I will admit - this was a thinker. Writing a monologue takes layered thought and a good amount of effort so I was quite glad to have a go of this rather early, and get it out to all of you.
This will be my final Writing Challenge for this year, so enjoy!
Prompts: Once more with feeling, Guilt
You’re not in that place anymore.
No, not the hospital. That was a problem, but something you managed to blaze through anyway.
You’re not in that place anymore.
No more smokey heat from those chili-red candles, no more glaring neon lights flashing at eerily erratic intervals, no more chanting of words in a foreign language, no more searing pain on your back, and most importantly - no constant crying from your parents and Azalea. She’s safe, at least you think she is.
You’re safe. Relative to how things were.
You’ve made mistakes - perhaps in blind panic, perhaps in uncalled anxiety - and that rubbed people around the wrong way. These people who have done what they can to keep you alive.
Eleanor and Clive have left, so it’s now just one person waiting for you.
You’ll get through this - you’ve experienced worse, and can hold your own.
And screw everyone else - you’ve had to endure whatever was carved on your back for more than a decade - they can deal with an hour of discomfort if they happened to glance your way.
Take a deep breath, go up to Morales, and tell him what you know. He has saved you and everyone else at least more than once. At least for now. There will be more to fear and fight, as long as Azalea remains uncontactable and that gap in your memories remain in the shadows.
I know you’re terrified, but there’s truly nothing left for you to do to combat these fears.
What good is feeding the terror when it does nothing to serve anyone’s needs?
With that, we mark the end of the Writing Challenge blog series for 2018. While I will continue writing, do stay tuned to see where these pieces end up at. Keep writing and sharing your stories!
Ah, the good friend of many Singaporean writers, but also my greatest challenge. I will be honest - I cannot stand reading descriptive exposition that’s too long. But since exposition also means backstory, I'm going to mix descriptions with my 'I-just-want-to-know-what-happens-next' sensibilities, so this is going to be interesting.
Prompts: Noticeable body marking, Could have stopped at any time
Nargis smiled, adjusting the scarf around her marked neck while she continued observing the distillation of whatever potion she was asked to look after.
“Didn’t do it or was taking the rap for a Master?”
“For someone who has been around convicts so much, Tormi,” she said, tapping one of the bubbles out of the pipes, “You don’t seem to take the rule of ‘don’t ask’ very well.”
The other woman, a stockier, weathered person on the other side of the potion contraption, put herself next to Nargis.
“I don’t have anything to fear from you,” Tormi replied, still fixated on the Perso-Arabic script tattooed just under her left jawline and side of her chin, “How old are you again?”
“20,” Nargis replied shortly.
“What the hell happened?”
“Don’t tell me you’re going to break your vow of silence to these convicts over a kid from the outskirts of Narkavrum,” Nargis replied, releasing the distilled potion, drop-by-drop into the vial at the end of the contraption. Tormi walked to Nargis’s other side, her eyes fixated on the latter’s right temple.
Reaching for the carved flaming flower on Nargis’s right temple, Tormi started talking again, “No one gets markings like that around here without a story.”
Nargis turned the potion contraption off.
“I didn’t do the arson,” she said at first.
“Of course you didn’t.”
Nargis wagged her fingers over the crate of potion vials next to the both of them, picking a clear vial before dispensing this batch’s first potion. When the clear, ruby liquid flowed into the palm-sized container, the citrus scent of the sumac wafting from the concoction. While Tormi took in the refreshing scent, Nargis turned away.
“Isn’t this your signature?” she asked.
“First rule of alchemy,” Nargis readjusted her scarf, this time with her neck tattoo more visible, “Inhaling everything is not the best way to go about your day.”
Tormi herself turned away as Nargis corked the full vial before handing it to the prison trader. As Tormi held the vial closer to her face, she responded, “Was that how your arson came about?”
“What makes you think that it’s not my affinity to make things burn?”
