Four Authors talk about inspiration and process (Part I)


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The SEA is Ours is a steampunk anthology focusing on steampunk coming from South East Asia. A Rosarium project, the fundraiser campaign for this project surpassed its original goal and funded at 126% on the 29th of October this year.

I asked four authors who participated in this project to join me on the blog for a conversation focusing on the challenges South East Asian writers face. Joining me in this conversation are Paolo Chikiamco of Rocket Kapre, Dean Alfaro (also known as the father of Philippine Speculative Fiction), Kate Osias (Filipina writer), and Alessa Hinlo.

Here is the first part of our conversation. Please keep an eye out for the next part in this conversation series.

I love that while we are writers with Filipino roots, we all have come to genre from different walks of life and through different pathways. Would you like to share some of your backstory, how did you come into genre and specifically how did you become aware of publishing as a science fiction and fantasy writer? Would you like to share/talk about some of your gateway authors into genre.

Paolo Chikiamco:


Growing up, almost every story I read was either a science fiction or fantasy story, whether presented in the form of a novel or a comic, a show or a game. In the eighties and early nineties, science fiction and fantasy meant imported stories, usually from the West, with the notable exception of games and anime from Japan. The first novel I ever finished was part of a series (“The Guardians of the Flame” by the late Joel Rosenberg) and I quickly devoured that and moved on to my next series (The “Belgariad” and “Mallorean” quintets from the late David Eddings)… I actually don’t think I read a stand-alone novel until I’d devoured at least nine multi-book series from the likes of Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony, and the (now sadly out of canon) Star Wars Expanded Universe. I don’t think I’ve ever lost my preference for long stories and exhaustive world building as a reader and a writer both… I think my editors will attest to that.

The first time I ever read a genre work by a Filipino author was Arnold Arre’s “The Mythology Class” and it really opened my eyes, not only with regard to Philippine Mythology (which has become a passion of mine) but also to the idea that it was possible for people like me to write and publish the kinds of stories I loved to read. Of course, at the time I thought this was just comics, and while I dabbled in illustration, I knew I didn’t have the drive to develop that talent to the point I could make my own comics.

I was always fairly decent at writing though (or so I thought to myself). There wasn’t much of a local genre industry for me to aspire to, at least that I was aware of, but luckily the Internet became readily available in Manila soon after I became interested in writing my own stories — or maybe having the Internet would have inevitably led me to the realization that I could make my own stories. I cut my genre-writing teeth on online roleplaying games (both the play-by-post and play-by-email varieties) and fanfiction, particularly those fandoms with a healthy environment of critical feedback (that was the Evangelion fandom at the time).

I first became aware that there were Filipinos writing and publishing (prose) speculative fiction when I ran across two calls for submission: one for “A Time for Dragons” (edited by Vin Simbulan) and one for “The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories” (edited by Kenneth Yu). I was in Law School at the time, but the chance to be able to be a part of a Philippine genre publication was too enticing to pass up. My stories were accepted, and in the process of dealing with the editors, I discovered the Metro Manila based community of spec fic writers, particularly Dean and Niiki and the LitCritters, and the annual Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology (which was already on the fourth volume by then, and which had slipped under my radar entirely — one of the banes of the Filipiniana ghetto). They were very welcoming, and encouraged me even when my ambitions outstripped my resume. When I started up Rocket Kapre I had, what, three published stories at the time, and zero editing experience, but the community was very supportive: a few of the more experienced writers took me out to dinner and told me what I should expect as a new editor, how to deal with any pushback from self-proclaimed gatekeepers, and basically just to say that they had my back.

Dean Alfar:

dean alfar

My mother opened the trapdoor under feet by providing a diet of fairy tales and mythology books when I was learning how to read.  I fell happily into other worlds, and so fantasy was my first and greatest love among the genres.  Later, that expanded to include horror, scifi, whodunits, and more as I grew older: comics, AD&D rulebooks and novels, and finally magical realism when I was in college.  I remember when I was young being frustrated by the selections at the local bookstore and vowing that one day I’d write my stories.  There were few Filipino authored works of interest to me (no high fantasy!), but Philippine mythology and especially folklore were things I cherished when I came upon them (rarely were they interestingly written).  In university, I began to write – plays first, then fiction. I got stories published in local magazines, won a few prizes, and I thought that was that. I learned to write by reading and writing. I was not part of academe, though later my work would win my fellowships in various national-level writing workshops.

Until I was inspired by Christopher Barzak’s “Plenty” in the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror.  I loved it and saw it was published in Strange Horizons, an online venue that seemed less impossible to submit to than the print magazines.  I submitted “The Kite of Stars” and made my first professional sale in 2003.  Later, it was reprinted in YBF&H – which rocked my world. It showed me that it was possible for someone like me – a maverick, non-academic, non-white person to get published abroad.  And if it was possible for me, then it was therefore possible for other Filipinos.

From there, I began the Philippine Speculative Fiction annuals, which are meant to help create space for speculative fiction in our country. I paid for everything out of pocket, as an independent print publisher, finally making the switch to digital format with Volume 6 of the series. I learned the ropes by doing things mtself.  I began as the sole editor of the series, then was later joined by Nikki Alfar, and later (after we instituted rotating editors to prevent only a particular aesthetics or poetics from determining what was published) by Kate Osias, Alexander Osias, Vincent Simbulan, Andrew Drilon, and Charles Tan. I’m happy to share the fact that we have published many first time authors, as well as authors who would later write more and more and get published in other venues.  Since 2005, we have published 11 volumes (10 annuals plus a “Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction”).

We also founded the LitCritters, which functioned as a form of workshop for speculative fiction authors.  We have always been open and supportive of the writers of our genres, though this workshop has not been held with regularity in the past couple of years.

Oh – and as a spec fic author, my modern gateway authors into the kind of fiction I like to read and write include Chris Barzak, Jeffrey Ford, Kelly Link, Ted Kosmatka, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Kate Osias:

Kate Osias smlr

I was fortunate to grow up in a family who had a healthy respect for fiction. (As an aside, my father chose my nickname from his favorite Sydney Sheldon book, Master of the Game.) To top it off, I went to a school that believed passionately in literature. Between my family and school, I had access to Sidney Sheldon, Robert Ludlum, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Shakespeare, Nick Joaquin and Ayn Rand, just to name a few. And because my family believed reading was important regardless of genre or topic, they also allowed me to buy all the Nancy Drews, and Sweet Valley Twins/Highs, Goosebumps, and fantasy novels that caught my fancy. I never actively labelled my choices as ‘genre’ or not ‘genre’ and, and the authority figures in my life never really made me feel bad about any of my choices. (Although I do know that one of my [Catholic] Lit teachers was mildly distressed that I had read Judith Krantz’s Princess Daisy even before sex was discussed in class.)

I lost ‘literature’ when I got to college, which is my overly dramatic way of saying that there just wasn’t time to indulge in it. Literature wasn’t a pre-requisite for the accountancy course I was taking, and between trying not to fail my  major, rebelling, falling in love, and having my heart broken, it was hard to make book browsing a priority.

Fast forward to several years later. My then boyfriend (now husband), Alex Osias, introduced me to several of his friends. His friends became our friends and we all became so close that, a decade and some odd years later, we still see each other every week. Out of this friendship, the LitCritters was born.

Nearly everything I know about writing and publishing I learned from the LitCritters. The group was led by Dean Alfar, who was already an established writer then. Along with his wife Nikki, two other friends Vincent Simbulan and Andrew Drilon, and of course my husband Alex, we strove to learn the writing craft by reading. Dean took on the huge task of selecting three to four stories every week based on a theme, designing lectures, providing parameters for the occasional writing challenges and moderating the discussions. We had the responsibility of reading the stories, writing critiques (not academic ones, mind you) and essentially stay critically aware even if the story bored us to death.

I can’t emphasize enough how significant the LitCritters was for someone like me, who never really took a formal class on writing or literature, aside from the ones provided by my high school. For one thing, it was really the first time I was immersed in the short story form. For another, this was my formal introduction to Speculative Fiction. Every week for several years, we read stories we liked and hated, and loved, and completely abhorred or were bored with, all while being forced to think critically of what made stories work and what didn’t. Sometimes, we all agreed. Most of the time, we argued and pleaded and got annoyed with each other for obviously not seeing how good/how bad the story was. These discussions, along with Dean’s lectures, are where I learned and defined my own poetics.

Apart from the reading, we also of course did writing challenges. The story I have in The SEA is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia, The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoros, was actually written because of the steampunk challenge two years ago.

