Chopsticks has been a long journey, one which has yet to reach its end. As the first original book from Apex Press, it has sold surprisingly well in the Taiwan market, receiving rave reviews from readers and critics alike. The tailwinds have held strong, and with the help of numerous people, the book will soon be available to readers in South Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. At this point Chopsticks has taken on a life of its own, one never envisioned by the editor and publisher. It’s the fans who are now opening new horizons for the book.
Combining the talents of writers Mitsuda Shinzo, Xerses, JeTauZi, Xiao Xiang Shen, and Chan Ho-Kei, the structure of Chopsticks is part collaborative creation, part relay race. The first three authors wrote stories based on two prompts: “an urban legend concerning chopsticks” and “a person with a fish-shaped birthmark on their arm”. The latter two picked up the baton where the ones before them left off, writing additional stories to help tie all of the pieces together into a coherent whole.
In “Lord Chopsticks”, the first of the three vanguard stories, a Japanese middle school student performs a forbidden ritual by sticking a pair of bamboo chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, thus mimicking a funerary rite. This act summons Lord Chopsticks to grant the student’s wish, but he must pay by becoming prey to a monster that will hunt him through his dreams. The second tale, “The Coral Bones”, is about a young woman who beseeches a Taoist priest with a fish-shaped birthmark on his hand to locate a missing chopstick. Possessed by a spirit known as Immortal Wang, the chopsticks once brought good luck, but decades ago, after one of the pair disappeared, the remaining chopstick has only brought misfortune. “The Cursed Net” is based on a popular urban legend about Bride’s Pool in Hong Kong. According to the legend, if a ritual meal for the dead is placed at the edge of the pool, a ghost bride will appear to take vengeance on behalf of the supplicant. In the story, a young internet star is assisted by the ghost bride in solving the case of her boyfriend’s death during a livestream broadcast. “The Dream of the Crocodile”, links together the first three tales with the story of a father who will stop at nothing to save his son from the curse of Lord Chopsticks. His unflagging determination leads him to the ruins of a flooded school at the bottom of a reservoir, where yet another mystery is revealed. The final story, a sci-fi romance/adventure, completely defies expectations, carrying forward the suspense of the previous four while developing novel linkages between them.
Looking back it is clear that arriving at the theme of “chopsticks” was the first critical step in the book’s development. The process of selecting the theme was fairly straightforward. We just felt out different ideas, one at a time. To facilitate discussions we created a group on Facebook with Xerses and JeTauZi. Each day we tossed around ideas, looking for areas of commonality between Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. We considered some heavier topics like cram schools or death by overwork, and more general themes, like “the sea”. After turning things over for a while, in a flash of inspiration, JeTauZi came up with “chopsticks”. It struck us as strange at first, but the more we thought about it the more intriguing it sounded. Chopsticks are simple utensils, but each region has its own taboos, myths, and legends around them. It seemed worthwhile to challenge ourselves to create a sense of horror surrounding an ordinary, commonplace object. From chopsticks we free-associated our way to “fish”. Adding the essential element of a person led us to “a person with a fish-shaped birthmark on their arm.”