By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
There’s a force inside me that compels me to write. I feel unwell if I don’t write for a while. I think I write simply because it’s part of my be-ing in the world. I need to communicate. Not just with others; but essentially, I need to express and explore what I am not sure yet what I know or don’t know. I need to ask questions.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
If you are referring to the most recently published book, then it would be sinuous, a long poem, published by Turnstone Press in October 2013. But Pulse (Ethos Books, 2014) is the most recently released edition of a novel that was first published in Canada by Key Porter Books in 2010 (just months before it shut down). So, if I may choose to focus on Pulse:
I’d grown up in Singapore and left for Canada in 1980 to begin my studies in psychology at University of Toronto. Even though I’ve spent most of the past 35 years away from Singapore, I am very much connected deeply to the country of my childhood. Pulse is a novel that explores the experience of a queer woman living in Toronto who re-visits her past and engages with the disorienting landscapes of the present. I wanted to explore the various levels of trauma—collective and personal—that mark us, and how we creatively seek to transform those wounds. The book is a work of fiction. But I have certainly borrowed from my knowledge and memories.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
I believe in trusting my unconscious and intuitive self. Then later, I can re-visit and edit.
Who are your favorite authors?
So, so many. Hard to only highlight a few. My fave would be Haruki Murakami. Ursula K. Le Guin is a recent discovery for me. I just love her visionary brilliance. Lots of poets as well: Adrienne Rich, Alice Notley, Tomas Transtromer, Lisa Roberston.
Early influences: Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen. Later: Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, Yu Hua, Octavia Butler, Daphne Marlatt. So so many more I can’t mention here.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
It’s always whatever’s current right now. And it happens to be the prequel to The Walking Boy. I am working on a novel that’s a cross between martial arts (wuxia) and fantasy.
What’s your idea of bliss?
Nice question!! Someone cooks me a heavenly meal and I then go to my computer to write for 5 hours, completely in the zone. I follow this with meditating, and experience a sense of calm and freedom.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
I don’t recall being that raving mad anymore. But when I do get angry, I would regard that as “intellectual privilege”. In other words, I get angry because I am impatient with others who might not be travelling along the same speedy neuro-highway I’ve been on. I do think that’s terribly unskillful of me to get on that intellectual high horse.
While it is very understandable to get angry at the gross injustices and cruelties happening, I am more interested in not being poisoned by my own anger, but would like to respond with a bit more wisdom and compassion. I feel I am always learning to do this.
What book/s would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
“How to survive in the boondocks” is the first book! J
Second, perhaps a few wisdom practices that I can use as daily practice.
Then there would be a few books that I could read and re-read without feeling bored. Maybe a few language books! And at least one book by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
Yeah, my computer!
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
To love without separating from others. To serve, to overcome bad habits, to not be held back by fear. To exercise personal freedom and choice for the higher good of all.
Oops, that was three sentences! I’ll choose the last one, then!
Lydia Kwa has published three novels—This Place Called Absence (Turnstone, 2000); The Walking Boy (Key Porter, 2005) and Pulse (Key Porter, 2010; Ethos, 2014). She has two books of poetry, The Colours of Heroines (Women’s Press, 1994) and sinuous (Turnstone, 2013). Kwa currently lives in Vancouver, and spends part of her year in Singapore. She is currently working on the prequel to The Walking Boy.