Saturday, December 22, 2007

Jumping the shark




I was talking to Sharon the other day about the plot term 'jumping the shark', and I was telling her what I understood it meant: that you keep coming up with twists just for the sake of it (keeping your readers/viewers interested).

Turns out I wasn't far off.

This is a very funny explanation about plot devices that can be termed 'jumping the shark'. Are you guilty of any of them? (usually happens in serialised stories which have gone on and on for some time.) Do you think Harry Potter has jumped the shark at any moment? Personally, I thought it went downhill after Goblet of Fire.

"The term jumping the shark alludes to a scene in the TV series 'Happy Days' when the popular character Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli jumps over a shark while water skiing. The scene was so preposterous that many believed it to be an ill-conceived attempt at reviving the declining ratings of the flagging show.
Since then, the phrase has become a colloquialism used by critics and fans to denote the point at which the characters or plot of a TV series veer into a ridiculous, out-of-the-ordinary storyline. Such a show is typically deemed to have passed its peak. Once a show has "jumped the shark" fans sense a noticeable decline in quality or feel the show has undergone too many changes to retain its original charm.

1. Same Character, Different Actor
When a new actor is hired to fill the same role of a departed one. However, this category has also been applied to new actors hired to play the role of a new character that is essentially the same as the original.

Notes: Ha ha, this happened in 'Dynasty', 'Dallas' and practically every long-running soap. Worse yet, I remember the one in 'Dynasty' was explained by his having plastic surgery!

2. One of the characters gives birth.
Notes: 'Friends' anyone? Is there anyone who hasn't given birth on 'Friends'? (some multiple times). 'Mad About You'.

3. Death
A character's departure is explained with his/her death. This can be due either to the actor/actress who filled the role leaving the show, or a real-life death.

Notes: Hah! Prison Break, guilty as hell. So is every soap opera. And 'House' has fired all his medical staff.

4. Puberty
Children who are members of the cast enter adolescence and/or approach adulthood.
Notes: Cosby Show. I think in Harry Potter's case, adolescence was a good thing.

5. Singing
Non-musical members of the cast (or those never thought previously to have performing talent) sing as part of a musical number during an episode.

Notes: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the musical episode! Xena Warrior Princess.

6. Two main characters are married.

Notes: Friends again! As far as I'm concerned, Friends jumped the shark after Season 3.

7. Two main characters have sex, particularly if their sexual tension was deemed part of the show's appeal.

Notes: Every series that does this goes downhill after that. Think 'Remington Steele', 'Moonlighting'. 'Cheers'. Thank goodness no one in the 'X-Files' ever had sex. (with each other, I mean). Can people on 'CSI' be considered having 'sex'?

8. Moving
The main characters move from their familiar surroundings, usually to new surrounding some distance away.

9. New kid in town
When a new character (often, a young child) is added to the cast, in response to former child actors who have entered adolescence or adulthood, and/or to revive falling ratings.

Notes: Cosby show! Then again, the 'Desperate Housewives' always have new neighbours. And 'Heroes' keeps on adding people I can never keep track of.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Want to go to a Creative Writing Workshop?

Guys, Tunku Halim is organising a creative writing workshop! This is gonna be exciting! Bring your kids.

Event: Creative Writing Workshop with Tunku Halim
Venue: The Booker Room at MPH Megastore 1 Utama, Petaling Jaya
Date: 20 January 2008 (Sunday)
Time: 11:00a.m.-3:00p.m.


Ever wanted to write a short story, a longer tale or perhaps even a novel? Tunku Halim, novelist, short-story writer and author of such books as A Children's History of Malaysia, 44 Cemetery Road , Gravedigger's Kiss and the soon-to-be-released Juriah's Song will show you how. By using an array of tools such as setting, dialogue, plot, description, economy of words and creative flow, you'll not only get started with full confidence but you'll also see your work flourish off the page!If you're interested and between the ages 13 and 18 years old, you can pre-register at MPH Megastore 1 Utama's customer service in early January 2008.

Registration fee is RM20 for MPH members and RM30 for non-MPH members with lunch provided.
Course structure:
11:00a.m. – 12:30p.m.: Point of view, Plot, Character, Dialogue
12:30p.m. – 1:15p.m.: Lunch1:15p.m. – 2:30p.m.: Creative Flow, Description, Economy of Words, Setting, Rewriting, Editing2:30p.m. – 3:00p.m.: Discussion

Participants will stand a chance to win an autographed copy of Tunku Halim's Gravedigger's Kiss courtesy of MPH Distributors!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Another review by a famous writer!

By none other than Tunku Halim! Malaysia's very own Stephen King! Hope you don't mind if I link this because I need to file it as a keepsake.

I truly thought Kenny's cover was stunning but I was a bit disappointed by the production quality of the colours. And TH, I wish all bios were like yours :)

I did have fun writing 'Strong Chemistry' but it was a very difficult story to write as it involved so much research. Had to pore through US chemistry websites to see if my concoctions would work. Then actually set up a little experiment involving my car speaker to see if what my husband postulated will actually work in real life. I remember writing most of it in a taxi back from KLIA.

'Signature Spa' was a lot easier to write because, as Argus will attest, I know everything there is to know about spas, ha ha. And it came up because Argus and I once visited a spa in Langkawi where they literally wrapped us up in wild rice and coconut leaves; hence a 'nasi lemak' spa. 'Signature Spa' is actually meant to be humorous in a dark, tongue-in-cheek way (don't know if that came across!)

Funny how we get our story ideas.



Peering into Dark City 2

A couple of weeks back I was delighted to find several copies of Dark City 2 waiting for me. Once the brown paper was ripped away I beheld the stunning cover by Kenny Mah. (Why on earth I haven’t used him on my recent books still confounds me!)

I read the Editor’s Note, flipped through the stories and then the bio of each writer. The first thing that struck me was that my bio just seemed too long. Next time, I’ll need to be more succinct!
The 4th story was my contribution - “Hawker Man”. I wrote it about 12 months ago when Xeus approached me for a tale. I was grateful for the opportunity as I hadn’t written any fiction (well hadn’t finished any fiction, to be more accurate) for a few years. Although she did ask for a twist at the end of the tale, I told her I wasn’t a twisty kind of guy. So you’ll find that “Hawker Man” hasn’t got much of a twist. But still, I’m pretty proud of it . . . especially the hawker man swinging his white cloth in the air, grinning, as his slippers slap the floor toward you!

I then turned to the first story “Strong Chemistry” by Xeus. Three pages into the story I went “Wow! This is bloody good!”. I have to admit I said it with a touch of envy. This woman can write lah. This is Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” Malaysian-style!

I couldn’t resist reading Xeus’s second tale – “Signature Spa”. A story after my own heart, indeed it was. I was set adrift by the scents of essential oils and I could almost feel the soothing treatments as the oils permeated my skin. I could guess, with trembling delight, at what was going to happen – it was like watching a car crash in slow motion. But the gourmet twist was a surprise. For me, it’s “Paradise Revisited” in 2008!

My congrats to Xeus on her new book, not only as author but editor. Congratulations as well to all those whose stories were published. For those who are published for the first time, it is a very memorable occasion, like no other.

Well done, you guys!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dark Tales

This appeared in Star today. Thanks, Argus, for pointing it out! And thanks Daphne, for highlighting this book even though I know it's so NOT your thing :)

A funny thing happened the other day when I met Daphne for the first time. We were at Delish after a LitBlogger's meet and she came up to me and said, "I don't believe I've met you. I'm Daphne." I said, "I'm _____". And she was stymied: "YOU are _______? I've been editing you for years! You write for Star and Galaxie, don't you?"
Thank goodness she was gracious enough not to say "By the way, you were horrible to edit and I used to get nightmares whenever I get your copy."
See what a small world this is?






Compiled by DAPHNE LEE

Dark City 2 Compiled by: Xeus Publisher: Midnight Press, 341 pages

DARK City’s second instalment compiles the work of 15 authors, including Tunku Halim, Lydia Teh, Ted Mahsun, Georgette Tan and Xeus, who was solely responsible for the first Dark City collection. Comprising 17 short stories, this Malaysian publication aims to send shivers up your spine, keep you guessing and leave you begging for more. Who knows, there may even be a Dark City 3!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Interview by Kenny Mah

I'm just putting this here so I can have a permanent link just in case Kenny decides to delete it one day! I just love those photo negative montages Kenny has of his drawings in DC2.

Interview

Finally, after months of waiting… the book is out! I recently interviewed the mastermind behind it all — Xeus. And yes, as a surprise to readers who thought I only did the cover, I did the inside illustrations too! :D

Dark City 2 cover

KENNY: What was your original inspiration for Dark City?

XEUS: Actually, I was interviewing 4 women authors for ‘Her World’. And then it hit me, hey, I want to write a book too!