The stockier woman pocketed the vial, then placed herself between Nargis and the rest of the apparatus, “Before a good part of his mansion burnt down, the Khan’s compound was often filled with women interviewing for his son’s harem. Rumour has it that it was the work of a single dancer, a single immigrant dancer, one who managed to survive one of the worst blights in Narkavrum, one who managed to go through the ranks, that was found in the middle of the burnt wreckage.”
“Now, I’m wondering,” she continued, “The officials warned me about you - said you survived things you weren’t meant to. So I’d like to ask you one more time…”
Then, Tormi looked Nargis in the eyes.
“Nargis,” she said, “What happened to you and what are you now?”
Nargis glared back, the slightest inkling of a head cold building at the back of her head. With a smile, she pulled her headscarf away from the right side of her head, revealing a carved tattoo on her right temple, a gift from her mentors, “Maybe it’s this.”
Before Tormi could respond, a flash of black light tore through Nargis’s line of vision.
‘Hello,’ a voice sounded, ‘You seem perturbed. Something troubling you?’
Nargis inhaled deep, her head now heavy, left ear ringing, liquid trickling down her nose. Tormi rushed forward to catch the now-stumbling Nargis, asking, “Hey, what’s going on?!”
‘I see you’re brewing something,’ the voice continued, ‘Have you called me back?’
“Knock…” Nargis squinted, half-supported by the worktable and a slightly panicked Tormi, “Knock me out, knock me out!”
She felt the sting searing through her left temple before everything went black.
Nargis awoke to see Tormi standing outside her cell - a tiny little shoebox that she did her best to at least keep clean despite the cold, damp environment. Unable to fight off a smirk, she hauled herself from her sleeping platform.
“You shouldn’t be here,” she said.
Tormi extracted a cypher from her sleeve, “I’m surprised you don’t speak prison guard.”
“Okay,” Nargis stood up, arms raised in resignation, “I’m fine now, you don’t have to stick around.”
Tormi leaned closer, her forearms dangling over the prison bars, “You thought I was working with you because you’re the only one here with a perceived half a brain?” Her right hand reached into her left sleeve and extracted a piece of papyrus with an emblem inked into its stained, creased surface.
Leaning closer, Nargis almost fell back at the familiarity.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Tormi folded the papyrus with her right hand and slipped it back into her sleeve, “I don’t work with Emblems, but no one could say no to that amount of money.”
Clutching her headscarf, Nargis’s eyes darted around, her fingers tapping the air involuntarily, until she found purchase and support against the wall. Catching her breath, she leaned her back against the wall, then eyed Tormi.
“I’m fine, so your job is done,” she breathed, “Is that what you wanted to hear?”
Tormi rolled her eyes. Nargis shrugged.
A tense couple of seconds ensued - the silence dangled over a tightrope between the two.
“What else did they ask from you?” Nargis finally asked sheepishly.
“Nothing else,” Tormi answered, “But if you’re harbouring something that might endanger my work with your so-called caretakers, I’m going to have to know everything…”
The lady on the other side of the bars slowly sat back down on her sleeping platform. “You can tell them I’m fine then. And this will be the last you’ll see of me…”
Tormi continued standing there, gaze piercing through to the young inmate.
“I don’t know if any of your caretakers told you about this before you go thrown in here,” Tormi finally said, “But it’s not just the big cities and kingdoms that are changing. If there are problems in Neth, it won’t be long until the trouble reaches us.”
Nargis looked up.
“Have you heard talk about strange happenings?” Tormi continued, “Missing people, dark auras…?”
“Superstitious nonsense is common within these walls,” Nargis scoffed.
“Whatever it is, the people are getting more and more uneasy,” she said, “You’re a smart kid, and I’d expect that you’ll come out of this alive, if not stronger. But if what I saw in the lab just now had something to do with these rumours, you’re in…”
“It’s the entity that brought me here,” Nargis finally said. Tormi’s shoulders relaxed, and the inmate continued, looking over her shoulder one more time before she lowered her voice, “I was on assignment for my mentors - the Khan was suspected of being affiliated to a few networks set up to undermine Neth.” She blinked back a dull ache that was now collecting at the back of her head.
