this is how you walk on the moon

The short story anthology this is how you walk on the moon is a celebration of experimental forms. Its editors Patricia Karunungan, Samuel Wee and Wong Wen Pu told contributor S. Mickey Lin how it came about.

SWAG: How did you guys come up with this unique title?

Wen Pu: The title actually came from a song by Arthur Russell. Someone mentioned it to me and it got stuck in my head. In a sense, we appropriated the title. Very few ideas out there are really original but a lot of what is ‘original’ to me in literature are things that are borrowed, appropriate, and given new meaning from elsewhere.

Patricia: Plus, when Wen Pu introduced the song to us and suggested using the title, I thought it made a lot of sense considering what we were aiming for was something that, even though we wanted to encourage experimental writing, we were also afraid of sounding like a guide. We were afraid of sounding like we were prescribing exactly what kind of postmodern fiction is acceptable or not. The title lets us play around with it a little. this is how you walk on the moon sounds like a book that can teach you how to write something, but at the same time actually walking on the moon is improbable for most people, so you can get away with whatever you want.

SWAG: Can you tell us why you chose the experimental fiction genre?

Sam: Conventional wisdom seems to be that Singapore has a stronger poetic tradition than a prose one. When you look closely though, there’s still a long line of fiction writers, from Goh Poh Seng through to Alfian Sa’at, Dave Chua and so forth. Fiction writing in Singapore consisted of portraying a certain mode of reality — certain social realist concerns, a factual rendition of life. We’re actually not against that. We’re big fans of people like Alfian Sa’at and Dave Chua. It’s just that we noticed recently that our generation, perhaps because of the internet and because we’re exposed to more avant-garde stuff, there have been writers pushing out the margins a bit more, kicking out the jams. We just wanted to both reflect that shift and also incite that shift.

SWAG: What do you hope to accomplish?

Wen Pu: For me, I just wanted people to read good literature. It’s really about the reading experience. I’m not sure if I’m speaking for the other two, but I wanted a collection of stuff that I actually enjoy reading.

Patricia: For me, I’m hoping to learn more about emerging writers in Singapore. I do notice that for postmodern fiction, at least from my experience so far, it’s really something that people our age are getting into in Singapore, both in terms of reading preference and writing preference. I was hoping to connect to these people through this anthology because getting to know people with those interests really excites me.

Sam: The idea is to put up a signpost for anyone who would be interested in pushing the boundaries, and have a different conversation. That being said, I don’t think we’re doing something radically different. In fact, we thought there was an excellent fiction anthology a while back, also by Ethos Books, called Eastern Heathens, which re-invented, updated and subverted folklore from all around Asia. That was one of the anthologies that came to mind when we were shaping this book. Maybe the difference is that while other anthologies usually go with a thematic focus, we just point toward a technical direction and say that we would like to play with time, space, narrative voice, or levels of reality. All these kind of things.

SWAG: In your opinion, is it difficult or easier to write experimental fiction because writers don’t have to pay attention to the rules? I can see it going both ways.

Patricia: I think it’s easier in the sense that we want people to have fun with the “rules of writing”. When we said that we wanted anti-realist fiction, we were also thinking of Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, where she really interrogates the clichés that make up romances. At the same time, you have writers who write in the realist tradition and because they are so focused on accurate renditions of reality, they are actually quite anti-realist in the sense that you can see all the techniques that go into the story. I would say it’s easier to write experimentally because at the core of our work, we just want writers to have fun with what they’re doing.

Wen Pu: For me, I think it is easier. It is difficult for a person like myself who is so deeply engaged with modern and postmodern traditions to not write experimental fiction — you get very conscious, sometimes uncomfortable, when you write in a cliched voice. It might be a personal prejudice, but I have never been one for realistic fiction.

SWAG: How did you convince Ethos Books to pick up an anthology of experimental fiction?

Sam: I think it’s a sexy idea myself.

(Laughter all around)

Patricia: The editors over at Ethos, Kah Gay especially, are very interested in emerging writers. They’ve been looking to do something more experimental. When we brought the idea to them, they were on board from the very beginning.

Sam: For the record, I think one of the great things about Ethos Books is that—obviously, every publisher always wants their stuff to reach an audience—but Ethos Books also has a genuine passion and commitment toward the literary scene, towards publishing work that asks non-obvious questions of our community and society.

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