Tag Archives: politics

Debut Authors of ’18 Interviews: YZ Chin

Hello and welcome to my blog series dedicated to author interviews for 2018 debut authors! This has been started as a way to support some of my fellow ‘debutantes’ of 2018. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each of these I share struck my interest in one way or another.

(See past author interviews at the end of this post!)

Alright, so reading through the inspiration and motivation behind this book gave me shivers. It looks incredibly poignant and thoughtful, and I’m seriously looking forward to sitting down and reading it.

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GENERAL

– Author Name: YZ Chin

– Book Title: Though I Get Home

– Book Genre: Literary Fiction

– Release Date: April 10, 2018

– Publisher: Feminist Press

THE BOOK

Though I Get Home is a collection of interconnected stories that spiral inward to paint a picture of current-day Malaysia. The book is tied together by Isabella Sin, a young woman thrown in jail without trial for writing “controversial” political poems. Other characters include Isa’s grandfather, an immigrant to Malaya who becomes a butler of sorts under colonial masters.

Share a teaser:

            Hunger pinned her to the bunk. Starvation impaled her through the stomach, keeping her down on the thin mattress, resisting the momentum of her feebly raised head. Her neck strained to bring her vision to the requisite level such that she could observe the movement of sun against her prison walls. The sun was her way of telling time and estimating the next delivery of food.
– Where did you get the idea?

  • My great fear as a writer is self-imposed censorship. When I first started writing fiction seriously, it was pointed out to me that I was really holding back from writing about “taboo” topics like sex. I spent a lot of time exploring the roots of this self-repression, and I realized that I had been conditioned by a lifelong atmosphere of state censorship. That realization formed the seeds for Though I Get Home.

– What’s the story behind the title? 

  • The title is from an Emily Dickinson poem (#199 Franklin; #207 Johnson). The poem is complex and full of turns, succeeding in being both emotionally heightened and ambiguous at the same time – which mirrors how I feel about the idea of “home.”

– No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

  • There is a surprising development in the main character Isa’s story arc (Kirkus called it an “unexpected twist” in a starred review). There are also explorations of Isa’s relationships with her grandfather, her mother, her father and her best friend.

– Tell us about your favourite character.

  • Isabella Sin, the young woman who is thrown in jail without trial for writing “controversial” poems. Her grandfather immigrated to Malaya and served under colonial masters, and her relationship with her parents are strained because of their separation and her preference for dating women. She is dealt a poor hand by fate, but she does her best to add a personal touch to the roles she is given to play.

– Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

  • Government censorship of the arts is a very real threat. In recent years, dancer Bilqis Hijjas was arrested and charged for releasing yellow balloons bearing the words “Free media,” “Democracy,” and “Justice” during an arts festival opening. Cartoonist Zunar has previously been arrested, and is still under travel ban for his political drawings.

 

WRITING PROCESS

– How long did you take to write this book? (You can share about the timeline from drafting to publication)

  • The book took about five years and at least four drafts. I worked full-time as a software engineer (partly to maintain legal status to remain in America), so I could write only on the weekends and in the seams of workdays. Drafts took so long to write that by the time I reached the end of the book, I was already a subtly different writer than the one who wrote the beginning of the draft, and I would have to throw out the beginning to start all over.

 

– What kind of research did you do for this book?

  • Two books by unjustly imprisoned men especially informed my work: Universiti Kedua (“The Second University”) by Kassim Ahmad and Sengsara Kem Kamunting: Kisah Hidup dalam Penjara ISA (“The Tortures of Camp Kamunting: Life Behind Bars in the ISA Prison”) by Saari Sungib. And of course, the daily news coming out of not just Malaysia, but also the U.S. and beyond.

– Are you a plotter or a pantser?

  • I sometimes pretend to be a plotter, but the stories and characters inevitably bring me down endless unexpected paths. I follow them willingly.

– What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

  • Oddly enough, my favourite part of writing does not always take place when my fingers are on a keyboard or holding a pen. It can be in the shower, or while I am taking a long walk to clear my head – the magical moments when a beautiful sentence assembles on my tongue, or when an unassailable truth about a character makes itself known in my head, and my heart knows it to be real.

– What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

  • Honestly, the most challenging part is finding enough uninterrupted time to write while working full-time in an office.

– Can you share your writing routine?

  • I write in dribbles before work and on the weekends. If I am feeling particularly inspired, I squeeze in bits of writing time during lunch breaks and after work, even though I am usually drained by then.

– Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

  • Explore another (short) project. Expand a dream into a scene. Flesh out a “what if” idea into a plot or a flash fiction piece. Flip through a notebook I keep of scattered thoughts, half-formed musings, and sentence fragments.

 

THE WRITER

– Tell us about yourself. 

  • I work as a software engineer coding in C, which is a programming language invented in the early seventies. My husband and I have the world’s most beautiful and softest cat named Meursault (after Camus’ The Stranger). I was born and raised in small-town Malaysia, and I left at 19 for an engineering education in the U.S.

– How did you get into writing?

  • I was a fat kid with a skin condition who was bullied at school (and Buddhist camp). For a while I had no friends. Books were my connection to the world. I want to extend that connection. Books also saved my life, and my hope is that someday my words can do the same for another lonely person.

– What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

  • Reading, of course. Exercise-wise I used to do a lot of weightlifting, and then I started doing more rock climbing. But I dislocated my elbow last year when I fell 15 feet during rock climbing, so I suppose I shouldn’t say it’s something I like to do anymore?

– Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

  • I am also a poet. I have two poetry chapbooks published or forthcoming: In Passing (Anomalous Press, 2019) and deter (dancing girl press, 2013). And my very first longform personal essay will be appearing soon in a magazine!

– Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

  • I used to do weightlifting as a form of exercise. I once deadlifted 245 pounds, which was 2.5 times my body weight. Ah, the glory days.

– Which book influenced you the most?

  • Toni Morrison’s Beloved changed what I thought was possible in writing. It is a masterpiece that depicts extreme brutality with intelligence and utmost tenderness.

 

WHAT’S NEXT

– What are you working on right now?

  • I’m working (for some reason) on two very different novels. One is about intimacy and the tough choices so-called “skilled worker” immigrants have to make, especially when facing health issues. The other I’m not quite ready to talk about yet.

TELL US…

– The book you’re currently reading

  • Jeremy Tiang’s State of Emergency. It’s a tightly woven story about the leftist movement in the immediate aftermath of colonialism in Malaysia and Singapore, told from multiple angles.

    PITCH

Though I Get Home is an intimate exploration of what it means to be an individual and a citizen within a state that wishes to control the narrative, which is a description that fits more countries than we would like to admit in today’s world.

FAVORITE BLURBS

“YZ Chin’s tender and furious debut, Though I Get Home, is a long gaze into a black sky; her characters are defiant enough to find light.” —Catherine Lacey, author of The Answers

“Sharp as an old wound that never heals, these linked stories remind us afresh of what it takes to survive in a brutal, racially fraught society.” —Shirley Geok-lin Lim, author of Among the White Moon Faces

BUY LINKS

 

BIO

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YZ Chin’s debut book of fiction Though I Get Home (Feminist Press, 2018) is the premier winner of the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize. She is also the author of poetry chapbooks In Passing (Anomalous Press, 2019) and deter (dancing girl press, 2013).

Born and raised in Taiping, Malaysia, she now lives in New York. She works by day as a software engineer, and writes by night.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Website: https://www.yzchin.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yzxyz/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/yz_chin
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36393578-though-i-get-home

Previous author interviews:

Pamela Kopfler – BETTER DEAD

Anna Quinn – THE NIGHT CHILD

Clarissa Harwood — IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS

Negeen Papehn — FORBIDDEN BY FAITH

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Debut Authors of ’18 Interviews: Cass Morris

Hello and welcome to my blog series dedicated to author interviews for 2018 debut authors! This has been started as a way to support some of my fellow ‘debutantes’ of 2018. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each of these I share struck my interest in one way or another.

(See past author interviews at the end of this post!)

WOW, am I freaking excited for this book. My interest was piqued just by the concept, but as I’ve read more of the content and the inspiration behind it, I cannot freaking wait!

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GENERAL

– Author Name: Cass Morris

– Book Title: FROM UNSEEN FIRE: Book One of the Aven Cycle

– Book Genre: historical fantasy

– Release Date: April 17th, 2018

– Publisher: DAW Books

THE BOOK

From Unseen Fire takes place in Aven, an alternate version of ancient Rome where elemental magic has shaped society as much as law and war. In the wake of a brutal dictatorship, two factions compete to rebuild the Republic in the shape they desire. One side is protectionist and isolationist, seeking to preserve conventional morals and keep their nation small enough to easily control; the other side is expansionist and more permissive, looking to embrace the opportunities that allies and immigrants can provide. By law, the use of magic to influence politics is forbidden, but both sides skirt the rules where they can — and some are willing to step dangerously far over the line.
– Share a teaser.