“And before I was able to gather any information, what you saw in the lab happened.”
The slightest gasp escaped Tormi’s throat.
“My mentors told me that they found me unscathed, in the middle of the rubble of what was apparently the Khan’s treasure room.”
“So I was right,” Tormi said.
“Hey,” the smuggler called after the inmate as Nargis stepped back to her platform. Tormi didn’t wait for Nargis to turn back before she continued, “I could still use your help - and you could still use mine.”
Nargis’s brows furrowed.
“You need my connection back to the outside if you want any knowledge out of this place,” Tormi explained, “And I could use someone with your talent.”
Then, she stretched her hand out for a handshake.
“What do you say?”
Nargis looked over her right shoulder as they worked, catching Tormi averting her gaze from the corner of her eye.
“So what about the flaming flower here?” Nargis turned and saw Tormi pointing towards her right temple.
“When I start owing you favours,” Nargis smiled.
Regardless, I hope you enjoyed this piece! Stay tuned for this year’s final Writing Challenge, coming up next month!
I knew Joyce from the Singapore chapter of the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), and she was probably one of the first authors of what I’d like to call mainstream pop fiction in Singapore - books you read for the adventure, fun, and speculative worlds. Now an author to various novel series, picture books, and a number of RPGs, she continues to show how we can tell the stories we want, but also not worry about the “local flavour” of our work.
Without further ado, Joyce Chng.
You have a variety of works - Rider, Oysters, Pearls, & Magic, Starfang, Wolf at the Door - and those are just your novel series. Which, do you think, continues to speak to you deeply?
Oysters, Pearls & Magic continues to speak to me deeply, soul-level. The story is an individual’s path to self-discovery which takes the form of a long and unforgiving journey. At the end, the protagonist finds themselves or continues to find themselves… which is life, isn’t it? Oysters, Pearls & Magic was originally written as a web-serial aimed at an YA audience, but the story motifs are universal.
My first encounter with your works started with Wolf at the Door and the Rider series - both of which told the story of ethnic Chinese ladies adapting to their environments. How much of yourself do you see yourself in your characters? Why?
I tend to write a bit of myself into my characters. Jan Xu, the werewolf protagonist in Wolf at the Door, is a mother - and I often wonder if there are mothers in urban fantasy. I wrote it to challenge or counter the stereotype of the leather-wearing hero(ine). Where are all the mothers? Or, better, are heroines still heroines when they become mothers with children and households to manage? Lifang, the teenager in the Rider series, is the teenager I was a long time ago. Impetuous, impulsive, idealistic, but hampered by circumstances (sometimes of her own making!).
Which one of your protagonists do you still want to have tea with today and what would you talk about?
Jan Xu. We would probably complain about our spouses and our children.
You have novels, picture books, children’s books, and now game books (RPG Manuals) out in the world - which medium do you find yourself gravitating to these days?
I find myself shifting towards visual storytelling like picture or graphic novel/comics books. I am also leaning towards more game design or RPG narrative writing.
Many writers who are parents tend to say that they write to leave stories to their children - What lessons or stories do you want yours to take away from your work?
That the sky is the limit if they believe in themselves.
And always believe that you have support, no matter what.
Don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it.
The Wolf, the Bear, the Phoenix, or the Dragon? Why?
Even the Wolf has always been a motif/metaphor/personal symbol for me, I would say the Phoenix, because my life has been a series of deaths and rebirths. Also the fire can be both creative and destructive at the same time (for the Western Phoenix). The Eastern Phoenix (feng huang) is a symbol of balance and harmony - which I hope to achieve in my lifetime.
What’s next for you?
I will have a YA fantasy out under Scholastic Asia. The novel is titled Fire Heart. That reminds me… I need to write the second book!
I have 50 words for you to go and promote yourself - Go!