Dark City is largely inspired by ‘Sin City’, about all the things that can go terribly wrong with city life. KL is an intensely interesting city with so many layers anyway, you can virtually find any situation in it.

Why the change of format for its sequel (i.e. an anthology of different writers)?

Truth? I couldn’t finish writing it myself! I’m involved in writing too many simultaneous books and projects, on top of having a fulltime job. So I thought - why not get other people to write in as well? Give everyone a platform, especially first time writers. It would be an interesting experience to edit conceptually.

And I’m glad I did. I mean, we now have such gems like Lou Joon Yee’s critically acclaimed ‘Till Death’. We have Chua Kok Yee who is such a great storyteller with a sense of pacing and timing. We have Ahmad Azrai who is so lyrical, and we have Bissme, who specialises in the shocking twist. And on top of that, Lydia Teh got to publish her first fiction story, John Ling got to explore the ‘I’ format and Tunku Halim gave me a story that would be the first new one to go into his book ‘Gravedigger’s Kiss’.

And we have Kenny Mah designing the cover!

Fortunes are told...

What would you say would be your most identifiable style (characterisation, genre, plotting, etc.)?

Plotting.

I love plotting. That’s why I write. I have little notes all over to tell me where the plot is heading. Sometimes, I’m so impatient to get to my plot point or big reveal that I actually dread having to write so much to get there! I think I’d do better at screenwriting if that were the case, only I suck at dialogue.

Even when I read books or watch movies/TV, I go essentially for the plot.

However, many critics have pointed out that my most identifiable feature is ‘detailed writing’. And it’s funny, because when I used to write romantic fiction on the net, the feedback was my most identifiable feature is ‘characterisation’. (Hey, it’s romance, there’s not much plot!)

I would say I’m really into characters as well, except in a short story, it’s very difficult to delve fully into character as you won’t have enough pages to go too deep into anything that does not service your plot. I’m not good enough a character writer to fully do that in a short story.

But in a novel, you are fully expected to delve completely into your characters. And you’ll have no excuse because you’ll have plenty of pages for that.

Your stories always comes with a twist in the tale. How do you come up with them?

By misdirecting the reader in one direction, only to serve up the twist in the other direction. It’s actually a classic misdirect, with all the characters doing doublespeak and doublethink (which means they will not say or think anything that will give the ending away, and yet, what they say and think is perfectly in line with the situation).

If this sounds like gobbledygook, I did promise someone I will blog more about it someday. It actually requires quite a detailed explanation!

Lust without caution...

What are your future plans? Another sequel? Or some other project?

I’m currently in my 3rd write of my children’s book, which is part of a series. This is the one I’m really hoping will be picked up by UK/US. That’s why I’ve taken over 1 1/2 years for it, because I want to make it as good as possible. No, I’m embarrassed to say (hangs head in shame) the characters in it are not Malaysian. (But they are multiracial! That’s gotta count for something!)

If it doesn’t get picked up by UK/US, it’s okay. I have tried. But this is really what I want to do - be a mainstream writer for the world market. And I want to write fulltime.

At the same time, I’m halfway through a book for MPH. It’s non-fiction. I submit one anecdote/chapter a week. This book will probably be finished next April. Beware writers, you might be shown an advanced copy and be asked for quotes!


Monday, December 03, 2007

Interview with Kenny Mah!

And now we have an interview with the illustrator himself, the illustrious Kenny Mah! Ta da (drumroll)

1. How did you start out being an illustrator?

Almost by accident, actually. I've always loved drawing, painting, design, anything to do with art, really. There's a long-running story in my family that I started both reading and drawing at the age of two, a sign of precociousness that I hope I have outgrown.

Then there were the amateur comic strips I drew as a teenager that were never shown to anyone else... but the correct answer to your question, if there is one, I suppose, would be when I started blogging and despairing of suitable graphics to use (this was in 2001, when blogging was still a new thing), decided to dabble with design myself.

And a few years later, here I am. I'm still an amateur/freelancer, but the passion does feed the heart, if not the belly...


==============================

2. What gave you the inspiration for Dark City 2's cover?

Basically, I wanted a cover that moved away from the garish, long-haired "pontianak" look of so many local horror/suspense/mystery novels. I wanted something more sensual and classy-looking. To this end, I decided upon the concept of a sad, contemplative lady with secrets to hide.

Then I did three versions of the cover and had my blog readers vote on their favourite cover... which ended up being rather different from my own expectations! But what ever is marketable will be marketed, I say. Readers rule!


==============================

3. You're a writer too. What do you write?
An editor once called my pieces of writing "mood pieces" and she meant that both as a compliment and a word of caution, that such writing doesn't really have a market. I'm not too sure about that.

While I agree that having work that conforms to the "accepted" norm of what is available (e.g. novels, short stories, non-fiction) does help in its sales at least, I also believe that readers can discern for themselves what they would like to read; I've gotten enough response from my blog readers to glean at least some evidence of this.

And at the end of the day, what I write about is humanity --- our emotions and fears and greed and hope and lust and great, romantic love --- and I believe this is something we can all relate to.


==============================

4. How long do you take to do one illustration? What inspires you?

It depends. I wished I had more time with the DC2 illustrations, for example, for I can do some very intricate, complex work. But deadlines do dictate delivery, and as such, days would be sufficient. For more complicated, detailed illustrations, we could be talking weeks here.

And inspiration comes from my reading, my interpretation of the source material, i.e. the stories in this case.


==============================

5. Do you have any advice for budding illustrators out there?
What? When I am barely a budding illustrator myself? There is still so much for me to learn and explore and experiment with. So, if there is any advice to be given out at all, it'd be something I'm taking myself: Learn. Explore. Experiment.

And have fun while you're at it!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Eudora Lynn strikes again

"I can come out of the closet now!" I tell Eric Forbes, dancing up and down when I met him last week. "The HR Director of my company wrote a book and he went public about it on NST. I believe I can come out!"

"Oh good," he immediately says, "does that mean you intend to use your real name from now on?"

I thought long and hard about it. Then I scrunched up my face and said, "Nah. Not for this book I'm writing for you. Too many real life people involved."

Anyhow, Eudora Lynn, or Lin, is a name I've used for years when writing for Cleo, Her World and a lot of other magazines. And to think I coined it because I used to use a Search engine called Eudora on the WWW, back before Google was ever invented.

Here's another abbreviated chapter from my new, yet unpublished non-fiction book for 2008. This one appeared in the Star today, which again I would have probably missed had not Chua Kok Yee sms-ed to say, "Hey, you're Eudora Lynn, aren't you?" Too bad I can't link the cute artist's caricature that went with it.

Captivated with Miller

Who says only teenagers go gaga over stars?

By EUDORA LYNN

I’m pushing 40, married and I still fall into horribly juvenile obsessions with movies, TV and celebrity. I know, I know, my life is so lame, it needs a psychedelic wheelchair. I can’t stave off these obsessions no matter how hard I try.

But honestly, when I was nine, it was as difficult to be a fan as it is for a caveman to understand the concept of iTunes. Back then, I had a major crush on Christopher Reeve. You know, the Superman before he had his multiple returns in Brandon Routh, Tom Welling (Smallville) and Dean Cain in Lois and Clark.

Of course, it wasn’t easy to be a fan in those days. First, you had to bug your parents to take you to the cinema to watch Superman and mind you, they’d only take you once. Cinema was a big thing those days; we didn’t have multiplexes. There was just one huge cinema and everyone had to queue up to watch (gasp) the same movie.

Then you’d have to wait for videotape. You might have heard of it. They are those bulky things before the invention of VCDs and DVDs. In those days, we only had one VCR per house (not two DVD players in every kid’s room like you do today) so you had to fight for viewing rights. And if you watched the same videotape over and over, it would get fungus-y and green-flecked and totally destroy your VCR tape head.

We’d also collect magazines and newspaper articles for scrapbooks. These would yellow with age and turn into something an Egyptian mummy might call chic. You’d leaf through your mother’s old newspapers, wondering: “Where the heck did that yummy photo of Chris Reeve go?”

The articles on your faves were also periodic, and so fandom was a draggy process necessitating the patience of a full-time mum with 14 kids.

Yup, those were the pretty grim things we did as a fan in those days.

What would we do without the tube?

These days, it’s a complete turnaround.

Recently, a friend got me hooked on watching TV’s Prison Break. I bought the DVD Season One box set to please her (“Okay, okay, I’ll watch it just to get you off my back”), and left it vegetating on my shelf for six months before I finally settled down to watch the first episode.

And wham! I was hooked. The plotting is incredible, the pace frenetic and the script twists and turns like a badly-designed section in old Petaling Jaya. But in particular, I was hooked by the gorgeous lead actor with the incredibly green, trembling knee-inducing eyes, Wentworth Miller.

