Thursday, 29 March 2012

Prince Charming


We grow up believing in Disney princes and reading about guys like Edward Cullen, believing that that’s what men are like. I grew up with brothers who my friends disgustingly coveted. They are smart, talented, funny, protective and just plain sweet. So I really wasn’t prepared for the real world. Being casually brainwashed isn’t nice and we all have to learn the hard way that not all guys talk like Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid or take you out for a romantic midnight boat ride with singing fish (unless he slipped something in your drink before). A lot of heartbreak and dissatisfaction accompany us on our journey through maturity because of the pre-programming that we’ve gone through as kids. Despite this, being able to dream of meeting that prince someday is also a wonderful part about being young.

As a writer, it’s hard to find the right balance between what’s real and what girls want men to be like (I don’t want guys reading my book and going, “Dude, no one talks like that!”). Stefanie Meyer’s and Nora Robert’s books are probably so popular because they introduce guys that we all think are perfect. I wonder constantly if my male characters talk the way real men do or if they’re my personal picture of dashing. I’m a girl, so how do I know what men are thinking or feeling? (I know, sometimes they don’t but we should just give them the benefit of a doubt).

Men think we’re complicated and women think men are stuck with their prehistoric hunter mentality. Most of the guys I know aren’t like that, but is it smart to have characters in a novel that readers wouldn’t be able to relate to in real life? I don’t know.  I personally love books where men open doors for girls and don’t make fun of their driving skills (or lack thereof).  I like writing stories where the boy falls for the girl completely and irrevocably. However, is this real? And if we think that it’s not, why do we crave it?

“…Mary Fraser, Ph.D., a part-time psychology instructor at De Anza College, said she thinks women are taught that men make decisions and have more power than women. “And then we’ve got the whole Disney thing, where Prince Charming will come and save the day,” Fraser said.”—Rheyanne Weaver, Psychology Behind the Cinderella Complex, http://www.empowher.com/mental-health/content/psychology-behind-cinderella-complex?page=0,1

I suppose  we like reading books where men are the picture of perfection because that’s what books and movies are for: to take us away. What better way to do that than to meet a guy that doesn’t think about football and cars all day long? (He may be battling with the urge to suck the life out of you, but it doesn’t matter as long as you don’t have to go get beer and chips for him and his buddies from the creepy guy at 7-11.) Once we resurface from our dream world, we come back to reality energized by having those fairytale moments with the perfect hero.

In the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter because readers will either relate to the characters in a novel or they won’t, depending on their own experiences, upbringing and imagination. Writers don’t really have to control everything. As long as it’s fun, I say do it! As for dreaming about prince-charming, well I dreamed and found…. and pounced.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

And the Ladder Fell


To grow up in Malaysia is to be surrounded by taboos and superstitions. Living in Europe now, my friends can’t stop laughing when I tell them about the things that we weren’t allowed to do. We were severely warned against stepping on the remains of burnt candles on the side of the road because the spirits would come looking for us. My European friends wanted to know why there were candles littering the streets in the first place. Our parents never let us roam cemeteries at night while my friends here let their kids zoom about the graveyards with their little plastic tractors. We weren’t allowed to stare at the full moon because rumour had it that the back of your ear would split open (gross, I know) and the Europeans sit outside romantically watching the full moon with their lovers (oh, now I get it. That’s why we weren’t allowed to).

Every culture has its superstitions. Brooms, spilt salt, ladders and black cats: all items pulled over the centuries into the conspiracy of our forefathers. Some are quite logical while others make you wonder how we evolved in the first place. Below are my personal “favourites”:

1. Do not leave your clothes to dry outside overnight as wandering spirits will attach themselves to said garments and take over personality of owner (oh man, I can’t even stand ONE of some people.)
2.   Never whistle during a night time stroll or the spirits will follow you home.
3.  Men should never peer at a woman’s underwear for this will bring about bad luck (yes, probably in the shape of a good beating)
4.  If you step on poo, good luck will come your way (well, it can’t get any worse, can it?)
5. When eating, never point a fork or knife at someone as the other person will have an accident (like your cutlery jabbing them in the eye)
6.  It’s bad luck to open an umbrella in the house (another eye injuring possibility)
7. Never swim in the sea at night or the ghosts will get you.

