Friday 23 September 2011

W is for World SF

Voice of a Hybrid, by Joyce Chng

I wrote my first novella (fan fiction, by the way—Pern, if you want to know) when I was just eighteen. I just wrote and mind you, I didn’t know what fan fiction was, until the advent of the Internet. My audience/reader was my best friend. It was a fun experience as feedback fed my creativity and vice versa.

Fast forward a few years later.

I found myself submitting a short story about female werewolves to a now defunct anthropomorphic ‘zine. It was accepted and I was published.

Fast forward a few more years later.

I got married, had my first daughter and wondered about my writing life (which, by then, had languished). I resigned from teaching and self-published my first anthology of speculative fiction. I dabbled in Pagan non-fiction, but found that it didn’t work for me. Despairing, I almost gave up. 2009 was my breakthrough—I started writing for real (partly because of my second pregnancy—I was flooded with creativity).

Then when it came to publishing, I hit a wall. Publishing in Singapore is almost impossible. I had more luck publishing in overseas publications. Crossed Genres, a fantastic online magazine, offered my first real break, followed by Bards and Sages Quarterly. Writing didn’t stop after I gave birth to my second daughter: I embarked on Nanowrimo and came up with Wolf At The Door, an urban fantasy novel set in Singapore.

Along the way, I learnt a few hard truths. Publishing is difficult. Publishing with a surname/last name like “Chng” pigeonholes me into nice categories. Publishing is mostly US or UK centric. You are lucky if you find an agent. Traditional published authors have more clout. Print is better than electronic.

Let’s start with my last name. It immediately signifies that I am not white. I am ethnic Chinese, my forebears immigrants from China. So, am I supposed to write literary fiction about tumultuous struggles out of Communist China or craft a tale about mother-daughter relationships ala Joy Luck Club? I write speculative fiction—genre fiction isn’t well received by local publishers. I can’t force myself to write literary fiction. It isn’t me. Don’t get me started about postcolonial fiction. Am I supposed to be a postcolonial writer? I think and speak in English. Yet my skin color already differentiates me from the predominantly white publishing world. My educational background has a foundation in the Anglo Saxon educational system (thanks to British colonial rule). Yet people still persist in thinking that Singapore is in China. Southeast Asia is a living and breathing landscape, not some exotic region with exotic people and creatures, best savored via travel documentaries or enjoyed in small touristy bits. Southeast Asia is a real place for me. Its monsoons, its food and its languages—not some section in a geography textbook. So what am I? I am a hybridized being. Where do hybrids go?

I want to give a voice to my experiences. I want to write something I resonate with. Many stories I write now talk about the Chinese diaspora in the future. At the same time, I want to bring to people the joy of reading, the joy of finding a new world. I want to re-discover that hunger driving the reader. My best friend who read my novella wanted more. I want to find readers like that. How am I going to find readers like that? Being in Southeast Asia has again pigeonholed me in categories, fenced me up and bound me to restrictions. E-publishing helps transcend that. But even then, promotion is a slippery fish and I never know who is reading what, because my readers—if I have them in the first place—are silent. Silence compounds silence. It sometimes worries me. Is my voice going into a vacuum?

Of course, my wish is to have readers (and publishers) who forgo the ramifications of last names and ethnicities. That is an ideal. This world, unfortunately, is still stuck in a rut.

I am honored to blog at The Future Fire. It is a great magazine that welcomes non-white/non-Western writers like me. So, what’s in the store for the future (pun not intended!)? I'd like to see more speculative fiction from international authors in a magazine like The Future Fire and to have our voices heard.

Joyce Chng hails from Singapore, an island state in Southeast Asia. She writes YA SFF fiction and urban fantasy. She can be found wrangling blog posts at A Wolf’s Tale:


  1. Thanks for this compelling personal account, Joyce. Yes, we at The Future Fire are very keen to see more speculative fiction from authors who are non-white, non Anglo-American, non-Western (as well as stories with more prominent characters from under-represented groups); for that matter we'd be delighted to publish more stories that are written in languages other than English (either in translation, in a bilingual edition, or some other arrangement). And as we discussed in the comments to the Race in SF post, there's something to be said for making fiction as multilingual as real life is.

    Of course, we can only publish more stories from a World SF perspective if we can encourage more non-Anglo authors to submit, provide a convincing environment for such stories to fit into, shake off our own Anglo-American filters to see the virtue in such stories that might focus on different elements and come from different cultural traditions than we're used to.

    The same is true of all attempts to combat underrepresentation: we can't just say, "Please send us more stories." We have to be proactive and welcoming as well. All advice welcome. (Claire Light said it best: "Editorial work is hard!")

  2. One thing I forgot to mention last week... one of the best arguments for wanting to publish more World SF is made by Aliette de Bodard in The Prevalence of US Tropes in Storytelling. Let's hear more voices telling *different* stories...