I can wax on and on in extremely graphic terms about the delectable Mr Miller, who has a face one can look at forever, but this G-rated article (and newspaper) isn’t about that.

So what does one do as a recently converted fan?

That’s right. These days, one Googles.

One flick of a mouse and I’d learnt everything I needed to know about Mr Miller: every magazine article, every topless photo shoot, every Wikipedia entry. Oh, he’s a Princeton graduate and Golden Globe Best Actor nominee – wow. Oh, he’s half-Black, half-White though you wouldn’t know it to look at him – wow. Oh, he comes from a family of famous Yale professors, lawyers, African American emancipists and Rhodes Scholars – double wow. Oh, like any other spectacularly handsome single actor, he might be gay – pffttttt.

You tube, I tube

After one Googles, one YouTubes.

Another flick of a mouse and I have multiple downloads of Mr Miller on various publicity interviews around the world – Miller on Ellen DeGeneres, Miller in Korea, Miller in Australia, Miller on E!, Miller playing the fantasy guy in Mariah Carey’s music videos, Miller insisting rather heatedly and emphatically he’s not gay.

And after one YouTubes, one does the necessary evil if one has the ultimate patience. That’s right. One gets one’s husband and brother to download yet-to-be-seen-in-Malaysia Prison Break episodes from BitTorrent.

Never mind if they take a day and a half to stream – you get to go online the next day and chat about it on the multiple fan forums with like-minded people from Scandinavia and Swaziland.

Feel like bashing the screenwriters for killing off your favourite characters? They’re online too, peevishly reading what you have to say about their latest plot shenanigans. So post a hate message on a board and watch them squirm to defend themselves. Or post a love message for Mr Miller; after all, he’s been known to go to Internet caf├ęs to Google himself every few weeks.

Oh yes, the fan world is one gorgeous liquid interactive mess today.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Interview with John Ling!

Here's a short interview with John Ling. I must say I loved 'Zero Sum', and I know Argus certainly did too.

1. Without giving anything away, how did you come up with (your story) for DC2?

I have always been eager to tackle a story in the first-person perspective. But for a long time, I just couldn't find a good enough reason to do it. Since the first-person narrator is unreliable and egocentric, it presents all kinds of difficulties.
DC2, however, gave me the opportunity to get past my reservations.
Instead of telling a tale that is realistic and objective, I decided to approach it from a different angle.

ZERO SUM is about a man so consumed by hate that he devotes himself to vengeance. His state of mind is in question. He is egocentric to the extreme. He is not a born killer, but he morphs into one. And the fact that the narrative is unreliable only adds to the flavour of the story; a mix of surreality and madness.

2. How long did it take you to write it?

It took me around two weeks of initial writing, followed by another week of rewriting under your guidance. I must admit, I'm pretty slow!

3. What made you want to become a writer? What have you written so far?

I have always been a reader from a young age. I was one of those youngsters who would rather hibernate indoors with a book than go outside to play football. So the desire to write came naturally. I dabbled with fairy tales in the Enid Blyton style.

Though, it wasn't until I was 18 or 19 that I began writing seriously.

I decided to try my hand at thrillers in the Robert Ludlum/Tom Clancy style, and had stories published in several American and British publications. In 2005, I gathered all my previously published material in one volume called FOURTEEN BULLETS, which was published by a small American press in Pennsylvania.

At the moment, I am currently working on my first novel.


4. Who are your favourite authors? What have you learnt from them?

My all-time favourite is Charles Dickens. His storytelling is so rich, so textured, you find yourself believing that his characters actually do have a life and a purpose outside of the story. Each character is, in fact, a universe in and onto himself.

Reading Dickens has encouraged me not to neglect supporting characters.

They can make or break a story.


5. What are your writing habits? Why do you write?

I tend to write in terms of 'scenes', not necessarily 'chapters'. Once a 'scene' is completed, I'm done for the day, and I will spend the remainder of my time polishing up what I have written. I don't usually find it productive to simply bang out thousands of words at one go, because two-thirds are likely to be eliminated anyway. Admittedly, I am fussy. I tend to under-write, rather than over-write. My reasoning is: it's better to leave readers wanting more, instead of wanting less.

Writing for me has always been less of a choice, and more of an compulsion.

Think of it this way. You are stuck at your writing corner for hours, days, weeks, trying to articulate your thoughts, while life passes you by. It's anti-social. It's unhealthy. Why on earth would you do such a thing?

Unless, of course, something compels you to do it.

Like a ferret darting and gnawing inside you, desperate to be let out.

Ultimately, I write because I am still struggling to make sense of certain traumas. Like Dickens, or Hemingway, or Tolkien, I find it easier to address them through fiction.


6. Do you have any advice to give to budding authors?

Here's a statistic: the average writer has to write half-a-million words before he gets his first novel published.

In other words, lots of trial and error.

So don't be disheartened if you don't feel like you are making any headway just yet. Writing, like most things in life, is less about talent, and more about craft. The more you write, the more you improve.

Keep pushing on, keep persevering, don't give up.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Sat at Litblogger's Club

Tan Twan Eng draws the crowd in! But seriously, everyone is so delighted we have our very own Malaysian Booker Prize long-listed nominee in our midst to give us tips! The area was packed to overflowing and everyone was pumped for lively discussion.



Things I have learned from Tan Twan Eng:

1. He corresponded only through email to lit agents with a cover letter and his first 3 chapters. Apparently, nobody snail mails anymore! He just went through a list of agents who are interested in representing the genre.

2. He took 1 year to write the book and 8 - 10 months to revise it. From 220,000 words, he cut it down to 160,000. He was also asked to shift certain sections around to make it more readable.

3. He set it in WW2 because it was a part of history most people around the world will identify with. When you write a book for the international market, he says, you've got to reach out to the largest section of readers possible. You can't do that if you write contemporary Malaysia. (This of course provoked a much heated debate from the audience, but IMHO, Tan has got something there.)

4. He didn't have a plan when he started out to write. He just knew vaguely a beginning and an end. The rest is added on as he wrote it.


The 2nd speaker, D. Devika Bai ('The Flight of Swans, Monsoon Books), also gave marvelous insights.

1. She did a lot of research because she set the novel in WW2 India, moving to Malaysia, then back to India.

2. She sent her manuscript direct to publishers, who were very kind to reply to her directly to tell her the good points and the 'buts'. A famous publisher actually told her she 'tells too much', not 'show'. For her 2nd book, she says she really made an effort to show, not tell.

3. She tried to get it published with Silverfish but at that time, Raman told her she started off the story in India, not Malaysia, and he'd rather she start it off in Malaysia to qualify it for Malaysiana.


After the sessions, it was get together time to network and catch up. Sharon Bakar actually told me something that really made my day; she told me how much she loved my previous DC1 story, 'Coup of the Century' because she absolutely did not see the ending coming, and that she thinks I write very good dialogue (?? I think my dialogue is one of my weak points in my writing and that's what's stopping me from writing screenplays!!). But thanks so much, Sharon, glad you liked the story.

And then she told me something else that was the icing on the cake - she says that Tan Twan Eng (who had already gone off for lunch) thinks I write really well and have an eye for storytelling - and I didn't know really whether to believe her or she was just pulling my leg! Of course, I will now have to confirm that with him. I didn't even know he bothered to pick up my book! I am so far removed from being a serious literary and historical writer as the moon is from poor demoted Pluto!

Thanks TTE (if that's true, of course!)


On to other things:

VERY IMPORTANT

Sharon Bakar invites Dark City 2 writers to go on her Readings. I would like to recommend Jennifer Wan, Bissme S, Chua Kok Yee and Ahmad Azrai to go because I think the experience is going to be good. However, if anyone else wishes to go, please email me and I will give your name to Sharon.

I was also talking to Sharon and others about the terms 'jumping the shark', 'misdirect' and 'doublespeak', which are all screenwriting terms and how to twist your plot, and I did promise Sharon I'd blog about it in a later post.

Review from a famous writer

I was very chuffed when Lydia phoned me when I was in Vietnam and said she read Dark City 2 till 3 am!

This is her review posted at her blog

"Two local books came into my possession recently. One is Dark City 2, the sequel to Xeus’s Dark City which had garnered much praise in the media last year. I have four contributor’s copies in my possession for my story, Hin’s Moment of Truth. This story was first written for my writing correspondence course several years back. The assignment was to write a short story with a surprise ending. The tutor thought it was a good effort but alas I couldn’t find a suitable publication for the story.

One day I was going through my bank of unpublished and unfinished stories in my computer when a thought struck me. Am I such a lousy story writer that I have difficulty find homes for my fiction? I pulled out Hin’s Moment of Truth and emailed it to Xeus. Hey, I like the story, she said but you need to expand it. I reworked the story according to her suggestions. And I must say she’s a very good conceptual editor.