I can already see my nieces and nephews quivering. I’m usually shivering along with them, especially if the taboos have anything to do with hospitals.

So why do we believe in so many illogical things and still strut about boasting our technological advancements?

“…Wanting more control or certainty is the driving force behind most superstitions. We tend to look for some kind of a rule, or an explanation for why things happen. "Sometimes the creation of a false certainty is better than no certainty at all, and that is what much of the research suggests," says Stuart Vyse, PhD.”—Sarah Albert, ‘The Psychology of Superstition’, http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/psychology-of-superstition


I just avoid ladders and clipping my nails at night because I was raised in a culture where fear preceded all need of certainty. We adhered because we were just too scared of the consequences. No one wants to be accused of bringing a stray ghost home with you.

As a storyteller, I personally love the existence of superstitions and cultural taboos because it proves that no matter how many people we send to the moon or how much thinner our flat screens become, there will always be someone screaming, “Finish your rice or your future husband’s face will look like your plate!”

Ah, our colourful, unpredictable world: a maze of psycho-debris and sporadic enlightenment for some, a goldmine of inspiration for others.

Monday, 26 March 2012

To Infinity and Back Again


When I was little, there was nothing more fulfilling than watching the night sky with the moon smiling down at me (nowadays it grimaces but that’s another story altogether). That feeling of my heart about to burst was indescribable as I sat there hoping to catch a glimpse of that bright ray of light cruising through blue velvet, its passengers jet-setting to distant galaxies. I would have done anything for a miniscule sign that aliens existed. My parents were worried, hoping that I wouldn’t start a cult as I later wrote stories, read books and became an X-File fanatic, trying to convert all my friends. Unfortunately, I’ve grown up now and Agent Molder’s 90’s hairstyle and theories along with Scully and her exasperating whistle have become rather disappointing.

No matter what culture or background, people from all over the world have claimed to have seen visitors from outer space. Between 1950 and 1970, many stories started circulating in Malaysia about tiny 3 inch aliens that landed in school compounds dressed in high tech suits and wielding ray guns. (Check out abovetopsecret.com) I find it interesting that they only appeared around schools, as there are theories that they search out high levels of energy and knowledge is a form of energy. Why they go around squishing American corn is beyond me though.

As a writer, I like to believe in strange things but I also like to pick at them with my mental chopsticks. I scrutinize the paranormal and try to find things that are wrong with photos or videos that I see on the web. Nowadays, with photoshop and friends, there isn’t really any way for normal readers to verify the authentic nature of anything. We just have to want to believe it or not. It’s like the time the rumour that Big Foot had been spotted in the jungles of Malaysia started going around and everyone was criticizing the Malaysian “tendency to exaggerate”. I could have joined the masses and made fun of those people who mistook an Orangutan with bad teeth for a Yeti but I was just too busy laughing at the idea of the Malaysian remake of Harry and the Hendersons.

So what is it that fuels our need to believe in alien life form? Crop circles, Area 51, theories about the Mayans and our creators and our own willingness to invest billions in space exploration are but a few examples of crazy. Millions of movies have been made about our space cousins, some depicting their greatness and others reflecting our own wickedness. (Avatar the Movie was a typical depiction of cowboys and Native Americans, the British and their previous exploits all over the world etc….I shall stop before someone decides to ban me but you get the picture.)

“This is an extermination”—War of the Worlds.

Most people think it’s madness, others find that it would be rather selfish of us to think that we’re the only ones residing in infinity and the rest, well visit a Sci-fi convention and you’ll know what I mean. Personally, I would like to believe that there are other worlds out there, with people living their lives just like us, with the same problems we have (like deciding which outfit goes better with tentacles) and the same feelings.