Alessa Hinlo:

Alessa H - photo

My family immigrated to the United States when I was a toddler and during those early years, my grandmother lived with us. She used to be a teacher in the Philippines, so she thought it was very important to instill a love of reading and writing in me. She was my biggest fan. She’d read all the stories I wrote for school and pointed out bits of description and pieces of dialogue she loved. That encouragement was great to have early in life, because neither of my parents are big fiction readers. They approved of my reading habit since it was an “intellectual” hobby and kept me out of trouble, but it wasn’t something they did themselves. As for the writing, they meant well but they just didn’t get it. Writing for school assignments made sense because it was an academic requirement, but writing just because I had a story in my head I wanted to tell? That was harder to understand.

Even though I’ve been devouring books for about as long as I can remember, I’d say that my first introduction to SFF as a genre were the Choose Your Adventure books. I used to eat those books up and whenever I’d see a new one at the library, I’d immediately check it out. They don’t immediately seem like SFF in the traditional sense but if you stop to think about some of those endings — you get turned into a cat, a monster appears and eats you, you walk through a portal into the past — they’re 100% speculative. Maybe only the bad endings were, but since I always ended up choosing those routes, that’s what it ultimately looked like to me. In terms of formative novels, my first true exposure was through teen horror and thrillers via Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan. From there, I’d move on to L.J. Smith — and let me tell you, it was a trip to see Vampire Diaries become a hit TV show when I read those books 20 years ago! Fantasy-wise, a friend introduced me to Mercedes Lackey in middle school and her Valdemar series carried me through my high school years. Those books really captured the angst of a misunderstood, alienated teenager, telepathic white horses and all.

The funny thing about my writing is that although I’ve written stories for a good chunk of my life, I never really considered publishing as a viable thing for the longest time. That’s not something you do as an Asian-American immigrant, and especially not as the child of one. You’re supposed to get a “practical” job. Writing? Publishing? That was for other people, not me. I even say this as someone who wrote her first novel in high school (it was an epic fantasy that was heavily inspired by David Eddings and anime) and had multiple friends who, after having read said novel, asked me if I’d ever thought about pursuing publication. My answer inevitably would be: No, why?

Seeing oneself clearly can pretty hard sometimes.

I made some initial attempts at submitting a few short stories in my 20s. Even wrote a couple novels, but I went through a rough patch and took a break from writing. But things eventually got better, and I tentatively took up writing again about 4 years ago. My short story in The SEA Is Ours is the first short story I’d written and submitted during this “new” time.

Continue reading

Worth checking out


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M. Sereno (@likhain) has published Reasons I checked out of of Diversity Discussion Du Jour – a poem that gives voice to the heart’s cry of many marginalized. Read the poem and while you’re at it, check out her patreon and her art.

Hannah Chutzpah’s Beacon resonates strongly and surely. In particular the fourth and fifth stanzas which sound through like a clarion call to keep standing up for what we believe in.

Editing this entry to add Lev Mirov’s poem Columbus. Go read and you’ll understand why.

Athena Andreadis has unveiled the cover art for To Shape the Dark along with the full ToC. I eagerly look forward to the release date when I can finally get my hands on this wonderful anthology. Andreadis’s sharp eye and close to perfect sense for story promises a volume worthy of accolades and recognition.

Catherine Lundoff has published a sequence of her tweets on publicity pushes. Worth checking out.

Nightmare Magazine, Issue 37 (Queers Destroy Horror Special Issue) is now out and available. Check it out.

Booksmugglers Publishing has put out an open call for short story submissions. Check out the link and submit.

There still six days left to help Strange Horizons reach full-funding. Check out the site and while you’re at it, check out Kari Sperring’s excellent Matrilines column. This week, she writes about Evangeline Walton.

Rose Lemberg’s work hits a resonant chord in me. Her short story, Geometries of Belonging, is just beautiful. Check it out on Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Omenana’s September Issue is out. I love the focus and the vision behind this publication and it’s a joy to read through this publication. I wish Omenana a long and glorious publication life.

Finally, there’s an ongoing blog tour focusing on life as a creator and as a parent. On twitter, follow the hashtag #creatingParenting.

A Process Conversation with Aliette de Bodard


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A murder mystery set in a ruined Paris under the rule of Fallen angels, The House of Shattered wings is the first the Dominion of the Fallen series. Sweeping and evocative, Aliette de Bodard’s skill as a writer and her gift of writing immersive stories are on full display in this first book. We invited Aliette for a conversation not just around her novel, but also on her journey and her growth as a writer.

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(Photo courtesy of Aliette de Bodard)

When you look back at the Aliette de Bodard who started publishing fiction in 2006 and the Aliette de Bodard who has got a number of novels under her belt, what for you are the primary standout differences that you see?

Well, the most obvious answer is that I’ve become a (hopefully) better writer! Part of it is craft: learning the building blocks of writing fiction and how to best put them to use. Part of it is confidence: I won’t say I don’t get imposter syndrome, but I’m more aware that I *can* write, and that makes me… more in control, I guess? I’d say it makes me more inclined to challenge myself, but really I’ve been doing that since the beginning–it’s just that the nature of such challenges has evolved over the years, and that the goalposts have shifted from “writing a story that makes sense” to “writing a complicated novella with four points of view that shifts back and forth in time”…

Could you talk about the ways in which your approach to writing and to the work has changed?

One of the things that happened was that I became more aware of myself and where I was coming from; and that I had been circling the writing of fiction based on Vietnamese/French culture for a while because I was worried of a. not coming across as “authentic” enough, and b. getting yelled at by family and friends. I realized that it was fundamentally idiotic to be afraid of writing my own cultures (as we said to each other: if we don’t do it, who will?), and that authenticity was a very fraught word–a policing one that had a tendency to shut people in narrow boxes of the “One Story”, and a fundamentally inaccurate one, for everyone’s experience of their own culture is going to be vastly different!

One thing I also started to do was consciously putting more of my own experience into my fiction, which was downright scary (I’ve been raised with the idea that putting oneself forward is arrogance, and it’s very hard for me to counter this narrative in my head). But I think that it’s a necessary step, in the sense that fiction needs a heart, and that the heart, in some sense, has to be about the author–about something that matters deeply to them, about something that has enough passion to carry across to the reader.

The other thing that happened, I think, is that, as I said, I got the “basic” skills of writing fiction tucked away, which was freeing in the sense that I could focus on the content and on what I wanted to achieve with a given piece, rather than worrying about how to handle too much exposition… I think the very first story where I became aware that all of these things were happening was “Scattered Along the River of Heaven”, which merges a complex timeline and structure (two intertwined storylines interspersed with poetry), with considerations that are deeply personal (war, revolution, diaspora, and what it means for the generations that follow the war).

I’m not saying I’m terribly at ease writing this sort of thing: I always feel exposed, and I was going to send “Scattered…” to a small market for a token payment, until my husband (who’d read the first draft), looked at me and said “this is the best thing you’ve ever written and you’re going to aim low?” (he does the growly voice wonderfully well, I don’t know what I’d do without him).

What were the primary influences behind these changes (if there are any)?  Would you talk a little more about them?

It’s a complex thing, I think? Part of it was merely writing a lot, reading a lot and critiquing a lot; part of it was my husband, who’s always been very supportive and kept pushing me to try out new things.

And a big part of it, too, was going back to Vietnam in 2010 for the first time: for me, Vietnam had always been a bit of a mythical land, in the sense that while I knew I had relatives there (and relatives like my grandmother who shuttled back and forth), the family narrative is one of loss; of a country that was devastated past salvaging, and of a diaspora that was doomed to remain abroad. It was… very odd to go there, and even odder, I think, to go with my husband a few years later, because I was explaining so many things to him–that was when I realized that a number of things I took for granted were actually not common knowledge. In the wake of that, my husband encouraged me to pick up Vietnamese again (my Vietnamese used to be terrible, i.e. limited to members of the maternal family and food items. Now it’s… less terrible, at least I hope so!), and I had a lot of talks with family members about history–and, again, about some things that had become family mythology, and that turned out to be more complex than I’d imagined. It certainly… made me think.

It’s been said that we change the work as the work changes us. How has the work changed you and how have you changed the work?

As I said–the work has changed a lot, because I’ve put a lot more of myself into it, and I’ve allowed myself to do a lot of things with it, to take what I would have considered very big risks a few years ago. I don’t think I would have dared to write a novel like The House of Shattered Wings in 2006: the structure is complex, but more than that it’s a portrayal of period France that deliberately includes the colonial history, and I would have felt ill at ease writing it back then.

