Friday, December 29, 2006

How mature do you have to be before you write?

Note I said mature, not old! There are very precocious little kids out there, and very old
people who have the mentality of a 2 year old.

I'm referring to Eragon, which is loudly panned by most critics for its atrocious acting and
yes, plotline. Folks on the Internet everywhere are calling it juvenile. And to quote someone
from Ain't it Cool News: "The trouble is the author was only 15 years old when he wrote it.
I have nothing against 15 year old authors, but at that age, they tend to produce something
that mirrors Star Wars or Lord of the Rings."

And then the reviewer goes on to blatantly compare Eragon scene for scene with Star Wars.
And he has a point! Eragon is a rip off from Star Wars, only it's set in a fantasy world.

Which comes to my point: how mature do you have to be when you write?

I can certainly say I'm producing better things now than I did 20 years ago. Experience (not
necessarily age) broadens your perspective and it comes out in your character development.
You can be 60 and not have experienced anything of note. You can be 15 and have gone through
more life experience than most 40 year olds.

Another thing is: the more you read and write, the better you write. It's not enough just to read.
You have to put it on paper and let the words flow, and you get better and better that way.

Other things of note:

1) Ted, Yvonne and John have a new book launched today called Write Out Loud! Karen Ann Theseira IBook Project 1 and 2) is the editor and it's published by Oak Publications. Wish I could be there. But after said nasty abscess, now I have saliva leaking from my wound! Sigh. Anyway, not sure I want to present myself with half a paralyzed face just yet. Why is nerve recovery so slow?

Double sigh.
Anyway, congrats to all involved in this book!! Great success to you.

2) I now have 4 (maybe 6) stories for Dark City 2 out of about 10 or 12 I have received so far. A couple need to be reworked so I have sent them back to the writers concerned about rewrites. A writer to look out for is Jennifer Tai, who has a very easy style and prose which makes you want to go on reading to find out what happens next to her characters.

For those who haven't yet submitted, keep them coming. If I think your story has potential, I will write back to you to suggest how you can make it better. As always, as those of you who have received mail from me know, I'm very constructive in my criticism.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Making a story out of a bad personal experience

I make a very bad patient. I tend to ignore everything about my own body, the very things 
I ask others to seek immediate help for. Last Saturday, my operation wound swelled up 
and turned red, but I ignored it because I thought it was part of the normal healing process.

Today, I have an really huge abscess that is suppurating out of 3 holes in my wound. No 
wonder it couldn't heal. 

The doctor today: "Why didn't come as soon as you knew it was red and tender?"
Me (sheepishly): "I thought it was part of the normal healing process. You see, I've never had 
surgery before. 
Doctor: "You've forgotten everything you learnt in medical school. Go look up your anatomy 

So as it is, I have an infected wound abscess compounded on my facial nerve problem. I think I was so focused on the facial nerve problem (I can't close my right eye or smile on my right side and I have to sleep with an eye pad on), wondering when it would get better the way everyone said it would (Dr said 2 weeks, most patients say 3 - 6 months) that I forgot everything I knew about wound healing.


So, I'm thinking of making this experience the first chapter of a new book (already commissioned after I finish a couple of projects) called "So, you want to be a doctor." This one is targeted at everyone who's curious to know what's it like to go through medical school (in this country) and to work as a doctor in a government hospital. Yes, it's a humorous collection of hospital anecdotes.

I even know how to end this first chapter. "I only wish I had gone through all this before I became a doctor because it would have made me a better and more compassionate one."

So, if you have had a bad personal experience, you can store it, internalize it and then write about it the way actors are asked to reproduce an emotional moment by reminiscing about something they have been through. You also have to disassociate from it a 

Then again, I'm getting an itch to write about strange beings that come out of suppurating abscesses to invade the world.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Lydia's launch and MPH initiatives

Lydia had a most successful launch of Honk! if you are Malaysian today at the MPH Share a Gift
Carnival in Crowne Plaza Mutiara. There were children (some of them her own) tooting the 'roti'
horn and toting huge placards of her book cover. I thought the launch was extremely well done
and her book cover and endorsements by other personalities like Adibah Amin, Yvonne Lee, Kevin Cowherd and Phua Chu Kang were absolutely fabulous.