However, I don’t think it would be a good idea for them to meet us, even though I’ve been wishing it my whole life. If there were other life forms out there, how would we get along with them if we can’t even get along with each other? War and famine are skulking through the Blue Planet and all we can do is sit around and read about it. I would really love to see the day when people decide to spend the millions being used for Astrobiology on finding ways to feed our own people. It breaks my heart to think that there are hungry children around the world while the big guys are shooting their space shuttles into the vast darkness to find yet another thing that they can destroy. If aliens do find us, with their superior intellect, they might think us extremely lacking. I really don’t want to be the one that has to sit them down and explain the necessity of reality shows and botox.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Creatures Bedazzled


Since my book’s release has been made known, I’ve been getting extremely awesome feedback. People I have never met before have been pledging their future loyalty and, I must say, I’m truly honoured. It would be all so very Cinderella-like if it weren’t for those opposing opinions which would keep me up at night, had I not already grown an extremely thick skin over the past months during the querying process (thank you, publishers who would rather concentrate on kissing up to already known authors).

In the last few weeks, I have gotten pretty strange remarks about my dark creatures who can’t be blamed for my apparent “need to hop on the bandwagon”. Nowadays, if a writer has chosen to use blood-drinking creatures in their novels, they WILL have to explain that their monsters DON’T glitter in the sunlight while holding a carrot. My dragons are now under the scrutiny of anti-Eragon firefighters. If a character ventures so much as a cackle, an author WILL DEFINITELY be accused of trying to milk the Harry Potter cow for all its worth (I’d like to see a Malaysian witch being held at wand-point. Be assured that the owner will be laughed at to death).

We fortunately live in a free world and everyone is entitled to their opinions. Critics are an important part of literature because I really do want to know if I should keep on writing or if I should just get another pet. But what makes half the world so ready to stick their claws out at you?

"It's not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out where the strong man stumbled or where the doer of great deeds could have done them better" [Theodore Roosevelt]
"The proper function of the critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it" [D.H. Lawrence]
"A critic is a man who knows the way but can't drive the car" [Kenneth Tynan]

Sounds to me like general dissatisfaction all around. All I can say is (and my novel would still not be publishable if it weren’t for my friends and family eliminating all the rubbish) that I make the corrections and enjoy the praise, but only if it means not losing my own voice.

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”—Cyril Connolly.

My novel is based in Malaysia where dark spirits and beings are a part of everyday life. There are people living in remote areas that still place knives at their front doors before they go to sleep because the Asian vampire is afraid of sharp objects. No one worth their weight in rice would go walking on the beach at midnight or utter their name in the middle of a cemetery or jungle for fear of being whisked away by ghosts. People go to fortune tellers and shamans to inquire about auspicious days for weddings and business deals or if the neighbour is going to steal their newspaper again. That’s just the way it is and that’s just the way I tell it in my stories.

I seem not to have gotten the memo saying that dark creatures are now all under copyright, soooorry! Being a writer means being able to swallow bad critiques without running through the streets and pulling your hair out (but feel free to do so when you get your first award!). Different tastes and opinions make the world a unique, lovable place. I just wonder who they’ll compare me to once they read my novel and meet my pervert of a goblin and his demon-monkey friend. (Evil grin….)

Have a great weekend, my nice other half of the worldJ

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Mirror, mirror


On every website that I visit, there are ads on how I can and SHOULD magically crunch my tummy to death (AND ONLY IN SEVEN DAYS!!!). We are constantly bombarded with posters, magazines and fashion shows telling us that if we’re larger than a size zero, we shouldn’t even waste their time by being in the vicinity. The Oscars and Emmys are one, big skeleton parade and if another pharmacist tries to sell me sliming cream I’m going to freak! Marketing campaigns brainwash us into buying facial creams that are supposed to change our lives into flower-scented fairytales where we will be riding off into the sunset with our princes as soon as that dang blemish is gone. And this is the world that I’ve voluntarily brought my son into.

Young adult writers need to be in touch with their readers and most young adults do obsess about their looks in one way or another. When I was a teenager, there wasn’t a day where I did not wake up and jump on the scale first. I did everything to fit into those clothes which designers insist on mixing up with children’s sizes, even if I knew that it was unhealthy (my sisters actually nagged me to death till I knew). Girls who didn’t risk poking someone’s eye out with their collarbones at school were handed out withering stares. Movies like Shallow Hal and half the stuff made for teenagers tell us that we shouldn’t make our impressions based on someone’s appearance but subtly inform us that the chubby ones only get to find love if they get a total makeover or if someone has been hypnotised. Oookaaay! I’m not saying that I despise our obsession with looking good (I shed happy tears for the winning candidates on The Swan and Biggest Loser) but I wonder everyday how to tell my son that people are worth more than how shiny their hair is if he is only surrounded by this conspiracy of skin and bones.