I read Dark City 2 in three hours. Most of the stories are exciting and unpredictable in their own way but two of my favourites are Xeus’s Signature Spa and Chua Kok Yee’s The Penalty. It so happened that my 16 year-old like these two stories too. (Don’t you like mine? I asked. Yeah, but I’ve read your story before, so it didn’t count, she said.)

In the Signature Spa, the protagonist, Gaia got her just desserts while enjoying her ‘Heavenly Spa’ treatment. In The Penalty, we empathize with Ah Tiong who got into trouble with the loan sharks when he lost his football bets. The ending came as a surprise as I had expected another twisty scenario.

Tunku Halim’s Hawker Man is a pulsating read but the ending is rather macabre. Cain Rashchall’s Maid to Order is quite risque and may score with male readers."



Comments:

I liked Lydia's short story. It was very Malaysian and had a nice macabre ending to it. I believe we have a potential to make every one of our stories marketable. We just need an able beta to spot our mistakes and how we can flesh out the plot and characters more because we are so into our own story we can't spot anything ourselves. All of us are always learning and when we write more in that particular genre, we become better and better.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sun review Dark City 2

Bet you've never seen me update so much before, eh? I expected this review to appear at the end of the month actually. And I would have totally missed it if not for my colleague who asked me, "Wah, you got new book out already ah?"

Here is a review from yesterday's Sun newspaper:



Review by N. Shashi Kala

"In this sequel to the twisty, terror ride that was the original Dark City, 17 disturbing new tales of murder and debauchery, some of which strike quite close to home, are revealed.

From the claustrophobic tomb of Strong Chemistry, the perils of banking (All in a Day's Work), to the ultimate punishment for gamblers (The Penalty) and the calculated payback for murder (Zero Sum), 15 writers (including the Sun's very own Bissme S.) flex their creative storytelling abilities to tease and tantalise the reader.

My favourite story in the collection is Till Death (Lou Joon Yee), which is black humour at its best when a married couple's fantasy of killing one another takes an unusual twist. On another level, the story also shows the damage a poisonous atmosphere at home can wreak on its inhabitants.

A more lyrical piece is Like Lingering Leaves: My Mother (Gwen Fontenoy) which has a daughter returning after a six-month absence to find her mother and home gone back to nature.

Though mostly enjoyable, the overall quality of the stories is not as good as in the first book, which was a little more inventive in terms of plot and twists. With few exceptions, most of the stories in Dark City 2 follow a predictable pattern, and one or two even run out of steam before the end (Tunku Halim's Hawker Man, in particular, is a misfire.)

Still, Dark City 2 proves that there are good Malaysian short-story writers out there with an eye for detail and a love of the macabre."


My comments:
1. OK guys, a mostly positive review! Congrats to Lou Joon Yee for charming so many people with her lovely story. If you missed how she came to write it, please scroll down to 'Interview with Argus Lou'.

2. Bearing in mind I also included Gwen Fontenoy's poetic Like Lingering Leaves because it is a surrealistic fantasy and I wanted a bit of variety in the book.

3. And everyone, always remember a review is just one person's opinion. Goodness knows I've been the target of so many reviews, probably the most of any Malaysian writer, and I've learned to accept everything with grace, good or bad. It doesn't mean if one person doesn't like your story, everyone else won't either. (And vice versa).

4. Please hurl bouquets and brickbats at the Sun if you agree/disagree with the review (!)

5. Okay, we as short story writers need to be more inventive with our plotting and twists in general. I'm coming to that in a later post on Drama 101 - secrets I have learned about plotting twists (see first section below).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Drama 101: The Basics

I promised I would share whatever I learnt about writing through my new motto: “To learn is good, to share is better”. So this is the opening salvo.

Now I love prison stories. I wrote a prison escape short story (‘One if By Land’) for Dark City 1, and another ‘Get man out of imprisonment’ tale for Dark City 2 (‘Strong Chemistry’), all these before I ever saw Prison Break.

I can honestly say I’ve learnt more about storytelling from ‘deconstructing’ Prison Break Seasons 1 and 2 than any ‘How to write’ book. This is gleaned from listening to the screenwriters/producers’ DVD commentaries and what they post on the Internet. (Prison Break creators and screenwriters, about 6-7 of them, tend to be very generous with sharing). You see, I wanted to know what made the show so addictive to the extent I watched 44 episodes back to back in 1 week, neglecting to visit Lydia in Klang during my leave. (This has never happened to me before: addicted to a TV show, I mean, not visiting Lydia in Klang. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll take that back. I’ve never visited Lydia in Klang.)

So I made a lot of notes during the course of those 44 episodes which I’m going to post here.


Prison Break Season 1 (Golden Globe nominated for Best Drama and originally conceived as a mini-series called “Steven Spielberg presents Prison Break” before the great director bowed out to direct ‘War of the Worlds’) is the most classical textbook example of Drama 101 you’ll ever get. Drama 101 is deconstructed like this:

Act 1: Put man up tree

Act 2: Throw stones at him

Act 3: Get him safely down again


So let’s you say you write the premise:

“Man willfully commits a crime to he can go to prison to break out his brother, who is innocent but on Death Row, after exhausting all legal possibilities. To do this, he tattoos a map of the prison on the one thing he can bring with him inside – his body. He has 1 month to do this before his brother faces the electric chair.”


Okay, so you’ve put him up the “tree”, which is the prison. You’ve even given him a timeline: 1 month – to set the pace.

Now you go to Act 2: Throw stones at him.

Drama 101 thrives on Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Stones, curveballs, arrows, hard pellets, even bombs must be thrown at the hero, who must never be allowed to rest. (The moment he rests is the end of your story.)

Now, even if you know very little about prisons (such as a thirty-something woman like myself), you can immediately jot down a few notes of what can happen to your hero.

  1. Things that can happen to your hero if he remains PASSIVE (which means if he’s static, and doesn’t choose to act at all):
- he can get beaten up, mutilated, discriminated against, tortured, raped by both inmates and guards etc

- he can be caught up in all events that can happen in a prison – riots, racial war, drug trafficking, black market profiteering etc


  1. But your hero isn’t passive (which means he’s not going to sit down and just let things happen to him), he has an overarching plan, which makes him ACTIVE. So now, you jot down all the things that can happen to dampen his escape plan, called OBSTACLES:

- If he maps out his escape route, have things go wrong to that route at every turn:


OBSTACLES:

MECHANICAL: unexpected physical barriers, such as a reinforced concrete duct, inability to get the tools/chemicals he needs to escape

LEGAL: forces can conspire to transfer him/his brother out, his brother’s execution date is speeded up, he gets a new cellmate who doesn’t sleep so he can’t dig his way out

PEOPLE: people don’t behave the way he wants them to, people he wants to manipulate can’t be manipulated, people find out about his escape plan, people double-cross him, he’s hampered by his own conscience, people he plans to use die unexpectedly

Then you go t o ACT 3: Get him safely down again, which will be explored in a later post.

Okay, now let’s take something as radically different from a male-orientated prison story as you can get: Chick Lit 101. The same rules apply:

Act 1: Get woman up tree – let’s say she desires a man/job she can’t hope to get at the outset of the story because she’s such a pathetic loser

Act 2: Throw stones at her – the obstacles are plentiful: man has beautiful current girlfriend, man has terrifying mother/sister, man won’t give her time of day because of her looks, her boss is a terrifying bitch who works her from 8 to midnight, she has a poisonous office co-worker who’s out to get her

Act 3: She solves all her problems, gets man/coveted job and all’s well that ends well.

It’s easy, isn’t it? Now we can take as many genres as we can get (horror, sci-fi, fantasy, crime) and apply these same rules and see what we can come with. We’ll already have an outline for an entire novel.

NEXT: BUT IN REAL LIFE, WE WRITERS HAVE DIFFICULTY THINKING OF OBSTACLES FOR OUR HERO TO SOLVE! AND WHAT’S WORSE, GETTING HIM SAFELY DOWN AGAIN!

Dark City 2 in Edge Financial Daily

Today, Dark City 2 is featured as the PICK OF THE DAY in Edge Financial Daily. The snippet says:

"Dark City 2 is the second installment of the national bestseller Dark City, which received critical acclaim from local and foreign media. The book features a collection of 17 diabolically entertaining tales by 15 authors from Malaysia, the UK and Switzerland. The book will leave you at the edge of your seat as every story has a twist. Writers include Xeus, Tunku Halim, Lydia Teh, Gwen Fontenoy, The Edge Financial Daily's copy editor Ahmad Azrai, Lou Joon Yee, the Sun's Bissme S., Cain Raschall and others. Available at bookstores nationwide. Priced at RM 27.90."