I think the main way in which the work has changed me is that I’ve become way less apologetic about what I write: there’s a lot of writing advice about picking large-scale events, high concepts, violence-driven plots as the only way to write something successful, and I’ve realized that it’s not the only way, and definitely not the only way for me. It’s not that I don’t write such things; but I like to focus on character interactions, on emotions and familial/friendship bonds–and over all those years of writing I think I’ve finally managed to convince my brain that I should write what I feel I must write–even if it sounds weird, or out there, or completely crazy; because it’s how I write, because it’s what I feel passionate about, and because I can bend myself to the “rules”, but, having tried it, it makes for decidedly crappy stories. And yes, it’s not going to appeal to everybody; but I’ve come to realize that “appealing to everybody” is a codeword for bland, unobjectionable stuff; or at the very least for something that doesn’t challenge the reader; and, just as I like to be challenged when I read, I would in turn like to do that to my readers!

In what ways has the increase in visibility affected the way you approach hot topics such as appropriation, sexism and representation?

It’s really tricky–I was talking about it with my sister the other night: I now have over 6000 twitter followers, and a good number of people who follow my blog direct and my FB, and  it’s hard for me to realize that so many folks are paying attention to what I’m saying! I got tagged pretty early on (mainly because I ranted too much, I guess) as an “expert” on non Western Anglo SFF (which is a complicated and fraught concept, but let’s limit for the moment to stuff from outside the US/UK/Canada/Australia/NZ and other majority white, Anglophone Western countries), and this is terribly scary I guess? There’s a whole world of people out there and I certainly don’t pretend to speak for all of them, or even to have an inkling of what all of them are up to!

I’m never quite sure what to say about representation/appropriation: I sometimes feel like I’m having arguments about basic things (like systemic bias in the industry: it looks so obvious to me, especially coming from a field–computer science–which has been… not always friendly to women), and it’s sometimes really wearying to be questioned on things that I take for granted: I’m not writing Vietnamese characters in my stories to make a political statement or win awards or whatnot. I’m writing them because they ought to be there. I’m writing them because of ten-year-old me, who was so desperate for any characters in SFF that looked like her that she latched on to anyone who had dark hair (you’d be surprised how few characters fit that particular bit).

For me, being “political” shouldn’t include things like wanting people to get basic facts about my own cultures right, or insisting that stories should at the very least attempt to represent the diversity of real, lived life. And I guess that hasn’t really changed with visibility: I’m not about to fall silent or retreat on matters like these.

One of the definite plus point of visibility, though, is that I can boost others, and in particular folks that don’t get much press, which is pretty awesome.

I wanted to ask you about another aspect of your life–about motherhood. How has motherhood affected your work? What are the challenges that you face now that you didn’t have prior to motherhood? I know that women writers often face this challenge and so I wanted to hear from you what you think we need to take into consideration when we contemplate the career traject of women writers.

Motherhood has been weird. I think it’s… possible to ignore a lot of the sexism in the field and in society when you’re not a mother–but the moment you have a child and childcare comes into the equation, there’s all sorts of more or less ugly prejudices that come into play. As a mother, I’m often made to feel like a failure if I don’t live 100% for my child;and I’m expected to provide the bulk of the childcare. And I’m very fortunate in that I have a great family; that my husband doesn’t really believe any of that, quite happily supports my writing, and will quite happily take care of the child while I go off to conventions. But all the same, the societal expectations are there, and they’re pretty heavy; and they’re also so entrenched in the hive mind that it’s *very* difficult to argue against them.

(and also, of course, being pregnant and breastfeeding is very time consuming, and there’s really no way to hand that off to a partner, no matter how helpful they want to be! And, beyond societal expectations, there’s points when children want their mothers and not their fathers, and it really has to be me who comforts him after he’s fallen down, or scraped a knee, or needs to go back to sleep…).

From a pragmatic point of view… well, I think it was Ursula Le Guin who said that babies eat books, and that’s certainly true. There’s less time–it’s normal, as there’s an extra person to take care of. The thing that hit me hardest was the loss of my brainstorming time: I hadn’t realized how much time I spent daydreaming or doodling prior to writing a story, and suddenly that was no longer possible because I had to keep an eye on the child. Surprisingly, actually, revisions and interviews and things that are are… more circumscribed and require fewer brain cells are pretty doable: I managed to keep a pretty fast turnaround on revisions of The House of Shattered Wings, but writing the first draft was like pulling teeth.

I’ve not had issues with publishing, actually (everyone has been consistently great), but there is a thing where writers are expected to produce regular and fairly close together work lest they sink into obscurity–and that’s clearly that much harder when you have young kids at home, and your schedule is liable to take a big hit without a moment’s notice… And there’s the issue of how you network, promote, and go to conventions if you have to stay at home with the kids, and all those things–I see it a lot with young mothers: we tend to just drop off for a while, and I’m not saying it’s a rule or that men are immune to that sort of problems, but the truth is that it’s often very different for young fathers. Again, different societal expectations and biological constraints…

I’m  interested in the kinds of complexities that you struggled with as a child of both cultures who has inherited this legacy of colonizer and colonized. Would you like to talk about it?  

It’s… complicated (yes, I answer that a lot!). I think a lot of what I grapple with is that colonialism (and its aftermath of wars) was horrible and full of atrocities, and yet that I and many other people wouldn’t be there without it; that the culture itself (the dishes that I love, the language) wouldn’t be the same; in fact that the country itself would be utterly irrecognisable if that hadn’t happened–it’s a history of bones and blood and deaths, and yet, like any history, it’s the one that led us here and made us what we are.

There’s also some mixed race issues in general: genre has a pretty horrific record. One of the only books I ever threw against the wall was one of Lovecraft’s (“The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, I think?), when the main character goes mad upon discovering he has mixed blood. Terms like half-breed, crossbreed, mutts, are being used in everyday vocabulary to refer to mixed-race people: I find them deeply offensive, and a lot of people don’t even seem to realise there is a problem being compared to animal husbandry (if not to outright abominations). I think a lot of it comes from a US perspective, where miscegenation remained a crime in some states for a long while; but it doesn’t really make it easier or less hurtful when it shows up in random books or in people’s conversations.

One of my favorite things about House of Shattered Wings is how I’m drawn in by your world from the get go. I read page one and boom…I’m totally immersed. What was the most challenging aspect of writing this work and how did you overcome it?

I struggled a lot with the exposition–this is a novel set in Paris in the aftermath of magical devastation, and much as it would have been interesting to see The Great Houses War, this isn’t what I wanted to focus the story on. I was talking earlier about the weight of history, and that is definitely a book that is front-loaded with it; where characters and events only make sense in the light of what has happened before; where it’s important to know how we got there. It’s not obvious to keep a relatively fast pace (with murders and plots and assorted backstabbing) and still juggle all of this in the background!

Who was your most challenging character and why?

I think my most challenging character was actually Asmodeus, the Fallen leader of House Hawthorn? He’s in a position of prime plot mover and in opposition to pretty much everyone. I found him deeply frustrating, because he has reasons for everything he goes, but I’m not in his point of view, and he’s certainly not the kind of person who’ll stop and explain (especially since all the point of view characters either despise him, fear him, or hate his guts). It’s really tricky to have him do what he does and have it make sense, without giving the feeling that I’m cheating the reader! It’s also difficult to render the fact that, he’s actually no better or no worse than everyone else: again, it’s tricky to do when all the point of view characters feel otherwise–and it’s been an education seeing how I can build up a mental image, even from several points of view, that can still be inaccurate or incomplete.

You talked about feeling/being less apologetic and I wanted to revisit that statement again to ask you to expand a little more on it. I know that many of us who come from a non-anglophone and non-US centric culture struggle with this issue among other things. What would you say to the young and upcoming writer who struggles not only with the challenges of getting published and gaining visibility in the field, but who also struggles with use of culture among other things?

I can only speak to my own experience, of course–but it seems to me that one of the things that people from non-Anglophones/non-US centric cultures struggle with is what to do with their own cultures. Because of hegemony, there’s a lot of baggage, and cultures from outside the “mainstream” traditions tend to be devalued even by people who are members of it. I’ve seen, for instance, lots of people set stories in the United States–and it can be totally fine to do if that’s what you want to do, but sometimes it’s simply because you are afraid that your own hometown will be too exotic, or not appealing enough; and because there is a steady stream of Western Anglophone (mainly US) media that is taking over the world and seen as edgy and cool, and that’s what you end up writing because it’s what you’ve been watching that’s wildly successful. And I’m angry–not at the writers (of course not!), but at those who complacently sail through insisting that Hollywood stories are universal, and successful because they’re good (and not because of a marketing machine and a concerted campaign of stifling local industry); as if there weren’t huge cultural biases in place.