Why do we do it? Putting looks aside for a moment, being overweight is clearly unhealthy and the media has pounced on this basic need to live longer, morphing the image of a healthy body over the decades into the coat hangers that we see today. Think Marilyn Monroe in comparison to Kate Moss….I rest my case.

What kind of examples are we setting for kids if our whole society has decided to sell their souls to the company with the fastest results? Body dysmorphic disorder has joined the ranks of bulimia and anorexia. Great…yet another thing teenagers and their parents have to worry about just because the media says so. People look at celebrities and decide that that’s how they want to look (and feel) forgetting that those people have cooks who can whip up a cracker that tastes like a Big Mac anytime of the day. They have personal trainers who make Malaysian school teachers look like the Easter Bunny in comparison. Just so that we’re clear, these are the people who spend most of their time at rehab or scouring Asia for enlightenment. So nobody’s perfect. Yay!

As a writer for young adult fiction, I think about teenagers and their obsession with appearances all the time (I used to be at the head of that queue for thigh and ab trainers, so I’m not judging). I wonder how to approach it in a book or whether I should at all. I want my writing to be real, but not so real that people might as well turn on the news instead of reading my stuff. On the other hand, I don’t want my readers thinking that only the skeletal, fully-made-up-circus-horses get the guy at the end of my novels. Readers don’t want the gruesome details, only beautifully written work that’s shocking yet palatable. So how do we find a balance between reality and fantasy? I don’t know but I’m hoping that I’ll learn more as my journey through the land of storytelling brings me to new horizons where teenagers can simply say, “This is me.”

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Crystal Ball


Most of my stories come from my little book of dreams that I have beside my bed. If I have an especially inspiring dream that I know I will have no recollection of the next day, I quickly write it down (mostly with my eyes closed because I’m just not someone who likes to wake up in the middle of the night. I have problems trying to decipher the almost illegible hand-writing the next day, but these are the sacrifices we have to make to tell a good story).

Dreams are a magical place to be, be it the dream where Robert Pattinson decides to move to my town or where the drier insists on having me for breakfast. The extremely interesting ones are those Inception ones where you think you’ve woken up but you’re still trying to fight off the singing roses that look strangely like George Clooney.

In Asia, dreams aren’t seen as just a mechanism for digesting and processing our everyday experiences. We believe that dreams have meanings. I’ve had my share of premonitions where I woke up knowing if something was going to happen that day. I dreamed that my first novel would be published before the day my inbox made me the happiest person on the planet. Even before that pregnancy test hollered yes, I dreamed that I would have a son. I dreamed that one of my blog entries had a spelling mistake. I woke up all panicky, checked and lo and behold there was one miniscule error that had changed the whole sense of my sentence. I even dreamed about the deaths of my parents before I received those heart-rending calls from my siblings. Why? How could my mind have made up stuff that would be true someday? I don’t have the answer to this and unless Apple comes up with an app that can answer all our cosmic questions, I don’t think I ever will.

So what are dreams? Popular theories say that they are our mind’s way of tidying up the legions of information that we receive every day. Some say they are the lives of our other selves in a parallel universe (LIKE). Others say that dreams are related to DNA memory: things that happened to our ancestors mixing in with our own daily lives to portray a story that makes little sense for those who weren’t there. Freud had a majorly disturbing theory which I can’t repeat here because my underage nieces and nephews read my blog. Who gave that guy his degree anyway? I like this explanation though:

“.... Instead, he (J. Allan Hobson) suggests that dreaming is "…our most creative conscious state, one in which the chaotic, spontaneous recombination of cognitive elements produces novel configurations of information: new ideas. While many or even most of these ideas may be nonsensical, if even a few of its fanciful products are truly useful, our dream time will not have been wasted.”—Kendra Cherry, “Why do we dream?”, http://psychology.about.com/od/statesofconsciousness/p/dream-theories.htm

Hooray for us writers! But that still does not explain the prophetic quality of dreams and why many Indian people see their deceased family members beckoning them to the afterworld days before their own demise. It’s scary yet fascinating and as a writer, it gives me the feeling that there is more out there—that my stories and the tales that I read could actually be happening somewhere else. If you’re a frequent flyer on my blog, you probably would have noticed my fascination with the supernatural by now. For those newbies, please don’t freak out…I’m Asian (self-explanatory).