(I couldn't endorse it myself because I'm a pseudonym. Anyhow, I am credited for helping edit it.)
All photos at her blog.

Next, I had a long chat with Dato Ng (CEO of MPH Publishing) and Eric Forbes (Editor of MPH
Publishing) and these are some of the things you might be interested in:

1. MPH needs more editors! They are expanding, publishing more books than ever before. So please submit your name to Eric if you're interested. His blog is linked from here.

2. They also need more illustrators! Ditto the above.

3. MPH Online can deliver within 2 days to your home! And guess what, they will also deliver overseas. So anyone who has been asking where to buy Dark City (or any other Malaysian book) can go to

4. Calling all you book bloggers. Are you interested in meeting up once a month?
MPH will have a new store at Bangsar Village Phase 2. They're thinking of hosting this meeting, and throwing in tea! Interested?

5. Quill, the MPH magazine, is looking for more articles about writing. Interested? Submit to Renee Koh, who addy is in the mag.

Anyway, the chat was very fruitful and the outcome was that we might be having several book projects going with MPH. So much to do after I get back from my surgery on Monday!


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How important are book covers?

Very important apparently. And doesn't Honk's cover just make you want to pick it up?

Be sure to head to the MPH Share a Gift carnival in Crowne Plaza Mutiara this Saturday, and in 
the afternoon, Lydia Teh will have the all-important launch of Honk! If you're Malaysian. 

On the subject of covers, compare and contrast Tash Aw's original cover (previous post) with 
the newer cover (the one with the pretty girl half looking over her back). Now, which one 
are you more likely to pick up? Most writers underestimate the importance of an arresting cover, the one that makes you want to drop everything you have in your bag and go, "I MUST ahve that book. Now!"

Seriously though, your cover has to make the reader pick your book up above all the other 1 million titles in the shop. And your back cover has to be equally good, with blurbs that sell and a killer sypnosis that makes you want to read on.

Dark City's 2nd edition will also be getting a new cover plus a lot of backpage and inside page newspaper blurbs. Finally! I know some of you guys really hate the present DC cover and have been bugging me to get it changed.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Tash Aw doing Malaysia proud....

...but what do you really think of his book?

THE Harmony Silk Factory by Malaysia-born Tash Aw is among the 138 novels nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2007.

The first time novel – set in 1930s and 1940s Malaya – has already bagged numerous accolades including winning the 2005 Whitbread Book Award for First Novel and one of the 17 to make it to the long list of the 2005 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

The Harmony Silk Factory, nominated by the National Library of Malaysia, is told amidst the background of World War II, exposing the cultural tensions of the era. Others in the long list include works by many accomplished authors like Tariq Ali’s A Sultan in Palermo, Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown, Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning, Paul Auster’s The Brooklyn Follies and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

Yup! Tash is certainly doing Malaysia proud! You go, man!

Now, to ask you all a honest question. What did you really think of his book? Those who have read it, of course.

Me, I thought the first part was unputdownable fabulous. Then the 2nd part (that of Snow) was a little....hmmm...let's just say I didn't get into the character. (I think Tash writes men better than women). And the third part - I really thought it was too verbose and too filled with long digressions about gardening. But since I'm not literary and like my stories told straight without straying too much away from the beaten path (that is, that the story should matter most of all and not the flowery digression), it's just my taste.

Aside, I've been diagnosed with a benign tumor and have to have it taken out. Going off to another country for the consultation on Monday. Sigh. I did so want to finish writing Billy Lang (now in Chapter 23) this year too 
because my agent is so bugging me for the finished manuscript.  I really need an Englishman to beta all the English idioms and Cockney tongue later.