But mostly what I would say is: your culture is your heart. Don’t let anyone tell you what to write or how to write beyond matters of craft (and again, if your writing involves writing outside of your culture: do so! Just be aware why you’re doing it, because hegemony can be quite insidious). And be aware it’s a delicate line to walk between learning the fundamentals of storytelling, and being convinced that there is only one right way to do it. You need to hone your skills and learn how to be a better writer, but not lose yourself in the process (and I realize that’s easier said than done, and that it took me years to get to this point). And, also: it will get better. The field is changing at a positively rapid pace, and there’s more and more space for people beyond the Western Anglophone world. I’m not saying it will be a smooth and easy ride, or that there will be no prejudice, or no moment when you want to bang your head against the wall. But you’ll get through this.

(and now I feel really ridiculous giving writing advice, lol)

I know that you’re very much involved in a lot of mentoring and supportive actions behind the scenes. How important are these activities to you? Do you consider them as being essential? If so, why?

I know I felt very isolated when I was starting out–I was living outside Anglophone countries, writing in a second language and coming from different traditions to the majority ones. I learnt a lot of things from the writing communities I was part of, and made lots of friends–and I want to pay that forward. Again, from experience, I know how useful it can be to have people you can turn to for advice and experiences; and I feel you benefit from them at any stage of your career (well, at least the ones I’ve seen so far. I’ll let you know when I get to super-stardom :)). I think mentoring and support are very important activities, and they’re especially primordial the more isolated and further away from the mainstream people are.

I know that we’ve spoken before on the need for support and community. What role does this play in your own writing life and career?

Well, for starters I don’t think I’d be there if I hadn’t had some tremendously supportive friends! A lot of my writing is staring at a draft and being utterly convinced that it’s rubbish and unsalvageable, and I need people to tell me that a. it’s not, and b. how to fix it. I also feel, coming back to the motherhood aspect of things, that I have to give a shoutout to my husband, who not only plods through my drafts and ruthlessly annotates them for logic problems, but also kindly takes care of the child when I need to hammer out something or urgently be somewhere.

Name five books on your bookshelf that you revisit again and again? Why these books?

It depends a lot on my mood! But I reread Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings (and subsequent books in the Lymond Chronicles) every few years, because they’re wonderfully erudite historical with a larger-than-life main character, a compelling love story, and one of the most gut-wrenching scenes that I’ve ever read (at the end of book 4, if you’re wondering). I also reread Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, because Pratchett has been such a source of inspiration, and I think this is one of the best Discworld books–which is both a hilariously funny take on Christmas and also a very sharp and pointed one. I’ve also read Nguyen Xuan Hung’s “Tales from Vietnam” cover to cover a dozen times; because it’s a slim book, and yet one that is surprisingly packed with stories that I find myself returning to, again and again. In epic fantasy, I have a bit of a weakness for Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker, which tackles subjects like faith and belief and heroism (and has a pair of kickass heroines). And finally, I regularly reread Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft, which is full of no-nonsense writing advice and techniques (and there’s a recent second edition that’s been completely overhauled).

(and, hum, I’ll throw in a sixth one for free: Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, which is just a treasure trove of facts about food!).

I want to thank Aliette for taking the time for this blog conversation. On the internet, you can find her at Follow her on twitter @aliettedb.

Visit Aliette’s website for excerpts and for links to stories set in the Dominion of the Fallen universe.


A Process Conversation with Zen Cho, author of Sorcerer to the Crown


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Sorcerer to the Crown is the first book in a historical fantasy trilogy. This novel which marks Zen Cho’s debut, while described as a cross between Georgette Heyer and Susanna Clarke is very distinctively Zen Cho. The novel might rightly be called a novel of manners, but Cho escapes being didactic and offers us a world that is engaging and brings to life the very real dilemmas that overcome those of us who must maneuver through complex situations in life. carries an excerpt from the novel, which you can check out by following this link. I’d like to say thank you to Zen for taking time out of her busy schedule so we can bring this conversation to you on PUSH.


(Photo by Darren Johnson / IDJ Photography)

I want to say here that I’m utterly charmed by Sorcerer to the Crown. I’m so excited by your voice and by your ability to tell a story with depth and with such a deft and light touch. It’s a rare gift and I’m glad for your voice in the world.

It’s not an easy thing to be able to balance the serious and the light in any particular work. I’ve watched you do it in The House of Aunts and here, in Sorcerer to the Crown, I see you doing it again. (You have my admiration because I don’t know many who can do this). What was the biggest challenge for you in writing Sorcerer to the Crown and how did you overcome it?

There were a lot of challenges! I was in the process of working out how to write a novel, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. That should be in the present tense, to be honest, because I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing … But with Sorcerer to the Crown, the process of writing a first draft and then a second draft and then revising that multiple times was very new. I think the hardest thing about the proess was just keeping at it — pushing past the fear to try new things with the story, until I hit on something that worked.

Of course, there are lots of improvements that could still be made to the book, I’m sure, but you do have to step away from the work and declare it finished at some point.

With the story itself, striking the balance between the serious issues I didn’t want to gloss over and the fun stuff was definitely a worry. It was very important to me to focus on characters who aren’t usually the focus in the Regency romance genre — people at the sharp end of imperialism — but that brings along baggage. It made the story more interesting — there was never going to be a version of Sorcerer that was about a rich white guy — but of course you feel a responsibility not to seem to play things down. At the same time I was determined that it should be a fun book. The books I personally love best are the ones that put you in a good mood when you’ve read them, without sacrificing substance, and that’s the kind of book I want to write. So that was an interesting tightrope to walk!

I find myself very interested in your choice of setting as well. What were the particular challenges of setting this novel in this time period and what lay behind your choice to do so?

I just like Regency England as a setting. A lot of my favourite writers have used it: Patrick O’Brian, Susanna Clarke, Naomi Novik, Georgette Heyer … I enjoy the language especially, the way sentences are constructed, and the way you can play with the social norms.

This is a fair question, but I wonder how often white Americans get asked why they set their books in Regency England!

You have to do a bit of research when you write about a historical setting which is so familiar to fiction readers — people already have a certain vision of Regency England and you need to be careful about your worldbuilding details. I read a lot of history while writing the book, but I enjoy that so I wouldn’t call it a challenge.

Actually two things annoyed/annoy me about the setting, which are less about the book and more about me. Firstly I felt compelled to read a lot of period fiction and diaries, letters, etc. of people who lived at that time, and while this is something I enjoy, it did mean a lot of my reading time was taken up by white people. I’m quite behind on contemporary SFF because I just don’t have the time to fit it in with all my writing-related reading.

The second thing is that you can write about non-white people in Regency England, and you can even write about communities of colour in Regency London and probably other places, like Bristol and Liverpool. But the particular setting and story I chose inevitably meant that most of the supporting characters were going to be white. That’s on me, but it bothers me a bit.

I know that we all come to SFF through various means and we have varying canons. Your work has been compared to authors like Georgette Heyer and Susanna Clarke. Are they part of your canon? Who are the authors/works that mark your entry into SFF?

I don’t know if I’d call either of them canonical for me, though I like Heyer’s books and love Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I came to them relatively young, but maybe not young enough for them to have entered my canon. That was pretty much closed after age 16 …

The authors that marked my entry into SFF are probably: Tolkien, Pratchett, Diana Wynne Jones and Edith Nesbit for fantasy; Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ and Ursula Le Guin for science fiction. And the 19th century authors I grew up reading, like Austen and the Brontes. They don’t write genre, obviously, but as a kid in 20th century Malaysia, I read them as one reads genre — as windows on an alien world.

I love that you wonder as to how many white Americans get asked about their decision to set their work in Regency England as I have read my share of books written by white Americans set in Regency England and have often wondered how true those depictions were to the setting and time. (How many Dukes exist in England? At a certain point, I wondered if the UK was made up of nobles only.) So it’s interesting to me to read about the process you went through in choosing this setting as well as the dilemma you faced. I do love that you chose to write Zacharias and that you don’t flinch from presenting to us the complexity of maneuvering through a society where he is a minority.

