Friday, September 29, 2006

Reply from UK publisher....and how to write humor

How exciting! I actually got my first reply from a UK publisher for my children's book, Billy Lang. It's far from being an affirmative, but at least they are willing to look at it.

I think you must think me lame, but this is very exciting for me!

"Thanks for this. We are looking at the programme for next year but not
including much children's fiction unless it fits well with other titles we
are planning. Anyway we will take a look and get back to you.

All the best."

On another note, I want to thank MPH MidValley for giving me a wonderful poster display, which absolutely works because the books began moving as soon as it was up. They are so kind!

I'm currently reading the 'banned book' The Marriage Market, by Nisha Minhas, which is absolutely hilarious, her funniest book yet. This one is about a British born Indian girl marrying a white man and being disowned by her family. It's a laugh a minute romp about a very serious subject.

"With a hangover so severe that Aaron had to threaten his nine goldfish with his George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine for making too much gill noise, he arrived..."

Which brings me to: how you write humor?
I have been writing humor for ages in my That's Just Suzie column, alongside other articles.
And if there're several things I'm certain about:

1. You've got to be Over The Top (OTT) with your descriptions
2. Hit your readers with totally unexpected sentences
3. Your situations and dialogue have to be OTT
4. Mishaps are funny. People like reading about bad things that happen to other people, which are written in a funny manner.

What else do you think makes a book funny?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

My first reading

I have never been to a reading before, and so I always had this impression we must not read for too long (just enough to give everyone a flavour of what you write) or everyone will get bored!

So I arrived for the Bangsar reading really, really late. There were flash floods and hailstones around the Bangsar area, and for a moment, I expected to see frogs raining down too (it can happen), all because it was my first reading and the powers that be are conspiring to keep me from it. But I was not be deterred and I arrived 1 hour late.

(I also wished I had driven my Harrier instead of my very low Cellica, then I would have gone through the flash floods in a twinkle of an eye.)

I arrived when Joy (I don't know her, I got her name from Ted's blog) was reading a part of her script. Ted was there too (hi Ted!) and I met Aneeta. Sharon was busy coordinating everything, what a dear. Then Faridah read one ofher poems from The Art of Naming, about being a Muslim woman behind the veil, and I thought it was pretty poignant.

Then it was my turn! Sharon introduced me, and when she told everyone my book had been banned by the Singaporean National Library, everyone laughed. I read the first part of One if By Land (thanks Argus). After that, Aneeta read the shortest story from Snapshots (I can verify it was really short), and then it was all over because Jit Murad couldn't make it.

I had fun. So if you have a reading, you can invite me anytime. And maybe next time, like Yvonne, I will get a few friends to enact a scene. (PG rated, of course!)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Borneo Post review

Thanks to dear Georgette for reviewing the book in Kuching, the land of the great want tan mee.

Fiendishly Malaysian

Dark City

My book buddies and I have a long-standing issue with novels set in Malaysia and/or written by Malaysians. They either sound like they’re trying way too hard (usually very adjective-happy, with more sex and gore than necessary) or have a disturbing obsession with World War 2… nothing wrong in itself but can we stop dreaming of the past and move on to the present already?

It happened and I nearly missed it… all because of a mediocre cover and a hardwired aversion to Malaysian books.

‘Dark City’ appeared quietly in the local interest section of certain bookstores in town. I resisted, but reviews in national papers were positive, so I gave in and bought a copy. And wow, what a read that book turned out to be.

This effort by an author only known as Xeus contains 12 stories, each taking place somewhere in Malaysia and each containing that oh-so-important a twist that turns everything you’ve read so far on its head.

It begins by tossing you straight into the deep end. ‘Psychotic’ is a tale of Rachel, a young woman was kidnapped by a rapist and taken on a terrifying ride. The descriptions pulled no punches. The narrative is broken up by flashbacks to childhood, which readers would assume is Rachel's way of dealing with her present situation.

Let's just say that the clues were there all along.

'Trashcan Child', one of my personal favourites, is one of those stories where nothing really earth-moving seems to happen, until the last couple of pages reveals the actual context of the situation. It is about Pearl, who reluctantly adopted dumped baby Patience and raised her to adulthood.

