By BRYAN THAO WORRA
AAP staff writer
MINNEAPOLIS (Jan. 30, 2014) — J. Damask is the nom de plume of Joyce Chng, a Singapore-based writer whose work includes the Jan Xu series, Starfang, The Rise of the Clan, and The Rider Trilogy. She resides in Singapore with her family and likes all things esoteric.
J. Damask has also published her fiction at Crossed Genres, Semaphore Magazine, Verb Noire and Bards And Sages Quarterly. She also regularly writes on issues of Steampunk in Asia and other issues of young adult literature, science fiction, fantasy and horror.
Recently, J. Damask announced that she and writer Jaymee Goh will be co-editing “THE SEA IS OURS,” a Southeast Asian steampunk anthology through Rosarium Publishing.
Asian American Press had a chance to talk with her about her work and upcoming directions.
Asian American Press: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come into writing, and more importantly, what keeps you in it?
J. Damask: I am Singaporean (born and bred in Singapore). I came into writing at an early age. I was a reader!
Basically devoured books on shape-shifting girls, magic, boarding school, dragons etc. What keeps me at it: the passion to write? Writing is like breathing to me. If I don’t write, I am nothing.
AAP: How much research did you initially do for Wolf at the Door? How much are you doing now for your other books?
JD: I did a lot of research on wolves. I love wolves – so I have wolf books. David Mech’s books on wolves are very helpful. I also read up on Chinese mythology as well as the legends in Southeast Asia. As I wrote, I also filled in the gaps intuitively. How much research for my other books – just a lot of reading and mental jigsaw puzzling. Things happen because. Stories and myths happen because. How did the Lang come about? There are gaps in the Chinese creation myths and grey areas where we don’t know much about Nu Wa or Pan Gu… or any other supernatural being
AAP: What do you see as a major difference between lycanthropes of Asia compared to those outside of its traditional boundaries?
JD: The lycanthropes of Asia – the Lang, for example – are bound by family obligations, by blood ties and by kinship. The pack exists as a family in the first place.
AAP: What’s one trope you’d really like to see an end to in Young Adult fantasy?
JD: White magic girl meets white magic boy. End of story. (And the covers – change them!)
AAP: When are you most satisfied with a book?
JD: I think this is a question that will have a 100 answers for it. For me, a book or story is most satisfactory when it flows, makes sense and is tight.
AAP: What’s the best part of your writing process, and what’s the worst?
JD: Best part – intuitive organic listen-to-gut writing. Worst part – intuitive organic listen-to-gut writing. I should learn how to plan more, shouldn’t I?
AAP: What’s been your favorite compliment about your writing so far?
JD: That my books are something readers have wanted to see for a long time.
AAP: What’s something memorable your family told you about your writing?
JD: From my older girl: write MORE!
From my mum: writing doesn’t earn you money. *rips writing into pieces* (True fact: my mum did rip my novella into literal pieces)
AAP: What’s your advice for emerging writers?
JD: Write. Write more. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, submit your stories and make mistakes.
AAP: What’s something you’d love to talk about at science fiction and fantasy conventions in the US?
JD: Real diversity in science fiction and fantasy conventions. Not the kind of pussy-footing and lip service I am seeing now.
AAP: What seems to be particular to the Singapore approach to writing speculative fiction compared to other countries?
JD: I am not sure what’s the “Singapore approach” though. SFF writers are just writing what they like.
AAP: Do you see any challenges coming up ahead for Singapore writers to really break out internationally?
JD: Singapore is a small market by itself, so it’s not a good place for Singapore writers. Internationally? Being Southeast Asian, being Asian, having surnames/last names that are not white-ish. Publishing needs to get past that “diversity is just a lip service” mentality.
I see some headway in the local scene ( a couple of well-known writers being picked by the Big Six), but on the whole, the situation is still challenging and downright difficult. The writers who gain recognition are writing stories on trends or are so exotic or borderline scandalous (Crazy Rich Asians, anyone?) that publishers pick them. My POV, obviously.
As for Singapore writers who write SFF… well…
AAP: 2014 will be the Year of the Horse. Do you have any special plans for that?
JD: Write more. Get my stories and books published. Oh yeah, work.
You can find J. Damask’s novels on Amazon, and you can see her blog at http://awolfstale.wordpress.com. You can also follow her on twitter at @jolantru.