I write science fiction and things in between. Here’s my wolfy blog: http://awolfstale.wordpress.com, if you want to know more about me and the things I do. If you are on social media, I could be found at @jolantru (Twitter). Psst, buy my stuff.
Joyce Chng lives in Singapore. Their fiction has appeared in The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History, and Accessing The Future. Joyce also co-edited THE SEA IS OURS: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia with Jaymee Goh. Their recent space opera novels deal with wolf clans (Starfang: Rise of the Clan) and vineyards (Water into Wine)respectively. They also write speculative poetry with recent ones in Rambutan Literary and Uncanny Magazine. Occasionally, they wrangle article editing at Strange Horizons and manages Umbel & Panicle, a poetry journal and ezine about and for plants and botany (which they also founded). Alter-ego J. Damask writes about werewolves in Singapore. You can find them at http://awolfstale.wordpress.com and @jolantru on Twitter. (Pronouns: she/her, they/their). Fire Heart, a YA fantasy, will be published by Scholastic Asia.
Before we head off and wait for November’s profile… Happy Halloween!
It has been out for a month! While I do hope that our readers and supporters have managed to get their copy, here’s a glimpse at the introduction for Issue #4: This is a Test:
Keeping the Crust...
In a fast-paced world, it’s very easy to engage in self-criticism in order to keep ahead of the curve. For some people, failure is disappointment. For others, failure is their learning point. And for a few, failure is only the beginning.
Not many of us get a second chance, or a third. The first of our three guest authors, Esther Soh, tells her tale, 'Again', where Eric lands himself in his 39th or 40th chance of a day — stuck in an eternal situation without any sign of a way out. At least, unless he tries it the next… or same day.
Humanity has disappointed time and again, though often coming out with many lessons learnt once the dust settled. That being said, Ganaesh’s story brings up the idea that sometimes, the bandages we wrap around our festering wounds are just 'Never Enough'.
New editor Wayne’s advice rings common in many storytellers’ guidebooks. While his story is titled, 'Kill Your Darlings', you might want to sit tight on this piece for a bit.
In 'The Hole', guest author Kane Wheatley-Holder reminisces on an older man’s failure in life, and a chance to make everything right through a universe-tearing portal found in his own home. Will Sunny get his chance again?
Before we put our pens down though, get your treatment plans in check. D. M. Jewelle uncovered the files of a possibly, deranged mind, leading to what seemed to be 'The Most Arresting Infection'.
Keep safe, and remember that it’s still in its testing stage. That being said, we can assure you — this issue is not a test, and even if it is, you’ve done your homework and studied, right?
Thank you, and your time starts now.
Keep your crusts on!
For those who have already bought your copy of Pulp Toast / Roti Bakar #4: This is a Test, or any Pulp Toast titles for the matter, thank you all once again for your support! Find out more about Pulp Toast or get our other issues here. You can also get copies of Pulp Toast / Roti Bakar #4: This is a Test here.
Most stories don’t happen in one place, so this challenge was straightforward enough. That being said, I don’t know if I can stop this challenge just after one transition written in.
Prompts: When we were kids, What once was lost
“Gao,” she lowered her tiles on the green-felted tables.
The rest of the players lay back against their seats, one in frustration and the other two in resignation. All three looked like they would have to walk out of the place with bags over their heads just to maintain a shrivel of dignity. The wrinkled uncle on her right peered over, his forehead lined with both disbelief and anger.
Four sets of the directional tiles and a pair of Red Dragon tiles stared back like opulent gravestones. All of a sudden, she could see the relief in one of her other opponent’s shoulders.
Thank goodness we agreed on a winnings cap, she projected with a smile.
“Dai Sei Hei,” Resonance Wong said, “Maximum.”
The hesitant shifts in the other seats preceded the grudging clinks of point chips across the mahjong table. That sequence of events then preceded the next show of frustration.
“Okay,” the auntie in her bright flannel top and translucent jade bangle said before she rose from her seat, “That’s it for me, need to be up early tomorrow.”
