Manish Melwani is a Singaporean writer of science fiction, fantasy and horror. He attended the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in 2014, and currently lives in New York City, where he’s completing a masters thesis in creative writing, history and literature. His research focuses on the intersection of science fiction and postcolonial studies.
His story “The Tigers of Bengal” can be read in Lontar: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction #7. That tale, and “The Water Kings”, which will be published in Shadows and Tall Trees #7, are part of a forthcoming collection of Singapore ghost stories. You’ll find him where the waters are darkest, or online at www.manishmelwani.com.
1. What inspired your story in Shadows & Tall Trees 7?
This story was awful to write. It was inspired by a death in the family, and the writing (or grieving) process was essentially a waking nightmare filled with bizarre, occult coincidences.
It started late one night, when I saw an apparition in a neighbouring apartment: someone holding a giant green umbrella close to their head, so they looked like a crocodile-headed monstrosity. When I looked again, the person was gone. This became the opening image of the story, and was soon followed by a title: The Water Kings.
I’m not the sort of writer who starts with a title, so this was unusual. It didn’t make the story any easier to write, though.
Much of its grist comes from the politics and drama of multigenerational family businesses (a common occurrence in the Sindhi diaspora, to which I belong). There’s also a forgotten atrocity from WW2 that I learned about while researching my Singapore ghost story collection. I won’t give away any more, but I’m planning to publish an essay about these influences on my website after Shadows comes out.
2. Can you recall the first story you ever read that made you think “I want to be a writer!”?
Not specifically, but my Dad kept a huge collection of sci-fi paperbacks from his childhood, so I had the fortune of encountering books like The Hobbit, Foundation and Dune really early on.
My earliest writerly memory dates from Primary 2 (2nd grade). I was sitting at the back of the class, drawing a map of a fantasy kingdom in my exercise book. Our teacher told everyone to come sit on the floor at the front of the classroom, and I didn’t go, because I was so engrossed in my world-building. She confiscated the book and gave me detention. Traumatic for sure, but a clear sign that I was destined to write SFF.
3. What scares you?
When I’m up late at night, I fear that the visible world will turn out to be nothing but a facade, that it’ll be ripped away to reveal a nightmare universe; that demons or monsters might pry through reality’s fabric at any moment.
As a result, I really enjoy cosmic horror—the more coherent the cosmology, the scarier. Laird Barron’s Old Leech mythos and John Langan’s The Fisherman are recent favourites.
4. You can take five books to a desert island: which ones do you choose?
Oh god. I would bring “The Big Book of Five Books Brought To Desert Islands: An Anthology of Every Answer to This Question Ever”.
In all seriousness, though, I would bring books that are really long and/or re-readable, so they’d keep me busy for years.
Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s massive short story anthologies The Weird and The Big Book of Science Fiction clock in at a total of 1.5 million words, which would keep me busy for at least the first three months. Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun tetralogy: I suspect it’s got enough hidden secrets that I could re-read it a couple more times. Ulysses, so I can force myself to finally finish it.
Lastly, I want to get fluent in Hindi, so I would like the most comprehensive Hindi primer ever written. Preferably with an appendix of short stories.
5. What’s next for you?
Finishing this collection of Singapore ghost stories in which The Water Kings will sit.
There’ll be ten stories total, taking place at various points in Singapore’s history between 1300 and 2300. They span a range of genre styles: magical realism, supernatural horror, spooky adventure story, science-fiction-but-with-ghost, etc.
After that, I’ve got a space opera novella, and another (completely unrelated) space opera novel in the works. So I’m slowly learning how to write stories that are longer and longer.