Sunday, January 27, 2008

MPH LitBlogger's Club yesterday

So finally it was Tunku Halim and me on the podium. There were about 25 - 30 people there, quite a full house and standing room only (with the usual empty chairs in front and in the inaccessible middle) . . . thanks to TH who really pulled them in, yay! (Okay, I must admit I arm-twisted at least 8 people to be there, including my colleagues.)

MPH also took the opportunity to launch TH's novella, Juriah's Song, which really had a great faux book gimmick to go with it, along with string cutting and all.

For my session, I dragged Lydia Teh, TH and Chua Kok Yee up with me because I was afraid of boring everybody if I were go by myself. We spoke about writing and rewriting and what a horrible taskmaster I am for making everybody write and rewrite.

RTM2 was there also for 'Hello on 2', which is I presume a morning show. So they interviewed each of us individually - TH, me, Lydia and Kok Yee - and I was so glad I wore something decent to appear on TV and that I didn't go in T-shirt and slippers. I don't actually remember what I said because I had to talk non-stop for 10 minutes, but I remember holding up my 2 books and shaking them ever so often, and even filming a little teaser in which I went, "Hi, I'm Xeus, and you're watching 'Hello on 2'. "

Then of course we all went for lunch and gabbed about everything and everybody. I realise Lydia and TH are so much more prolific and ambitious than I am - they have so many books and projects lined up, and when they asked me what I had in store, I had to admit I had only 2 :(

Ah well, it was great to meet up with everyone again. (And yes, Kenny too although he was late!) Thanks Grace for being there in spirit although you couldn't physically be present, and I wrote you a lovely message in your personalised copy of DC2. It was great to see Lyrical Lemongrass and Daphne there too and I thanked her personally for plugging DC2 in Star, and she had news for me - Michael Cheang is reviewing DC2 for Star. (And I went 'Yikes! He's tough!')

Okay, what do you think of this title for a humorous anecdote collection type of book: 'Don't stand too close to a naked Malaysian'? I tried it on everybody there and they hated it!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Borneo Post review

Courtesy of Georgette...

"The first Dark City was a compilation of short stories by an author who goes by the pseudonym Xeus. She returns with the sequel, together with 14 other writers. Some are names you've heard before if you're paying attention to the Malaysian writing or blogging scene, while others will come as surprises.

Ahmad Azrai's "Death Dealer" stands out for its unusual setting. As it opens in the era of Sultan Muzaffar Shah, a boy strikes a deal with the Angel of Death. I have to admit that this is the kind of story I've envisioned to death (heh) myself, which is why it attracted me. I only wish that there was more of a middle to go with that beginning and ending.

Lydia Teh, whose last book was the very funny "Honk! If you're Malaysian", told me how she pulled "Hin's Moment of Truth" out of a dusty archive somewhere and reworked it for DC2. Probably still her only fiction piece to date, her story is about a gambler who is about to get lucky in a nasty twist kind of way.

Xeus has this knack of making me burst out laughing with the conclusions of her stories and "Signature Spa" is no exception. (It only shows what a sick individual I am.) Spas are at every corner now, fighting for customers and the self-centred protagonist of this story finds herself a deal too good to be true.

Jennifer Tai has a story about a banker's encounter with a mother and her son; Noor Bebe brings us a half-touching and half-creepy tale of a woman looking for her missing husband in "Trapped"; John Ling provides a knife-twist of revenge in "Zero Sum"; and Chua KokYee's "The Penalty" brings us into the world of football gambling.

With 17 stories, there is something for everyone looking for a taste of the macabre and plenty for anyone who enjoys a wicked sense of humour. While most of the stories appear to be set in metropolitan KL, there are a handful of tales that take place outside it... like the one about the photojournalist who works in Kuching.

Dark City 2 have not yet been sighted in local book stores. "

Saturday, January 19, 2008

NST snippet and article on local books

I'm so glad that NST decided to run this feature on local books yesterday - a very positive one. I wouldn't have known it if Yvonne hadn't texted me when I'm overseas and told me about it. Thanks Yvonne!

Chuah Kok Yee and Tunku Halim are also featured.

By : SU AZIZ 2008/01/18

Shame on you if you do not read our local authors, especially when SU AZIZ shows you the best picks.