To make a long story short (and a short blog entry sound longer), our dreams give us the opportunity to be someone else for a night. Bad dreams help us appreciate the beauty of reality—that the lurking shadows and evil warlords turn to dust when you open your eyes. And good dreams…well, how often do you get to share a broken down elevator with Josh Duhamel AND Bradley Cooper? 

Monday, 19 March 2012

Not to be confused with Envy


It’s spring in Europe and the flowers are poking their technicolour heads out of the sweet smelling grass. The sparrows are going at it and lady birds are terrorizing the neighbourhood. The girls think that just because it’s slightly over ten degrees they can start stripping down to the legal minimum. Through the sounds of birds chirping and the farmers on their tractors in the distance, a young man and woman walk hand in hand, gazing at each other like the couples on karaoke videos. He kisses her as she admires the purple tulips basking in the sun and whispers something private in her ear. Suddenly, a pretty young thing with flat abs and a naughty walk glides by. The man’s eyes instinctively follow her gait and he gets clobbered by his girlfriend’s GGL handbag (you know, the one with the LARGE buckle on the front). I laugh, he pleads innocence and his girlfriend leaves in a huff.

Ah, jealousy, you “green-eyed monster”! Writers and movie makers all over the world pounce on human jealousy, making them the main themes in their films and books. Fatal attraction, Unfaithful, Indecent Proposal, Snow White, Cinderella, My best-friend’s Wedding….all stories during which we clench our hands in anticipation, totally feeling the protagonist pain. I admit that I am one of these writers who use humanity’s weaknesses (and strengths, so please don’t shove me off your reading list just yet!) to tell a good story. Jealous tension is something I love to include in my novels; that familiar feeling of your tummy turning into a churning pit of snakes always adds a little something to the plot. Whether outright infidelity, a harmless flirt or the best friend meeting up with someone else for coffee, jealousy is everywhere and we as readers can relate to what the characters of the story are going through.
But why? What makes jealousy one of the leading contributors to a psychiatrist’s bank account?

“… Cultural psychologists tend to believe that humans are inherently jealous, simply because our jobs, relationships and material goods mean a lot to us, and we don't want to lose them.”—Alia Hoyt, “How Jealousy Works”, http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/life/human-biology/jealousy.htm

Uh-oh! And now the next question: Where do we get the audacity to treat our loved ones as possessions? The experts say jealousy mostly manifests itself in those with low-self esteem or shaky relationships. I wonder if our club-wielding, boulder-rolling ancestors would agree. Whatever the reason or cause, we all react differently to the signals of betrayal coursing through our systems. I personally am extremely jealous when it comes to my husband (another baddie of mine that I’m working on). I once followed a woman into the ladies (after she had smiled at my man while I was sitting next to him at a restaurant) and lectured her on her unhealthy attraction to married men. I spewed out theories which included confidence issues and her not getting enough attention from her father while she was growing up. She looked at me like I had just escaped from a nearby mental institute (the confused glare did not impress me, mind you, since I’ve gotten my share of those!) and politely informed me that she had known my husband in high school. As you can imagine, I walked out of the ladies room an embarrassed, self-loathing human being, swearing never to let one of the seven deadly sins get the better of me ever again.

I’m still trying, and have managed to stop harassing random women who happen to be looking in our direction and smiling at the same time, but I don’t really want to forget how it feels to love something so much that the thought of losing it simply makes me want to kick something. I think to be a good writer, it’s important to feel and know the wonders of life but also the buried stuff that people don’t normally want to talk about. And I have made it my life’s goal to be a good writer, so I’m not going to turn into a saint anytime soon. I’ll just keep on soaking up the world and adding to that list of self-improvement possibilities (I said possibilities, not facts…she winks).


