Joyce Chng on Urban Fantasy in Singapore

Over at SF Signal, Joyce Chng talks about urban fantasy in Singapore and her quest to get her novel, Wolf At The Door (written as J. Damask) published.

Why did I ever write an urban fantasy set in Singapore? What possessed me, anyway?

These were the thoughts that crossed my mind when I started the process of editing my urban fantasy novel. It was the start of January 2010. The novel… mess.. whatever it was began as a challenge to myself: write an urban fantasy set in Singapore, my country. Granted that I also wrote it for Nanowrimo and I had recently given birth… So, I was insane. But at least, I did it. Wrote the story out within the space of a month – relatively easy as the landscape was familiar and the world-building was already done, somewhat, in my mind. The world of the Lang (Mandarin Chinese for ‘wolf’) grew, followed by a whole menagerie of shifters and non-human types.

Then I started looking for publishers. Would an urban fantasy set in Singapore sell? Would it find readers, for crying out loud? And with a nom-de-plume like “J. Damask”… it would, right? [How do you pronounce ‘Chng’ anyway?]

Pzzzt. Wrong.

My first forays in looking for the right publisher were (not surprisingly) bleak. I was told that it wouldn’t sell, that it wasn’t marketable. What? I thought urban fantasy was selling like hot cakes. You know, leather-clad babes with angst and surrounded by a coterie of drop-dead handsome men. Considering the chilly publishing industry in Singapore, I was half-tempted to self-publish the story of a werewolf mom, dealing with non-human shenanigans and family politics. [Hey, wait.. you mean no sexy babe in leather and hunks with abs of steel???]

Oh yes, did I mention the chilly publishing industry in Singapore? It’s a pet peeve/hot button issue of mine, so bear with me.

Singaporean publishers are not friendly to genre submissions. True that horror is popular (and there is a whole series of ‘ghost’-written stories to whet the public’s appetite on all things ghoulish), but general science fiction and fantasy… nadah. Currently, the local SF/F books in the bookshops are by small independent publishers who dare take the challenge to produce genre books. Yet the general population seems hooked on poetry books, recipe books, memoirs and self-help books. And assessment books and academia. Oh, having a big name helps. A big plus if you are writing “post-colonial” literary fiction too. Not that what I am writing is considered “post-colonial”…

Given such an environment, I didn’t know where to send Wolf At The Door. I was already active in web-fiction and was in the process of writing a web novella at the same time. Was self-publishing the only way? Should I end up presenting the novel as a crowd-funded web project?

Hell, was it my only way out? [Did I dig myself into a quandary?]

Disappointed but not wanting to give up, I probed further and found Lyrical Press. I thought: “Heck, why not?”, crafted a query letter, synopsis, tidied the MS up and – with a prayer – sent it on its merry way.

Imagine my (dance-around-the-house) delight when I saw the acceptance email. I was unagented. I was a relatively new author, unlike the big name authors from big publishing houses. But hey, I did it. Lyrical liked my stuff.

[Of course, as any industry pro would tell you, submission is the easy part. There began the edits. I have a brilliant editor who whipped the MS into tip-top shape like a personal trainer.]

There you have it. The novel’s life-story, my life-story (edited and abridged) and the Singaporean publishing environment.

Any questions? Bueller?

Why small press? Well, that’s another blog post all together.



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