Mari At Work · thinking out loud

Zen Cho in the house!

zencho1Around June last year, I went to the launch of Fixi Novo’s anthology, Cyberpunk: Malaysia. I met Zen Cho, the editor (and writer of the collection Spirits Abroad, also published by Fixi Novo) if she would like to curate a table for Kinokuniya. Usually our tables are curated by our buyers, but for our 15th anniversary (themed “Good Books Make Great Company”) each buyer are instead choosing a favourite local figure (mine being Zen Cho) and an imprint (mine will be Balzer + Bray this July/August) to curate a table for us. She said yes, and that’s how we got our January/February highlight for World SFF, as curated by Zen Cho.

Then, at the end of January, Zen said that she was going to be in town for the CNY holidays, and did we want to have an event. Of course we did! I had wanted to do an event for Spirits Abroad when it first came out, but somehow all the Fixi titles fall under “literature”, so it wasn’t my call to make back then. Sorcerer to the Crown, which is published by Ace and Gollancz, is a different matter altogether, though!

We hosted Zen’s talk + signing event at our Fiction section on February 13th. Zen started out by talking about her curated table, and explaining why she had decided on the World SFF theme, before going on to Sorcerer to the Crown, and taking questions from the crowd. We had a good crowd – usually at our events, the audience would be too shy to ask anything, and instead wait to talk when they’re having their books signed. But this time, not only we had a lot of people asking questions – most of them asked very interesting questions. I liked one of the questions about how it was like to work on a novel instead of short stories, and Zen replied that while with short stories she could focus on moments or characters, with Sorcerer to the Crown she really had to learn to plot.

zencho2She said that she never really thought much about plot before, and likened a story to a person, in which the plot would be their bones. One wouldn’t fall for a person because they had good bones, usually – they get attracted by the outer appearance, and perhaps fall for a person’s personality. But take away the bones, and you wouldn’t get much at all. She had used tropes she liked, and looked to Regency romances (think Georgette Heyer) in framing her story, but tweaked it into something that made it different – more Zen, perhaps, and definitely more local, despite being set in Europe, and sensitive to the other issues that existed during the Regency period, that rarely made it into the books.

The other questions also touched on Colonialism, Zen’s research while working on the novel, if publishing with a mainstream publishing made any difference to her, and whether she might write something more local in the future (she said, probably yes!). I’m really looking forward to the sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown, but I think I would love a fantasy/SF set in Malaysia even more.

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