Wow! Hope we can live up to that blurb. For the record, the person who wrote that DID read the book.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Interview with Argus Lou!

As promised, this will be the first of my blogs interviews with Dark City 2 authors. Argus Lou, who edited the first and second books grammatically, is on first. And she's already gotten her first complimentary review, courtesy of an SMS by a newspaper editor:

"Just read 'Till Death' and wanted to say how much I enjoyed it. Ally McBeal meets Norman Bates. A true black comedy on one level; an exploration of parental poisoning; a look at how murderous fantasies are translated into reality."

Congrats, Argus!

This is the interview.

1. Without giving anything away, how did you come up with (your story) for DC2?

I had already edited several DC2 stories, so I was wondering what sort of plot would fit the themes and style of the book. News reports tell us that a lot of murder cases are between husbands and wives -- hence, the title from the abbreviation of the nuptial phrase 'till death do us part'. So I began to think about how a spouse would consider killing the other half. And what would drive them to such thoughts. (Hands up, any wife or husband who has never even lightly entertained such a thought in moments of great exasperation!) But I didn't want it to be a straight murder story -- and wished to engage the reader in wondering what's really happening in the first few scenarios.

2. How long did it take you to write it?
Three to four hours. Then you made me do a few rewrites and add some details.

3. What made you want to become a writer? What have you written so far?
I'm driven by the connection between writer and reader -- as I'm a hungry reader myself. If I succeed in conveying a thought, an idea, a feeling or an atmosphere to a total stranger, then I feel elated and gratified. I've written part of a children's novel, with a few short stories in progress. For many years, I was a feature writer and copy editor for The Star newspaper in Malaysia, and edited CLEO magazine (Malaysian edition) for a couple of years in the mid-1990s. I've also written book reviews and film reviews.

4. Who are your favourite authors? What have you learnt from them?
From Chuck Palahniuk, I'm trying to learn an economy of words and crazy plotlines. From Alice Munro, I learn about observing relationships, especially between couples. From Paul Auster, I'm trying to learn how to create more complicated plots with layers of perception. I love Anthony Burgess, too -- he has such an easy prose style in 'The Malayan Trilogy'. And I was charmed by Tan Twan Eng's descriptive powers in 'Gift of Rain'.

From beautifully illustrated children's books, I attempt to keep my sense of wonderment and -- I hope! -- expand my imagination and creativity. Since I'm learning German, I've discovered some lovely children's books and wish to translate them into English (if no one has done it yet).

5. What are your writing habits? Why do you write?
Terrible! I wish I were more disciplined. Sometimes I wish the Internet would break down every few days so I'd have no choice but to set to work on my stories. I feel I have to read for 4 hours every one hour that I write. Wish I had a computer that were linked directly to my brain, so when I think up plotlines, characters and scenes, it can process them into words at once.

I wonder why I write, too... other than the reasons stated in response to question 3 above. Perhaps writing, in a way, would give evidence of my existence at the end of my life. And why that would be important, I've no idea. A sense of vanity perhaps?

6. Do you have any advice to give to budding authors?
I'm a beginning fiction writer myself, so I can't really say. I read your advice and that of other authors all the time. But I must say writing fiction requires one to live and observe life all at the same time -- strange feeling, that.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Interview by Tunku Halim

The venerable Stephen King of Malaysia has just interviewed me for his blog, which promptly gave me a couple of ideas:

1. I shall interview as many DC2 contributors as possible and put it up on this blog (thanks, TH, for the idea and thanks for allowing me to do this after clearing with you, since it was your idea in the first place)

2. I enjoyed doing the interview about writing so much I think I shall post more about what I've learned about the writing process. Learning is good. Sharing is better!

BTW, Dark City 2 is already distributed in places like MPH MidValley (under Hot and New section as well as a prominent display in Malaysiana, I was told), Kinokuniya etc etc. See, I told you it would take a month!

Meanwhile, this is the interview

"Riding upon the blood soaked success of Dark City, Xeus, our Malaysian femme fatale, has just released Dark City 2 - a collection of ‘twisted’ stories, this time by guest authors including myself, Lydia Teh, John Ling, Bissme S, Jennifer Wan, Chua Kok Yee and a host of others.


I thought it’s an apt time for us to now delve into Xeus’s brain, to see how it ticks and what worms we might uncover!

Here’s the interview…

When did you first start writing short stories?

In 2005 actually, when I wrote Dark City. Previously, I had only written non-fiction articles for newspapers and magazines. I decided to try my hand at a new genre.

How long did it take you to write Dark City?

Surprisingly fast. 2 months for the first draft and 2 more months to rewrite it. I did 11 rewrites, each progressively faster than the previous one.

Is there any particular reason why you’ve chosen to write in this genre?

None other than the fact it’s quicker to finish a short story than a complete novel. I’m still in the second rewrite of a children’s book I completed and it has taken me a year and a half! Short stories are so rewarding in that you can finish each one and feel a profound sense of accomplishment.

Is it hard coming up with a twist for each story?

Not that difficult once I got the hang of it. I studied short stories extensively before I started out — the literary ones from Fitzgerald and Faulkner, the tongue-in-cheek ones from Roald Dahl and Jeffrey Archer. Then I would write a brief treatment for each idea, something that would go: “Girl works for a bar. TV is on. Newflash about a serial killer on the prowl. Girl walks home and is stalked by a serial rapist/killer. Write in POV of girl as a victim. REVEAL: Girl is actually the serial killer.”

I filed a lot of ‘treatments’ this way, and as I wrote, I kept getting more ideas for stories.

What advise have you for budding writers?

Read as much as you can. Learn from the writers you like. But there’s a difference between reading for pleasure and reading as a writer. When you read as a professional writer, you’re consciously looking out for plot points, twists, the way a certain sentence is phrased. For example, Jeffrey Deaver goes for the classic ‘misdirect’ in his short stories. However, Stephen King writes his short stories straight - there’s usually no twist in them. Jeffrey Archer condenses character backstory extremely well.

I would also advise a budding writer to watch as many movies and TV shows as possible, because they’re also all about storytelling. For sheer audacity of plotting, twists, classic ‘misdirect’ and cliffhanger writing, every writer must watch ‘Prison Break’. And more importantly, learn from it."

Friday, November 09, 2007

We're on for LitBlogger's Jan 26!

Guys!

Please check out Eric's blog:

There will be no Breakfast Club for LitBloggers in December 2007

COMING IN JANUARY 2008

The 11th MPH Breakfast Club for LitBloggers on Saturday, January 26, 2008, will be featuring the Malaysian Prince of Darkness, Tunku Halim, whose collection of ghostly tales, 44 Cemetery Road: The Best of Tunku Halim (MPH Publishing, May 2007), was published in May 2007. Touted as Malaysia’s very own Stephen King, Halim, who is equally adept at both fiction and nonfiction, has another collection of new and selected stories out, Gravedigger’s Kiss: More of Tunku Halim (MPH Publishing, October 2007).

Dark City (Midnight Press, 2006) author Xeus is back with Dark City 2 (Midnight Press, 2008), this time as the editor of a brand-new collection of more stories that exposes the murkiness that lurks beneath life’s apparent ordinariness. Of course, she has a story or two tucked into this collection as well. There are stories by Lydia Teh, Tunku Halim, John Ling, Bissme, Jennifer Wan, Chua Kok Yee and a host of others as well.

Eric Forbes will be introducing Tunku Halim and Xeus while Janet Tay will be moderating the session.


SOOOOOOO.... who would like to be in this panel? Everyone who has contributed a story to Dark City 2 is welcome. It will be an extremely fun meet with everybody there. Please respond if you can come.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Meeting Dark City 2 writers

It was such a joy to go around meeting Dark City 2 contributors, many for the first time. I was going around delivering books and cash/cheques, and met everyone for the first time. Chua Kok Yee. Jennifer Wan and Bissme are such fun and talented people. I also learnt things about them I never knew. For example, who'd ever have thought Jennifer Wan actually worked in my very same building? Who'd ever though Chua Kok Yee is such a young, cool-looking guy in an absolutely cool industry? Who'd ever thought Bissme is tall, dark and handsome?

I also made a boo boo and described Chua Kok Yee as a MU fan because his character in the Penalty seemed to keep placing bets on MU. He went ballistic of course and declared he's NOT a MU fan but a LIVERPOOL one. (cringes, please don't kill me). :) Mea culpa. It's just I got so into his character I immediately assumed he would bet on MU.

Besides, we got our first unofficial review from Lydia Teh, who called me when I was overseas last week to tell me she stayed up till 3 am reading the book. Blog about it, Lydia, I naturally yell over the phone! But she called to say she loved Chua Kok Yee's story, The Penalty, and my story, Signature Spa.

