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An Interview With Julie Koh

(This series was originally published on Math Paper Press in February 2017)

What is the importance of satire to you?
Some of my work is satirical. I like its power in examining power, as well as its relevance—and irrelevance—as the world gets crazier.

What were your biggest revelations while editing BooksActually Gold Standard 2016?

Being an editor is more difficult than I thought. I now respect my own editors much more than I used to.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of high-profile writers who were happy to contribute to the anthology, including writers whose work is rarely translated into English. It was a real treat to be among the first to read the seven translated pieces.

We talked about supernatural encounters over dinner and how certain elements inform your writing. Portable Curiosities and Capital Misfits are worlds of their own. What other unusual themes would you like to work on in the near future?

Right now I’m exploring drones and botany. And if I can write more ghost stories without freaking myself out too much, I will.

What was on your mind when writing The Trading Floor In Heaven and Free Rider
I once read a book by R.W. Fevre in which he discussed how the increasing secularity of Western society has left a vacuum where religion used to be – and economics has replaced it. So along those lines, I thought it’d be fun to write about people getting to Heaven and trading their karma.

When I wrote Free Rider, I was thinking about how power gravitates towards ‘alpha males’, and I decided that a revenge horror narrative would be a nice and disturbing way to explore the idea.

How do you constantly grow out of environmental / cultural limitation and push forward to develop your craft? 
I like something John Cage once said: ‘I think society is one of the greatest impediments an artist can possibly have. … When I was young and needed help, society wouldn’t give it, because it had no confidence in what I was doing. But when, through my perseverance, society took an interest, then it wanted me not to do the next thing, but to repeat what I had done before. At every point society acts to keep you from doing what you have to do.’

I’ve kept moving forward regardless of whether publishers are interested in my work, whether my style of writing is in vogue, and whether the people around me like what I produce. I think what counts is being true to your artistic sensibilities: know the external limitations, rage against them, but push forward anyway.

With regards to your last visit to Singapore, can you give us a surreal perspective of the city and the literature scene here? 
It’s a global forest in a glass container. Cats run bookstores and, once a year, the literati govern from the Old Parliament under the supervision of a bronze elephant.

Any advice for aspiring writers?
One of the most helpful pieces of advice I received was: ‘Lower your standards and keep writing’. Google tells me I should attribute that quote to William Stafford.

Also, I recommend being as individual as possible in your writing. Stop worrying what other people think of it – you’re never going to please everyone.


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