You wrote about your complicated feelings with regards to your particular choice of setting because of your supporting white cast. Have you come to a resolution regarding those feelings? Do you intend to address this in the following books? Can you tell us without spoiling much? 😉

The feelings aren’t that complicated — I just made a decision some time ago that I should invest most of my time and energy, as a creator, in stories that are not about white people, because I’d spent so many years before that invested in stories that focused on white Westerners to the exclusion of every other type of person. In writing Sorcerer I was obviously trying to avoid producing the latter type of story, but you can’t challenge a thing without focusing on it. So my feelings are like, “This is annoying, but I had reasons for doing it, and you can’t do everything with a single trilogy.”

Is that a resolution?

I think it’s quite healthy to live in a state of slight tension with oneself.

I’m not going to address the issue in the next books really — as I said, I think it’s something that comes with the setting and the type of stories I’ve chosen to tell, which are inspired by the tropes of Regency romance. It’ll have to wait for the next series!

Maybe this comes back to that issue of striking a balance between the serious and the fun. As I said, I enjoy the tropes of Regency romance, the elopements and the inns and the banter and the parties. And maybe playing with those tropes doesn’t fit with one of my projects, which is writing stories set in worlds where whiteness is not a bigpresence, but then that’s only one of my projects. Something like Zacharias’s story, where he’s just this guy growing up alone in a white society, without a black community, is a story worth spending time and energy on.

One of the things that I wanted to ask as well, concerns your own position as being probably the first Malaysian writer to write a major fantasy trilogy. Does this carry particular stresses for you?  We’ve spoken before of the burden of visibility and of representation or being seen as a representative. How do you feel about this and what do you think or feel needs to be addressed regarding this matter?

Am I the first Malaysian writer to write a major fantasy trilogy? If we say trilogy, maybe … there’s Yangsze Choo whose YA fantasy novel THE GHOST BRIDE was an Oprah Book of the Week pick. Heights I don’t dare to dream of!

I do feel a certain pressure. In an interview I did with David Barnett for the Independent, he calls me an “unwitting poster girl” for diversity in SFF and it’s probably just as true to say “unwilling”, haha. I feel a bit like that about my position in the Malaysian writing community, like — I’ve just been here toodling along doing mything, and suddenly there’s this whole other side of me that I don’t even have a full picture of, which is people’s perceptions of me.

I get it from both the Westerners and the Malaysians, of course. Western SFF asks me about Malaysian SFF, and I’m like, honestly, apart from the slush reading I did for Cyberpunk: Malaysia, I’ve been spending the past two years in Regency England, what do you want from me. 

The Malaysians are very supportive but sometimes they’re very annoying as well! Like any community you have disagreements and even bickering, but I don’t necessarily feel I can engage in that. Like if I’m snotty to someone on Facebook, maybe they’ll worry that I’ll turn my US/UK publishing contacts against them. (Not that I have that power, obviously, but you know as well as I do that people often have strange ideas about publishing.) But maybe I’m just being perasan (full of myself)!

To an extent any burden I feel comes from how I choose to engage with the communities I’m a part of, as much as from how they choose to treat me. I’m lucky to be able to move between worlds in this way — it’s as rewarding as it is occasionally stressful.

Talking about the issue of diversity, when you look at genre today, what do you see as being the biggest challenges facing writers coming from the margins? And what kinds of conversations and actions need to take place in order for genre to become a more welcoming and inviting space for writers coming from traditionally marginalized spaces?

I often feel the biggest challenges are internal. That probably comes from my privileges — there are serious external challenges, like illness and poverty and the stresses that come from that, which will affect the marginalised disproportionately and are a huge obstacle to creativity. Put very simply, though, you need support and resources in order to be creative — including emotional support, and resources like time and emotional energy — and being from a marginalised group by definition means you have less access to support and resources.

That’s the first challenge, to link up writers from marginalised backgrounds with the support and resources to enable them to do the work, and then after that it’s a matter of getting the work out there and getting people to read it and appreciate it. I think US/UK genre has become more open to “diverse” writers and writing; there’s a genuine interest in reading work from countries outside the US/UK and hearing voices that have been historically shut out, but at the same time, people are quite lazy. That sounds harsh, but I include myself in it — your tastes are shaped by what you’ve read and watched before, and it takes a little effort to understand stories that use a different voice, that follow different storytelling conventions, that are trying to subvert the dominant paradigm. There’s a quite large group of people who are “yay diversity” in theory, but I think the number of people who have then said to themselves, “OK, if I’m committed to this, I need to start reading outside my comfort zone and making an effort” is maybe a little smaller.

I am not an activist and I don’t really have any bright ideas for addressing these issues that other people haven’t already come up with and are doing. I think we need numbers — we need lots of writers from the margins because then at least the burden of representation is shared! And we need a couple of bestsellers, to convince the industry of the commercial viability of our work. The best way to persuade the powers of be that we matter is to have some power ourselves!


Aside from novel writing, you’ve also authored a single-author collection and edited Cyberpunk Malaysia. But before these things even happened, you’d published The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo (still one of my most memorable reads). What was it that prompted you to publish Jade Yeo and offer it online for free? What are the advantages/disadvantages (if any) of doing this?

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo is an awkward length — it’s a non-speculative short novella, around 23,000 words — and there just weren’t that many markets to submit it to. I submitted to one digital press and got rejected, so I thought, why not self-publish as an ebook? Romance is way ahead of any other genre when it comes to self-publishing — the readers are there. And I thought it would be good training to learn how to format the file for self-publication and work out where to sell the ebook and so on.

At the same time that I self-published the story as an ebook, I posted it online for free on my blog because at the time I’d just launched my website,, and there wasn’t a huge amount on it that was new. I felt I should offer people something so they’d come and have a look at the site.

I wasn’t looking to earn a lot of money. I expect there are other approaches that would have been better for maximising profit. There’s also not a lot of prestige to self-publishing unless you sell bucketloads, though it isn’t as stigmatised as it was before e-publishing became a thing. The main thing I wanted to do was get more readers and I think it probably worked for that. People do still buy the ebook and come up to me at cons and say how much they enjoyed it, which is really beyond my expectations.


Your single author collection Spirits Abroad won the Crawford Award. It sounds like a fabulous award, btw. What was it like for you? How did you feel when you were told that you’d won it?

Happy, of course! It’s funny in a way because these awards always feel like a bit of an anticlimax at the time I’m told about them. I immediately start thinking about how little I’ve done to deserve an award, it has been months since I’ve written a story I can be proud of, I am a big fraud and will never do anything good again, etc. etc. (I mean, not that I’ve won a lot of awards, but I had  a similar reaction when I was told I’d been nominated for the Campbell.) Of course this is way more about me and my neuroses than about the awards.

I do start enjoying the award later, once I’ve got over the reaction. And actually winning the Crawford Award was nice from the get-go, despite all the stupid voices. I just suddenly felt like I must be a real writer if they were willing to give me the Crawford.


I haven’t yet read Cyberpunk Malaysia, but I’ve heard lots of good things about it. I remember how enthusiastic about this when we were at Worldcon, but we didn’t really get to talk about it after that.  I’m really curious as to what goes into putting such an anthology together. Would you talk about the process of putting this anthology together. How do you make decisions on stories to publish? I’m thinking there must also be some difficulty if you have to turn down writers you know, how did you deal with this?  

I don’t think I quite knew what I wanted the anthology to look like when I started reading the submissions for Cyberpunk: Malaysia, but I did know what I liked, so I picked stories that I liked. It’s been impossible for me to read reviews of the anthology, actually, because I feel so tender of the stories that I get really defensive — almost worse than I am about reviews of my own fiction!

I ended up with more stories that I liked than I could use in the anthology, so that’s the stage at which I started thinking about what I wanted the focus and the flow of the anthology to be. Though I tried to avoid too much repetition, I deliberately picked stories that echoed and built on each other thematically. This is also the stage at which I started looking at the identity of the authors and the protagonists, to try to ensure a balanced Table of Contents.

I did worry about the fact that the Malaysian Anglophone writing scene is so small that it was inevitable that I’d be passing on stories by writers I know and want to support. But I didn’t find that it was a problem once I started reading the submissions. Who the writers were didn’t get in the way, because I really did just focus in on my experience of the story. I read at least half of the submissions twice, though, because I wanted to be sure that I was giving every story a fighting chance on its own merits.

Hopefully the writers whose stories weren’t included in the anthology get that it is what it is, and it doesn’t mean I dislike their work. But honestly, at the end of the day, my job was not to protect their feelings. My job was to put together an anthology that was as good as I could make it.

