Spotlight on: Alyssa Wong, Author
Alyssa Wong is a 2013 graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in F&SF, Strange Horizons, Black Static, and Tor.com. You can find her on twitter as @crashwong and tumblr at www.crashwong.tumblr.com.
You’re a Nebula Award nominee for your story ‘‘The Fisher Queen’’. Tell us about the piece.
‘‘The Fisher Queen’’ is about the dark side of the mermaid fishing industry on the Mekong River, and the painful, personal damage of systematic, multigenerational violence against women. It’s a story about growing up too fast, and about having an intense, deep love for your family, only to find out that they’re the monsters they were supposed to be protecting you from.
I originally wrote ‘‘The Fisher Queen’’ as a wedding present for a friend of mine, since I’d promised her a mermaid story. It’s not terribly romantic, so some days I wonder if I should’ve just gotten her a very nice blender instead.
What’s the particular appeal of SF/fantasy? Why do you write that instead of, say, literary fiction or mysteries?
The fantastic is beautiful and terrible, and I love the way it can be used to highlight and heighten people’s very real experiences. Also, I like ghosts, magic, and molecular reconstruction. With science fiction and fantasy, your limits are only as far as you’re willing to push your imagination, and figuring out how to interface that kind of potential with the story you want to tell is the best kind of challenge.
I love hybridized stories. I mean, my brain is hybridized as hell; I enjoy literary fiction and narrative non-fiction, but I also can’t get enough of police procedural thrillers and fan fiction, so I read them all. SF/F is my first love, and it’s definitely ingrained in the way I think about narrative. Figuring out how to marry it to the other genres and structures I like is really fun.
You’ve described yourself as being both honored and humbled to become the first Filipina Nebula Award finalist, and you often discuss the need for more diverse voices in SF. How’s the field doing in that regard? Are things getting better?
I think they are. It’s been heartening to see #WeNeedDiverseBooks sweeping children’s publishing, and with Kickstarters like Lightspeed’s Women Destroy Science Fiction! and Queers Destroy Science Fiction!, it’s become evident that there are good people in genre championing diversity. However, I think it’s important to remember that diversity is intersectional: it means making a consistent effort to seek out stories by and about people of color, people who identify as QUILTBAG (queer/undecided/intersex/lesbian/trans/bi/asexual/gay/genderqueer), writers from underrepresented socioeconomic classes, and/or writers from non-Western countries.
I do think that the field is becoming more and more globalized, and the awards slates – with stories by diverse writers from all over the world, and novels in translation like Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem – are starting to reflect that. But diversity isn’t a trend; it’s a constant battle to change an existing culture that shuts us out. It’s not about pushing people out of the market, but about expanding it to make space for a myriad of underrepresented voices. And for editors, publishers, and agents, being committed to diversity means reaching out to people who might not have the resources to find you and encouraging them to submit their work. It’s a long fight, but it’s worth it, and it means so much to those of us who are watching.
Any plans to write a novel?
Definitely. I’m working on a few projects right now, including a Southern Gothic YA and an adult science fiction noir novel. I do best when I’m working on multiple stories at once, with one in high focus and the others simmering on the backburner.
My top priority right now, though, is a sci-fi novella, and I love short fiction too much to give that up.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your work?
I’m a sucker for weird biology stories, as well as stories about ghosts, poisonous friendships, and deep-seated regret. Someday I’ll find the core of a story with all of these things in it and I’ll be able to write what I crave.
I was eligible for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer this year, as were many fantastic, diverse writers like Usman T. Malik, J.Y. Yang, Isabel Yap, and Sam J. Miller. Their stories this past year have consistently impressed me and torn my heart to pieces. You should definitely check out their work!