Apex post: Of Swords and Pens

Of Swords and Pens

Labels and the non-USian SFF writer.

I hate labels.

That’s right. I hate labels with a passion. Unfortunately, labels happen frequently in the real world.

I write SFF. I am a SFF writer. I want to be seen as a SFF writer, period. But as a non-USian (non-UK, as I dare to add) writer who happens to be born in Southeast Asia, I get labeled as a World SF writer. Worse, I get labeled as ‘ethnic’ (‘exotic’, ‘other’, ‘foreign’).

We have seen how pivotal Racefail 2009 has played in how we perceive as SFF. The race debate, the perception of non-white writers/characters/players is on-going. There is still a lot of work to be done.

But what has Racefail 2009 done for me as a Singaporean writer? One thing: I don’t like to be seen as exotic or ethnic, as if my Chinese heritage covers me with pretty and inscrutable things. I write SFF. I happen to be Chinese.

And yes, we do write.

Updates on the publishing front.

Well, good news on the publishing front: I signed a contract to have “The Sound Of Breaking Glass” translated into Hebrew. And a story is accepted by MBRANE-SF. 😉

“An urban fantasy set in Singapore? Never!”

Face it, the shelves (physical and online) are overwhelmed with urban fantasy stories all set in the Northern Hemisphere. Jim Butcher, Simon Greene, Charles de Lint, Kelley Armstrong, to name a few. And these are the more well-known names in the urban fantasy genre.

I looked hard for stories set in Southeast Asia (and I dared to hope – Singapore). Found none. Zilch. Nadah. Granted that Liz Williams wrote something about Singapore Three, but I wanted something I could connect to. Something I wanted to see.

[I was more ambitious. I wanted to see urban fantasy stories set in Singapore by Singaporean authors (or Southeast Asia). Nope. Maybe I was living under a boulder…]

So, as a challenge, I hammered out a novel for Nanowrimo 2009. I had just given birth, my baby was two months old (and still needed my full-on attention). Writing a novel, an urban fantasy set in Singapore? Never!

But I did.

Wolf At The Door was born then, a story of sisters, werewolves in Singapore and love lost, interwoven with a complex tapestry of people, traditions, cultures and backgrounds. I drew heavily from what I knew: my Chinese heritage, who-I-am. The wolves are part of a diaspora, descendants of migrants and straddle many worlds. Trying to ilk out a living in a fast-paced and pragmatic country who exists on trade. The wolves are hunters. They need to hunt. The wolves are closely-knit. They need their packs around them. In short, they are like the humans they pretend to be 99% of the time. Throw in the other non-human races from Southeast Asian and Asian traditions – and you get an unique picture.

I wanted to break out from the mould of “sexy ____ hunter/slayer”. Why not a mother, a married woman and a daughter? What kind of problems would she encounter in the story? So, I wrote.

I ranted, I raved and I finally crossed the 50k marker.

2010 rolled in and I made the decision to submit it to publishers. Could it sell? Would people buy it?

Would people care?

Imagine my joy when I got the contract from Lyrical Press. I danced a happy dance in the study room and then got down to the serious business of editing, while I struggled (and still struggle) with my doubts. Would people read it? I know that the US, UK and Australian SFF scenes are pretty insular. Would someone else from Southeast Asia really matter to them?

No, I write for myself and my readers.

More to come while I work out my thoughts, my writing process.

“Yes, We Do Exist!”

Yes, we do exist!

We, meaning SFF writers of Singapore.

I could see the evidence in the SFF panel. We are around. We are outspoken. We are here to stay. The panelists spoke with passion. Dave Chua, Rosemary Lim, Sarah Coldheart and myself.

We covered the publishing debate, the trials and tribulations of publishing genre in Singapore [note: difficult – focus overseas]. Basically, Singaporean publishers are not willing to publish things that are not profitable. Rosemary brought up an important point: publishing is a business. Publishers have to know if that particular book is able to sell to a wider market. Genre fiction is too niche in Singapore. That’s why we end up with the memoirs, the poetry books, the recipe books and ghost stories – simply because they sell.

Then we talked about increasing the profile of SFF writing in Singapore. A few of us likened the SFF writer to an unicorn. Rare, special and obviously hiding. Do we need a princess to lure the elusive beast out of the forest? SFF writers do exist. The trick is to group everyone together into an united front. Should a SFF zine do it? Then, who will make the effort and commit to this?

Honestly, I ended up with more questions in my head. We are here now. What should we do? I am all for the SFF zine. But talk is cheap. Let’s make it happen…

Because after all, we do exist.

Many grateful thanks to the panelists who contributed to the ongoing discussion and to those who attended the panel. The book signing was great. Hint: I want to see more of this in the future.

A-blogging we will go.

During the SFF panel at SPORE-Con 2010, it was suggested to me that it would be nice to blog about the writing process for Wolf At The Door, the urban fantasy set in Singapore and soon to be published by Lyrical Press. (waves to Petey)

I thought about it and realized that it is a good idea. I often keep the writing process (planning, structuring, world-building and angsting) to myself. Writing is after all a very solitary activity (very much like photography, another passion of mine).

So, yes, I will be blogging about the writing process behind Wolf At The Door, the novel born from Nanowrimo and written/polished/re-written after.

Do give me some time, as I will be busy at the day job.

SPORE-Con and SFF!

SPORE-Con is finally over. Two days of gaming, SFF panel and general good fun. The multi-purpose hall was arctic cold though. Had to wear my Jedi robe (which is comfy warm), but I ended up coming down with a dripping nose. Managed to find the medication for it.



It was intimate and cozy, but the discussion flowed and questions asked, answered. I will come up with something more detailed, once I get my thoughts organized (like herding cats).

In short:

The trick now is to form an unified front. You know, being serious about it, being a proper group and all. More – of course – when I have recovered from the con. 😉

And WOOT! I actually signed something. Not my books, but a short story (“The Sound Of Breaking Glass”). Oh MY GOD! 😉 I think I will live off the euphoria for a week. *LOL* But now, it’s back to the hard yakka: WRITE.

[and kidwrangling and work – yes, I will be starting work soon as a teacher]

SPORE-con panel!

Conference Room, Pasir Ris East CC.

Singaporean SFF. Signal-boost. Come down, support us, meet us. I might buy you lunch. 😉

New stories, new fiction.

“Cogwork Cat” in Everyday Fiction
“The Sound Of Breaking Glass” in the June edition of Semaphore Magazine