What are the top three things you would say to writers who are just starting out?

  1. Find your joy and write the things you like. Don’t worry about the market or anything like that. There’s always space for a good story.
  1. Keep going. Be prepared for long periods when all you hear is “no” and it feels like nobody cares about your work. Everyone goes through this, including the most successful writers you’ve heard of.
  1. Publication is nice, but ultimately it does not matter. When rejections get you down, remember that nothing can take writing away from you.

Aside from the trilogy you’re working on right now, what other projects do you have in the works or what projects do you want to work on next?

I have a fairly demanding day job and I’m still doing some promo for Sorcerer to the Crown, so it’s enough of a challenge reserving sufficient energy for writing the trilogy! All my writing energy is going into book 2 at the moment. I’d like to write a novella at some point — I’ve got a couple of ideas that might do — but when I’ll get the time for that, I don’t know.

Finally, where can we find you on the internets. 🙂

My website is — it has information about my books and where you can get them. I’m zenaldehyde on Twitter and Instagram, and zenchobooks on Facebook — my Facebook account is public, but if you’d like to be added, do drop me a message letting me know who you are.

I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Zen Cho. Click on book covers to follow links to the books. We’re sharing both the UK and the US covers here as I think they’re both so pretty. Thank you for reading and thanks again to Zen for taking the time out for this conversation.

sorcerer_front mech.indd


Some links


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Where Ghost Words Dwell is an ongoing project from a collective of writers posting pieces in an anonymized diary form. The trick is to find out who the snippets belong to.

M. Sereno (Likhain) has a Patreon with regular art and diary updates. Inspiring and beautiful work. You too can be a patron of the arts. 😉

Athena Andreadis’s* Starship Reckless is always worth reading. I loved this entry: Ayn Rand: Dreams become Dungeons.

Some Thoughts on Tragic Queer Narratives by Catherine Lundoff, a thoughtful and thought-provoking read.

Alessa Hinlo, Paolo Chikiamco, Nghi Vo, Kate Osias, Robert Liow and other SEA authors are part of this Rosarium project edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng.

Tade Thompson has a great post over at Scalzi’s The Big Idea. He talks about his novel, Making Wolf. There’s also a great review of the novel at this link.

Can’t get enough of Aliette de Bodard’s House of Shattered Wings universe? The romantic caper, “Of Books and Earth and Courtship” has recently been made available through the usual outlets. Kissing happens.

Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown has been getting really great reviews. The UK version was recently released and as the author says: “the book is properly out in the world now”.

I keep hearing great things about Kate Elliott’s Court of Fives. I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s on my reading pile and I’m looking forward to it.

I also am looking forward to Malka Older’s Infomocracy. I’ve taken a peek at it and it looks very promising indeed. I’m intrigued by the premise and am looking forward to spending time with the book.

Morgan J. Locke’s Avatar Trilogy is back in print. I enjoyed Up Against It a lot–the opening to that novel is pitch perfect. Reading this book reminds me that science fiction is at its core, a fiction of possibilities–possible futures and possible solutions.

Janis Ian recently released an audiobook which she recorded together with Jean Smart. Patience and Sarah is a GLBT historical romance written by Isabel Miller in 1969. Follow this link to learn more about it and to listen to samples.

One more link that I think everyone most definitely must read: Daniel Jose Older’s The Doomed and Beautiful Reach: On Prose and Music.

*Edited to correct Athena Andreadis’s last name. In my haste, I used Athena’s twitter handle. It’s corrected now. Missing links have also been added. 

A conversation with Bill Campbell



Late 2012, someone pointed me to a submissions call for a project named Mothership:Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond. The first thing that caught my eye was the art that accompanied the call for submissions, the second thing, was the mission-vision statement behind the project. Much later, I came to know the man behind the project. Author, artist and rebel, Bill Campbell shares the vision behind what we now know as Rosarium and his approach to publishing.

During the book launch for Mothership in Amsterdam, I remember you saying that we didn’t need to sit at anybody’s table because we had our own table. Would you like to elaborate a little more on that? 

First, I really have to thank you for helping to arrange that signing. I loved it. It was definitely a highlight of my life. I hope we’ll get to do something like that together again.

Now, what I’ve been saying along those lines is that when you ask for a place at the table, all you get are table scraps. What you need to do is build your own table.

What I mean by that is that we (and I’m talking about the African-American experience here) have been here before. America has a long, proud tradition of becoming enamored with, co-opting, and then abandoning African-American culture (from the barbershop quartet to jazz and rock and roll to the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, Blaxploitation, disco, you name it). At their heights, these artists thought they finally had a place at the table, only to ultimately be told, “There’s no interest in black culture,” and being kicked out and left cold and hungry.

The one exception has been hip-hop (so far), where there has been black ownership, co-ownership, distribution deals, etc. While by no means perfect, it is the one movement where artists have had more control over their own destinies to help make hip-hop the global phenomenon it is today.

They built their own tables. As I said, this model is by no means perfect, but it’s something that we artists of color should learn from. That way, when the time comes that the larger culture says there’s no market for what we’re doing, we have a better chance at sustaining our art.

On your website, it says that Rosarium Publishing was established in 2013. Would you like to share some of the story behind Rosarium Publishing. What made you decide to put up this publishing company? 

Basically, since 2004 I’d been self-publishing because there were no publishers interested in what I was doing. Even my really successful agent couldn’t find anybody who was interested in what I was doing. Meanwhile, with the first book, Sunshine Patriots, every blue moon I’d hear from a literature professor here and there about how much they liked the book. One grad student even wrote part of his dissertation on the book. Then Koontown Killing Kaper ended up being taught in a handful of colleges and universities, too.

So, there I was in 2012, with hardly anybody knowing I even existed, selling books out of the trunk of my car, and having to drive to some college to lecture about my work. I kept thinking how ridiculous it was that I was considered by some to be good enough for academia but not good enough for a publisher. I also started thinking that I couldn’t be the only writer this was happening to. Around that time I met Brett Cottrell, who was self-published despite writing a mighty fine novel (which we’ll be publishign as The End of the World Is Rye). So, I was fairly convinced that I was onto something. Then, when I came up with the idea of Mothership, I knew that I was going to be the one who published it. Hence, Rosarium was born.


You put out the anthology Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond in 2013. What made you decide to do this project and what was it like putting together this anthology? What was the most important thing for you about it? 

You’ll have to blame social media for that. I started realizing that there were just a lot of writers of SFF popping up, getting published, and winning accolades. When I started writing the stuff back in the early ’90s, I felt like a kid on a desert island. There were Delany and Butler (both of whom inspired me to start writing the stuff), and I didn’t know about Charles Saunders and Steve Barnes. So, yeah, it felt mighty lonely out there. But because of social media, I got to see all these names of people I’d never heard of, and people from all over the globe (like yourself) and saw that they could really write. I just thought that this is a really exciting and dynamic time in the field and that somebody ought to document it. It wasn’t before long that I realized that that person was going to be me. When I asked Edward Austin Hall and John Jennings to be a part of it, their enthusiasm was so great, that I knew I was onto something.

As I said, I think I accidentally stumbled upon the zeitgeist. So, it was really exciting and really nerve-wracking to do something like this. I’d owned my own music trade before, but I’d never done anything like this. But because of the zeitgeist (evidenced by We See Different Frontiers, Long Hidden, and Steampunk World), the reception and enthusiasm was far greater than either Ed or I could’ve possibly imagined. It was one helluva ride!

The most important thing? Well, as I said, it was to help document this exciting moment in SFF. There are a lot of talented writers of color out there, doing good work. Also, as far as representation goes, I really believe that people should be able to tell their own stories and also to add a bit of color to the monochrome future that Hollywood’s SF often paints. I think we were fairly successful on both counts.

For a new press, you’ve gotten busy and visible very quickly. What’s the experience been like so far? Have you encountered any major obstacles? How have you dealt with them? 

Hectic! Ha! I wear a lot of hats (well, physically, only my Fishbone and Homestead Grays hats): father, husband, government worker, author, publisher. But I can’t complain. It doesn’t look like how I envisioned it when I decided I wanted be a writer when I was nine, but I’m living the dream. There’s really no money in it, but I actually really enjoy every facet of my life. Not a lot of people get to say that, and, for most of my life, neither did I. How can I complain?