Also, my publisher reckons he might have sold 2000 copies of DC to the National Library (and its 200 branches nationwide), which makes it a total of 4500 copies sold so far. 2nd edition printing is due in Jan with a new cover. Ah! I can now totally pay for all your submissions to Dark City 2!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Call for Dark City 2 submissions in Star

And this is what appeared in the Star today.  So far I have got 3 confirmed stories I am taking - all 3 so far are from established famous writers. But it really doesn't matter. 

If you're a first time writer and you've got a twisty story to tell, do write in. Remember, this is one of the few anthologies that actually pays. Your twisty story can be from any genre - Trashcan Child itself would fall under the category of fantasy/science fiction. And if I think your story has promise, I will write back and ask you for edits.

But before you write in, read as many twisty short stories as you can and adhere to the rules of storytelling: Show, don't tell. Conversations must be in separate paragraphs. Build suspense until the very end. Always mystify the reader, don't reveal everything at one go. The ending must be a shocking punchline.

For twist in the tale kind of stories, I advise you to pen an outline beginning with the twist at the end, and then work backwards to start at the beginning.

More information in the sidebar.

Chill and thrill them

AUTHOR Xeus is calling for short story submissions for the sequel to Dark City: Psychotic and Other Twisted Malaysian Tales (Venton Publishing), scheduled to be published next April.

Each story should be between 3,000 and 8,000 words and must have a totally unexpected twist at the end. Writers of stories selected for publication will be paid RM150 and will receive four free copies of Dark City 2.

The closing date for submissions is Feb 28, 2007.

E-mail stories and enquiries to For more information about Dark City, go to

Star serialisation Part 2

Trashcan Child - Part Two

Do we get second chances?

In the final part of the condensation of Trashcan Child from Dark City: Psychotic and Other Twisted Malaysian Tales, author Xeus reveals the shocking twist in her tale.

ANOTHER year passed uneventfully. Patience grew up, learnt to run, stumble and fall. She learnt how to count and read, and with that came a period of books, toys and demands. Ida bought picture books for Patience by the dozen. Each night, before the toddler went to bed, Ida would read her a story.

August thirteenth dawned hopeful. Once again, Ida dressed Patience in her best clothes and waited for Pearl to come.

But once again, as the day waned into sunset, no one showed up to claim the child.


The ball whizzed through the open window and struck the Ming dynasty urn full force, shattering it to pieces.

“Oh!” Patience gasped. Her hands clapped over her mouth. Mama would be so mad. She loved her vases so and Patience had always been so careful not to lay a finger on them.

Almost not daring to look, Patience tiptoed into the house, where the precious urn lay in ruins at the back of the cabinet. Was there a way to glue the pretty blue and white porcelain pieces back? Was there a way to roll time back? And what was that grey dust scattered all round the shards and on the floor? Patience knelt to finger it. The Ming urn wasn’t empty after all. It was a vessel for what felt like –

“Patience! What have you done?”

Patience jumped back guiltily, cringing. “I didn’t mean to, Mama, please, I’ll pay you back.” At the back of her eyes, she felt hot tears begin to pool.

”Go to your room, child.”

That’s it? Patience peered from between her fingers. Her mother was kneeling, sifting through the grey ashes in her hand, the expression on her face pensive.

Her face was shrouded in such sadness that it struck Patience harder than any physical blow.

“I said go.” Her mother’s voice was flat, without affect.

Patience fled to her room.

Oh, but Mama was so good to her. And she was always disappointing Mama. She could see it in Mama’s eyes, as though she couldn’t quite measure up, no matter what she did.

The bedroom door creaked open. Wiping her eyes, Patience looked up. Her mother stood at the door, face wary.

“Oh, Patience.” Mama just stood there, as if afraid to come in. “The urn doesn’t matter. Really, it doesn’t.”