THE resolution to read more local authors is not a recent one. In fact, it is one that has been festering at the back of my mind for years.
At the beginning of this year, I was resolute on keeping it. Hence the myriad of books below produced by our own writing talent from various backgrounds, age groups and genres.
I am most certain you will be able to pick one that will appeal to you. Well, here goes!

Short stories and compilations:
DARK CITY 2Compiled by Xeus
A sequel to the bestseller published a couple of years ago, this one consists of 17 thrilling short stories by 15 authors.
Some are first-time published authors while others are more known and experienced writers.
The likes of Lydia Teh, Tunku Halim and Xeus fall into the latter category. A perplexing page-turning read for those dark, stormy and rainy nights.
Most of all, it is a terrific book for bite-sized samples of styles from our local authors.
This one is published by Midnight Press and available in major bookstores.
Variant 1: For a more relaxing bite-sized samples of local authors, Silverfish Books has just published News From Home, featuring 30 short stories from Chua Kok Yee, Shih-Li Kow and Rumaizah Abu Bakar.
Not quite local but close to home. Read Wena Poon’s collection of short stories on displaced Singaporeans living abroad in Lions in Winter.
Variant 2: For a touch of poetry dedicated to, as the author wrote, “love”, is Diver & Other Poems by Alina Rastam.
This compilation of 20 poetries is published by Cricket Communications Sdn Bhd.
Variant 3: Or grab a copy of Young Women Speak Out, a compilation of essays and poems by the participants of AWAM’s (All Women’s Action Society) Writers for Women’s Rights Programme.
An interesting sample of works by our young women highlighting their issues and concerns.

Latest works by our experienced authors:

GLIMPSESBy Adibah Amin
On a brighter note, this one holds colourful accounts of Malaysian habits, written in a style that is vintage in Adibah Amin.
A name synonymous with good English, Adibah is no stranger in the literary world.
In this one, her sense of humour and power of observation are both lucid and tangible.
A favourite? Chew on this, “How could a local product be any good? He must have been sent overseas for ‘manufacturing’, to return to triumph as an ‘imported’ item”. Published by MPH Publishing, this one’s available in all major bookstores.

This one entertained me as much as the story itself. The author, in the introduction page, admitted that it was inspired by two incidents.
One was when band members that had been playing at a hotel lounge joined him for a drink.
The other was an unsettling tale of a friend.
Known for his thrilling dark tales of suspense, this is Tunku Halim’s ninth supernatural thriller. It tells of a rock star who is pursued by a female demon.
Published by MHP Publishing, it is available in all major booktores.

Self-help books right here:

The title of the book is self explanatory. It basically helps you to learn how to better your communication skill, get others to listen and acquire the gift of the gab.
The question is, who is Michelle Lian? Is she an authority to preach on this matter?
For starters, she authored TEAMWORK! Rebuilding Winning Team Spirit and has held seminars or workshops that help people “discover simple truths to better their lives and careers with greater success”.
Besides, her books have been translated into other languages. The English version is readily available in MPH bookstores or online.
These final three books, which are easily available in either MPH or major bookstores, are designed to inspire and better the environment in which you have chosen to live in.
The first one is where you can “acquire secrets of formula feng shui” to “get the kind of results you have always wanted” in finance, health and even better exam grades!
It can be no other than a book by Lillian Too, Flying Star Feng Shui Made Easy.
I can neither make head nor tail of it but a colleague has already snatched the book off my desk, even as I write this.
The second is a result of an enlightenment during the author’s battle with fourth stage terminal cancer relapse after a 12-year remission.
Shery S.L. Lim’s There Is Hope carries all her faith in the big guy with “comforting and encouraging words” for those going through tough times in their lives.
A touch of solidarity is always welcome, no? It sure makes the world a less lonely place.

Lastly, carrying on the theme of solidarity, this slim, pink book, published by MPH Publishing for PRIDE Foundation, highlights personal accounts of cancer patients.
Take Pride In Your Life! also provides with coping tips for cancer patients as well as for those around them to “better manage the illness”.
Included is an audio CD featuring motivational speakers such as Datuk Dr Fadzilah Kamsah, Rene’e Aziz Ahmad and other experts.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The word 'No'

I wrote this in The Star today:

The word 'No'

For her second collection of short stories, Dark City 2, writer-turned-editor XEUS learns what it means to say ‘No’ and to give heartbreaking feedback to writers.

