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We hoped readers would sense subtle connections linking the three stories based on the prompts alone, and then the last two stories could surprise readers by creating a more coherent whole. The idea of “passing the baton” to the next writer became another critical step in the book’s development. Although the collaborative framework of the book would be laid out there on the book jacket, we hoped the experience of reading the linked stories would far surpass the mere explication. For Xiao Xiang Shen, the author of “The Dream of the Crocodile”, this wasn’t his first time receiving the baton from another writer. He had already proved himself writing in the relay race format, which is why we assigned him the fourth story. The first three stories were a superstitious tale of horror, a suspense story laced with romance, and a mystery fusing a tale of detection with elements of social realism. With the fourth story, Xiao Xiang Shen expanded the blueprint of the book by writing from an almost sociological perspective, addressing the culture of chopsticks, and the difficulties faced by young women in contemporary Asian society. While surprising, “The Dream of the Crocodile” provided a satisfying conclusion, which only increased the difficulty of the challenge faced by the fifth writer. Now that the string of chopsticks-related incidents had reached a perfect conclusion, what was Chan Ho-Kei to write about?
Xiao Xiang Shen
I consider this the final miracle of the book, a miracle woven by five writers. This isn’t just a collaboration between writers. It is an acrobatic competition with five performers on the same stage, all attempting to outdo each other. In addition to addressing the themes assigned by the editorial team, each is throwing down the gauntlet to the writers that follow. “What materials are you going to harvest from my story? Are you going to tie up the loose ends?” Or perhaps, “Will you notice the little mysteries I left unsolved?” The last two writers are the wide receivers, catching the compositional elements and foreshadowing thrown to them by the first three, possibly even picking up a fumble or two. They are expanding the scope of the book, while, at the same time, stitching its pieces together and cleaning up loose threads. Even more astounding is the fact that none of the writers were acquainted with each other before beginning the book. All they had in common was that they were all mystery writers. The synchronicities that emerge between the writers’ stories is a product of their passion, spirit, and professionalism.
I’m not confident we could actually pull off another miracle like this one. Just getting authors interested in this kind of collaboration is rare and wonderful enough, like spotting a shooting star at night. After coming up with the basic themes, Xerses, JeTauZi, and I invited Chan Ho-Kei to join us. He immediately began advocating that “good stories know no borders”, which set us on the path of inviting a Japanese writer to join the project, giving form to our transnational concept. Mitsuda Shinzo, a talented writer of supernatural stories, is held in high regard by Taiwanese readers. When it came time to write the final story, Chan Ho-Kei was assisted by a timeline of the events of the previous four stories drawn up by Xiao Xiang Shen, which helped him to locate points where he could weave the threads of the stories together. Nearly every stage of this book would have proved impossible but for the experience and quality of the other writers on the team. Everything about this rare and unique process of creation exceeded our imagining, except, perhaps, for the cliché that once good writers get started, they can’t put down their pens—every story ended up running over our assigned word counts!
Chopsticks is an unexpected success of a book, with its imagination-defying plot and rarely-seen literary pyrotechnics. Combining horror, mystery, fantasy, romance, and science fiction, all built on a foundation of chopstick lore, the book illustrates the cultural commonalities and differences between Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. Simultaneously, the interactions between these five masters of fiction reveals the unique literary characteristics of each region. One book, five stories, rife with ingenious plotting, stunning authorial acrobatics, and a thick atmosphere of mystery and horror distilled from one of the most familiar objects in East Asian culture. We simply cannot wait for these literary pleasures to be enjoyed by book lovers from around the world.