Tinling describes herself as an author who writes:
... far from the centre of thingsand says that this feeling of not quite belonging, of living between cultures, of what she describes as "multi-rootedness", is what has fuelled her writing. She is considered an Asian-American author in the States but sees herself more as a voice of the Chinese diaspora. Born in Malaysia (she is from Penang but went to a convent school in Ipoh, and then moved to the US to attend Wellesley College) she now lives in Vermont and describes herself as:
... a tropical city girl who lives among the snowy mountains.She is now working towards a PhD in Chinese Literature at Yale as well as juggling life as a new mum and working on her second novel, Yuyu and the Banyan Tree which is due to be published by Nan Talase/Doubleday in 2009.
FireWife she says was fuelled by the image of a woman letting her naked body be used as a plate for sushi (a practice known in Japan as Nyotaimori. ... Now don't go trying this one at home!) while a group of four men sat around her with chopsticks eating the food. She says that she felt so angry that she went home and wrote the woman's story as if she were right inside her skin. The story of this woman became one of the eight in the novel.
In 1992 she got a Wellesley College Stevens Traveling Fellowship to travel to Asia to further develop the book, and went from country to country gathering material. She decided to link the stories of the different women through the character of Nin, who takes time out of her normal life to complete a personal photography project, also called FireWife.
The book is about the gap between knowing and actually living your true self, says Tinling, and there's much more about the writing of it on her website.
Kam says that he also feels that he writes from the periphery.
You can be Muslim and Malay and still outside the centre.
5,000 copies of the book havve now been sold and it is still on Kinokuniya's best selling list
Kam says that he deliberately chose to write for the Malaysian market, an audience which would get the in-jokes and references which a wider audience wouldn't. But the book certainly isn't going to make him very rich. He reckons his royalty check will be somewhere in the region of RM12, 000 which isn't a lot considering that 7 years work went into the book.
But, he says, he did find writing very enjoyable, creating:
... a world that's bigger than the one you live in.He is, though, now looking for an overseas publisher for the book.
Tinling described the elation she felt when she heard that a publisher wanted to take on her book and said she had to pinch herself:
I got really lucky. The sun, moon, everything aligned!The book is a bit expensive here at the moment, she says, as it is still in hardback. Her dad worked out that it costs 70 bowls of hokkien mee! (This is the kind of exchange rate I think in too!)
This article about Tinling appeared in the Star's northern edition (click to enlarge):