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.


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.)?


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?


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.