How do I deal with major obstacles? Well, I’m a working-class black kid from Pittsburgh (with an immigrant father to boot). It ain’t supposed to be easy. I just keep my head down and power through. Plus, I’ve got very supportive friends, an incredibly supportive family, and a lot of people cheering us on from the sidelines. Also, now that Rosarium is 18 strong, I have a lot of shoulders I can lean on and a lot of people willing to help and give me advice. I really couldn’t do it without all those people in my corner. Rosarium is very much a collective. Those obstacles become a lot easier to deal with when there are a bunch of people willing to help each other over them.


Tell us about the new and upcoming projects from Rosarium Publishing. What should we look out for? 

Well, as you noted, we have been very busy. So, we’ve got projects lined up all the way until November of 2015 already. We also signed with a new distributor, so some of the things we had scheduled for the rest of this year are being held off until April. So, come spring, things are going to get very exciting.

Recently, we released a beautiful art book, Pitch Black Rainbow: The Art of John Jennings. John is the artist who gave us the Mothership cover. We also released the 40th anniversary edition of the classic crime novel, The Jones Men, by Vern Smith.

On the comics end of Rosarium, things are simply exploding. We have DayBlack by Keef Cross. It’s about a vampire tattoo artist. Keef is an incredible artist who’s transferred his tattoo style onto the page. It’s less of a traditional comic book and more like an art book with words.

Then, in the next few months, we’re dropping a bunch of new titles digitally (at first). There’s the hauntingly dystopian Corporatica by William Bryant and Pedro Elefante. The kids’ comic, Malice in Ovenland, by Micheline Hess, about the encounters a little girl has with the grimy ghouls in her mother’s oven. Kid Code by Damian Duffy, Stacey Robinson, and John Jennings. That’s a hip-hop Dr. Who story that’s simply freaky. Jennifer Cruté‘s very adult and very funny coming-of-age comic, Jennifer’s Journal. And Tim Fielder is working on his dieselfunk comic, Matty’s Rocket, which will just knock your eye sockets out.

Then in the spring we’ll have Brett Cottrell’s The End of the World Is Rye, which is about an angel who comes to Earth and might just cause the Apocalypse all over the perfect sandwich. John Jennings will be dropping his hoodoo noir, Blue Hand Mojo. Of course, as you know, we have two new anthologies that we’re very excited about, The SEA Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia, edited by Joyce Chng and Jaymee Goh, and Stories for Chip: A Literary Tribute to Samuel R. Delany, edited by Nisi Shawl and me. And your fellow Mothershipper, Tade Thompson, turned in this fantastic, African crime novel, Making Wolf. It’s a wild ride that will be coming out in the fall of 2015.

So, yeah. Very busy and very exciting. Rosarium is a very good reason to get up in the morning. We’ve been fortunate enough to assemble a very talented crew of artists, and we’re really hoping to make our mark within the next year.

I think that for us, it’s not just the writing but also that we are engaged in creating spaces where our work can breathe. What’s it been like for you as a writer producing work that deliberately questions existing narratives? 

Well, you know, my writing is all over the place. I’ve hardly stuck to one genre. In my role as a satirist, though, I think it’s almost my duty to make everybody uncomfortable. There are orthodoxies on all sides of the political spectrum (hell, I’m guilty of them myself) that could use a bit of shaking up. And, when you do something like that, there are people who are going to praise you for it, people who will willfully ignore you, and people who will despise you for it. But I think the importance of satire is that it shakes things up and it does help open up those spaces you were talking about for further dialogue. It just depends on whether or not the writer is personally willing to be unpopular to do write like that and if readers are willing to have their own beliefs questioned and are willing to question them themselves.

I was thinking of the way in which you approached stereotypes in Koontown Killing Kaper. Would you like to talk some more about the inspiration behind that and the process of writing that novel as well as the response the novel has received? 

It all started with My Booty Novel. After the psychedelic trip that is Sunshine Patriots, I wanted to write something a bit lighter. MBN is basically “fluff for nerds” about black nerds in love. But I was told by someone in publishing that my book wasn’t “ghetto enough.”

Now, my father is from Kingston, Jamaica, and my mother is from a small mining town in western Pennsylvania. When they got married, they moved to the suburbs of Pittsburgh. So, my not being “ghetto enough” is simply an accident of birth (just like most of the things people are labeled as are). So, why should I be punished as a writer because I didn’t grow up the way they thought black people should’ve grown up or talk about the subjects these publishers thought I, as a black writer, should be talking about? White writers aren’t punished for not being “Appalachian enough.”

Then I just started thinking about how American popular culture often treats African-Americans, how they constantly portray black folks as somehow less than, how they constantly portray us as criminal and dangerous and as “thugs.” Then, when you look at the statistics, you see that these portrayals only hold true for a minority within our minority. Yet, you would think that most African-Americans live this kind of lifestyle.

I started thinking of American popular culture’s treatment of African-Americans as nothing but propaganda. That this modern-day thug portrait isn’t much different than the antebellum portrayals of the “happy darky” in the old minstrel shows. So, basically, you can look at Koontown Killing Kaper as a modern-day minstrel show. Like, if black folks truly lived the way we are portrayed as living, KKK is what our lives should look like.

The reaction to Koontown has definitely been a wild ride. No publisher wanted it. I basically lost my agent over it. Very few press outlets wanted to cover it. There were events that wouldn’t let me appear with the book. There were events where I was disinvited. There was even one event where I was black-balled during the event. For two days I sat there at the con and nobody would talk to me. There are still people who (without having read it, of course) refuse to acknowledge the book’s existence.

On the other hand, it’s still my most popular book. The fan reactions have just been wonderful. And, even with all the blind eyes that have turned from the book, Koontown has somehow found its way into academia, and there are a handful of professors who have taught the book. So, it’s been wild, selling books basically out of the trunk of your car, getting turned away from conventions, and then going off to some college and lecturing on that very same book. It’s actually been quite fun, really.

Who do you consider to be the most important influences on the work that you do? 

Wow, that’s a really hard one. I guess that would be sort of like, Who’s your favorite child, right? I guess, when I was writing Koontown, it would’ve been Ishmael Reed, Darius James, and Voltaire. I really wanted that no-holds-barred approach as opposed to the more genteel, Hollywood approach to satire.

But, in general, the writers who really inspired me would probably be Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Samuel R. Delany, William S. Burroughs, Octavia Butler, Jorge Luis Borges, Kurt Vonnegut, and Leslie Marmon Silko. I think what inspired me most about them is just how unique they are, what singular voices they possess. So, I never really wanted to write like them because I felt like even if you went back in time to when you were five with the express goal of growing up to write like them, you would still fail. That’s what I wanted when I started writing—to somehow be so unique that people would think, “That’s a Bill Campbell novel.” I doubt if I’ll ever get there, but, if you’re gonna dream, dream big, right?

I can’t imagine you just not having more projects than publishing. Are you working on a new novel? What’s in the wings for Bill Campbell, the author? 

Well, as you know, I am wearing a lot of hats right now: publisher, editor, government employee, father, husband, etc. So, I haven’t been writing for a very long time. Actually, I wrote my first original bit of fiction for the first time in almost four years recently. It’s Baaaad Muthas: A Spaceploitation Extravaganza. It’s a comic book send-up of all the different ’70s exploitation movies about an all-female group of space pirates/James Brown revival band. Micheline Hess will be working on it for me. Hopefully, we’ll have something out by the fall of ’15.

Other than that, it is all about Rosarium. We have a very talented corps of writers and artists, and I am doing everything I can to make this a successful venture. Oh yeah, and the Samuel R. Delany tribute I co-edited with Nisi Shawl, Stories for Chip. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write another novel in the foreseeable future, but right now, my hands are more than full.


Books you might want to check out

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho –Sorcerer to the Crown is the first book in a fantasy series. Cho’s work is engaging, witty and fresh.

Cyberpunk Malaysia edited by Zen Cho– I have not read this collection yet, but I am looking forward to reading this collection of Cyberpunk from Malaysian authors. Also can’t help loving it because it’s produced by Buku Fixi, a Malaysian Press whose vision appeals to me.

Afro SF 2 edited by Ivor W. Hartmann– Five novellas in one.

Making Wolf by Tade Thompson– Check out the conversation here at PUSH, then go check out the book.

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard– First book in a series, de Bodard keeps going from strength to strength. de Bodard’s prose is beautiful, her work both immersive and cathartic. An excellent read.

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott– put this book on your list. I keep hearing great things about this book and can’t wait to read it.

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan – January 2016 seems so far away. I want this book available today. Check out the Gollancz website for the cover reveal and announcement.

