even have category fitting, to examine the power of culture, politics, religion, health, economics, exploration, magic, war, or death, a myriad of reasons to drive the individuals to cope with displacement and change.

We want the readers to know that these are not stories of despair, anger, and revenge; these are stories of facing those adversities and challenges with equal determination, resiliency, and humility. We move or relocate for many reasons: economic challenges, employment, new opportunities, failing health, and much more. The human spirit will triumph in the end. And, in addition, "migration" should not be a negative connotation or associated with just refugees and illegal immigrants.  It is who we are and what we become when we relocate.

I think Kend M., a librarian, said it best about Shades Within Us in her Goodreads review: "Intersectionality may not be the primary guiding principle of this anthology, but it is present in nearly every story contained herein; importantly for me, this awareness extends to the LGBTQIA+ community as well as communities traditionally othered for reasons of skin color, country of origin, gender, religion, and neuro-divergence. The stories are not always winsome or whimsical; they delve into the dark and the twisted as often as they do into the empowering and uplifting. Agency is always at stake, and self-awareness lurking just below. This anthology splits the difference between rambunctious new collections like Robots vs. Fairies and serious commentaries on the immigrant experience, such as Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing.”

For those who are interested in reading a sample, find excerpts from Shades Within Us at For Susan and my thoughts on migrations, read our Big Idea blog on John Scalzi’s Whatever website.

Jayne: I see you’re closed to non-fiction submissions for the next couple of years. Do you care to tell us what you’ve got in that particular publishing stream at present?

LUCAS:  Publishing non-fiction is always part of our long-term plan. Even though we have several non-fiction concepts in the pipeline, we probably wouldn't release our first title until 2022. We are considering a series of anthologies consisting of essays on social, cultural and identity intersections. We haven't nailed down the concept completely so I can't share any detail at this time.

Its publication date continues to be shifted because Laksa Media is working hard on an epic fantasy adventure series of seven books—a multi-generational family saga of betrayal, deception, survival, revenge, love, and redemption caused by a chain of addictions and discriminations.

The first title is scheduled for a late summer release next year. It is not only a tale of rollicking adventure but an opportunity for the author and Laksa Media to examine the complex world of addictions, knowing that there is no family today that has not been touched by the heartache, stigma, struggles—and the often-unrecognized courage and hope—that underpin the illness of addiction. We are currently evaluating several non-profit organizations that we want to work with. More information to come soon.

And thank you for the opportunity to discuss my thoughts with you. 

Jayne:  And thank you, Lucas, for sharing your guiding principles and so much more with us. As always when speaking with you, I am left thinking of more and yet more follow-up questions. As I too love tales of rollicking adventure that address real social and personal issues along the way, perhaps you'll come back next year, when this first novel of the epic saga is released, and tell me about that.


Friday, September 14, 2018

Moments you never dreamed of...

Alberta Children & Young Adult 

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners!

A full list is available at the 

The thrilling moment of the announcement:

Photo thanks to Kristin Morrell, who sent it to me right after the announcement

Friday, September 7, 2018

Aurora Interview #7: Suzy Vadori

My guest today is Suzy Vadori, nominated in the Best Novel, Young Adult category for the 2018 Prix Aurora, the fan award for the best in Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Suzy is the Award Winning, Calgary Bestselling Author of The Fountain Series (The Fountain, The West Woods), published by Evil Alter Ego Press. This fantastical Young Adult Series has been awarded a bronze medal from Readers’ Favorite, two Aurora Nominations for Best Young Adult Novel, and Five Stars from the San Francisco Review of Books.

Suzy lives in Calgary, Canada with her husband and three children. She is an involved member in the writing community, serving as Program Manager, Young Adult/Children’s Programming for When Words Collide (WWC), a literary festival held in Calgary each August. Suzy is also the founder of WriteIt! creative writing programs in schools, building young writers.

How long have you been writing SFF, and what forms have you explored besides the one you’re nominated for?

The Fountain was my debut novel, published in 2015. This series is magical realism. Everything I write has an element of magic, with a healthy dose of romantic story line. The next series I’m working is an upper YA, set in a completely fantastical world.

Is this your first nomination? If not, what other title/category have you been nominated for (past or present)?
Book 1 in The Fountain Series, The Fountain, was also nominated for an Aurora - Best Novel, Young Adult, in 2016. I’m thrilled to have The West Woods up for the same award this year. Fingers crossed second time is the charm.

Tell me about your process of creating this work: how long did it take to write? Speed bumps along the way?

I just love writing in The Fountain Series’ world. A boarding school, with a magical twist. The world grows by leaps and bounds in books two and three (Wall of Wishes will be released 2019). I loved expanding the world, but it surprised me how much it grew as I wrote. 

The Fountain took me four years to write, edit and find a publisher. The West Woods was written in a year.

What’s your favourite thing about this nominated work: a character, a scene, a setting/world?

The three books in this series are written out of order, from different points of view, which kept the story fresh and challenging to write. 

The West Woods is Courtney’s story, and it needed to be told. I love Courtney as a character. She’s the most asked about by readers of The Fountain. Usually readers ask – “what is with her?” She has a very complex reason she is who she is (hint: it’s magical). It was fun to share her story with readers.  

After reading The West Woods, I can’t guarantee you’ll like her, but you’ll be rooting for her, which is all any protagonist can ever ask for.

For those who are waiting for the conclusion of the series, don’t worry. It’s coming, and it will answer all. 

Name a couple of authors you find inspiring, and tell me what calls to you about their works.

