Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.
Today I’m delighted to have the opportunity to interview a writer who creates thoughtful, innovative works of science fiction and fantasy, for young and adult readers, across a wide range of subgenres – author Joyce Chng.
As she notes on her website, born in Singapore but a global citizen, Joyce Chng writes mainly science fiction and YA. She likes steampunk and tales of transformation/transfiguration. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History, and Accessing The Future. Her YA science fiction trilogy is published by Singapore publisher, Math Paper Press. She can be found at A Wolf’s Tale (awolfstale.wordpress.com).
Her most recently published work is Water Into Wine, a space opera novella from Annorlunda Books. It’s available online from your preferred ebook provider or directly from the publisher at http://annorlundaenterprises.com/books/water-into-wine/, and in paperback from Amazon and CreateSpace:
When war comes to your planet, everything changes… perhaps even the meaning of family and identity.
What part of our family and identity is given to us by the circumstances of our birth, and what do we construct for ourselves?
Xin inherits a vineyard on a distant planet, and moves there to build a life… but an interstellar war intervenes. Will Xin’s dreams of a new life get caught in the crossfire? Xin’s understanding of family and sense of self must evolve to cope with the changes brought by life on a new planet and a war that threatens everything.
[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Joyce! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?
[JC] Hello! Thank you so much for having me here.
Mmm, what’s the meaning of breaking in? I keep on getting the image of a thief or a robber forcibly entering a house. It feels as if I am not meant to be in the industry/scene at all. I feel like an intruder in the traditional publishing world and an outlier in the small press world.
If you want me to answer truthfully: I don’t know. The standards of the publishing industry change all the time, especially for non-USian & UK people. I don’t think I really broke in per se. The challenges and realities are quite daunting. It feels like the stakes kept growing steeper and harder. The goal posts keep changing. “Oh, you wrote this? Can you write this and this and this?” “How come you are not authentic enough?”
Wolf At The Door was published by a small/independent press as an ebook in 2011. It had minimal success. I am not even sure if I broke into the industry then. The Sea Is Ours, a Southeast Asian steampunk anthology edited by Jaymee Goh and me, had more success, because it was published at the right time when people were eager and actively looking for diverse and inclusive representation.
What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?
I had no strategy. I just wrote. Wolf At The Door was a Nanowrimo 2009 project where I expanded a novella written earlier in that year. When I was done, I started looking for publishers. People told me upfront that Wolf At The Door couldn’t sell. I still believe that it wouldn’t even in today’s climate. The book changed publishers a few times. Things happen. Things will happen.
The only take-away from this was…. sheer stubborn tenacity. It’s not just a matter of hanging on and persisting… but finding people who believe in you and making things work for you. Then you can hang on and write more, because you have a support group, be it your family, your friends or your writing group. Writing can be an exhausting experience when you don’t have friends and allies to help you. It drains you. You burn out. You will find people ghosting out on you when you desperately need help. I burned out a few times. I managed to write short stories while I struggled with finding publishers. These short stories found their place in anthologies for which I am grateful.
Fox Spirit is an awesome publishing house. So is Gerakbudaya. They both published Wolf At The Door in a collaborative effort so that the book is accessible to people in different regions. Gerakbudaya published the book in Malaysia and it is far more accessible for people in Southeast Asia to purchase the book. The different markets and regional demands often make it difficult for books to be sold. I would like to see more collaboration between publishers in the future.
And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
Publishing has changed somewhat with the diversity initiatives etc. Agents are now more forthcoming with what they want. Publishers have open submission periods now.
Likewise, there are crowdfunding, Patreon and selfpub options available. But I hasten to add that crowdfunding and Patreon would only work well if you have a large supporter/reader base.
Some of my stories are only available to my Patreon supporters. Some are available on online reading platforms such as Wattpad or my blog. You can reach your readers in many so many ways now.
I guess I would still continue writing, editing and submitting. That’s my job. That’s what I do. Work on your craft. Do not be afraid to fail. Don’t put a limit on age.
Plus, stick with good people, be good and do good.
Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?
It’s the same, to be honest. SFF will still focus on the popular, the successful and traditionally pubbed. People will still remain the same.
It’s so easy to become jealous and bitter of people’s achievements. That’s a dark path I have seen people wander down and even I was tempted to.
Examine your own expectations. Are you writing for glory, for acknowledgement or are you writing for yourself? If your answer is to write for glory and get that big publisher/agent, it might work for you, but not for others.
Remember this: always write for yourself. Write the heart books. Write the books and stories that make you sing. I feel the happier when I write stories that do not fit trends. Of course, they don’t sell, but the joy of writing your own stories is better than churning out something mass-market.
What are you working on now?
A sword YA fantasy.
How can people keep up with you online?
Thanks so much to Joyce for the interview! “Be good and do good” is excellent advice for all human beings, authors and otherwise.
Joyce and I are both contributors to the Skiffy & Fanty website, so I knew she was a thoughtful and insightful writer, but I hadn’t read any of her fiction before Water Into Wine. It’s a deeply impressive book, profound and moving, and I encourage you to seek out it, and her other work.
Please also consider supporting Joyce on Patreon — or her current crowdfunding campaign to help her to attend the 2018 International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA). We need perspective like Joyce’s in SF&F, in both our fiction and our discourse!