I've been told the book is already available in MPH 1 Utama, which buys directly from the distributor. I guess the rest will slowly follow suit once the POs are raised and the books transferred to the warehouse.

As for publicity, I begged Star for some and Sun will put out a review. Haven't approached NST yet.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Turning book reviewer


I've added book reviews recently to my ever growing plethora of stuff I have to write but can't find the time and energy to do. Bmmmm. This is my first book review in years, appearing in The Star last week. Book is courtesy of Eric Forbes, who didn't want to read chick lit so he passed it to me:)

Don’t judge by its cover

A perennial chick lit reader is pleasantly surprised when she picks up what seems like her usual fare only to discover a novel that serves up something lost and unexpected.

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HERE

By Cecelia Ahern

Publisher: HarperCollins, 496 pages

(ISBN: 978-0007258871)

I MUST confess I didn’t much like Cecelia Ahern’s explosive debut novel, PS, I Love You. It was a case of faulty advertising. You see, the cover had me convinced it was light-hearted chick lit in the vein of Shopaholic-meets-writing pad-because-I-can’t-afford-a-computer, which is what I usually like.

But the novel’s “damsel in extreme distress” protagonist turned out to be weepy, self-indulgent and totally dependent on her late husband’s every whim. Chick lit protagonists are supposed to be confident, liberated and spunky! And so, with a sigh, I gave up reading Ahern.

When a friend handed me There’s No Place Like Here from Ireland’s most famous First Daughter, I cringed, of course, expecting to meet women who stare vacantly into space, waiting for Prince Charming to bail out their plumbing.

But Sandy Shortt, the 1.8m tall protagonist of Ahern’s newest story, (paperback released in June) is a refreshingly no-nonsense, occasionally wisecracking ex-cop who now runs a missing persons agency. (She’s Shortt but she’s tall, geddit?)

Because of her height, Sandy always felt ostracised as a child. In addition, she has a predilection for losing things. An odd sock here and there. A diary. A ratty teddy bear. Even her 10-year-old neighbour, Jenny-May Butler, who under angelic curls turns out to be the class bully.

There’s No Place Like Here plays on the theme that your missing things have to go someplace. Why do socks vanish in the washing machine? Why is it that when you’re sure you’ve put your car keys in your bag, you simply can’t find them? And why is it people sometimes go missing and never turn up even though there is no evidence of foul play?

Sandy is determined to find the answers. She has spent her entire childhood trying to find the answers, turning her parents’ house inside out each time she lost an item, to the extent they send her for psychological counselling at age 14 with dishy shrink Gregory.

Then one day, on the trail of a missing person, the adult Sandy finds herself wandering down an unknown path in a forest and goes missing herself.

This is when, instead of conforming to expectations set up by the chick lit cover, the book moves firmly into Mitch Albom-The-Five-People-You-Meet-in-Heaven territory. Which is not a bad thing.

In the forest, Sandy stumbles onto a group of people who have been missing since the days of the Beatles (they are now appropriately aged). And they lead her to a place called Here, one village among many, all made up of thousands of missing people from all over the world.

“Here” is a place where everything goes when it’s missing – old socks, airport luggage, cell phones, trays of doughnuts, loose change. In Here, Sandy finds almost every Irish missing person she has been looking for her entire life. Save the one she is currently looking for.

If you’re looking for romance in There’s No Place Like Here, be prepared to be disappointed. There’s very little of it. Any relationship is bittersweet, more in the vein of enduring-the-test-of-time than the loin-engaging, heart-pounding ones of traditional chick lit.

Sandy is a strange heroine with many layers. She’s selfish with her relationships and her family, and yet, she’s dedicated to helping the families of the missing people she has vowed to find. She hates children, and yet is devoted to finding them when they are gone. She’s guarded, occasionally rude, and suspicious of people who are trying to be kind.

With unexpected turns and revelations of the human condition every step of the way, I found myself mesmerised with the pseudo-fantastical There’s No Place like Here. Ahern has done her missing persons’ research well, blending wishful fantasy with cold-blooded reality in skilful, very readable prose.

If you want something unexpected, this will be your cup of tea. Just don’t be fooled by the cover design.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Chapter from new non-fiction book

Meeting Lydia is always a breeze. She inspires me, simple as that. I was telling her all about my woes - got handbag snatched (RM 5000 gone altogether), bumped my car on a curb, my 2 maids did a Prison Break Indonesian style and ran away from my house, stealing 2 handphones, and she cheered me up completely.

And she's also a great font of information. Like she told me this was up in last Saturday's Star (as if I would notice, being out of town!)

This is actually an abbreviated chapter from my new book to be hopefully published by MPH next year. I'm going under the name Eudora Lynn for all newspaper, magazine articles and non-fic books under the same branding from now on. (Right Eric?)

http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2007/10/20/lifefocus/19112953&sec=lifefocus

Highway bullies

It doesn’t pay to be too aggressive on the highway if you are a woman.

I would like to tell you two true stories, which might make you rethink the way you drive.

You see, I am an “efficient” driver, in the sense that I don’t believe we should waste more time on the highway than necessary.

Perhaps I should add the word “safe” as well, which means I intend to get to my destination as quickly as possible without a) breaking any safety rules, b) leaving a litter of mangled cars in my wake, c) having the blood of stray cats smeared on my front bumper.

Woe betide road hogs in front of me, especially if they are from out of state. They’ll merit at least a toot from my very loud, very annoying car horn. But it appears some male egos simply cannot take a female driver hooting at them.

I was driving down the extreme right lane of the Federal Highway when someone from behind hooted. In my rear-view mirror, a white van was tail-gaiting me. Naturally, I did the only thing we “efficient, safe and occasionally dashing” (ESOD, for short) drivers do – I swerved to the middle lane to let him pass, because there is nothing we ESODs hate more than being labelled road hogs ourselves.

I had a good look at the driver as he passed me; he had a strange tattoo curling down his left arm. He glared at me. Uh–oh, I thought.

I kept course. There was a car in front of him (this is where it gets nasty), and he swerved onto the middle lane, narrowly missing my front bumper.

Naturally, I was indignant and hooted loudly, angrily. After that, it went deathly quiet, as though a chill had descended. (Well, as deathly quiet as 5pm on the Federal Highway can get.)

He slowed down, causing me to slow down as well. Strangely, I didn’t panic. The only word going in my mind, and it really wasn’t a word, was “Hmmmmm”.

After a bit of going slower than 50kph, he sped up. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. I pressed on my accelerator as the road opened up in front of me. He was pulling away, and I wasn’t giving chase in any spirit of kiasu-ism, just easing my car into its natural 80kph speed.

My gas pedal went deeper as I stepped on it with my stilettos. My car’s engine whined and hummed. He was belting away fast, and I was closing in. And then suddenly, with a screech of burning rubber that must have smelt like a box of latex gloves which has just been microwaved, he dived to the right again.

Looming ahead of me was a large, slow-moving Pajero.

I slammed on my brakes with all the strength in my shoes. My brake pads squealed like a starlet who has just been publicly revealed to have silicone. My front bumper avoided hitting the Pajero, by just a nick.

Of course, this had been his intention all along.

Another hair-raising incident happened to a friend of mine driving from Kedah back to KL after a business meeting.

She had left Alor Star rather late, and it was already past midnight. The North-South highway was empty except for occasional cars and late buses.

My friend was maintaining course in her 4WD on the left lane, keeping well below the speed limit, when, suddenly, a car on the right swerved roughly into her path.

Now my friend is of a very patient disposition. She is not an ESOD. In fact, I would label her a CCANLTH (Cautious, Careful and Not Likely to Honk). But because this car threatened her very safety, she pressed very lightly on her horn to let him know she was there, so the sound that came out was “pin.”

The driver on her right was on his cellphone and probably hadn’t realised he had weaved onto her path.

When she pin-ned, he seemed shocked and immediately swerved to the right again, tires protesting like an anti-war demonstration.

My friend maintained her course and thought that would be the end of it. But it wasn’t.

The driver accelerated and nose-dived in front of her, and then slowed down to 30kph. Naturally, she had to follow suit. They maintained this charade for five minutes, and when she tried to overtake him on the right, he immediately blocked her off.

My friend looked frantically around. There were very few cars in sight. They continued on this crawl for 20 minutes. And then a lorry passed them on the right, horns blaring. Seizing this momentary distraction, my gutsy friend overtook the sedan on the emergency lane and settled once more into course.

Please, she prayed, let this be the end of it.

But again, it wasn’t to be.

The sedan driver, in full rage mode now, overtook her once again and tried to block her off. Pulse fluttering, she inched her car onto the right lane. He immediately followed, cutting her off. And then he did something amazing, even by Malaysian highway standards.

He screeched his car to a complete halt in the middle of the right lane.

