The How-Do-You Series #2 – Meihan Boey, Author of The Formidable Miss Cassidy

The How-Do-You Series is an ongoing collection of interviews I’ve conducted with creators. In each edition, I’ll ask (pretty much) the same three questions. The goal is to show the different ways that different people tackle problems fairly common to everyone who works in the arts.

Our second edition features Meihan Boey. Meihan is the author of The Formidable Miss Cassidy, which was co-winner of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2021, and the sci-fi novella, The Messiah Virus. She’s the co-creator of several comics and even the Vice President of the Association of Comic Artists of Singapore.

Meihan Boey

I met Meihan when we were on a panel together, while she was promoting The Messiah Virus. We very quickly hit it off after we realised that we shared more than a couple of influences. It certainly helped that we turned out to be fans of each other’s work too. Since then, it’s been such a joy to watch her go from strength to strength – all while she’s remained supportive of other creators.

1. How do you start working on a project? Do you have a ritual or a routine that helps you get into the right frame of mind, or an exercise that helps you build momentum?

MB: It depends on the project, but as a general rule, if I’m working on a comic book, I start with the artist’s style. Often with a comic, it’s the artist who has the original concept, and that means they’ve often already done character sketches, designs and so on. Sometimes, I look at a character design and immediately get a sense of who this will be; or sometimes, looking at that creator’s prior work, I have an idea of that person’s style of world-building, and what sort of themes and emotions they want to communicate. From there, I fit my own style of writing and creating into the general theme, and we generally find a way to incorporate both views. A great example is Supacross – the concept is by Jerry Hinds, and we’re extremely different people! – but the moment I saw his initial art for Singapore Sling, with her slightly snarky expression and gangly superhero sprawl, I knew what her personality was going to be (i.e., mouthy IJ girl), and Jerry, to his credit, let me totally run with that.

For a solo project like Miss Cassidy, honestly if I tried to plot the whole process from the very beginning, it’s a work of twenty-plus years! But the moment when I decide I am gonna write this down, there is definitely a process. I’m a Stephen King-ish kinda writer – not in that I am a world famous fabulously talented and infinitely creative author, ahem, but in that I set a daily time and duration to write, and I stick to it for as long as it takes to get to the end. I use a separate device to write (i.e., it’s not my work computer) and I usually take copious notes (I now use a Remarkable for this). Once I start Writing Time, I don’t stop – I often don’t pee even if the loo is two steps away and I’m busting – and I don’t like to be disturbed. It’s like a mental sensory deprivation tank.

One other thing, I usually know the ending before I start to write. I’m a great believer in knowing how you want to end your story first, because otherwise I find the thing just goes off into the wild yonder and you have no idea where you’re going, all your friends are gone, your house is full of spiders, your food is rotting on the plate and the police are smashing down your door ’cause your mailbox is busting and they think you died two weeks ago…

All writers produce garbage, it’s part of the process. Somewhere in the garbage, eventually, if you are patient enough, humble enough, and just godammned stubborn and masochistic enough, you will find something worth polishing.

Meihan Boey

2. How do you overcome creative fatigue? How do you stay in love with what you do, or how do you get out of a creative slump?

MB: I haven’t (people have virulently hated me for this) actually experienced creative fatigue or been in a creative slump; I’m kinda permanently in love with writing fun things! My biggest challenge is not “writer’s block” but what I shall call “literary diarrhoea” – i.e., the habit of churning out tremendous, tremendous amounts of what is often just garbage. I still have literally hundreds of old manuscripts which I now read and go “omg argh” at. When this hits me, what happens is usually the creation of extremely derivative fangirly stuff. To get it out of my system, I sometimes hit up fan fiction sites and unload on them (there is a lot, a lot of Vegeta-based Dragonball fan fic out there written by me).

I don’t really see it as a bad thing, necessarily. As Neil Gaiman says, the first step in writing is to write. All writers produce garbage, it’s part of the process. Somewhere in the garbage, eventually, if you are patient enough, humble enough, and just godammned stubborn and masochistic enough, you will find something worth polishing.

Meihan Boey, Epigram Books

3. How do you balance the creative with the administrative? How much time do you dedicate to your writing, since you also hold down a day job, and how much of your week is devoted to answering book-related emails or sending out invoices?

MB: Hahaha! I wish I had the problem of answering book related emails from fans and publishers and TV show producers, clamouring for my attention!! Give me this problem, world!!

So! When I’m in full manuscript production or editing mode, I set aside two hours a day to just write or edit. This is often on a commute as well, in the bus or train with an iPad or the Remarkable. Much of my lunch break is spent on writing-related work too.

I also do a lot of plotting while working out. I’m a bit of a cardio junkie queen, so I work out every day. When I run, swim or cycle, I spend most of the hour blankly staring at the gym wall or 1.5m of the path in front of me, sorting out plot tangles and entirely ignoring the beautiful work of NParks.

My full time job is events management, and folks who are in this field know, it’s usually a lot of mad frantic effort for days before the event; then, if you’ve done your job right, there actually isn’t that much to do during the event. You’re there to make sure things go smoothly, but unless there’s a sudden crisis, this means you largely sit or stand at a reception area and sort of dangle there till the thing is over and you get into action again. So while folks are having their buffet or doing their presentation, I am writing on whatever device is easiest to carry covertly with a clipboard, with a fixed customer service smile on my face for the sake of the CCTV.

Get The Formidable Miss Cassidy here.

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