Saturday, October 28, 2006

David Gemmell is dead!,,60-2293450,00.html

I read this and was completely shocked! For those who're unfamiliar with David Gemmell's work, he's a fantasy writer. His works I enjoyed the most are the 'Lion of Macedon' series (about Parmenion, Alexander the Great's general) and 'Troy' (on Aeneas and Andromache).

What I admire about his works are his incredibly vivid action scenes. When you read them, they're utterly page turning and unputdownable, almost as though a movie was being screened in front of your eyes.

I learnt this from him:

1. Legends are good story fodder. Alexander the Great and Troy are eternal stories. But in writing them, give them a fresh angle by focusing on a lesser known character like Parmenion or Aeneas instead of the usual Alexander and Achilles/Hector types.

2. Make your villains as tortured and complicated as possible. Make them capable of good.

3. Obstacles and supporting characters with hidden motives must be strewn at every path. Make it really difficult for the hero! Make them face turmoil at every opportunity! (Parmenion, King Philipp's best friend, actually fathered Alexander the Great because Philipp was too drunk to do the deed on the wedding night). (Aeneas falls in love with Andromache, a lesbian, who is betrothed to marry his favorite cousin, Hector.)

I will sorely miss him.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Is non fiction tougher to write than fiction?

John Grisham has this to say.

"BESTSELLING author John Grisham has turned to non-fiction for the first time, and, surprised by the amount of time and energy it took, he believes it may well be the last.

The Innocent Man is the real-life story of of Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz, who were charged with the 1982 murder of a cocktail waitress.

Williamson, who was mentally unstable, was convicted and sent to death row in the United States, where he came within five days of being executed for a murder he did not commit. He and Fritz were eventually freed after DNA tests showed there was no link between the men and the crime.

John Grisham signing copies of his first non-fiction book, The Innocent Man, in New York recently.

“This was too much hard work,” Grisham said. ”Non-fiction requires endless research, fact-checking, accuracy – things I’m not know for,” he told an audience at the annual literature festival in Cheltenham, England, recently. “This book probably took five times the effort that a novel takes. I don’t want to do it again.”

Grisham was drawn to the story when he read Williamson’s obituary in the New York Times in 2004. The miscarriage of justice against Williamson, who shouted angrily at witnesses during his trial after he had been denied psychiatric medicine for months, reinforced Grisham’s doubts about the US legal system.

“It didn’t change my opinion of the death penalty because I’ve been opposed to it for a long time,” he said. “It goes back to the issue of a fair trial. If you can’t give people a fair trial, then your system is broken.”

The book is also an attack on what Grisham saw as sloppy police work in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, and its impact on an innocent man. “He (Williamson) went insane on death row and came within five days of being executed, and when finally he was exonerated he drank himself to death.”

Grisham, one of the world’s most successful writers with global sales of more than 200 million books, recalled his humble beginnings as a lawyer and novelist. The print run on his first book, A Time to Kill, was a modest 5,000, and its lack of success nearly put him off writing for good.

“I bought 1,000 (copies), and I sold the copies from the trunk of my car,” he said. After the failure of A Time to Kill, Grisham decided to have one more try with The Firm, which he made “as blatantly commercial” as he could. The Firm turned into a movie starring Tom Cruise, flew off the shelves and established Grisham as a literary star. He has written 18 novels in total, many of which have been turned into feature films. – Reuters

Anyway, I have always found fiction more difficult to write than non-fiction. Maybe it's because I don't research that much! And I've learnt something else from John Grisham - just because your first book isn't a success, it doesn't mean your second book won't be. (And when you become a success, your first book will sell too.) And in order to sell a lot of books, you have to make your stories as 'blatantly commercial' as possible. I wonder what he meant by that.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Book on Malaysian anecdotes - collecting submissions

At least they're going to pay you with 1 free book and some MPH vouchers! Closing date is Oct 30th.

On another note, my agent came back from the Frankfurt book fair. And he says:

1. He's collected a lot of publisher contacts, and many are interested in Billy Lang. BUT they want to see the finished manuscript naturally. I asked if it was possible to shoot for the moon (to quote Cecelia Ahern in PS, I love you) and talk to Harper Collins. He said it's always possible.

2. Note that these things take a long time to get. Months. Sometimes years. So an interested party doesn't always mean it will work out.

3. He's even got a few interesting in republishing Dark City for the UK market. Including the one that did Shanghai Baby because they're interested in Asian works. We'll see what comes out of that!

Meanwhile, he says there's a Singaporean publisher really interested in collecting Malaysian Ghost stories, and he asked me to write it. I said, "Are you kidding? I'm writing Billy Lang AND collecting for Dark City 2. Whad'ya think I am? An octopus with 8 arms and 4 writing brains?"

So if anyone's interested to get published, you know what the Singaporean market craves for.

Ah! Importantly, I might have my first story already for Dark City 2. I won't reveal the contributor yet but I really liked the plot and was quite pleasantly surprised/shocked at the ending. I asked the contributor to rework the story to make it longer and more suspenseful.

And the rest of you fellow writers, bring your contributions on!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

When the story writes itself

Ever began writing something with a fixed plan in mind, e.g: By Chapter 7, protagonist should be getting to Place A, or by Chapter 16, the war begins etc, only to have your story carried away by the characters themselves?

I was reading Sharon's interview with Anita Desai. And even those Booker Prize winners/nominees don't know who the murderer is until the end of the book! Stephen King also espouses this method. "Which is more fun?" he says. "Going along for the ride with the characters, not knowing what will happen next? Or planning every step of the way?"