The second auntie at the table did the same, albeit with a preferable sneer over the saccharine diplomacy from the first auntie counterpart. The last person to leave did so with an unnecessary comment.
“One day, you will see why you need to respect your elders,” the uncle spat at her foot.
Left alone with a table of washed up mahjong tiles, Resonance shrugged and started stacking the tiles back into the Hub’s crocodile skin suitcase. A few stacks in, she lifted her head to a sound she hasn’t heard in a while.
The footsteps stopped, and she slowly lifted her head.
Wilhelm was there, doing that annoying balancing trick he liked to do with the roulette ball on his left hand, holding a folded envelope in his right.
“Something happened,” Resonance said.
He dropped the ball back into his left hand, then handed her the envelope. It was already torn open.
She took the letter out and her eyes darted across the paper. Gradually, she put the piece of paper down, inhaling through her nose in an attempt to keep her eyes steely and unwavering.
“We cremated her yesterday,” Wilhelm said.
“So why are you here?”
“Care for a ride?”
There needed to be a term to describe the smell of the night breeze, Resonance thought to herself. She was named after the inkling of good things to follow - something her birth mother would look for, and get, while she was still pregnant with Resonance.
The view from the Terrace Gardens, atop Mount Faber, was postcard-worthy, but both Resonance and Wilhelm knew they weren’t there to enjoy any kind of view.
“What are you doing here?” Resonance asked, after Wilhelm locked his car and followed her to the closest railing.
“You correctly guess Mum’s death,” Wilhelm said, “Surely you can guess this.”
“I don’t guess,” she replied, “Your mother taught me not to.”
Wilhelm sighed, his breath exhaling through his nose.
“Rez,” he said, “Something happened.”
“Mum didn’t go because of age or sickness,” he continued.
Resonance got up from the railing.
“What did this contender leave?” she asked.
And that’s it from me this month! See you all next month for another Writing Challenge!
I am excited about this post because she is probably one of my greatest influences, especially in the realm of storytelling and managing your artistic / creative side hustle.
So without further ado, here’s Wena’s profile.
You have been incredibly prolific, to say the least - Spain, China, Japan - each travel producing a piece or a series of works. Which have spoken to you the most deeply?
Chang’an, the novel I wrote after spending too much time in China and Japan, about how the two tribes love and hate each other so deeply. The title of the novel is of the Chinese city on which Kyoto is modelled. I followed the words of a Chinese artist who once told me to go to Japan to find China. I did not know what he meant until I was older. China and Japan have reflected each other for thousands of years. As we say in Chinese, 我们之间有讲不完的故事 “between us there are endless stories.”
You have always struck me as an author who places the story and the feeling behind writing the story first - have there been times where you are concerned about the ‘messages’ behind your story and how did you manage to curb the feeling?
Huh? (Blogger’s Note: Oops!) I am always concerned about the message behind my story. If what you mean by message is the idea. The ideas come first, then the story, then the writing it down. No idea means no story. When I hear people saying they have writers’ block, it’s probably because they have no ideas. When there are no ideas, writing becomes a chore.
Which one of your protagonists do you still want to have coffee with today and what would you talk about?
Probably all of them! I miss them so I read my own books whenever I feel like visiting old friends. The designer Alessi said he uses his own products in his home. I agree!
This, however, doesn’t mean I write or self-publish for myself only. Stories are meant to be told and shared. I self-publish not because I can’t find real publishers, but because I have been published by real publishers when young, and now I am mature enough to, like those older Hollywood actresses, “have my own production company”. I distribute on Amazon and major book retail platforms because I hate to get an email from a reader saying, “I can’t get your book in my country.” Traditional publishers can’t guarantee whenever-wherever availability like Amazon’s POD services can. I belong to the Generation of “Instant Click To Buy.” So I want my books to be available the way I expect books to be available to me. I also binge-read and I write my books to be binge-read too! Can you imagine if you read Volume 1, only to be told Volume 2 is sold out or not available in your country? I would go insane. That’s why I do it via POD.