“But it does! I know how much you love it.”

Patience held out her arms, willing Mama to come to her. And Mama did. They hugged, and she knew all was forgiven. But as always, she could feel Mama holding back.

“What is it, Mama?” she whispered.

“Nothing. It’s your Special Day, that’s all.”

“Is it my birthday?”

“Sort of. Only better.”

“Why do I have a Special Day and not a birthday like the other kids?”

“I don’t know,” Mama said into her hair. “But one day, you and I will find out.”


She was being followed.

Behind them, furtively ducking behind street corners and into shop entrances, hiding behind throngs of pedestrians, always keeping a good distance away, Patience could glimpse the woman with the haunted eyes. The eyes mesmerized her, even from this distance, and an odd sense of déjà vu wormed through some submerged memory. Where had she seen that woman before? And why were such strong emotions associated with the memory? In all her eight years of life, she had never felt this way.

“Mama.” She tugged at her mother’s hand. “There’s a stranger following us.”


“There. That one.”

Mama looked long and hard at the woman, who was now unsuccessfully trying to merge with a lamppost. The woman was dressed in a baggy T-shirt and faded jeans, ripped at the knees. She had a mouth like a splash of wet paint against pale, pale skin, and she looked as though she hadn’t eaten well in years.

“Do you know her, Mama?”

“No. But she’s only a girl,” Mama murmured.

“Who is she?”

“I have no idea.”

“Why is she following us?”

“I don’t know, but we should keep walking.”

Later that night, Patience awoke to low voices from the lounge downstairs. Mama was having a rare midnight visitor. Creeping silently to the top of the landing, Patience bunched up her knees and sat on the top stair, peeking through the banisters and cocking her ears to listen.

“... couldn’t keep her,” the stranger from today stood at the door, barred from entering by Mama. “I was a mess. I had no money, no prospects.”

“That’s no excuse. What you did was very, very cruel.” Mama’s voice was severe.

“I know,” the stranger replied miserably. “That’s why I’m here now. Like you.”

“Don’t compare yourself to me. We’re not alike.”

“I didn’t mean for any of it to happen. I was just a child.”

“You should go.”

“I just wanted to see her, to see how she’d turn out.”

“Well, you saw her.”

”Can I talk to her? Just to tell her how sorry I am?”

“I think it’s best you didn’t. And now, you really should go.”


“I think I should take up nursing.”

Her mother looked up from the porcelain teacup she was sipping. “But why?”

“I want to help people.”

“I’d rather you be a doctor. You can help more people that way, and make a better living out of it.”

The sixteen-year-old Patience pursed her lips. They had had this conversation many times.

“Mama, I told you. I’m not interested in being a doctor. It’s not the only noble profession out there, okay?”

“It pays better.”

“But I’m not interested in money.”

“You think you’re not now, but –”

“Mama, I mean it. I’m really not interested in money.”

Patience looked so serious that Mama ruminated over this.

“No, I suppose not,” her mother said thoughtfully.

“I suppose none of it matters in the end.”

Patience sat down on the sofa next to her mother. “It’s not that bad, Mama. I’ll be helping a lot of people. You’ll be proud of me, you’ll see.” She laid a hand on Mama’s belly, where she knew the old scar lay, bunched up like an overgrown keloid gash.

“I’ll be able to help people who have cancer, just like you once had. You were lucky to be cured of it. But there are plenty of cancer victims out there with no one to support them, and I believe that’s where I can make a difference.”


As the years tumbled into one another, Ida watched from the sidelines as Patience graduated from nursing school, scored As in her class, landed a posting in the General Hospital’s oncology ward, and become – in her superior’s words – the nurse “most likely to make a difference in people’s lives”.

