There is so much to unpack in “Fanspell: Flowers in Spring (RobYung, NSFW)”: being other; the weight of shame; relationships; the worth of, and interest in, fan fiction; the volatile nature of social media; online trolling and abuse; gender roles. The threads are tightly interwoven, each supporting and enhancing the others. What are you most proud of about this story? What speaks most to you as both a person and a writer?
This story is one of my most personal ones yet, because it’s very much about how I developed as an author in the first place. While I gained a lot as a young writer from school life in Singapore—particularly by participating in the Writer’s Circle young writers group in junior college—what largely drove me to improve both as a person and a writer has been my participation in fandom. Being able to make friends with different people all around the world has pushed me to keep an open mind and to keep developing my self-learning.
I cut my teeth on fanfiction and celebrity adoration. What if X fell in love with Z instead of Y? Wouldn’t it be great if A and D were secret friends instead of enemies? Are you a fan of fanfic? What inspired this story?
I’ve been writing fanfiction since I was fifteen, so on the whole, yes. Fandom and fanfic is not a monolith, however, and as fandom itself grows more self-aware there are conflicts and rifts that I hope will be improved. Watching the sort of fandom I grew up with become more and more mainstream—seeing articles about fandom and fanfiction appear in venues like Vox—has become less and less unusual. However, for older generation fandom people like me, the instinct to hide and keep our fandom lives separate is still there. This instinct is what inspired me to write this story.
I thoroughly enjoyed your worldbuilding here. The elements are fantastic yet familiar enough that readers can almost instantly identify their intent and use. Even better, the way you present these fantastical changes invites readers to explore other changes that might exist in this version of our world. Does worldbuilding come easy to you? How much thought did you give the setting for this story?
I’m a pure pantser, so I don’t have a formal process of structuring my worldbuilding—I have a general idea of what I want to write and the story flows from there.
With a gaggle of short stories, a novella, and a novel (and a possible sequel), you know your way around the page. If you could reach back in time to the younger Anya just starting to dip her toes into the writing waters, what advice would you have for her?
It’d be the same advice I have for many fanfic authors. If you’re even remotely interested in getting published, just give writing original fiction a shot. Don’t self-reject by internalising the idea that just because all you’ve written is fanfic means you can’t be any good.
From work, to writing, to art, to cats, you seem to always have something on your plate. How do you recharge? What does rest and relaxation look like for Anya Ow?
So far, a fantasy novel and a post-apocalyptic novella, and a space opera novel coming out next year, one that would hopefully be the first of a set.
I do like to keep busy, and I largely recharge by reading. Lately I’ve been binge reading danmei, or m/m Chinese novels: the constant popcorn drama in some of them is really entertaining. One of the best I’ve read this year is Qiang Jin Jiu by Tang Jiuqing, an imperial/military drama set in ancient China. It’s due for a film adaptation next year, and there’s a fan translation online for those who can’t read Chinese.
Speaking of film adaptations of danmei, there’s also been a great one this year called Shan He Ling / Word of Honor, which is free to watch on YouTube with English subtitles. Adapted from Priest’s Tian Ya Ke, it’s m/m wuxia, ex-Imperial spymaster x ghost valley master. Low budget, but filmed as a romance then dubbed over as a bromance to avoid censorship. I recommend it for the sheer amount of costume changes alone. And yes, for those interested, the fandom is known as the Mountain Sect/Mountain People/Shanren, and it is very active.
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