Interview with KS Augustin

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you become acquainted with the genre, whether it’s romance or science fiction?

I’ve been reading and watching sf and sf shows since I was six. It’s a long and passionate love affair. Romance is a relative newcomer to my reading and I’ll say I’ve only been reading it regularly for about a decade.

Could you elaborate more on what made you decide to combine the two?
I have a post up at Ann Wilkes’ blog that tackles this question. Basically, I find that the one area sf falls down in is characterisation. In too many books, there are cardboard cut-outs masquerading as complex human beings. Romance is one way to add depth to a character and, at the same time, it’s a wonderful writing exercise.

What’s the romance and science fiction field like there in Malaysia?
::snort:: You’re kidding, right? Romance is big here, as are ghost stories (both supposedly true and made-up varieties). It’s very much like Singapore in that regard. But science-fiction, outside the blockbuster movies where everyone stares gawp-mouthed at the CGI effects, is a genre that doesn’t find much traction. It’s just not seen as relevant, which must be one of the most short-sighted perspectives around, but that’s me climbing up on my soapbox again.

What’s your view when it comes to paranormal romance? Do you see it as similar or different from what you’re writing?
I’ve come to realise that how * I * see it is different to how * others * see it. A lot of paranormal book review sites incorporate SFR (science fiction romance) releases in their line-up, so obviously they regard it as having some similarities. And, you know, authors are basically prostitutes, so I’m more than happy to jump on that very popular bandwagon!

Personally, however, I feel SFR is a completely different kettle of fish because of those two letters … “SF”. Because I incorporate science-fiction in my books, I feel compelled to include some deeper insight into the human condition. To me, that’s what it means to write sf or anything sf-related. Lou Anders, quoting Frederik Pohl, said it best in his recent interview at Redstone:

“Does the story tell me something worth knowing, that I had not known before, about the relationship between man and technology? Does it enlighten me on some area of science where I had been in the dark? Does it open a new horizon for my thinking?”

And so on. I consider this an intrinsic and critical difference as I don’t see paranormal romance authors accepting Pohl’s questions as any kind of mission statement the way I do. For me, the first question before planning a book is: what do I want to say? Everything — the plot, the characters, the intrigue, the romance — follows from that.

You’re one of the more technologically-savvy writers as you have eBooks and podcasts. How did you discover these mediums? How have these aided your career?
Aw you’re just saying that because I’m trying to tempt you to the Linux side! Very simply, I’m a geek, so I read geek blogs, and that’s where a lot of new tech is discussed. Have these aided my career? I think they have, but it’s too early to say. What I * will * say is that it’s not just a function of the technology by itself, it’s about how you * use * the technology to connect. And the most effective ways to connect may not be through high-tech at all … you may push your career forward more through being a book club selection rather than a rabid Tweeter, for example, so I find it a bit hit and miss and down to more than a fraction of luck.

What were the challenges in getting published?
In modern times, I would say the challenges are far fewer than they were. With the advent of digital presses, there are more opportunities than ever before to get your vision in front of other readers. That has its good and bad sides. Are the sheer number of titles now available, and being released, diffusing the amount of money readers spend on books? As far as readers are concerned, is the number of books available raising or lowering the quality? What is better, lower royalty and larger market (traditional print), or higher royalty and smaller market (ebooks)? How is Amazon going to change the landscape of publishing? Who will be the next game-changer and are they on the horizon yet?

I see an author as being at the roulette wheel of publishing right now and it’s not a comfortable place to be. It takes time to write a book; for me, about 4-5 months for a novel and I’m a reasonably fast writer. But where do I send it? With the publishing schedules being what they are (and even for ebooks, they’re in the range of six months), we’re talking about significant lead times for every title. The problem is, the entire game may have changed from the time you signed the contract to the time your book is released. And, because the product you create is a one-off and takes substantial time to produce, you’re often the one who loses the most.

I’m sorry, Charles, I know your question is about * getting * published but I see a much bigger problem regarding career planning * after * you’re published. If you’re talented, willing to learn and have a story that publishers think other people will want to read, then I don’t think there are many challenges to getting published. And, with the internet and electronic communications being as pervasive as they are, even distance isn’t much of a factor any more.

Moving on to your writing, what made you decide to pursue writing as a career?
I’ve always written.

What is it about novels and novellas that appeal to you? Do you find them easier to write, compared to short stories?
Short stories are the most difficult form of writing there is. For me, there’s no doubt about it. The faffing about you can do in a novel is sudden death in a short story. I had a number of rejections for some short stories I submitted to various markets last year. That’s fine, I know I need to do some more learning in that regard. I’ll be trying again later this year but all the short story writers out there get my utmost respect.

Novellas also tend to be a bit more focused. You can’t go haring off on every interesting tangent. And that’s the pitfall of novels. Just because you * can * go wandering down some attractively-lined side paths doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes this means that that grand novel you’ve planned ends up as a tight novella instead, but you have to be disciplined enough to recognise this and either abandon the idea as non-commercial and write something else or submit the novella to a digital press and see if readers agree with your decision.

