I first met Joyce after Pulp Toast’s first panel at All In! Young Writers’ Festival 2017. While we didn’t converse much on the spot, it was clear that the both of us are interested in Young Adult (YA) fiction and telling stories.
After reading her debut novel, ‘Lambs for Dinner’, I got more interested in the imaginative mind behind her stories. So today, I’m happy to have Joyce come and talk with us about her work, and what’s to come for her.
What spoke to and inspired you to write ‘Lambs for Dinner’? Could you share more about how you came about the story?
For me, a novel always begins with the characters. I read Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse in my second year of university, and was very taken by the idea of the man/wolf dichotomy. I wanted to explore the psyche of a person who believed he housed two disparate identities and how that would affect his relationship with people around him. How would a person like that approach a romantic relationship? What kind of relationship would he have with his surrogate parents? His actual parents? His best friend? How far would he go to protect them? That was where it all started.
Which one of your characters do you still want to have coffee with today and what would you talk about?
Come to think of it, a lot of my main characters are pretty damaged! But I still want to have tea with all of them. I like characters who are irreverent, speak their mind, and can talk about the most random things. For that reason, I'll have to go with Lexi, this free-spirited character from a YA magical realism novel I wrote back in university. Drew from LAMBS FOR DINNER comes a close second, mainly because he's so snarky sometimes. We'd trade insults back and forth until Skye tells us to break it up.
You have novels, picture books, and collections released - which medium do you find yourself gravitating to these days and do you think you’ve found a focus?
I typically write novels and short stories these days, but I've always loved writing novels the most. It was what first made me fall in love with writing, when I wrote a (terrible) mystery novel when I was 11, inspired by the Nancy Drew series.
I set up a short story blog with a couple of friends and write a short story every month, which offers a nice break from writing novels and keeps the creative juices flowing. But there's something about the process of writing a novel that keeps me coming back for more every time - plotting, developing character arcs, exploring character relationships, world-building, building the story up to the climax. It's also inevitably painful each time, but so, so worth it.
Writing is often touted as a solitary practice, but you have managed to participate in short story blog Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand for a while now. What are your greatest differences with writing on your own and with a group?
I set up Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand with my friends with the intention to keep myself accountable (nothing like a deadline and a posting schedule to make sure you produce those monthly short stories - no excuses!), to grow a reading/writing community, to experiment with different ways of telling a story (e.g. writing in different genres and forms), to get the creative juices flowing, to break away from writing the novel, and to discover new writers.
Managing this blog with Meredith and Nicole is really a group effort - we make a great team, with Nicole the meticulous organiser consistently keeping us on track, Meredith updating our Twitter profile and reaching out to fellow writers, while I handle the Instagram profile and brainstorm ideas for regular and new features.
Writing is a solitary effort, and sometimes it gets a little lonely. But with a project like that bringing us all together, it makes writing a more social activity because we share a common goal of making the blog as helpful and engaging as possible for our readers.
What’s Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand’s direction heading to nowadays? Is it aligned with where you’re going creatively speaking?
Apart from our regular stories, we're veering towards building a community and sharing our writing experiences and tips with our readers now - with regular series like Wondering Wednesdays and Writing Notebook, where we talk about each stage of the writing process, from brainstorming to writing to querying to publication. Because writing is often such a solitary activity, I love talking about process with fellow writers. It definitely reinforces my love for writing!
So what’s next for you?
I'm currently working on two manuscripts, one YA contemporary and another YA East-Asian fantasy. You can read about them in this blog post. I plan to finish either by this year and gather as much feedback and critique from beta readers and critique partners as possible so I can polish it as close to perfection for publication.
Just before we finish up, which quirky superstition do you still hold close to you today? And why?
I'm not a particularly superstitious person. But I do sometimes knock on wood especially when I accidentally blurt something unfortunate, like death.
I have 50 words for you to go and promote yourself - Go!
I'm a magazine editor by day, novelist by any other possible time. I write stories about broken people looking to belong, to settle, to escape. Those are also the stories I gravitate towards. Occasionally, I stumble upon a really good story that sweeps me away into another world, another life, another reality - and I hope my stories do the same for whomever stumbles upon them too.
Joyce Chua graduated from the National University of Singapore with a degree in English. Her contemporary YA novel, LAMBS FOR DINNER, was published by the Straits Times Press in 2013 as part of a nationwide competition. She currently lives in the perennially sunny island-city of Singapore, where she writes short stories at Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand and shares her thoughts at The Writes of Passage in between writing her next novel and dreaming about mythical worlds.
August has come and gone, but September will arrive soon with another Story, and its Teller. Stay tuned!
The challenge given was not exactly a scene where a character dies, but a scene with a death in it. Despite this, I’m going to go with the prompts and see where this challenge takes me.
Prompt: Crossroads & Dead-ends, The Best Laid Plans
The Final Piece
If anything, I was going to cross over anyway.
Do not be upset, though I know that in your usual fashions, you will probably not listen to me. Instead, ask yourselves how you’re going to move on from here.
Eamon, keep at your driving. I know you’re often overlooked or feel taken for granted. But I can assure you - even from where I am - that you mean so much more to the rest of us than ever. When the time comes for you to continue your legacy and choose your own proteges, remember that it’s the strengths of their hearts that count, and not just their sharpness of mind and reflexes. You are ready to give back and pass your skills on. I know I’ve learnt more than a few things from you.
Iris, the closer you look, the less you see, remember that. I will always remember your first day at the compound - tricked into playing 52-Pickup by the rest of your seniors. Well, what a fat lot of good they turned out to be. I don’t ever have any plans for you because you often already have those. So the next time you sleight a card from your next target, ensure that you don’t give the rest of your teammates the same slip. You may be alone at the card table, but you’re never alone in life.
Keenan, you told me that you’ll be grateful to even have dice to roll than be afraid of the roll’s outcome. Look at how far that has gotten you! The world is as fair as the dice in your pockets, but know that the dice you weight can save us from time to time. I trusted my gut and brought you into the team, and that was the same reason why you have been able to excel so greatly. The next time you roll a pair for a major decision, however, think about this instead - Did the situation call for the need to leave it up to fate? Or have you already rolled the dice in your mind?
Wilhelm, my son, my dear son. I am so sorry that you had to see me like this while dealing with all the truths behind how the family treated you because of your gift. I’m so sorry that you never had the desire or the opportunity to really connect with your father. I’m sure I’ll be able to bump into him now that I’m where I am, but now a decision has fallen onto your lap - will you be able to continue what we all started or have our team find their own way? Regardless, we love and support you with your decision, whether it’s one you pondered or one you bet on at the wheel.
Resonance, the one who got away, the one I miss at the mahjong table. Whether or not you get this message from my son or any of the team, I want you to know that I’m proud of you - whoever you have become. I trust that you have been paying back, what we all teach our students to do, like you’ve always wanted to do for a while, and at least you know your way. Keep at it. We all know that the world always need a bit of that unique twist you bring to the table. We both know that it’s not exactly the luck of the draw at the table, but the form of the hand and the disposition of the player.
I won’t be able to give you advice anymore, but I leave this realm knowing and confident with the five of you.
Regardless, I leave the choice of this team with all of you.
Know that I will support and love you all, no matter your choice.
This has been my plan.
Know the team’s. Know yours.
So that’s it from me this month. Stay tuned next month for another writing challenge!
My adventures with in urban speculative fiction.