Tag Archives: zen cho

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Zen Cho

Today we’re joined by the author of Wicked Women story ‘The First Witch of Damansara’ – Zen Cho, take it away!

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write:

Zen-iDJ-Photography-Final-5

Photo credit: Darren Johnson / IDJ Photography

I’m a lawyer and writer who was born and raised in Malaysia. I’m currently based in London. I write fantasy novels and short fiction, generally with a sprinkling of romance and a dose of history.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’ve been scribbling bits of stories since I was all of six years old, but it took me a long time to figure out how to finish things! I got into fanfic in my teens and that got me used to sharing my writing with other people, as well as giving me an online community with whom I could talk about reading, writing and ideas. I started writing original short fiction for publication five years ago, and my first novel Sorcerer to the Crown came out in September 2015.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

The authors that have left the most lasting marks on me are those I read as a kid and teenager. Terry Pratchett, P. G. Wodehouse, Diana Wynne Jones and L. M. Montgomery are up there. I also really admire the work of Karen Lord, Amitav Ghosh and Geoff Ryman, who I read a bit later on.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

Not actually wicked, but Sybil Kathigasu was a Malayan WW2 heroine who wrote a memoir of her experiences supporting the resistance against the Japanese occupation, No Dram of Mercy. I suppose she misbehaved from the occupiers’ point of view! It’s a short book but fascinating because you can tell what a strong character she was, perhaps to the point of being overbearing – you get the impression she ruled the roost in her household. She was also very much aware of writing for the historical record – no false modesty in that regard.

For a “wicked” example, I’ve always been fond of the Chinese female pirate Ching Shih.

Your most recent book – Sorcerer to the Crown – is set in Regency England, what drew you to that era and how did you put your own twist on Regency style fiction?

zen SorcerertotheCrownUKcoverlargeI’ve always been fond of Regency England as a setting and several of my favourite authors used it to great effect – Susanna Clarke, Patrick O’Brian and Naomi Novik among them. My version has magic, of course, and centres on England’s first African Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias Wythe, and the incorrigible female magical prodigy Prunella Gentleman. I think of it as Georgette Heyer with dragons and politics.

You’ve also edited the Buku Fixi anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia – has your experience as an editor changed how you approach your own fiction?

Not really – I’m focusing on writing a novel at the moment, and I find writing novels such a different beast from writing short fiction that I can’t say I’ve been able to apply any lessons from the experience of editing Cyberpunk: Malaysia to my own writing so far. That said, it did bring home to me how much an editor is on the writer’s side – I was really invested in the short stories I worked on – and I hope I remember that when my next set of editorial notes come in!

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?

As a reader it’s nice to be able to explore a story and world without the time commitment you need for a whole novel. A short story is capable of making a point more efficiently and powerfully than a novel – it’s a particularly good vehicle for science fiction for that reason. Besides Cyberpunk: Malaysia, two books of short stories I’d recommend to SFF readers are the collection of James Tiptree Jr’s short fiction Her Smoke Rose Up Forever and Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

Movies suffer from this more than books – at least the kind of books I read – but I really hate the trope of the badass female character who you’re set up to think might be the chosen one, but actually the chosen one is the totally mediocre male lead.

What are you up to next?

I’m hard at work on the sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown. The only con I’ve got in the diary at the moment is Åcon 8 in Finland in May 2016 – I’m Guest of Honour and I’m really looking forward to it!

 

Thank you for joining us Zen Cho!

Zen Cho was born and raised in Malaysia. She is the author of Crawford Award-winning short story collection Spirits Abroad, and editor of anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia, both published by Buku Fixi. She has also been nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the Pushcart Prize, and honour-listed for the Carl Brandon Society Awards, for her short fiction. Her debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, is the first in a historical fantasy trilogy published by Ace/Roc Books (US) and Pan Macmillan (UK). She lives in London with her partner and practises law in her copious free time.

 

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Wicked Women Out Now

Just in time for Halloween, Wicked Women (edited by Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber) has landed!  Available in paperback or ebook formats from your local Amazon or Barnes & Noble.com.  Spooktacular!  (Sorry. I’m not sorry!)Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00024]From thieves and tyrants to witches and warriors, here are twelve tales of women who gleefully write their own rules, women who’ll bend or break the social norms, who’ll skate along the edge of the law and generally aim to misbehave.

Contents:

Juliet E. McKenna – Win Some, Lose Some
Christine Morgan – The Shabti-Maker
Tom Johnstone – Kravolitz
A. R. Aston –  No Place of Honour
Adrian Tchaikovsky – This Blessed Union
Sam Stone – The Book of the Gods
Chloë Yates – How to be the Perfect Housewife
Stephanie Burgis – Red Ribbons
Jonathan Ward – A Change in Leadership
Jaine Fenn – Down at the Lake
Zen Cho – The First Witch of Damansara
Gaie Sebold – A Change of Heart

Published by Fox Spirit Books
 ISBN: 978-1-9093486-9-1

Urban Mythic: Zen Cho Interviewed

zen cho Self-portraitToday my darlings, we at Urban Mythic towers bring you the fabulous Zen Cho!

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write.

I’m a lawyer and writer living in London. The two main things I write are Malaysian fantasy (i.e. speculative fiction featuring Malaysian characters or settings or both), and a made-up subgenre I like to call “fluff for postcolonial booknerds”.

What was the idea behind “Fish Bowl”?

I had a maths tuition teacher once who had a fish pool inside her house in which she reared koi — quite an extraordinary thing to find in your standard suburban house. The idea for the story grew out of that. It also ended up being about the pressure on kids, especially girls, in a certain kind of middle-class, high-achieving household to be perfect. (That’s obviously a stereotype associated with Asian families, but I think it has as much, if not more, to do with socio-economic background as culture.) When I wrote the story I was thinking about how it is possible to be very, very sheltered as a teenager, but very, very unhappy.

How urban do you like your fantasy and who are your must-read authors?

I’m more into suburban fantasy than urban fantasy — I’m quite interested in what happens inside people’s houses, and like speculative fiction with a fairly intimate, domestic scope. Edith Nesbit and Diana Wynne Jones spring to mind.

You’ve curated a list of Malaysian SFF writers on your website – do you have any particular favourite stories or authors?

I’m a bit hesitant to play favourites – there’s a lot of interesting stuff on my list and everybody should go check it out for themselves! So I’m going to cheat and name someone I haven’t even mentioned in the list yet, Zedeck Siew. As far as I know Zedeck hasn’t had any speculative fiction published, but he’s active in the Malaysian arts scene and has put out a lot of work of various kinds over the years. Currently he’s working on a compilation of short speculative stories which I’m really looking forward to. In the meantime you can check out his Tumblr (http://zedecksiew.tumblr.com/) for examples of his “small fictions”.

What are you up to next?

Besides “Fish Bowl”, I’ve got short stories in three other publications coming out this year: LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction from Singaporean publisher Math Paper Press, The End of the Road from UK press Solaris Books, and Love in Penang from Malaysian indie press Fixi Novo.

I’m also working on revisions to what might be my first novel (if my agent can persuade someone to publish it!). It’s a Regency-set fantasy of manners about England’s first black Sorcerer Royal. It’s basically a mishmash of everything I like from Georgette Heyer and P. G. Wodehouse, plus magic, written with a postcolonial sensibility.

[Zen Cho is a Malaysian writer living in London and a 2013 finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her short fiction has appeared most recently in Esquire Malaysia, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and Prime Books anthology Bloody Fabulous. Find out more about her work at http://zencho.org ]