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Sofia Samatar, Stephanie Feldman and me!

19 Mar


Sofia Samatar interviewed me and Crawford Award co-winner Stephanie Feldman about fantasy, family, history and diaspora over at Electric Lit. We did the interview in a Google Doc, and it was really interesting to me how Stephanie’s answers and mine reflected each other, often unintentionally. Here’s an extract!

Samatar: Spirits Abroad and The Angel of Losses are such different books: Spirits is a short story collection, Angel a novel; Spirits uses quite a bit of humor, while Angel is written in a more melancholy mode. Yet they share an interest in fantasy and diaspora. What’s going on there? How does the fantastic relate to diasporic experiences?

Cho: As with many Malaysian writers in English, it actually took me a while to figure out how to populate the sort of fantasy stories I liked with the sort of people I knew in life. So there wasn’t an immediate connection between culture and fantasy, for me.

But I think there is something there. Diaspora involves such a huge disruption, an interruption in continuity. Fantasy or mythology or folk stories, the stories of the improbable that everyone tells, are one means of maintaining continuity, and also of reinforcing connection. As a Chinese person, what claim can I lay to being Malaysian except that I was born there, I absorbed the stories of the local hantu, the English I speak is a Malaysian English? As a Malaysian, what claim do I have to being Chinese, except that I grew up on stories of monkey gods and magpie bridges and rabbits on the moon?

So maybe magic — the fantastic — is the thing that survives all that travel from the original point, that loosening of ties to land and people and languages. …

Feldman: Fantasy was my way of talking about one aspect of diaspora: displacement, whether it results from immigration, war, or even one generation unable (or unwilling) to communicate with the next. In each of these cases, there’s a gap, something missing. In my case—personally, and in The Angel of Losses—what’s missing is Jewish Eastern Europe.

The novel uses fairy tales to recreate that world and its legacy. It never occurred to me to use strict realism. Magical realism comes easily to me, and here it gave me the freedom to follow emotional truth, instead of adhering entirely to research. It also reminds the reader that my Europe is an invention; it’s a huge responsibility, after all, to tell another person’s story, and I want the reader to be mindful of where my voice begins and ends.

But most important: Fantasy let me explore how the stories we choose to tell are as much about us—our questions, our needs—as they are about our subjects.

Read the rest here: Fantasies that Bind: a conversation with Zen Cho & Stephanie Feldman.

The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic

5 Nov

Here is an interview with me about The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic!

Urban Mythic: Zen Cho Interviewed

I talk about my story THE FISH BOWL and refuse to play favourites among the writers on my Malaysian SFF in English list.

The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic was launched at World Fantasy Con last weekend, so you can now buy it at Amazon and Amazon UK. My story is about a stressed out teenage girl who is granted three wishes by a mysterious fish possessed of ill intentions.

The koi’s mouth opened and closed, an intermittent surprised O. Its white skin was so smooth it seemed scaleless. It would feel like silken tofu if you touched it. Seen from above, the fish’s one eye looked heavy-lidded and wise.

“Are you a magical fish or a door-to-door salesman?” Su Yin whispered.

Trigger warning for self-harm. I don’t usually put trigger warnings on my stories (though let me know if you think I should on any of the others!), but this story contains depictions of actions that read like self-harm, though there’s probably room for differing interpretations.

After this I only have a “meet cute” story in Fixi Novo’s Love in Penang anthology, and then I don’t have any new individual short stories coming out anywhere for a couple of years lor. Which is a natural consequence of shifting my focus to longer stories, but I dunno if that’s a good strategy or not. Only time will tell, I guess!


10 May

Hi! I’m a Malaysian living in London. Sometimes I write stories!

You can find out more about me at About, or read, download and purchase my stories via Stories. Feel free to comment or otherwise contact me if you’ve got any questions.

First post

23 Apr

I’ve set up a website with my own domain name and everything! It’s just meant to be a convenient place to collect links to my stories that’ve been published, but … it has not been so convenient setting it up. We soldier on. In the meantime, please ignore any cracks in the plaster!