Now Ida understood why it could be such a joy to have children, to watch them grow from rough-edged saplings to worthwhile people on their own. But I wouldn’t have just any child. It could only have been Patience. And indeed, Patience was the sweetest, most tractable daughter anyone could wish for. Ida had brought her up well. When asked the secret of her success, Ida would say, “It was easy. I didn’t impose my will on her. I simply let her be.”

The vague fondness she had felt for Patience in her formative years had now deepened into an unshakeable bond between mother and child. Why, Ida realised, tears in her eyes, this is love. I love that trashcan child more than her own poor junkie mother could ever claim to.

One day, Patience came home, breathlessly flushed with excitement. “Oh, Mama, he’s asked me to marry him!”

“Who? That nice doctor you’ve been dating?”

“The one and only!” Patience flung her arms happily around Ida. “Oh, I’m so happy!”

Ida hugged her back. She would be alone again, free to carry on with her life before Patience had come into it.

Suddenly, Ida couldn’t bear the thought of going back to it.

“I’ll come home every week, I promise,” Patience assured her.

Patience kept her promise to visit every week, and she brought along her new husband to brighten up Ida’s days. And then Patience got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter of her own, whom she named after Ida. Later on, a son was added to the ensemble. Both children were spunky, opinionated and individualistic.

Instead of losing Patience, Ida had gained an entire family.

And then one day, it came time for her to die.

Ida was eighty-five years old. The baby Patience had come to her when she was fifty and was now thirty-four, a beautiful mother in her prime. “I’ve done well by her,” Ida thought as she lay in her hospital bed. “I really have. I have no regrets this time.”

Now, the sun was rising outside. The door yawned open, and Ida looked up, expecting the morning nurse.

But it was a visitor she had not seen in thirty-five years.

A little too late, Ida realised it was August thirteenth. Pearl stood beside her bed, as unchanged as the day Ida first saw her.

“You’ve come for her,” Ida stated.

“Actually, no,” Pearl said, her eyes smiling. “I’ve come for you.”

“It’s time then.”

“It’s time.”

Ida laughed softly. “I never thought I’d get a second chance.”

“All of us get second chances. Even the ones who don’t think they need one.”

“So have I – passed?”

“It’s not a test, Ida.” Pearl sat gently on the bed and took Ida’s hand. “How do you feel this time round?”

“Dying a second time is never easy. The first, so many years ago –” Ida shook her head “– the cancer ate at me. I was riddled with it. I asked to be cremated then because I wanted to burn it out.”

“But you kept the scar, to remind you.”

“I kept the scar,” Ida agreed. “Will she ... live on?”

“Until she’s ready to go, yes.”

Ida looked around her. “This place you guys have created. You can tell your boss it isn’t half-bad. Could do with better Darjeeling though.”

Pearl smiled. “Tell her yourself,” she said, closing Ida’s eyes one final time.


“Oh, my goodness me. You poor baby. Who could’ve put you in a trashcan?”

Pearl lifted up the dead baby, letting the soaked blanket fall from it back onto the garbage bags.

Someone had drowned the poor little thing and cast it aside like yesterday’s trash.

“Don’t worry, little one,” she crooned as it opened its hidden eyes to smile up at her. “We’ll find you a home yet. You’ll get your second chance.”


Friday, December 01, 2006

New blog look and call from Thailand

How do you like the new blog look? I spent 3 hours shuffling things around and it still looks a little

Anyhow, I got this call from an American guy called Geoff, who runs a website at . This one previews all the Thai books. He wants to review Dark City for the Malaysian part of this website for expats and visitors to our neck of woods.

He really loved Dark City, especially Scarlet Woman and The Maid, and he asked me, "How did you get into the mind of such low-lifes?" To which I replied something like, " takes a low-life to know another low-life, so it was kinda easy writing about them."

Anyway, look out for Yvonne Lee and her new Malay translation of 'A Sky is Crazy.' Sure to skyrocket to the Malay bestseller charts soon, and I can tell ya, Malay books sell by the hundred thousands.