Philippine Speculative Fiction X edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar – This book marks the 10th year of the Philippine Speculative Fiction series. Check out the ToC.

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson – this is Hopkinson’s second collection of short stories.

Patience and Sara by Isabel Miller, performed by Janis Ian and Jean Smart – An audio book, a historical love story about the romantic between two young women in a puritanical New England farming community.

Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson – an astoundingly talented writer who displays an excellent mastery of his craft. Wilson is one of the important new writers in genre today.

Serpentine by Cindy Pon – I keep hearing excellent things about this book and it is on my TBR pile. Check it out.

A Process Interview with Tade Thompson


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Weston Kogi, a police officer in a supermarket in London, returns to his home in West Africa for his aunt’s funeral. After catching up with his family, his ex-girlfriend Nana, and an old schoolmate over good food and plenty of beer, it seems like a bit of harmless hyperbole to tell people he works as a homicide detective. But when he his kidnapped by separate rebel factions to investigate the murder of a local hero, Papa Busi, Weston soon finds out that solving the crime may tip the country into civil war. A noir novel set in the blazing sunlight of the tropics, Making Wolf is an outrageous, frightening, violent, and sometimes surreal homecoming experience of a lifetime.

Summary of Making Wolf as shown on

Tade Thompson is one of the arresting new voices coming from the UK SFF scene today. I first met Tade at the Nine Worlds convention held in London Heathrow in 2013. We were on the same panel and long after the panel ended, I found myself thinking of the straightforward, cutting truth that this writer was saying. People say that there are pivotal moments in our lives and meeting Tade Thompson and getting to know his thoughts and his views on complex subjects such as cultural appropriation and writing as a minority in the SFF field was one of those moments for me.

Tade’s work is raw, visceral and packs quite a wallop. 

Making Wolf is Tade’s first published novel. None of his characters are spared and we see a writer intent on revealing his characters in the fullness of their humanity.

The passion behind the work shines through–a clear portent of the kind of writer Tade Thompson is well on the way to becoming.

Tade (8)

First, I’d like to congratulate you on the publication of Making Wolf. One thing I found fascinating about this novel was what I would call resonance. I recognize the narrative of the one who returns home from away and who feels the need to create a certain impression. The way Church seizes the opportunity with your main character is also another recognizable thing.  Would you be willing to talk about the choices you made in the writing of this novel?  What issues did you struggle with and how did you overcome them?

Thank you, Rochita. It was a long road. It’s not exactly an established genre, so one has to thank Rosarium for taking that chance.

I made a deliberate choice to write the book in the noir tradition. I read a lot of Chandler and Spillane when I was young. I knew this wasn’t going to be an “African” novel as I had no interest in what is now called “The Single Story”. I wasn’t going to shy away from anything, but I was not going to conform either. Making Wolf is also a kind of memoir, You would be surprised at how many of the more surreal events actually happened.

I struggled with honesty. If you’ve read the book you’ll see that some of the scenes are…difficult, for want of a better word. I had to fight myself to put them down and to leave them there after the revisions. I also struggled with writing noir in bright sunshine, and trying to manage the collision between what is essentially an American art form and Yoruba culture. I’d like to think I managed to pull it off without coming across as neo-colonialist.

Making Wolf is a visceral novel and I wondered ( if it’s not giving away anything) if you could tell us if there was a scene that stood out for you in particular as the one that shines for you the most? What is it about the scene that makes it so?

It’s not easy to talk about this, as my favourite scenes are in the last part of the book and would definitely give things away. I can say, though, that what I like about it is the nature of the reveal. I think it subverts certain gender expectations, especially in West Africa.

What I find attractive about your work is how there’s an edge of rawness to it–it’s not raw in the sense of the work is unpolished, but it’s raw in the sense that I can practically touch the emotions on the page. In your own choice of reading matter, what are the key elements that you look for? Why?

I’m glad it comes across like that. I have no time to read or write pap. While I am interested in plot, I read for the emotions, for the humanity. I can’t stand stories or books where the writer moves characters around like chess pieces. I want to know how they feel, I want to explore their true feelings, the things they are ashamed of. That’s what rings true to me.

In my own pleasure reading I need that visceral quality, like Cormac McCarthy or Dambudzo Marechera, people who do not hold back. You don’t need to be told; you read their work and you know they just slit a vein and spilled blood on the page.

Added to the above, I wanted to ask if you have go to writers and how the works of these writers resonate or touch your own work?

I read way too much to be able to narrow this down. I hope the books and writers I enjoy just serve as spiritual influence, and that my work doesn’t come across as pastiche. Continue reading

Guest Post: Didi Chanoch

I met Didi for the first time at World Fantasy 2013. His insight into genre, his passion for translation, his willingness to invest of himself, and the heart that he puts into the work he does are sorely needed in the field today. When I heard of Nova Press’s crowdfunding project, I asked if he’d be willing to write a guestpost for Push.

It’s early days yet, but this project that will see translation and publication of current sff books into Hebrew has been met with an enthusiastic response. I hope Nova Press will continue to find support and gain traction as Didi seeks to bring his translation dream to the world.

In this guestpost, Didi talks about the vision behind his project and how he picks books for publishing. Thanks to Didi for writing and translating this post from Hebrew into English for the bookblog.

How I pick books for publication

As we launch the Nova Press crowdfunding campaign, I wanted to write about the reasons that lead me to select books for translation and publication. There are many, and some are less obvious than others.

It’s important to me to publish books that are enjoyable. I’ve reached a stage in my life wherein I don’t often consume media because it is “important”, and mainly consume what seems like it will be fun and enjoyable. This doesn’t mean it has to be light and fluffy, of course. Many different things can be enjoyable, but I want our books to improve the level of joy in our readers’ lives.

It’s important to me to publish authors and works from the present. At my first job as an editor, a main part of my mission, as I saw it, was to bring readers important/classic works that were never translated. Works the local market missed or forgot. It’s been many years since, and most of those have been published. Moreover, I think genre is really interesting right now, with many new and emerging writers who have brought a variety of new voices and flavors to genre. This doesn’t mean we’ll only be publishing new authors, but they will definitely be a focus.

A diversity of voices is important to me. Author Elizabeth Bear called this decade “The Rainbow Age of Science Fiction”, and I fully agree. Many of those new and emerging writers I mentioned in the previous paragraph aren’t white men from North America or the UK, and I think it’s important to bring those voices to Hebrew readers. Our first two books (The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu and Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone) were written by American men, but the list of future books is very diverse, both in terms of gender and geographically.

I love science fiction and fantasy equally, but I don’t love all sub genres equally, and my selections will reflect that. I’m certainly not ruling epic fantasy out, the bar it would have to pass is very high. I’m not fully ruling out so called “hard” science fiction, but it needs to be astounding. I see science fiction and fantasy as ways to explore people and society, and the books that use the tools of genre to do that are the ones I love.

Finally, I want to get back to the first point: enjoyment. It is important to me that readers enjoy our books. I see a publisher as the servant of two masters: readers and writers. I want to give the writers I love a new audience in a new language, and I want to give Hebrew readers books they will love. Books they will enjoy, that’ll make them think and feel and argue. I believe that if we can do that, success will follow.

A version of this post was originally published in Hebrew on the Nova Press blog:

Didi Chanoch is a translator, writer, and editor with over 20 years’ experience who has decided to take the plunge and become a publisher. Support him at


When we started the blog in 2013, the intention was for my sister and I to conduct online conversations about books in pretty much a similar way to how we did it at the dinner table back home. Sometime between it being about reviews, we got the idea to do interviews too. My elder sister read and reviewed, I interviewed authors and posted process conversations as well.

Time passed. My sister got a fulltime job which meant less time to read and write and hardly any time to keep up with correspondence. While I miss her presence in my inbox and on the blog, I also realize that we each have our lives to live. Books however, have always been a passion for me. I read books as escape, as a means to visit places I might never get to visit, and I read books to broaden my mind. I love the surprise of books and I love learning more about the people behind them.

I’d like to continue this blog and am asking friends if they’d like to join hands with me in boosting voices we love and bringing them into the spotlight. This is why I’ve opted to change the blog name as well as it’s focus.

This blog will still feature authors and their works, process conversations and the hopefully more regular signal-boosts of books and authors. There may be an occasional aritcle.

What’s important to me though is to use this blog as a platform to focus on the written word and those who write.

A book blog must have at least one picture of books.

A book blog must have at least one picture of books.