Let’s start with an introduction: Who is S. Qiouyi Lu?
I’m a freelance writer and translator based in Los Angeles, CA. I primarily write speculative fiction, including fantasy, science fiction, and horror. I translate from Chinese to English. The majority of my work has been short fiction. In the Watchful City will be my longest publication to date.
Your debut novella, In the Watchful City, is due out from Tordotcom Publishing in August. It looks really interesting. How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
In the Watchful City is similar to 1,001 Nights — there are a few short stories, each illustrating a particular region in the same secondary world, interspersed between a frame narrative about authority and autonomy. I’ve been describing it as “biocyberpunk,” in that there’s a strong focus on technology, but that technology is rooted in nature rather than in artificial creations like computer chips. I would say the story itself is a cross between Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and the short story/movie Minority Report.
What inspired you to write the novella? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
The novella was inspired by a trip to Hangzhou in 2017 that I got to go on with Western and Chinese science fiction writers. There, we saw some emerging Chinese technology, including facial recognition software connected to a digital payment system. The differing cultural attitudes toward surveillance led me to explore a city that relies heavily on surveillance, but that doesn’t necessarily view that surveillance as dystopic or utopic. It’s benevolently pragmatic.
In general, I draw inspiration for my stories from similar real-world experiences, where I come across something that piques my interest and try to imagine how that experience might be different in different societies, cultures, timelines, and realities.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I grew up with genre fiction in the form of anime and manga, but also books by writers such as Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I’ve been writing since I was around eleven, though I only started breaking into the publishing industry toward the end of 2015. I love the space genre fiction provides me to explore concepts and alternate realities. The publishing industry itself is rather unpredictable, but it’s been interesting to see it grow and how interests and priorities have been shifting over time.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
It’s all a bit haphazard. I’ve never really been a write every day kind of author. Instead, I’ll go for long periods without writing, then draft a short story over the course of a few days to a week. It’s that downtime that allows my ideas to percolate, though — usually, there are a few concepts that all meld together into one narrative. I do a lot of research as I work, but it’s mostly to find fascinating and inspiring detail than to create realism per se. I leave the realism for nonfiction.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I started by writing fanfiction for my favorite shows and books back in fifth grade, and I remember wanting to see my books on shelves by middle school. Fanfiction has been a great experience for me. Not just as practice for writing, either. There’s a great sense of community that offsets a lot of the isolation writers can otherwise feel. Learning to receive and filter feedback from a young age has also helped me read critically, both for my own work and for when I provide critiques for others.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think there’s a lot of exciting things happening in genre now. The field is more open to people from a wider variety of backgrounds, and that diversity has fueled a plethora of fantastic narratives, both new takes on old stories and completely innovative narratives. I always push myself to try something new when I’m writing, and I hope my work helps to broaden the horizons of genre fiction.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I have a short story coming out in the September/October 2021 issue of Asimov’s titled “Your Luminous Heart, Bound in Red.” It’s my take on Red Riding Hood that subverts the relationship between Red and the Big Bad Wolf while deconstructing toxic masculinity. I’ve also got a second novella for Tordotcom Publishing that I’m working on.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
One of my favorites is Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. I love mail, and I’m always delighted by Pratchett’s analog take on the internet.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I actually retain stories pretty terribly. I can read a book for the first time multiple times.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Probably the release of In the Watchful City. It’s my first book release, so I have no idea what to expect. It’ll be nice to have that uncertainty resolved.