How have your travels influenced your writing?
I’m much more tolerant. While the trappings are different in every country, the basic motivations of people remain the same. We really are bound more by our similarities than differences. Also, I’ve discovered that any large group of people, regardless of race, colour or creed, are pretty stupid and easily manipulated. We’re all the same that way too. The good and the bad.

Being based in Southeast Asia, and with some of your books released electronically, who is your target audience?
Now that’s a damn good question. It’s not Asians because, by and large, Asians don’t read sf. I wish they would. I come from a post-colonial perspective and don’t have much in common with the average North American writer, for example, but I can’t deny that there’s a longer pedigree of sf readership in North America than south-east Asia, say. That’s just reality.

Personally, I don’t care who or where my target audience is, but I’d get a huge kick if a sizeable fraction of it was Asian-based. It would tell me that we’re starting to think beyond our immediate environment and the contemporaneous objects that touch that environment. I would be uplifted by letters or emails from Asian readers. I remain hopeful.

How would you describe the current publishing field?
Please see roulette wheel reference above. And limited chips. Don’t forget that, it’s important.

In your opinion, what is it about Malaysian fiction that makes it unique?
No, I don’t know that I like this question, Charles. Does anyone ask, “What makes American fiction unique? What makes British fiction unique?” It’s the kind of question you normally ask of the underdog, the colonised, the newly-liberated. Tell me why you’re special. My answer is usually two words, with the second word being “off”!

Okay, let’s say it’s the post-colonial perspective, because I was just talking about that. But, then again, other countries have also been colonised by European powers. So what makes Malaysia unique? Because we mention “nasi lemak” in our fiction whereas someone else mentions “rasam”? Or because we’re bumping the equator? There are factors that, in combination, are unique to Malaysia — the weather patterns, the food, the current political landscape, the history — but don’t these things make * every * country unique? In which case, if the fiction is reflective of those factors, then the question becomes meaningless. For every country in the world, the answer is the weather, the food, the politics, the history.

In fact, you could go further because those factors are refined again by the prejudices and attitudes of the individual writer. Which begs the question, which is the more powerful, the individual vision of a writer or her cultural/racial background?

Who are the other Malaysian writers that we should be reading?
It depends on what you want to read. There’s a lot of historical literary fiction written by Malaysian writers. Tan Twan Eng is a good case in point. We’re still trying to come to terms with World War Two, the barbarity of the Japanese, and what it meant for the people and a region still under British rule.

Hmmmm, I think I may be contradicting my own point from the previous question. We’re still hung up on the War. But, then again, I don’t think we’re the only country that is. It’s just that I’m closer to it here. It might be the same in the Philippines, Korea and parts of China, I don’t know. (Not to mention the British with “Fawlty Towers” and that classic “Don’t mention the war!” episode and the Americans with the current HBO series, “The Pacific”. You see, the moment I try to pin down something as unique, the more siblings I find.)

When it comes to Malaysia, I’m more likely to read political analyses by local writers rather than any fiction, but too often I find the texts bloated and the points too blunt to be of any use. As a result, I’ve gravitated to the cartoonist Lat’s work. He has a sharp eye for satire and he’s highly political, so he’s automatically one of my favourites!

You have a new release, In Enemy Hands. Could you tell us more about it?
You really are asking for cognitive dissonance here, aren’t you, as we jump from politics to … well, actually, politics!

IN ENEMY HANDS is set in my Republic universe. It’s an hard sf romance. Take away the sf and there’s no story. Flipside, take away the romance and there’s no story either. It’s due for release by Carina Press on Monday, 7 June. Here’s the finely-crafted blurb:

The Republic had taken everything from Moon—her research partner, her privacy, her illusions. They thought they had her under control. They were wrong.

Srin Flerovs, Moon’s new research partner, is a chemically enhanced maths genius whose memory is erased every two days.

While he and Moon work on a method of bringing dead stars back to life, attraction between them flares, but that poses its own problem. How can their love survive when Srin forgets Moon every two days?

When she discovers the lethal applications her research can be put to, Moon knows she and Srin are nothing more than pawns in a much larger game. Together, they must escape the clutches of the Republic before they become its scapegoats. But there are too many walls around them, too many eyes watching. They want to run, but they’re trapped on a military vessel in the depths of space, and time is running out….

And I have a COMPETITION! I’m giving away two copies of IN ENEMY HANDS at my blog, Fusion Despatches. To be in the draw, stop by and comment at the Competition post, telling me at which blog you read about my book. You have till 30 June!

Anything else you want to plug?

Nah, you’ve been very patient with my ranting, Charles, and I thank you for that. Stay in touch.

Kaz Augustin is a Malaysian-born writer of science-fiction, romance, and permutations of the two. Her website is at and she blogs at You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter; just look for “ksaugustin”.


4 thoughts on “Interview with KS Augustin

  1. Some great questions here, with Augustin giving as good as she gets.

    I was very surprised to hear Asians prefer ghosts and romance to SF. But given that In Enemy Hands is SF Romance, there’s a good chance it can transcend that Asian barrier.

    A refreshing interview.

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