I have to agree with Stephen. It's a lot more fun going for the journey without knowing what happens next. This is exactly what I'm experiencing now while writing Billy Lang, my children's book. I'm up to Chapter 9 now, and I have 10 extra chapters in the bag of what will happen to Billy later once he gets past this hurdle. And I'm finding that Billy is writing himself. (Or the hurdle keeps on getting more complicated all on its own.)

For example:

1. I had initially planned for Billy to be kidnapped by the boy with red eyes in Chapter 4 and whisked off immediately into the Demon Realm, whereupon they will go on a demon train ride through terrains never seen before by man.


Billy is kidnapped, but seized from his captors instead by a magician with the souls of dead children for his familiars. He is now imprisoned in the House with No Windows and is planning an ingenious escape or he would be certain to face an awful death. Naturally, obstacles conspire that this escape won't be easy.

Things just happen to the guy (out of no volition of my own) and he keeps finding ways to stay one step ahead! It's like I'm thinking, "What would he do in this situation?" Or, "What would this villain do in this situation?" Or, "What would this secondary character do in this situation to complicate matters? They're not going to be innocent bystanders, are they?" And they all end up as real people trying to outwit one another.

Maybe it's like what John Irving says, "I just think of the characters, and they write themselves."

(Bangs head on the wall.)

Anyway, at least I'm having fun with a protagonist who came completely to life all on his own.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Sun interview

I'm really slow with this, I know. It was published over a month ago.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dark City 2 - calling for submissions

Ok guys, it's a go. Please do contribute if you want to and do spread the word around. Remember, this will be one of the very few anthologies which actually pays!

Dark City 2

For the Dark City sequel, which is scheduled to be published in April 2007, author Xeus is calling for short story submissions. Dark City 2 will be an anthology of dark and twisted Malaysian tales much in the tone of the first book.

The submission criteria are:
1) Each short story should contain around 3000 - 8,000 words. Please use double spacing and Microsoft Word.
2) Each plot must be in the same vein as Dark City 1, which are stories about the darker side of Malaysian life. The short story genres can be contemporary, horror, fantasy, science fiction, suspense, romance, Roald Dahl-style ironic etc.
3) The stories must meet the English and storytelling standards of the first book. (In other words, the editor will only select only what is publishable)
4) Each short story must contain a twist which hopefully no reader will see coming
5) This is open to published and unpublished writers of all ages. For unpublished writers, this allows you an opportunity to be published and to use this in your literary resume. You will then be able to sell your work more easily to a future publisher.

Your story will be selected on the strength of its plot, your ability to beguile the reader, and the shock impact of your twist. Your story must be concise, gripping and satisfying! Selected contributors will be paid RM 150 and 4 free books for each story. You can submit as many stories as you like.

The editor reserves the right to conceptually edit selected stories in the purpose of making them more appealing and ask you for a rewrite.

Closing date is Feb 28th, 2007. Good and publishable stories will be selected on a first come, first serve basis. So if you’re interested, get cracking now!

Stories are to be submitted to

For more information about Dark City, log on to

Monday, October 09, 2006

Dark City - the sequel

Ah, apparently the National Library of Malaysia wants to order 500 copies of Dark City to distribute nationwide in all the library branches. I wonder if they know what they're buying :) Such a contrast to the Singaporean National Library, yes?

If this sale goes through, I would have sold almost all of the 3000 first print run already. (That is, if the bookstores don't return them at the end of the year!)

On another note, my Malay translation is taking a long, long time. Apparently, the guy has translated only 3 chapters!! My publisher says he will find another guy if this one doesn't complete it on time. Does translation actually take that long? (Okay, maybe if I did it, it will.) I = saya. He = dia.

Anyway, my publisher and I agreed on some things already. We want to do a sequel, and since I'm writing Billy Lang, there is one way to get a sequel out easily. That's right, I'm calling for submissions.

But before I go to the press with it, I need your opinions.

1. Since I believe in paying for submissions (unlike some anthologies), would RM 150 + 4 free books to each contributor cut it? (Note I'm taking this money out myself, and we're never ever sure what we're going to earn per book. And other people who collect anthologies don't even pay.)

2. My criteria are:
a) Up to 12,000 words per story
b) Must be in the same vein as the stories in Dark City 1 - meaning stories about the darker side of Malaysian life. And it must meet the English and storytelling standards. (In other words, I will only select what is publishable)
c) Each story must contain a twist that hopefully no reader will see coming
d) This is open to published and unpublished writers of all ages. For unpublished writers, this allows you an opportunity to say you've been published somewhere, and to sell your future work easier to a publisher.

Does this sound feasible to you?

And on yes, please do spread the word so that people can contribute. I will select the stories, of course.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Readers' writes and Yvonne Foong's book

Do you, now and then, Google yourself?

I must confess I do it once a week. Since I have 4 or 5 pen names, I Google them every now so often. I also Google my real name to see what pops up. But the words that I Google most are "Dark City, Xeus." (I know, I know, I'm very pathetic.)

Anyway, I Google myself just to find snippets like these on other blogs. This one absolutely made my day.

"I noticed local author Xeus’s Dark City on the shelves, found an open copy, read the first page and couldn’t put the book down until the whole tale was finished. Xeus’s writing is elegantly understated, her dialogue noirish and she does clever flashback cuts to increase the suspense. This former fan of twisted, violent tales was impressed. It’s another book to add to the shelves next visit."

Was at MPH 1 Utama the other day and found Yvonne Foong's book 'I'm not sick, just a bit unwell' featured prominently at the bookshelf end in the Malaysiana section. It was rapidly depleted too! Please do support her. Congrats, Yvonne, for getting it distributed so well.