What is your policy on blurbing books?
Why do you write science fiction and fantasy?
Why haven’t you given up your day job to become a full-time writer?
Are you planning to write genres other than speculative fiction?
Q: What is your policy on blurbing books?
A: Please send blurb requests to my agent (contact details here). I’m particularly interested in books by Southeast and East Asian authors, though I’m not always able to read and provide quotes in time even for books and authors I admire.
Q: Why do you write science fiction and fantasy?
Short A: I like dragons and spaceships.
Long A: I read a lot of 19th-century British and North American fiction as a kid growing up in 20th-century Malaysia. This taught me to enjoy stories set in alien worlds featuring strange people who spoke a different language, had mysterious, intricate social customs, and used outlandish technology like post-chaises and handkerchiefs.
I like writing stories positing that what the ordinary Malaysian believes about the world is true. This can sometimes lapse into the supernatural.
I enjoy stories that are in conversation with other stories. Science fiction and fantasy offers a conveniently delimited selection of works to draw upon, and a community that will recognise your references.
I am afraid of death and hantu and am trying to defang both by writing cute stories about them.
It is part of my process of decolonisation. It’s as good a form for understanding the world as any other.
All of these things are true. It may be that none of them are the real reason.
Q: So you’ve got a book deal. Why haven’t you given up your day job to become a full-time writer?
A: I wrote a blog post about this! One important reason I don’t mention in that post, because it seems so obvious, is that the money is much better in law than in writing fiction. This is because most people and businesses will require legal advice at some point in their lives, whether they like it or not, whereas it is hard work convincing people that they need your story about dragons and spaceships.
Q: Are you planning to write genres other than speculative fiction?
A: Most of my ideas for new projects are fantasy (often with a historical flavour), so it doesn’t seem likely in the immediate future. Though never say never! The moment time frees up or I get struck by unavoidable inspiration, there are two genres I’d like to write more of: science fiction and romance.
Publishing and writing advice
Q: I am an aspiring writer. Will you read my book or short story?
A: Sorry, no. If you are a Malaysian writer looking for critique partners or writing buddies, you might want to join the Malaysian Writers Facebook group. There’s also a group specifically for Malaysian speculative fiction writers if that’s what you’re into. Good luck with the writing!
Q: Can you give me advice on getting published?
A: There is so much excellent advice available on the Internet about getting published that it’s hardly worth my repeating it! Typing “how to get published” into the search engine of your choice will give you lots of helpful results, but here are a couple of guides to get you started: publishing professional Jane Friedman’s (US-oriented) post on How to Get Your Book Published and a (UK-oriented) guide from Waterstones, How to Get Published.
If it’s advice about publishing short stories you’re after, I wrote a quick guide to selling short stories to Western science fiction and fantasy magazines and anthologies.
I published my novel in the most standard way possible: I wrote a whole book, I sent it to literary agents and signed with one, and eventually she sold it to a publisher on my behalf. If you would like to read about the process in more detail, I wrote a series of blog posts about my experience here: My Publishing Journey.
The process is not different for Malaysians who write in English and want their book to be distributed internationally. Living in Malaysia will make it more difficult for you to attend writers’ conferences or conventions and meet US/UK editors and agents in person, but in this day and age that does not matter. I’d never met my agent or editor at the time my book sold.
While you’re listening, I will say one last thing: getting published is not that important. It is nice to be published and have readers and all that sort of thing. But if you can turn your writing into a nourishing, sustaining practice — if you can find joy in it divorced from the need for external validation — then you will have a source of meaning and reward that no one can take from you and that is dependent on no one but yourself. That is something many people never have, and it’s much more important than book advances or reviews or short story sales.
Q: Yeah, yeah, whatever. Can you recommend literary agents I should approach?
A: Not really, because there are a lot of agents out there and which one(s) are right for you will depend on your book. Have a think about published books that are similar to yours — you can generally find out who represents the authors by looking it up on the Internet or checking out the acknowledgments page in their books.
If you pay for a Publishers Marketplace subscription, that gives you access to their deals database, which you can search to find out what sort of deals an agent has made. (You can sign up for a month and then cancel if you don’t want an ongoing subscription.) I only did this once I had offers of representation from agents, to help me decide which to accept, but you could check it out at the querying stage if you are struggling to decide who to query.
Sorcerer to the Crown
Q: Is Sorcerer to the Crown out in Malaysia? Is Malaysia getting the US or the UK edition?
A: Both the US and UK editions are available in Malaysia. The book’s been sighted in Kinokuniya and MPH!
Q: Will there be a sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown?
A: Yes! It’s called The True Queen and is out March 2019. It’s a standalone set in the same universe, following new characters, but a number of familiar faces from Sorcerer to the Crown appear.
Q: Will there ever be a sequel to The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo?
A: I would like to write two or three more novellas, also in the form of diary entries or letters, about Jade’s descendants. The idea is that I’d self-publish each of these in ebook and eventually put out a print version of all the novellas together. Unfortunately I am not sure when I will get the time to do this, so it’s a “maybe some day” right now, rather than “I have booked this out as a thing to do at an actual time in the actual future”.