Shadow and Water both moved in him, a blend that lent itself to a strange intuition, an ability to hear words unsaid and see things not-yet-done. Drawing energy from the dark corners of the garden, from the dimming sky above, from the water that flowed into the peristyle, Sempronius concentrated on what it was he needed to know, willing the answers to come to him, etched on the surface of the obsidian mirror. His heartbeat slowed; his muscles relaxed as he eased into that place where body and mind flowed synchronously with his Elements. Thus settled, Sempronius passed a hand over the dark glass and waited, all patience, for something to surface.
– Where did you get the idea?

I knew I wanted to write a historical fantasy with a different setting than the somewhat typical pseudo-medieval-western-Europe. I’ve had one foot in the classical world since starting Latin at the age of twelve, and so working with Rome seemed a natural fit. The Roman pantheon blended nicely with some ideas about elemental magic I’d been developing for ages, and from that, the world of Aven was born.
– What’s the story behind the title? 

I am the worst at titles. If I can’t steal it from Shakespeare or a song lyric, I’m totally useless. This was just called “Aven” for the longest time. Eventually my first editor had me try to come up with something more compelling. I liked the idea of something like Scintilla, which means “spark” in Latin, with subsequent books using words for increasingly large fires, but my publisher was worried the Latin might scare people off. So I started plundering Roman poetry for elegant phrases. From Unseen Fire was among those, but my then-editor didn’t go for it, and for a while the book was titled A Flame Arises instead. When I got switched to a different editor, however, she much preferred From Unseen Fire, so we went back to that.
– No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

There are nine magical Elements, and the power to use them is seen as a blessing from the gods. About one in every thousand Aventans manifests some magical talent, but far fewer have strong powers.
– Tell us about your favourite character.

Vitellia Latona is the character closest to my heart. She’s a powerful mage of Spirit and Fire, but she’s never made the most of it, partly for lack of training and partly due to discouragement from various sources out of spite, jealousy, or just plain misogyny. In From Unseen Fire, she’s in the process of breaking free of all those restrictions and repressions, learning to own herself and take up the space in the world that she deserves.
– If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

I would love to let Aula Vitellia, Latona’s cheerful and irreverent older sister, take me shopping and then to a lovely dinner party.
– Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

They’re mostly from my imagination, though they have some historical inspiration. Julius Caesar, Tiberius Gracchus, Germanicus and his wife Agrippina, Mark Antony, Fulvia, and many other Romans have not direct analogs, but correlations in my characters.

WRITING PROCESS

– How long did you take to write this book?

From Unseen Fire began life as a 2011 NaNoWriMo project. I was trying to kick myself back into fiction writing after having done little of it during graduate school and my first years working for a non-profit organization. By early 2013, I was ready to query agents, and I signed with Connor Goldsmith in October of that year. We spent about a year polishing the manuscript through several revisions and went out on sub in late 2014, then signed with DAW Books in October 2015. The book was initially supposed to debut in September 2017, but delays related to my editor switch-up pushed it into 2018. I am the poster child for the publishing world’s occasionally glacial pace.

 

– What kind of research did you do for this book?

A lot of my research was reviving things I had studied in high school and college and then delving deeper. I had to get a lot more into the social history of ancient Rome than just the political overview and the “great men” narrative. Alberto Angela’s Day in the Life of Ancient Rome was supremely helpful, as were the works of Philip Matyczak. I’ve a full list of recommended resources on my website (cassmorriswrites.com/aven-cycle/the-world-of-aven/resources-and-history/). The most fun research, though, was taking a trip to Rome and spending a few days wandering around the Seven Hills!
– What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

This book has been reworked and restructured so much that I suspect I’ve forgotten most of the changes. The one that stands out is an enormous set piece that, during my revisions with Connor, I removed in a single 20,000 word slaughter. It’s a sequence I love, set during games at a festival, but it just no longer had a place in this book. I’m intending to rework it for Book 2, though!
– Are you a plotter or a pantser?