'The Six Million Dollar Man' is the wealthy 60-year old Peter Song, whose selfish ways are about come back to haunt him... in ways you and I probably wouldn't have thought possible.

'The Resistance' describe the plans of a terrorist cell that is about to launch an attack on all of mankind. A flight attendant suspects something, but the perpetrators were way beyond her mild clairvoyant skills. This tale masterfully blends together two hot world issues of the recent years. I was laughing with delight (I'm twisted too, ok?) by the end of it. Incidentally, this is the author's favourite tale as well.

'A Grave Error' is a tribute to Edgar Allen Poe's fascination of being buried alive.

'Monster' sees a spoilt child being kidnapped. The father pays the ransom but didn't anticipate that someone else would want his monster of a son.

A character who was the main player in one story reoccur in a cameo role in other stories, which was pretty neat.

The author reveals little of herself, except that she is a freelance writer with 10 years of newspapers and magazine columns behind her. She did disclose that 'Psychotic' was originally meant for another anthology.

"I was asked to write a compilation of Asian erotica for the European market." she explained in a short email interview. "I started out with the best of intentions, but I cannot write straightforward erotica without twisting the story. When my agent read Psychotic, he gave up on me writing erotica! So Dark City was born."

One would think that opening an anthology with such a graphic tale may cause certain readers to put down the book and miss out on the other, less volatile stories. With the exception of the Singapore library banning her book from their shelves, there's been little such reaction in Malaysia.

But Xeus doesn't expect everyone to like all 12 stories.

"It's very hard to like each and every story in any anthology. Even Roald Dahl and Jeffrey Archer's collections, I end up only liking 3 or 4." she said.

'Dark City' may not be my epitome of the great Malaysian novel, but it does show that we're finally getting there.

Xeus is currently working on a children's book.

'Dark City' is available at all good bookstores in town.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Should writers be paid/paid better?

I read with interest what Lydia blogged about: Carolyn Keene, the author of the Nancy Drew series, apparently doesn't exist. The publishers hired ghostwriters to write the novels. They were paid only $125 for each book and were required to give up all rights and maintain confidentiality.

There's no Franklin W. Dixon either, it's a pseudonym for the authors of The Hardy Boys.

Now, I feel terribly sorry for the ghostwriters involved here because Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys have sold millions of books worldwide. AND we do know there's a bit of that going on locally too. Some publishers of anthologies are NOT PAYING their short story contributors, citing it's a priviledge just to be published. Is this right or wtong?

Also, down South, Russell Lee actually collects emails on True Singaporean Ghost Stories from all over. Does he pay these people? After all, the stories came from them, not him. Anyone knows?

Now, let's say if I were to start an anthology under Dark City, and I were to collect the dark stories centering on KL from a bunch of different writers (actually, I was thinking of doing that) - how much should each writer be paid? (Bearing in mind there will be 12 stories.) By percentage of the take or a one off?

Yvonne Lee has wonderful updates on the media section of her website, The Sky is Crazy (see sidebar.) She's now appeared in Prestige and Female Singapore. Congrats to Yvonne for having over 40 media appearances now, the most of any Malaysian author!!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Does bookstore display matter?

You bet it does!

Example: Was walking in 1 Utama yesterday, when I noticed the new MPH bestseller list. And I was over the moon when I saw Dark City at

No. 2 in the Humanities section (after The World is Flat)

No. 5 in the overall Bestseller section

I believe (not sure) this list is for June, July, Aug, seeing that the last list was posted in June.

Now, I believe the reason for the book's success in 1 Utama (It's sold over 110 copies there to date), is because of the wonderful display. The store manager is extremely supportive and he gave the book a pillar+poster display across the magazine section for 3 months, not to mention cash register display and also eye level display at the local section.

Contrast that to MPH MidValley, where the book was selling well for the first month when it was at the Hot and New section in front. Due to lack of space, it was relegated to the Malaysiana section, and thereafter, sold slowly. A lot of friends have complained to me they can't find the book in MidValley!

