"At the moment, young people are more interested in things like social media, texting and posting irrelevant stuff on social media. After a point, they will find that it is not fulfilling," said one of the featured writers at this year's 10-day Singapore Writers Festival.
Cheong, 47, is the author of eight books, including four collections of poetry, two young adult novels and an anthology of interviews. His latest work is a collection of short stories about missing people in Singapore titled "Vanishing Point".
Hopeful that that the younger generation will return to reading books in a big way before distractions like social media came into the picture, he said writing a letter is far more tactile and emotionally-engaging than a text message.
He also believes that reading is still relevant to young people because of a fundamental principle he subscribes to: nothing goes in, nothing comes out.
"If you read a lot of rubbish, what you churn out is just rubbish. The marketplace rewards people who have read, and are well-read," the former television producer said.
This "officially retired" poet turned to writing fiction three years ago as a challenge to break away from his poetry writing habits.
At that time, he came across an intriguing statistic that 3,000 people go missing in Singapore every year. Even though 90 per cent of them are eventually found or traced, Cheong felt that 300 missing people every year is still a staggering number, more so coming from such a small country.
That statistic sparked his interest in the theme of absences and disappearance, which he channeled into a collection of short stories. While researching on the topic, Cheong browsed the Singapore Police Force's library of missing persons in Singapore and was inspired.
"I found these people on the website and picked those particular profiles that intrigued me with certain details or circumstances that allowed me to explore creatively the idea of disappearance," Cheong said.
For example, Felicia in The Little Drummer Boy was inspired by the 19-year-old LaSalle student Felicia Teo, who went missing in 2009 and has yet to be found.
"I used their profiles as a creative trigger for fiction. Their entire story was fleshed out by me because I didn't want their real circumstances or how they disappeared to affect my creative process," Cheong said.
"It was enough for me to just imagine them as people, and occasionally they do haunt me," he added.
The idea of disappearance is explored in many different ways in the book. There are those who go missing physically, and there are those who disappear metaphorically.
"You can have a sex addict who indulges in his habit. He goes to Geylang, checks out massage parlour and he has disappeared to his habit. His habit becomes him. It becomes his defining point," Cheong said.
And there are the invisible people — gaps in the society that we don't look at such as cleaning aunties who do their jobs, clear the tables and disappear into the background again.
"For the first time, NAC were interested in funding writers, artists and composers during their creative process. Normally they will fund when the end product is completed," Cheong said.
When asked if there were any restrictions on the content in the book, the author said that he had freedom in that aspect and in fact, some stories are quite political.
In Remember the Wormhole of 2030?, Cheong writes about a time warp on an unnamed island. People began walking into the time warp and disappeared. Coincidentally, at the same time, a well-known dissident disappeared, leading others to believe that he might have been abducted, detained and brainwashed by the government. The prime minister of that island has a name with the initials P-A-P.
Felix Cheong will be launching his book Vanishing Point at the Singapore Writers' Festival, taking place from 2-11 November. Vanishing Point is retailing at $21.40 and is available at Kinokuniya, Books Actually and Select Books. Cheong will be making an appearance at Coffee Reads at TCC on 12 November at SMU. More on the event here.