By nature, a pantser. When I start a story, I tend to have a strong idea of who the characters are, and finding the plot is a matter of letting them collide into each other until something happens. As I work on Books 2 and 3 of the Aven Cycle, however, I’m having to work more to an outline, since it’s what my publisher has approved. It’s an interesting challenge — I have to remind myself that I’m not irrevocably wedded to that skeleton.
– What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

The moment where pieces suddenly fall into place. It might be finding the plot element to connect two scenes, or figuring out the reasoning behind a character’s actions, or seeing a connection between two characters that I hadn’t seen before. When one of those hits, I’m prone to flailing my arms about like Kermit the Frog before returning my fingers to the keyboard.
– What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

Pacing. As a child who happily read the encyclopedia for fun, I don’t always have the best natural sense of how a story should move along. My inclination is to let characters wander into each other and have long conversations. My agent and editor did a lot to make sure that exciting incidents happen at regular intervals!
– Can you share your writing routine? 

I typically work at my standing desk in my apartment. I’m not well-heeled enough to afford a place where I can devote space just for writing, so it’s in my living room (which, in my current apartment, is also my kitchen). I tend to do my best work from about 7pm-Midnight, and I often enjoy a glass of wine to help lubricate the creative process.
– Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

No. The ideas are always there. If I’m not being productive as a writer, it’s because I’m having trouble making the time or summoning the energy.
– If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Perseverance matters a lot more than almost anything else. Learn how to take a punch and stay on your feet.
– How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Dozens.
– Do you have any writing quirks?

I have to hunt down the words “somewhat” and “rather” and slaughter them. My copy editor also pointed out that I’m over-fond of ellipses and that I often use two prepositions where one would suffice.

 

THE WRITER

– Tell us about yourself.

I’ve lived in Virginia my whole life, and most of my work has been as an educator. I spent seven years at the American Shakespeare Center, where I wrote 22 guides to help teachers make plays exciting for their students. My parents and sister live in our hometown, so I revisit my old stomping grounds fairly regularly. I live in the mountains with two cats, a nineteen-year-old calico and a seven-year-old Abyssinian.
– How did you get into writing?

I literally can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a storyteller. I got interested in writing as a career after seeing Star Wars at the age of 11, and I’ve talked about that on my personal blog (https://cassmorriswrites.com/2013/12/22/how-star-wars-changed-my-life/).
– What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Read, visit wineries, attend conventions, play MarioKart and Civilization.

 

– Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

I’ve done quite a bit of academic writing, including those Shakespeare teaching guides and a number of papers and presentations for conferences. I’ve also been a blogger and fanfic writer basically as long as I’ve been on the internet.

 

– Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

I am an utterly indifferent cook. I can make basic things like pasta, tacos, pancakes, but I just don’t have the interest in learning to make anything more complex. I can bake, though, and I make exceptionally good cookies.

 

– Which book influenced you the most?

Oh, gods. In my whole life? Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, probably. Or the Witches books from Discworld. Or The Last Unicorn. Or Harry Potter. Or Dinotopia.

 

WHAT’S NEXT

– What are you working on right now?

Book Two of the Aven Cycle, as well as drafting a space opera with a rakish heroine loosely based on Julie d’Aubigny.
– What’s your favourite writing advice?

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.” – E L Doctorow

TELL US…

– The book you’re currently reading

At the time of writing this, I’m in the middle of Glass Town Game by Catherynne Valente, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, and 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric Cline.

PITCH

Super-short version: I gave the ancient Romans magic to see what they’d do with it.

Slightly longer version:

In the nation of Aven, Elemental magic has shaped the way of life as much as politics and war. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. When the Dictator who threatened her family dies, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people — if only she can find the courage to try.

Latona’s path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history.

As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven’s fate — but will that be enough, when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery?

BUY LINKS

Amazon — https://www.amazon.com/Unseen-Fire-Aven-Cycle/dp/0756412242

B&N — https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/from-unseen-fire-cass-morris/1125456861

IndieBound — http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780756412241

Kobo — https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/from-unseen-fire

GooglePlay — https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Cass_Morris_From_Unseen_Fire?id=hyq2DQAAQBAJ

 

BIO

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Cass Morris lives and works in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with the companionship of two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Website: cassmorriswrites.com
Patreon: patreon.com/CassRMorris
Twitter: @CassRMorris twitter.com/CassRMorris
Facebook: facebook.com/cassmorriswrites
Instagram: instagram.com/cassrmorris/
Goodreads: goodreads.com/CassRMorris
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cass-morris-4509907a/

Previous author interviews:

Pamela Kopfler – BETTER DEAD

Anna Quinn – THE NIGHT CHILD

Clarissa Harwood — IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS

Negeen Papehn — FORBIDDEN BY FAITH

Clarissa Goenawan — RAINBIRDS