Nevertheless, together with Yvonne and Lydia for moral support (thanks girls!! We're truly formidable when we're together!), last week I've begged MidValley to give me a pillar+poster display too. They so kindly agreed, and my publisher has since printed an updated poster for them. It's up to me to follow up next week.

(MidValley's bestseller list is particularly important because that's the one that goes into The Star every week.)

So everyone, do make sure your books are displayed well. If you can't concentrate on all bookstores, just make sure you target the MPHs in MidValley and 1 Utama, Kinokuniya and Popular Ikano. These bookstores sell the most books. And if you have time, go down to the airport and target the bookstores there - books there seem to move with the speed of lightning.

Meanwhile, dear Sharon is having a reading this Saturday 23rd Sept in Bangsar (please see her blog). She's asked me to do a reading as well. I keep asking her, "Am I too low brow for your group?" But she won't hear of it! So I thought of reading 'The Resistance', simply because it's the shortest!! Is it a good choice?

I've also typed the entire Klue interview down below, because it's easier to do that than to wait for my husband to do a hi-res scan.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Writers, there's a job for you!

Heads up everyone. There's a job at Star Weekender, full time. Editor's asked me to help her find someone.

Anyone interested?

Today is Roald Dahl day, as Ted and Sharon have blogged about already. Roald Dahl is one of those writers I actually study. And how do you 'study' a writer?

Well, when you're reading to 'study' instead of just for pleasure, you're actually taking note of the plot, turn of phrase, word usage, beginning, middle and ending etc. You're taking note of the style, the dialogue, the plot points within plot points, and how the writer builds up suspense and ends every chapter.

When I read Dahl, Poe and Jeffrey Archer, I'm actually studying their short stories and how to write twists.

When I read Margaret Atwood and Tom Wolfe, I'm studying their prose.

When I read Dan Brown, Michael Crichton or John Grisham, I'm studying their plotting and build up.

When I read Stephen King, I'm studying how to build up horror.

When I read Sophie Kinsella, Wendy Holden, Plum Sykes, I'm studying how to write humour in chick lit.

Who do you study?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Klue interview


The denizens who inhabit Dark City, the first collection of stories by local author Xeus, are stabbed, raped, buried alive in coffins and mysteriously disappear. These are undoubtedly “twisted Malaysian tales”, as the suitably lurid cover pronounces, set in a nameless, Asian city that reads a lot like ours.

Xeus’s debut effort has proven a hit among lovers of psychological thrillers. The book has sold close to a whopping 2,000 copies in a mere three months, which by local standards, is sensational. And by a newcomer to boot, who took the plunge into the publishing industry after 11 years of freelance writing for newspapers and magazines.

I didn’t know anything about the publishing world. The agent was recommended to me by a friend, and almost immediately, four publishers wanted to publish Dark City,” she explains.

Not surprisingly, she professes a fondness for the macabre. “I read everything, even chick lit. But I’ve always gravitated towards writing about the strange and disturbing things that go bonk in our world,” says the mysterious author, who assumed her nom de plume to keep her full-time career outside the publishing world separate from her fiction pursuits.

She can now also add “banned author” to her CV. The Singaporean National Library refused to stock the book due to its explicit content. “It was too sexual for them! We pointed out that they stock many Western books with exactly the same content, but apparently, they won’t do the same for Asian books,” she explains. The book, however, is available for sale at bookstores.

That touch of notoriety should only help spur sales. The book is heading towards a second printing, with a Malay translation currently in the works which will mark her entry into that lucrative market. In the meantime, she’s already working on her follow-up, a children’s book. Kids, beware!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The first 3 chapters

Thanks so much to Lydia, Yvonne, Ted and his better half for coming to my book talk! Can't make it through these things without you guys! (Hugs). I will repay you guys for every bit of your time spent on me, you'll see.

Right now, I'm frantic. The Frankfurt book fair is coming up next month and my agent is rushing me on my next book.

Apparently, he wrote to a UK children's publisher: "Can I contact someone in your submissions division as to whom I can send a manuscript to. I have an exciting Childrens
book story which has been written along the similar kind of theme published by you."

And the publisher wrote back: "Can you make a meeting 10 or 3.30 on the Wednesday? If you want to send the manuscript to me I handle all our publishing and would be interested to see it."