Her heart going into standstill, my friend stopped her car. It was no use trying to overtake him anymore. It would only aggravate him further. This was a showdown. He was going to climb out and beat her up.

The two cars waited on the highway for what must have been only minutes, though it seemed a lifetime to my friend.

Where were the police? Surely someone must come to her aid? Would they find her dead body sprawled in a gutter the next day?

And then something clicked in her mind. Why did women always have to be victims?

Resolution settling, she revved the engine of her Mitsubishi Storm, put it into first gear, and floored the gas pedal. Fifteen feet, 10 feet – the sedan was still stationary, she winced and closed her eyes – and slam!

Her spine juddered.

When she opened her eyes again, the sedan’s boot had been compressed like an accordion. She reversed, set her gear into first again, and swerved onto the left lane.

Then she left, flying into the night without looking back, heart knocking at her chest wildly, and drove straight to the nearest police station in the next town.

Barging in breathlessly through the front door, she told two surprised policemen, “Help me! I drove here as fast as I could. Someone is trying to steal my car!”

For the next two days, she kept looking round her shoulder, waiting for her insurance agent to call to say someone has made a claim, but nothing happened.

I guess if you want to be an ESOD, you’ll have to look out for the AHs. And that is an abbreviation for a word that cannot be mentioned in polite society.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Received my copies of Dark City 2

Hi everyone, I got my copies of Dark City 2 today. For everyone who has contributed, please write to me so I can arrange when to pay you and give you your copies.

The book will be out in bookstores in 2 - 4 weeks (this is based on my experience).

I will be doing press and publicity for it in November, when the book is fully out in bookstores. Contributors, you may be called for interview and photographs :)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Juggling

Now that my life has settled back to normal (well, kinda), I'm reviewing what I'm currently doing.

1. I have a hectic job that requires a lot of travel - Damn, I'd rather be writing, but it puts food on the table. I totally intend to collect as much money as possible so I can retire early and write full time.

2. I have finished my house renovation. It cost me RM 90,000! Totally had to break so many FDs to pay the contractor, who bte doesn't wear yellow boots like Phua Chu Kang but blue crocs. (The real stuff, not the pseudo ones you get from Tesco.)

3. I'm currently rewriting my children's book, Billy Lang, to make it as perfect as possible before submitting overseas. That's my labour of love so I'm checking every comma, dotting every 'i', you get the drift...

4. After a blue period that would have spiraled Picasso into depression's depths, I now have two intelligent maids! To understand how I suffered through the last moronic one who finally ran away, please read my 2008 yet untitled non-fiction book.

5. I'm currently writing a non-fiction book for MPH on Malaysian life, as I see it. I had lunch with Eric Forbes and Janet Tay today after the LitBloggers' Club and I apologized profusely to them for being so 'rojak' in my writing. "I must admit I really wrote very quickly," I said sheepishly, "and dashed it off to you guys without my customary rewriting and rewriting for at least 10 times."

"Oh no," Eric said kindly, "it's not too bad."

"You mean the grammar isn't bad, but the format is all rojak," I insisted. "I dashed half a chapter off to Star Weekender the other day. The editor, who has never complained about anything I wrote before, actually wrote back this time and asked me if I had a point to it. So the moral of the story is that you cannot squeeze a book chapter into a newspaper article, but you can certainly expand an article into a book chapter."

Janet mentioned she was amazed at how fast I could write. And here I was thinking I was a snail - because I could only write 1 chapter a week without running into writer's block. (I never have writer's block when it comes to writing fiction, only non-fiction.)

So - is one chapter a week for a non fiction book considered fast? Or is it really (as I suspect) the pace of an amoeba trying to get from Petaling Street to the Arctic?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Update

I'm back....kinda!

So sorry for being away for the longest time. My house has been under construction for the past 4 months, my maid ran away and I've been awfully busy at work. Sorry for neglecting everyone and I will totally understand if you neglect me.

The editing of Dark City 2 is finally finished and I was at the publisher's to view the final draft today, down to the very last comma. So looks like it'll be out in the 2nd week of October.

See ya at the bookstores!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Taking a break from blogging for a while

Hi guys, will be taking a breather for a while. Been too busy trying to self-edit Billy Lang, finish the final touches on Dark City 2 and at work, budget season is on (busiest time of the year). Also travelling to US next week for a bit.

Will be back when Dark City 2 is out.

See ya guys!

Monday, May 21, 2007

How do you feel about chick lit?


I've always liked chick lit (and am in the process of getting Eric to read it). I'm currently reading a book that would make the literari out there cringe with derision: "How to Kill Your Husband" by Kathy Lette. It's a laugh a minute, social commentary, chick romp all rolled into one.

But you see, that's how I feel about chick lit. It has a lot to say about our society of women today and how we juggle work, boyfriends/husbands, friends, kids and everything else. Hey, Jane Austen wrote the chick lit of her time and the women there spent their days mooning over how to get husbands, just like we do today!

I particularly like the humorous prose of Marian Keyes, Sophie Kinsella (Shopaholic series) and Nisha Minhas. Read one of their books and study how they write humour. They have the ability to turn a very tragic situation (like Indian bride kidnapping) into something you can share and laugh about (but at the same time, commiserate with the heroine's situation).

So, 'fess up now. Do you read chick lit?

(BTW, MPH 1 Utama has a bookshelf dedicated to 'chic' lit, but I suppose chick lit is chic too.)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Being Edited

I'm buoyed by Eric's recent posts about Editing and how editors feel about receiving a good and bad manuscript.

Let's come from another persective: The writer's. How do YOU feel about being edited?

For me, being edited is a humbling experience, whether it's done by a conceptual editor or a grammar editor.

1. We realise our grammar, hyphenation, punctuation etc is not that great after all. Most of us tend to dispense with hyphenation, punctuation etc, thinking it has nothing to do with writing and that it's an editor's job. But in countries like the UK, they can just throw the manuscript out if we don't think of all the niceties.

2. We realise that our plot, or certain aspects of the plot, or character, is not as exciting as we think it is. Or that it doesn't make sense.

3. We realise we put in more words that we intended.

Several fanous editor and writer friends were very kind to edit the first 3 chapters of Billy Lang for me so that the manuscript is as perfect as it can be before I send it off. And even though I've rewritten them many times, it still is a humbling experience to be edited, and I'm very grateful for all of them who are looking out for me. As we writers/editors should be doing for each other to make our manuscripts as perfect as possible before we send it out to the foreign lit agencies.

As for Dark City 2, some of you were asking me, fear not! It's definitely on its way (July). It needs to be edited thoroughly (in the same vein again) before publication, and when the grammar editor and I are not happy about something, we go back to the author. A local book deserves the same editing and vetting scrutiny as a foreign book and we will not compromise on quality.

So how do you feel when you get edited?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Finishing a book....then comes the rewrite

Lydia was niggling me: "New update, please!" Yes, mam!

The reason for lack of frequent new updates? Yes, I've just finished writing Billy Lang. How does one feel having finished writing a 500+ page full length children's novel? The moment I finished writing it, last Tuesday, I immediately dove into the rewrite.

Which comes to the question. How much should you rewrite? When is enough enough? Sidney Sheldon has been known to rewrite 11 times for each of his novels. (Then again, Sidney doesn't really 'write,' he dictates to his assistant and she reads it back to him, then he crosses out what he doesn't want.) The rest of us struggling artistes have no assistant and therefore have to rewrite it all by ourselves.

I find rewriting a lot easier than doing the first draft. Most of the ideas are already there. Rewriting is actually for improved sentence construction, cutting out unnecessary sentences, words and passages that have nothing to do with the story, checking consistency of plot and characters and adding in foreshadowing to enrich the plot.

Ever read a book or watched a movie where a seemingly insignificant sequence is thrown in at the beginning, which comes into importance only later in the plot? Well, a lot of that comes in the rewrite.

Are you the type who shoots off his/her first draft and saves all corrections for the rewrite, or one who meticulously checks and crosschecks every page along the way, making sure it's perfect before you proceed? (Beware, the latter has been known never to finish writing whole books!)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Malaysia's fave fic titles and Tunku Halim interview


So it's out, Malaysia's favourite fiction titles. I must say I didn't have time for vote in this poll. But the top 10 favourite fiction books in Malaysia are:

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (holds a proud place in my collection)
2. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (read them all and loved 1,2,3,4 and 6.)
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (must get this one...I know, I know, I'm very low lit)
4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (read this in Form 3 and didn't like it at that time. But love Colin Firth as Mr Darcy)
5. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (read this twice!)
6. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (read Lion, Witch and Wardrobe and thought it too simplistic. But then, read it as an adult)
7. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (loved the mini series!)
8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (read it in Form 2 and didn't like it much)
9. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (read it in Form 2 and liked Beth the best)
10. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger (must get this)

I was particularly stoked when I read this sentence in today's Star in the same article:

"There are no books by Asian writers in the top 10, but American-Chinese Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things are in the top 20. Other Asian authors whose work was listed include Chinese author Su Tong (author of Raise the Red Lantern), Indian writer Vikram Seth, Indonesian Pramoedya Ananta Toer Azizi and V.S. Naipaul. Azizi Haji Abdullah, Shaari Isa and Xeus are the only Malaysian authors whose books made it onto some lists."

