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Smoke & Mirrors with SL Syarief

Interview by Ashley Jones (Read the Story) June 17, 2024

SL Syarief

SL Syarief

You have quite a unique setting for your story—an Illusion Museum! Where did the idea for this come from? Is it based on any real-life experiences?

Thank you! I wouldn’t say it’s based on any specific experiences other than the almost universal experience of an awkward museum date.

What was the inspiration behind Maryam’s character? What made you choose to write through the lens of your protagonist?

Maryam is inspired by the setting: an unstable, uncertain Malaysia plagued by censorship and religious fascism precipitates this cadre of well-meaning yet defeated activists. The piece is written through the male protagonist’s perspective to emphasize her condition. The protagonist, Ilyas, admires Maryam but also doesn’t take her seriously, reducing her to her gender and middle-class status. Towards the end of the piece there’s this sense that Ilyas, through a combination of his infatuation, ogling and admonishment of Maryam, has developed a sense of concern—veering on ownership—over her, seeing her activism as a threat and relishing his own image in the calligraphy section of the Illusion Museum.

The story is based in Malaysia, where you’re from. What role does your home and ethnicity play in your writing? Is it often a source of inspiration for you?

I draw from Malaysia a lot in my writing, my ethnicity less so. “Illusion Museum” is firmly inspired by middle/upper middle-class Malaysia, the privileges and amenities we enjoy, and the spontaneous flashes of political and cultural instability we dip into but are never truly ruined by.

What does your process for writing fiction look like? Where do you get your ideas?

I never force myself. I write on the side and stop if it’s not fun, or if I feel like I’m trying too hard. I read as broadly as possible, and make sure I live first and write second. I avoid writing at home. The public library is an invaluable resource because I can just bring my laptop and sit there for free. Sometimes I borrow a book. Beats paying for overpriced coffee.

What do you hope readers take away from your story?

Readers should feel a sense of dread from “Illusion Museum,” while also being acquainted with the limited lives of the Malaysian middle class. Otherwise, there are no lessons or morals from the story, and the politics of the piece exist only in its reflection of this jaded, passive, “gliding” sensation that forms the current Malaysian zeitgeist.

About the Author

SL Syarief is a writer in his twenties, born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He enjoys writing about local issues and experiences through contemporary fiction. He juggles his writing with a full-time job in the corporate world. He is working on at least two novels concurrently, which he’s been told is suboptimal. Follow him on Twitter @msialongform.

About the Interviewer

Ashley Jones recently graduated from Missouri State University with a B.A. in religious studies and creative writing. She is currently enrolled at MSU to complete her M.A. in religious studies and is pursuing a life of writing in her free time.

This interview appeared in Issue Eighty-Four — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighty-Four — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

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