Lydia Kwa [photo credit: Pink Monkey Studios] has published three novels and two books of poetry. Her latest novel, Oracle Bone, appeared recently with Arsenal Pulp Press (Fall, 2017). Her writing spans various times and spaces in the Asia-Pacific region and imagination. She lives and works in Vancouver as a writer and psychologist.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book was poetry: The Colours of Heroines (1994) with Toronto's Women's Press. It was amazing to experience the reality of having one's work communicate with readers. The lovely thing too was that George Woodcock reviewed it favourably and called me a "memory writer of almost Proustian intensity." I was so pleased. Every book is different. I leave it to readers and critics to tell me how my most recent work compares to previous ones.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Who knows? I suspect an adolescence of being immersed in reading Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon alongside William Wordsworth and Gerard Manley Hopkins had something to do with it.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Very slow, very mysterious, very intuitive. Copious notes that circle around narratives that only seem to clarify after about 3 years of wandering in the darkness.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
A poem begins in the gut. A strong sensation that rises up to the throat, and insists on being expressed.
These days—in terms of fiction, I am consciously working on a book/novel from the beginning. But my first novel This Place Called Absence began as a series of short monologues. I fooled myself I was writing a short lyrical narrative, etc etc until it dawned on me it was going to be a novel.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love doing readings. Especially around the time a new book is launched.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
The power of the imagination to help creatures transcend suffering. The plight of outsiders. Those hated for their differences: race, queerness, class, gender, disability, etc. The destructive power of sexual violence.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
The writer is a lowly creature. Hopefully we are useful because we are so lowly and do not fulfill any greedy capitalist agenda. Hopefully we are the ones crying and wailing along the periphery and pointing to some interesting, more liberating alternatives, or at least wailing about the imminent demise of the human race.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I have been tremendously grateful for all my editors. I've been fortunate. Of course it's a difficult process—editing with another's assistance. Difficult and absolutely valuable and hence necessary.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Don't take yourself (meaning, your ego) so seriously.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
Easy? Difficult? Well, I do move between genres. That's because there's a switch inside that says, "POET" and another "FICTION" :D
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Nothing typical in my days. No fixed writing routine. But when I can, maybe 4 mornings out of 7, I write for an hour. And sometimes I do a stretch of 3 hours in the evenings. It gets more intense after year 2 of writing.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I take walks, cook, read, listen to music. Look at art.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Which home?! My own skin, really.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
As in answer to Question 12.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Lots of writers' work are important to my work. So so many and too many to mention. A lot of Japanese writers read in translation; Chinese writers in translation etc.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Go to Taiwan or Japan, to some temple retreat and practise taiji.
Go to South Korea and eat food prepared by the famous nun Jeong Kwan.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Would have been a chef.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Well, I am also a psychologist. Writing seems inevitable. I write to stay sane. To express what I cannot express in other ways.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Ken Liu's The Paper Menagerie.
Gukoroku—Traces of Sin
20 - What are you currently working on?
The third book in the chuanji trilogy.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;