NO’’ is such an ugly word, compressing rejection, indifference and the fragmentation of dreams into so many petals of dandelion puff.
Goodness knows how many times I’ve been at the receiving end of it, only, I’ve heard it in other forms: “I’m sorry, but there’s another candidate more suitable for the job.” (Translation: “Your interview sucked big-time and the only way we’d want you working for our company is hauling trash cans.”)
“We love your writing, but we’re not currently publishing ?” (Translation: “We lied. We hate everything about your writing.”)
“You’re a nice girl and all, but I’m not ready for a relationship . . .” (Translation: “I wouldn’t go out with you even if my rich parents bribed me with a Bandar Utama semi-D and you wore a paper bag over your head.”)
I used to think “No” meant all that until I found myself on the other end of “No” – the giving end.
Last December, I ran a nationwide contest in The Star calling for submissions to a sequel for my first collection of short stories with a twist, Dark City, which would be imaginatively titled, after an exhaustive nationwide title search, Dark City 2.

Writing is like Math, kind of
I received over 60 submissions, some of them multiple ones, from not only Malaysia, but all over the world.
Ah, the wonders of the worldwide web and interactive blogosphere. Then I started to read them, and I went: “Hmmmmm . . .”
No, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of people who can write, and do it very well. There are also plenty of people who can tell a story, and tell it very well. But unfortunately most of the time, the two groups don’t mingle. It’s just as my math teacher used to envision it:
“Kawasan tindihan dua subset ini sangat nipis.” (Translation: “When the two groups collide, you get thunder and lightning and J. K. Rowling.”)
A lot of the time, I’ve discovered that those would-be writers with great grammar and wordplay don’t often tell a story well. And those who tell a story well don’t often have great grammar.
Remembering all those times I heard “No,” I thought long and hard about how I was going to couch the dreaded word.
I mean, I wanted my “No” to be spiritually uplifting and enriching. I wanted my “No” to be the pivotal turn in some writer’s life. I wanted my “No,’’ to go down in EQ 101 books as “Now, that’s the way to say ‘No!’ “ Oh boy, who was I kidding? So I chickened out.

The editor who is a chicken
I didn’t say “No.” I said, via the anonymity of e-mail, “Dear _______, I think you are a very good writer and you have the makings of a wonderful storyteller. But the problem with your story is blah, blah, blah, as I’ve outlined very carefully in Microsoft Word red. But not to fear, it can be fixed! Would you mind rewriting to include the comments on blah, blah, blah?”
Most of the time, the writers do acknowledge this by rewriting (some multiple times) and e-mailing back: “Thank you so much for taking the effort to go through my story with a fine-toothed comb. I’m very grateful for this.” And of course, I never hear from some again. (Translation: “If you don’t like my work, fine, I’ll take it elsewhere – YOU SUCK!”)
I must admit to turning to my writer friends for a lot of the stories in Dark City 2. After two months. I was getting desperate because I didn’t have enough stories in the can. I shot off a note to my friend, Malaysia’s own Stephen King, Tunku Halim, and begged, “Help me and I will give you my firstborn child!”
Which of course he promptly did by contributing one story, Hawker Man, about the perils of looking soybean sellers too long in the eye. I then shot off a note to another famous friend, Lydia Teh (Honk! If you are a Malaysian), who refused all offers of my firstborn children because she already has four.
Lydia wrote this in her blog: “I pulled out Hin’s Moment of Truth and e-mailed it to Xeus. Hey, I like the story, she said, but you need to expand it. I reworked the story according to her suggestions.”
So you see, even famous published writers rewrite and rewrite! But among the first-time writers, I found a lot of gems.
Former Star2 assistant editor, Lou Joon Yee, got wonderful reviews for her Till Death which she wrote and rewrote. It's a story about a husband and wife who fantasise about killing, and re-killing, each other (Don’t we all, at some time?)
So the moral of the story is that a “No”, when couched in the emphatic package of caring feedback to help a fellow writer, can be turned into a “Yes.” That is, with multiple rewrites.

Xeus is the author of Dark City and the conceptual editor of the newly released Dark City 2, an anthology of tales with a twist which features 14 authors who are used to rewriting multiple times. For more stories on these agonising rewrites, you can visit her blog at