Airship Ambassador: Hi Joyce, thanks so much for joining us.
Joyce Chng: Hello! I am honored to be part of this wonderful interview.
AA: You have an extensive list of published work, including The Bones Shine Through With Light in the Insignia series, Dragon Dancer, and Wolf At The Door (as J. Damask) . Along with all of your writing, you have edited the anthology, The Sea Is Ours: Tales of Steampunk SEAsia. What can you tell us about it?
JC: Hehe, I started writing (semi-pro-ish) about 2009, started writing and submitting earlier in university newspapers and literary magazines (was rejected straight away)… I didn’t give up. As for The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk SEAsia: It is an anthology of Southeast Asian steampunk stories by Southeast Asian writers. Forget about the usual tropes of gears and cogs, we have singing flying giant fish, women with a lot of agency and stories set in Southeast Asia.
AA: I’ll just admit right up front that I loved reading these stories! Hoe did it get started?
JC: Jaymee Goh and I wanted stories by Southeast Asian writers. I guess we wanted to create and read stories that are not the usual white-dominated ones we find in genre. I mean, come on – we hail from Southeast Asia. It is a diverse place, rich with legends and mythologies. We were/are sure that the stories would definitely rock or resonate with people. I think this sums it up very well:
Southeast Asia is the lesser-known Asia, the Asia confused with other Asias. Some know us by our typhoons and tsunamis, as the land where refugees and cheap labor come from, or as the sad, downtrodden, Third World region where Westerners go for their exotica and sex tourism.
Southeast Asia is a rapidly modernizing region, home to unique flora, fauna, cultures with long histories of towering civilizations, and peoples picking ourselves up in the wake of imperialism. Southeast Asia is a place of far flung dreams, rising metropolises, high-end technology, and myriad languages. Each Southeast Asian country has its unique history and treasures.
AA: In that diversity arises so much potential, as readers see in these stories. Aside from sharing stories by authors, what is the goal for The Sea Is Ours?
JC: The goal is to showcase stories by Southeast Asian writers, stories that are re-imagined, re-mythed and re-made via a steampunk lens. Stories that speak of – and are set in – possible and alternate histories. I have read from somewhere that history is not only about the victories and achievements, but also the choices not made, the paths untaken or unrecorded. We often learn about Southeast Asia through all big events, incidents and themes in (male, white, cis) history. Why not stories that show the possibilities of histories, why not stories that include diverse voices? The stories that explore intimate human relationships and relationships with the landscape?
AA: Why specifically choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel for these stories to tell?
JC: I think steampunk has so much potential, not just a matter of Victoriana, gears, cogs and dirigibles. The ‘punk’ aspect gives us so much room to play with. We can make fantastic technologies, create cyborgs with bamboo punk and relish the joys of ‘what-ifs’. It’s not just Victorian England, it’s also about the rest of the world.
AA: Steampunk really does present a wide open landscape to work with. There are twelve authors contributing to this anthology, what can you share with us about their backgrounds, and what we can expect from them?
JC: They hail from diverse backgrounds and countries like Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam. They all bring into the anthologies their own perspectives and experiences of being Southeast Asian and Southeast Asia, be it diaspora or not.
AA: How did you round up the group?
JC: We solicited stories from known Southeast Asian writers and writers of Southeast Asian descent. When we had our core, so to speak, we had an open call.
AA: Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?
JC: Stories of love, stories of resistance and revolution, aswang, dragons, and spider fighting!
AA: What objects or things play a major role in telling a story?
JC: To be honest, there is a mixture of objects and things. For some stories, it’s the mythology or mythological creature (aswang and giant flying singing fish!), others the landscape (volcanoes!), and games (spider fighting – a game I had grown up with in Singapore!). But the key motif is always the protagonist and his or her interaction with the people and environment. Relationships are a powerful thread that kinda stitch the anthology together. Lovers, sisters, spousal, father and daughter etc.
We’ll pause here in talking with Joyce. Join us next time when she writing and submission tips from an editor’s persepctive.
You can support Joyce and our community by getting your copy of The Sea Is Ours here.