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.


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