I made it to some lists! This makes all that writing worthwhile after all!!!

In the same Starmag section, there's an interview with Malaysia's very own Stephen King, Tunku Halim, and he mentioned:

Malaysian books recently enjoyed: “Lydia Teh’s Honk! If you’re a Malaysian, Xeus’s Dark City, Adibah Amin’s This End of the Rainbow and the Silverfish series (that features local writers).”

Thanks, TH! I'm glad you enjoyed our books!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

44 Cemetery Road is out!


Congrats, Tunku Halim!

I'm so stoked because TH credited me for inspiring this collection of his best, best works. I also got to see an advanced copy, and can tell you it's truly excellent. (I have an endorsement blurb for the book.) Tunku Halim, as one esteemed editor put it, combines literary elements with popular fiction, and does it with aplomb.

My favourite story is the one where TH does a semi-autobiographical account on his student life in the UK, with a dash of piquant bittersweetness, and of course, doses of horror - I won't tell you which, you'll just have to pick the book up to find out.

Bravo, Tunku Halim. Looking forward to your launch. (Can one attend a book launch in honour of the author who might be overseas?)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hee hee, this blog is reviewed on Quill

I got reviewed on Quill, together with John Ling and Ted Mahsun's blog!! (How exciting!)

The blurb says:

"The blog is dedicated to the birth of Xeus's debut novel titled Dark City. It is indeed a celebration for Xeus's book as her blog displays the thunderous support and review snippets from fellow writers, local newspapers, magazines 
and bookstores.

One reading her blog would be engrossed in her ups and downs of realising one's dream to be a writer in Malaysia. She is not shy to share personal perspectives, so prepare to be thrilled with her credible entries. Not to fall behind in the rat race of the literary scene, make sure you follow her up-to-date entries on local fellow writers, gatherings for writers, promotions from bookstores and much more!"

Wow. What a blurb. I feel guilty already for not living up to it

For example, I've been guilty of not updating this blog enough. I've been reallu busy lately, because have you ever noticed how the words seem to fly when you are nearing the end of writing your novel? I'm almost at the end of writing Billy Lang, so the chapters are really flying, all loose ends are being tied, and I'm so anxious to finish it I'm averaging one chapter a day.

Which comes to the question: How many words can you write in 1 day? 1000? 2000? 3000? When does it all turn to mush and you fell like throwing up your computer and saying, "What I'm writing is crap! This will never get published!"

How much should we aim for without alienating our family and going mad?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Would I be selling you writers out if...

...I took on this deal?

Here's the scoop. A production house has been offered a deal by a prominent station to produce a series on 3o minute twisted tales, pretty much like The Twilight Zone 
or Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories.

They came up with a lot of their own story concepts for episodes. Then they ran out of ideas and stumbled upon Dark City, which is perfect fodder for episode material.

So I'm called to negotiate.

The working title of the series is 'Dark City', but it appears the TV station would like something more Malay. They're taking 3 episodes from the book. And this is the deal they're offering me:

1. No money for rights. I'd be credited. The reason being is they said they're working on a very tight budget, and intellectual property in Malaysia is very hard to argue anyway.

2. They're asking me to write the scripts for the 3 episodes for RM 1100 each.

3. If I refuse, they'd drop these 3 episodes and go ahead with their own ideas.

I've been talking to several people. There appears to be 2 camps of thought.

Advice from the First camp (consisting of book writers, some editors, some scriptwriters) - "It's good exposure for you. Take it. You can put it in your resume and brand your book with it.
Imagine your book (and the sequels) being printed with 'Now on TV' on the front cover. Wouldn't it be wonderful branding?"

Advice from the Second camp (consisting of some scriptwriters, some CEOs of production houses)
- "Be careful. We've got stung before. They (meaning the industry) took our concepts and gave us very little for it. Then they sold the series all around the world, and we profited nothing from it. They even took our ideas and rehashed them a little, so we cannot claim intellectual property being stolen. We understand that you want branding. It's your first time. But we can help you get in touch with other production houses we've worked with, those we are sure of. We can help you pitch to them. If you want to be a scriptwriter, they're always looking for more too.
"People in the film industry have a lot of respect for published book authors, esepcially those with bestsellers. "


So, my deadline to reply is Monday. What should I do? Should I give up this opportunity and wait till other production houses get contacted and market the Dark City series in its own right? (This affects anyone who has contributed to the 2nd book as well. You may see your works on celluloid, and you would certainly want me to get a better deal for you.)

Or should I go with this opportunity, because I (and we) may never get another one again. And the other production houses might not be interested?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Will this back cover entice you?


Dear all, need to pick your brilliant brains again :)

Would this blurb on the back cover entice you? Naturally, Kenny is designing something to portray all the authors' names as well as part of the back cover. Please comment on what you like about the blurb, and which sentences you would change. Are the sypnoses of some of the stories compelling enough to make you pick up the book? Should I change them?


BLURB

A youth is imprisoned in a swinging crate above the ground, the first obstacle in a Chinese box of puzzles he has to solve.

A 15th century boy meets the Angel of Death.

An attractive nurse accepts an indecent proposal.

A football gambling addict is captured by his creditors and made to go through a ‘Payback Chamber’.


14 different authors from Malaysia, US, Australia, New Zealand, UK and Switzerland come together to weave you 16 diabolically entertaining tales. Every tale has a twist, and every twist, a tale. See if you can spot the ending coming.


Praise for Dark City

"Why you should read this book: It's really good, that's why.”
The Malay Mail


“….Wow, what a read (Dark City) turned out to be….” Borneo Post


Saturday, March 24, 2007

The 2nd Malaysian LitBloggers' Breakfast Club

Finally, it's Lydia's and my turn.

It was lovely to meet everyone again - Sharon, Eric, Kenny, Spiffy, Chet etc. And I can honestly now say I've met the great Kak Teh! Oh her birthday too. Yes, Kak Teh came all the way from England. There were some new faces as well, like Esther (did I get your name right?), who is doing an assignment on us bloggers.

She asked me, "Can one improve one's English by writing blogs?"
I said, "One can certainly improve one's writing. But your English has to be good to begin with, and that can only come from reading a lot of good English books. There are some blogs written in totally atrocious language!"

Kenny introduced Lydia, who spoke about writing Honk and its success so far. It's gone into 2nd edition printing. Congrats! I spoke mostly about editing and the common mistakes I find writers making, such as:

1. not reading the instructions carefully when submitting for a writing competition
2. telling too much, not showing
3. inability to take criticism, and hence, improve.

I spoke about the 55 odd entries for Dark City 2, and how I wrote back to each and every one of the writers, thanking them, praising them on what they're good at, and critiquing what they're less good at, and showing them how to make their stories better. Everyone wrote back thanking me for my critique, whether or not their stories made the final cut, except for 2. And I know I've hurt these 2 writers, that they were not able to take my criticism.

But criticism is a part of a writer's life.

I in turn have been criticised many times. Sometimes publicly in national newspapers with circulations of over 1 million. I have also been praised many times. It comes with the territory. If you're a writer, you 
will have to take both sides of the coin.

I also have been guilty of every sin a writer can commit. I tell sometimes, not show. I use big words for a children's book. My chapter titles are horrible. I am too verbose. Sometimes people can see the ending coming a mile away. Some of the stories are not exciting enough.

So what do I do from these critiques?

I learn from them. I try to show as much as possible, not tell. I tone down my language. I try to think of more inventive titles. When not writing a literary story, I try to tone down the descriptions and metaphors. I try to make my stories and endings as engaging as possible. I leave a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter, and indeed, every segment, with this in mind: "If I can make the reader want to go on for 1 chapter more, I have succeeded."

So what can we learn from this?

Open your mind as a writer. If someone doesn't like your story, it's not the end of the world. Learn from that someone how to make it better.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Vote - which cover do you like best?




Kenny has drawn 3 lovely covers for you to choose from. Now, which do you like best? The cover must grab your attention to the bookshelf, make you want to pick the book up and buy it!

Kenny will have this up in his blog as well. Great job, Kenny!

Obviously, the covers don't have the extended title of the book yet, but Kenny did mention it was hard to fit it all in. So some people have been telling me not to include the extended title (sorry guys! it's not artistically cover friendly!) And I wanted to fit in the names of some of the contributors, but again, not artistically feasible, so they'll have to go into the back cover.