I first met Joyce at the Singapore Writers Festival last year (Nov 2015), where we both shared a panel with Rachel Hartman (author of the YA fantasy series, Seraphina) and shared our thoughts about insta-love in young adult fiction. We had lunch before the panel, where she introduced us to her precocious preteen daughter. They were a joy to talk to and so completely in sync with each other .
I’ve always wanted to know what it’s like having an artist for a parent – be it a writer or painter or someone who pursues the arts – and I caught a glimpse of what that’s like by watching Joyce and her daughter’s interactions. Joyce nurtures her daughter’s imagination, lets it run wild. She entertains her daughter’s fantastical ideas and builds on them. That’s probably why she makes a fierce fantasy/science fiction writer who writes about dragons and collects medieval swords.
Here’s her story:
Born in Singapore, but a global citizen, Joyce Chng writes mainly science fiction and YA. She likes steampunk and tales of transfiguration/transformation. Her fiction has appeared in The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History, and Accessing The Future. Her YA includes a trilogy about a desert planet and a fantasy duology in Qing China. Joyce has also co-edited a Southeast Asian steampunk anthology titled THE SEA IS OURS: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia with Jaymee Goh. Her Jan Xu Adventures series, an urban/contemporary fantasy set in Singapore, is written under the pseud. J. Damask which she will tell you it’s a play on her Chinese name.
- What were your childhood aspirations?
Don’t laugh. I wanted to be a fighter pilot.
Languages fascinated me (still do). So, I wanted to be a translator for aliens.
- What is one thing many people don’t know about you?
I am actually very quiet and I watch vet shows to de-stress. (Well, that’s two things…)
- When and how did you realise that you wanted to be a writer, particularly of children’s books?
I was about nine or ten. I started writing. Simple compositions. The more intense writing came during the teenage years.
I only started writing children’s books, when I started teaching. I love the interaction with teens.
- What and/or who inspire you?
So many things inspire me. The world inspires me. The land inspires me. For people who inspire me: countless. They all appeared at various stages of my life. The late Professor Philippa Maddern, my MA thesis supervisor. She inspires me and I aspire to be like her when I teach. She taught me to be humble, kind and empathetic.
- How do you recharge?
To be honest, I sleep a lot. I am a fan of napping. I also like to be in nature. Greenery recharges me. I am also recharged by the ocean/sea. Give me time to wander along the shores, picking sea glass – and I will recharge.
- Have you experienced anything surprising or unexpected, writing-wise, between your first novel and your current book?
My writing style has become more and more sparse. I am not sure how to describe it. I am using words to describe people/landscapes/worlds – and I would use the exact word to cut down on excess. As I have said, it’s hard to describe this change of style.
- Have you changed your mind about any part of the process over the years?
It only makes me more determined to hang on. The entire process isn’t an easy trip! No free lunches!
- Have you received any advice along the way that was particularly valuable or pertinent?
My teacher told me once: reduce the over-kill in your writing. I used to heap on many adjectives, impressive vocabulary. It was nice in the beginning, but it stifled reading, because the story would be just thick with excessive description. It’s like eating a rich cake. Too much – and you get sick of it.
- What do you struggle with the most these days and what do you consider to be your greatest strength as a writer?
Impostor syndrome. The worst-ever thing a writer would ever experience. I tell myself not to compare myself to other writers who seem to have awards, big deals and yadda yadda. Writing is not a competition nor is it a zero-sum game.
It’s easier said than done.
My greatest strength? Tenacity. Sheer grit. I wanted to give up so many times, wanted to throw my towel and just leave the entire business… and I still hung on.
- As a children’s fiction writer, what is the one thing that you pay most attention to when reaching out to your audience?
Their voice(s). We are not supposed to impose our adult nonsense on them. Listen to how they speak, think, express themselves. Think like them. Be in their shoes. Think back to the times when you are a child or a teenager. What are the common themes? Identity? Wanting to belong? Finding self? Still the same.
- As a fantasy fiction writer, how do you go about building a world?
I am a sucker for landscapes and traditions. I go for how the people(s) express themselves via their customs, their languages and their food. I am quite big about food, hehe. I am a firm believer of the land affecting how a race or an ethnic group is created.
Also, if you are writing fantasy, be daring. Go big. Think big. Ultimately, you are telling a story.
- Will you ever consider writing in other genres? If you already do, what is the difference between writing for different target audiences?
I also write adult/general science fiction. Adult/general science fiction looks at mature or hard issues. The language and tone used should be appropriate.
I also write poetry. I just write.
- Tell us what your creative process is like.
I am not much of a planner. So, in writing terms, I am a pantser. I would get an idea or an inspiration, nurse it a bit in my head, let it percolate, before I start writing it down. Sometimes, the story idea would just appear from nowhere and I just have to write.
If I am writing something longer (not a short story), I will take about a couple of months (or half a year, if it need be). No rush.
I would also draw.
For a YA with racing dragons, I actually drew the dragons and things that were in the story. As I am a visual person, drawing helps a lot to help me see the food, the daily items, accessories etc. If you can, draw it out. Sketch a mind map if necessary. There are people who use the snowflake method (go Google it). Different writers use different processes and methods. Use things you are comfortable with.
- Who are your favourite writers, artists, musicians, or books?
Terri Windling, Charles de Lint, Judith Tarr, to name a few.
The book that got me thinking, “There are science fiction writers in Singapore!” when I was a kid is Star Sapphire by Han May (below).
Books that inspire me to think big and broadly:
Dune by Frank Herbert. I love the world-building of the series – and how religion and politics intertwine (very pertinent for this day and age).
As I love reading about plants, Richard Mabey’s Fencing Paradise: Uses and Abuses of Plants is a good examination of our relationship with plants and nature. Do plants need us as much as we need them?
- Where can people buy your works?
I have a website/blog and links to where you can buy my books. The blog is called A Wolf’s Tale. Check out the links/pages on the side-bar.
Dragon Dancer, a picturebook under Lantana Publishing (above).
I also upload free stories on Wattpad.
- What’s in the pipeline for you?
I recently completed a MG story titled Sun Dragon’s Song. This will be illustrated as a graphic novel/comic by the talented Kim Miranda.
Wolf At The Door, my urban fantasy novel, will now be published by Gerakbudaya from Malaysia. Hopefully, we can see the book on the shelves of bookstores here.
Thanks for sharing your story, Joyce!
Got more questions for Joyce? Drop them in the Comments section below! Feel free to get in touch too, if you’d like to share YOUR story here (contact details in bio on the right).