Looking at your Bibliography, you can release a part of a swordfighting serial in the first half of the year, then a chapbook about making madeleines the next - how do you keep your ideas in line and track of each of your projects?
I don’t. I just do whatever. When someone who wanted to write a novel recently asked me what my “process” was, I said “none”. I completed and shared with my friends my first novel at age 14 and wrote many, many novels since. I have been writing novels for 30 years. So, for those MFA types who ask me how I was trained if I didn’t get “training” in writing, I said how many years do you work at a job before people say you have adequate training? Does 30 count? 笑
You’re on a deserted island and you’re stuck with one of your characters, who would you be stuck with - Kai, Siegfred, Taliesin, or Roberto? Why?
Taliesin. He is a fox spirit and can take any form. He is crazy funny and is never boring and will never grow old! How entertaining that would be. And I see you have not met Arthur, hero of Chang’an and Cafe Jause...Arthur would be grim. It would be like spending time with a German philosopher. I can take Arthur in small doses - although he has female (and male) fans.
You’re stuck in a maze with only an hour to get out, who would you pick as your partner - Imogen, Regina, Sei, or Alejandra? Why?
Sei would know how to get me out because she’s the Greatest Swordsperson in the Empire of Jing (gender-neutral title at her request)!
So what’s next for you?
I am writing a turn-of-the-century mystery crime supernatural novel set in Victorian Singapore with an international cast. Using the fun characters in The Great Impresario Oguri: Sparrow, an American woman boxer raised in China by monks, Koto, the Chinese-Japanese son of a prostitute, and Nakayama, a British-educated magistrate from Nagasaki. Singapore will never be the same again when seen through their eyes! 笑
I have 50 words for you to go and promote yourself - Go!
Wena has published 16 books of literary fiction and won or was shortlisted for a bunch of international literary prizes, including twice nominated for Singapore Literature Prize. Her website is www.wenapoon.com.
And that’s Wena for you! Stay tuned in October for another story, and its teller. See you all next month!
If you’re going to be around during the Illustration Arts Festival, you would see this familiar-looking cover floating around some of the booths *cough*ROLLING RONINS*cough*.
In a world that encourages overachieving at increasingly younger ages, it’s difficult to embrace the lessons that failure teach us. THIS IS A TEST showcases stories where failure is not only accepted, but a compulsory stage before success.
This issue features guest writers Esther Soh and D. M. Jewelle from Malaysian writers collective Prose-ACK!, local author and filmmaker Kane Wheatley-Holder, and guest artist Debasmita Dasgupta, from FIlms Positive.
Together with its first three issues, Pulp Toast / Roti Bakar Issue #4: This is a Test will also be available for sale at the coming Illustration Arts Festival 2018, with the Rolling Ronins. For more information on Pulp Toast, click here.
When I think Sonnets, I think poetry and it’s something I need to make some effort to get to. Luckily for my planner side, sonnets actually have a loose set of rules:
If you want to know what iambic pentameters are, this video does it rather well.
Prompts: Fading Light, Discovery
The Last Night at the Casino
Digits, coins, and cherries upon the screen,
The melody spins to the lever’s pull.
Wheels, spins, and sweeps wipe the Red and Black clean,
Chips gather, and clump the croupier’s last tool.
Felt tables give you fifty two to hit,
Be they two cards, five, or Russian thirteen.
Six-sided fate plays its last in the pit,
Schrodinger’s numbers in their final scheme.
Your tiles show you the way: North, South, East, West,
Signalling the last winds, the curtain call.
Chips cashed, the team settles down for a rest,
Mission accomplished, a side of windfall.
A final flick, when darkness came, a wave.
Until then, when they call, our next conclave.
Poetry and Sonnets are not necessarily my strong suit. Despite that, I hope you’ve enjoyed this piece! Stay tuned next month for another writing challenge.
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.