The Heartsick Diaspora by Elaine Chew || Author Q&A

Hi there! Here is long due author Q & A. I was supposed to post this in February but a lot was happening back then so here I am posting the interview in April instead. I have reviewed the book The Heartsick Diaspora and other stories on my blog. If you’re interested, do click on the image below and you’ll get to see some of my thoughts on the collection of short stories.

So, let’s get into the interview, shall we?

Q: Could you share with us the process of publishing this book?

A: On the one hand, The Heartsick Diaspora has been long in the making, with the earliest story written ten years ago (it won 1st Prize in the Bridport). On the other hand, the unpublished stories were all written in a five month frenzy in 2018 after my M.A. in Asian Art History was completed. The title story from that set won 2nd Prize in the Bridport once more. After a span of ten years, this felt to me like metaphysical bookends of my writerly journey, and I started examining what those ten years meant to me. During my years of writing, I was often told by beta-readers of my stories that they were all incredibly varied in style, tone, setting, subject matter and protagonist; in the beginning, trying to make them fit under the umbrella of ‘one writerly voice that’s mine’ became the biggest hurdle. Once I decided to let them be what they are, I saw that there is value in showing how geography and culture infiltrate voice and story-building.

Q: Why The Heartsick Diaspora was chosen as the main title of this book?

A: How geography and culture infiltrate voice and story-building is manifestly a result of diaspora, so it became a major thematic concern that pulled the stories together in spite of their far-ranging differences. Thinking of diaspora though is also to think about dislocation, alienation from homeland traditions, the metaphoric ‘return home’ which really hit me when I realised what moving to Singapore had meant to me. So, there’s a mythic odyssean element to this as well (which Confessions of the Irresolute Ethnic Writer attempts to capture). I wanted to flush out the psyche that attends this phenomenon of diaspora in my short stories: the fragmentation (as in developing ‘multiple selves’ which explain the varied voices), the heartsickness, but also laughter as lesser turmoil (to quote Italo Calvino), food as a frequent vehicle with which diasporic persons remember their homeland traditions, family dramas around the dinner table, and juggling East/West divides.  

Q: Most of the endings in this collection are open ended or very loose. Could you share with us why you decided to do so?

A: E.M. Forster says, “The plot-maker expects us to remember; we expect him to leave no loose ends.” Realistic short stories (as a genre), however, by nature of the format, aren’t so much about plot as they are about change. The change is often in the heart, minute or invisible; in a hidden glance, a small gesture, a sudden apprehending, sometimes even a withdrawal. Even stasis, a character refusing to admit emotional change when a situation has changed, is a fundamental shift in psyche. The best short stories are windows into lived lives, and neatly tied endings would, in the end, do the reader a disservice because they are gimmicky and not true to real life. Our lives don’t consist of neatly tied chapter-by-chapter anecdotes or stories, do they?

Q: If you could choose one story in this collection that you could resonate the most with, which one would it be and why?

A: I don’t know about other writers, but mine are all my babies-in-hibernation (so I tend to be very secretive about what I’m working on next) until they get published and take on a life of their own. Thereafter, they have to be defended on the merit of the text alone.

Q: What’s the most enjoyable aspect when it comes to writing short stories?

A: I write short stories because I read short stories (a lot, a lot of them). Because of how deep they penetrate into the mysteries of the human heart, I sometimes come away from a short story with the feeling of having experienced a novel. I often find I can’t read an entire short story collection from beginning to end in the same time as I can a novel. I read one story and I have to take time to let it stir, sit and sediment. Fiction, as in novels, but in larger part, short stories, make me more attuned to what others feel and think, even when their actions and words belie. In Run of the Molars, the protagonist Lily claims to read her mother’s face and discern secret thoughts. I don’t think it would be too much to say that short stories helped me read the faces of others (given how emotionally stunted I was, LOL).  

Q: Have you ever thought of writing a full-length novel?

A: Writing one now.

I mean … You read it here first! (or maybe not? haha)

Q: Do you have any message to the readers who have read as well as those who have yet to discover about your book and you stories?

A: Writing the book is only half the journey; once published, the other half for me involves an invitation to a conversation with readers (sadly, most writers don’t make enough from book sales to even earn a living these days, so book promotions – the amount of energy and time they take have got to be about forming connections with hearts and minds, not just selling a book.)

And that’s the end of the interview and this last answer really shows how hard authors work and they are really struggling these days. So, readers, please please please go support your favourite authors and debut authors by getting their books on the right platforms or borrow their books from the library. Also, don’t forget to support their events, write reviews and leave ratings on goodreads, amazon, and any platform that is available.

That’s it for now. Stay safe and take care!

About the Author

Elaine Chew is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World. Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.

Originally from Malaysia, Elaine Chew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Laselle College of the Arts, Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London. She now lives in Singapore.


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