 As I work on my next series, I’ve immersed myself in reading upper YA fantasy. Two authors who do a marvelous job of painting fantastical worlds are Calgary author Danielle L. Jensen (who also happens to be an amazing mentor and friend), and Sarah J. Maas. I’m drawn into their worlds with their fantastic imagery. It’s easy to see why their books are wildly popular.

Book blurb:  The West Woods

Courtney Wallis wants nothing more than to escape St. Augustus boarding school. After uncovering a well-kept secret about the school’s founder, Isaac Young, Courtney turns to the school’s magic to convince her dad to let her leave. Things take a turn when she meets Cole, who lives in the nearby town of Evergreen. He gives her hope that things might not be so bad. However, the school's fountain has other ideas, and binds Courtney to her ambition, no matter the cost.

As Courtney struggles to keep the magic from taking over, she and her friends get drawn into the mystery woven into the school’s fabric. Everything seems to lead back to the forbidden West Woods. Together, she and her friends seek out the spirits of the past to ask for help, and find themselves in much deeper than they’d bargained for. If they succeed, Courtney could be free of the magic. If they fail, she may never be the same.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Prix Aurora Interview #6: Calvin D. Jim

 My guest today is Calvin D. Jim, nominated in the Best Short Fiction category for the 2018 Prix Aurora Award.

Calvin is a Calgary lawyer-turned-author whose Asian-inspired stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and publications.
A self-proclaimed geek, he managed to wrangle his wife and two sons into board games and Karate (not necessarily in that order, and not without injury). His latest stories can be found in the anthologies Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy and Enigma Front: Onward.

How long have you been writing SFF, and what forms have you explored besides the one you’re nominated for?

Thirteen years. That’s how old my eldest son is, and also how long I’ve been writing seriously. Before that, I took a long and winding route to get there. I started where a lot of geeky kids started in the 1970s: role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. I game-mastered a lot, which meant I made up stories, scenarios, and characters and hoped my players would enjoy them. Many long years and a half-dozen career changes later, I decided writing was what I wanted to do. By then, I had a family and responsibilities and couldn’t just toss them aside in favour of “this writing thing.” So its been a slow climb since then, but a satisfying one, one that I am glad to have my family beside me for the journey. They keep me grounded.

Is this your first nomination? If not, what other title/category have you been nominated for (past or present)?

 I was previously nominated in 2012 for Best Related Work as co-editor for Shanghai Steam, the steampunk-wuxia (martial arts) anthology.

Tell me about your process of creating this work: how long did it take to write? Speed bumps along the way?

This story had a long journey of a thousand li.* It began unexpectedly with the passing of my Aunt Mae in Vancouver. I spent a lot of time with her and my extended family when I was young. So when she passed, I knew immediately that I wanted to attend her funeral. A week after her passing, I had heard nothing about funeral plans. A week or two later, I heard that there would be no funeral. My uncle took her death very hard. I heard he kept her ashes on a dresser in his (their) bedroom. That image stuck in my head.  

Several months later, I was in the middle of revisions on my first novel and having a tough time with it when another story idea occurred to me. I read about Japantown in Vancouver – an area my mother grew up in. I was fascinated with the area and wondered what kind of story I could set in it. A couple of ideas popped in my head and I threw the novel revisions aside and banged out a first draft. Rose as a character came to me almost fully formed. Her father took time and morphed from an uncaring father to one still dealing with the death of his wife. Sound familiar? I unconsciously dealt with my aunt’s passing and this story was the result.

Of course, the plot didn’t come fully formed. The basic concept was there, but the scenes took time and a few re-writes – especially the later scenes. I think I even sent it out once and they returned it with comments that said what I already knew – the first half was great, the second half, not so much. I am so happy I took the time to sharpen it into the tale that got accepted by Laksa Media. Best place it could have ended up.
But even if the story took time to form, its emotional heart remained throughout. It was me saying goodbye. I am sure my aunt would be have been happy with the result.

 * a li is a Chinese length measurement now standardized at a half-kilometer (500 meters or 1,640 feet)

What’s your favourite thing about this nominated work: a character, a scene, a setting/world?

As you might guess, my favourite thing about Rose’s Arm is Japantown. My mother was born in 1929 in Vancouver and lived in Japantown until the internment in 1942. She received a few books about Japantown and the internment which I borrowed to read. That spurred on some internet research and some conversations with my mother about her early life. Inevitably, I would write something set there and am doing so again. Incidentally, my mother lived behind the family grocery store, Hori-zen (named after her father, Zenya Hori). I included it as an Easter Egg.

Name a couple of authors you find inspiring, and tell me what calls to you about their works.

As a fantasy writer, J.R.R. Tolkien inspires me because of the expansive world building he did for Middle Earth. I can only be so lucky to build a world as detailed and awe-inspiring as his. Haruki Murakami inspires me because of his ability to say so much with so little. His stories remind me a bit of Hemingway - sparse in prose, deep in meaning and imagery. But for me, Lian Hearn’s two book series, The Tales of the Otori and the Tale of Shikonoko, is what I aspire to as a writer. Her stories about mythical Japan are written in English and the only Japanese words she uses are names. She evokes Japan through exacting prose. It‘s like reading poetry.

The differences and similarities between Asian and North American SFF are too vast a topic for this interview but perhaps mention the main ones you try to address in your work?

As a cross-cultural writer (China and Japan are in my blood, but I am thoroughly Canadian), I look at identity and the commonalities between ethnicities. We all love, we all get angry, we all grieve. The cultural specifics might be different, and the thought processes and philosophies between east and west are very different, but the human experience is the same. How we deal with life and death is the most human question of all, no matter what culture you come from.