Interview with The Rumpus

I had a brilliant time chatting to The Rumpus about my fear of death, pre pub anxiety, writing rituals, vegetable consumption habits, cryogenic freezing and oh, pottery (more or less in that order)! Excerpt below, and you can read the full interview here: 

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Rumpus: Endlessly fascinating to me is the idea, which your book vivisects so intelligently, that any thoughtful examination of suicide is, essentially, an examination of life itself—in all of its, as you say, oozing and shedding mystery. Do you see your novel as any kind of cautionary tale?

Heng: I think it’s a cautionary tale for myself! Death and loss have always been obsessions of mine, and writing this book was my way of confronting my own deep fear of mortality. I think I wrote the book to convince myself that living forever would come with its own set of problems, that dying is okay, and that in many ways it is death that shapes and gives our lives meaning. When I started imagining the kind of world in which immortality would be attainable, other obsessions and fears began to come into it. I started thinking about the way healthcare resources are allocated in a capitalist society, the way wellness has become a kind of moral imperative and luxury status symbol. So I suppose eventually, it also evolved into a cautionary tale about the path we’re on as a society, in terms of the way we think of and value human life.

Rumpus: Suicide Club is rife with amazingly penetrating sentences: “Then the pain came, hot and selfish and demanding. Suddenly she was nothing.” and “She felt his delicate ribs under the flesh and fur, thin bones interlocking like puzzle pieces, protecting some squirming secret within.”

What comes first for you—the language, or the image?

Heng: That is a hard question! But I think because reading has always been such a huge part of my life, that I understand my reality through the filter of language. I think even the most visual descriptions in fiction (or poetry) achieve something that transcends the visual image, that allow the fictional reality to exist on a different, more flexible plane, if that makes sense. I think that’s why movie adaptations are always so disappointing to readers—not because the visual representation fails to match what we have in our minds, but because we often don’t have specific, definite representations in our minds. When we read fiction, I don’t think it’s like the projection of a movie reel in our minds, I don’t think we see the story in actual images that correspond to real life. I think fictional language allows us live in the spaces that words can open up for us.

Rumpus: Do you have any pre-writing rituals? Weird tics?

Heng: When I wrote Suicide Club, I was working a pretty intense full-time job, so I only had a short window of time before work to actually devote to writing. So my ritual then was to scramble out of bed at 6 a.m. and type desperately for about an hour while still half-asleep. I’ve since left my job and am now in an MFA program, which means my days are far more flexible and I’m still trying to figure out the best routine for myself. These days I still get up around 7 a.m. I make myself a large pot of strong Earl Grey, then I try to distract myself by harassing my cat and messing about on Twitter, and before I know it it’s noon and I’m consumed with self-loathing, so I write frantically for about an hour or so. Perhaps some better pre-writing rituals would help. I should really think of some.