Oh darn, darn, darn, and I'm not ready!! I have only written 12 chapters and I'm not even halfway through the book, and I haven't even written the ending. And I can't write the first chapter unless I have written the last chapter. What to do, what to do?

Does it seem like your entire life is being compressed at times?


Remember, this is a children's book, the first in a series.

And how about this for a sypnosis? (I suck at writing sypnoses.)

"It all begins when Billy Lang sees a face at the window. Suddenly, he is whisked away from the orphanage to a whole new world where boys grow knives from their limbs, tattooed girls can summon demons and where everyone who is anyone has a power beyond his wildest imagining.

But all is not well in this world. As warring forces struggle to kidnap Billy, he finds a key to his past, a secret so terrible it will unleash his own hidden powers and eclipse the world. And before Billy can unlock the secrets, he must first solve the puzzles and undergo three tasks....."

Does this sound remotely interesting to you and make you kinda want to read some more? (Just remember, it's a children's book!)

Friday, September 08, 2006

MPH Mid Valley Sunday 10th Sept 3.00 pm

I have yet another book talk tomorrow (Thanks Ted for highlighting it!) and someone was saying to me the other day, "You should be used to it by now."

Actually, you never really get used to it. There's always this familiar fluttery feeling in the pit of your stomach that goes:

1. I'll really really be embarrassed.
2. No one's gonna show up except my friends and I'll really really be doubly embarrassed.

Anyway - to anyone who's reading this, please please do come tomorrow so that I don't have to stand there looking like a rained out pink flamingo (okay, I might wear blue). I promise to make it worth your while. Also I solemnly promise to return the favour by attending your book launches/talks when your first/second/third book is published.

Got my copy of Klue yesterday and yes! There's a nice pic they took of me in my home looking all Matrix-like in sunglasses and the book covering the lower half of my face. Will scan it later when my husband finally teaches me to use the scanner. (I found out only yesterday we have 2 scanners in the house. TWO! And I don't even know how to use them!)

Oh, and my Malay translator was complaining to my publisher that he doesn't know how to translate the naughty bits of Psychotic. He found the rest OK. What should he do? My publisher asked him to leave out those parts. Tee hee.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Galaxie review


A serial rapist on the loose; a 16 year old boy desperate for a seductive prostitute; an unruly little boy who ends up a monster; a woman who abuses her maid…..These are just some of the stories that fuel Dark City. The book comprises 12 twisted tales set in Malaysia. The stories are written by a female freelance writer who goes by the name Xeus. Xeus’ stories are the result of her appetite for the dark side of life.
Each tale opens a disturbing can of worms. They concentrate on the ills that plague our society, with some twists thrown in for good measure. Some of the stories here like Psychotic, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Resistance are sensational and thought-provoking, while others are less intriguing. And even though some of the characters are not so believable, Dark City is a fun read with plenty of thrills to keep you engaged.

I'm still so amazed by the different tastes of different people. So far, everyone (either via media or personally to me) have told me about their favorite stories from Dark City. And it varies widely!

Argus Lou - when asked which stories I should serialize for The Star, she suggested Monster and Coup of the Century.

Malay Mail ed - Trashcan Child

NST - The Scarlet Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man, Coup of the Century

Jerry (my agent) - The Scarlet Woman

Many people (esp Singaporeans) - One if by Land

A few people, including Shashi (from the Sun) and Vaneeta (sp?) - The Resistance

Yvonne Lee - The Scarlet Woman

Zabir (Singaporean editor) - Session One

Ted - Incident at Monkey Gorge

My brother - Trashcan Child

My Uncle Albert - "It's all utter nonsense!" (Hee hee, I liked that one. Uncle Albert is a Rushdie and Tagore fan.)

My Uncle Victor - "Congrats, congrats. I guess we're forced to buy your book."

Lydia has yet to buzz me on her likes and dislikes :) And Bib has yet to read the book, I think!

Anyway, I was at the airport, and was gratified to see Dark City being sold out in all bookshops there. BUT the distributors are a little wary of restocking them because of ...reasons I can't mention here (Yvonne knows).