Thursday, 15 March 2012

Awesome is as Crazy gets


As a kid, I constantly tried to convince myself that I was an alien like Superman, brought to the earth to do something fabulous. Now that I’m grown (like since 2 days ago), I know that I was just trying to explain away the discrepancy between the other kids and myself. I wrote stories, I talked to the moon and my all-time dream was to run away with Rock Hudson and be his manager. Needless to say, some of the other kids thought I was weird (which I was and can only now appreciate the merits of weirdness in a writer).

The friends I made were equally loony or soon crossed over (much to the annoyance of their strict Malaysian parents). We dreamed up demons that followed us around, doing our every bidding until the principal of our primary school made us stand up at assembly and apologize. Some kids pointed and laughed (kids through the centuries have really mastered the art of ridicule). Others were merely carefully polite in case our demons decided to possess them. But the best were my friends and cousins who were all like, “Just keep it coming!” I will adore them forever.

I spent most of my high school years running from one end of the extreme to the other. Diets, boys, exercise, dares—the crazier the better. After I became a mum I tried being moderate, constantly watching my surroundings for whoever I could steal some tips from about being an uptight citizen. And you know what? I was as unhappy as a pickpocket at the end of Black Friday. Thankfully, I soon found out that mostly everyone had some sort of banshee in the cupboard, making no one I met actually normal. That was consoling *insert wicked cackle here*. As a writer, I love the idea of the mail man secretly seeing the milk man and of the cranky school janitor winning the annual ‘Karaoke Ka-blamm’.

Drama. It’s all about the excitement and heartache. I love drama and that’s just one of the many reasons that I write stories, fall madly in love and sulk for the smallest things (I’m working on this baddie). I like to entice; I love the adrenaline and I simply adore dreaming up worlds where readers would like to stay forever. The need for drama and the revulsion for boredom are some of my extreme qualities (they drive my husband mad, but there you go). I became happier once I accepted these things about myself and that growing up doesn’t mean growing a stiff upper lip.

“….Who controls your life? You have all the weapons you need, so fight.”—Sucker Punch, the movie.

I met an excellent life couch in Malaysia who told me, “Just be awesome, what’s the problem?!” Her advice has had a major impact on me, giving me the confidence to be who I want to be and to ignore the stares and glares that come my way from more moderate members of society. So what if I’m the only mum running down the street with a cape and Darth Maul mask, wielding a red light-saber at my equally scary-looking son? Who cares if I jump out from behind a door with my fake vampire teeth and scare him and his friends half to death? They love it, so do I and I guess that’s all that matters.

We spend our lives looking through other people’s windows, forgetting to enjoy the scene unfolding in our own. If we could only realize that it’s okay to be different, then life would become that much simpler and things like drugs, bullying and peer pressure will have no place in our world. It’s a constant struggle and it’s always easier to fall for the vices of our existence, but if we know that we tend to extreme behavior, we also know how to say, “Stop being such a drama queen, put that burrito away and eat your muesli bar!”

With that, I’d like to wish you all a great weekend of being awesome in an extreme and positive way and my prayers are with youJ Till our cyber paths cross again on Monday!

www.facebook.com/cinthiakoeksal

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Cyberspace Phenomenon


I often wonder what it is that makes the Internet so alluring. Sure, the multitude of information merely a click away helps us writers do our thing much faster and more effectively than say twenty years ago. I think I’d really freak if I had to go down to the library every time I needed to look up a specific shade of green or the architecture of a pirate ship.

Cyberspace is also a source of inspiration where writer’s can meet like-minded people in places like chats and forums (my favourite being Absolutewrite.com). Networking has become the tool of the century. Surviving writer’s block and punctuation dilemmas on our own is a thing of the past like mobile phones that don’t remind you to brush your teeth at 7.30am sharp and actually reading a printed map without a very polite woman ordering you to “turn around when possible” (I can’t find my own shoes sometimes mind you, so I’m not really one to judge).

The worldwide connection that we have today would have blown our minds a decade ago. Suddenly, a corpulent man falling off a water slide becomes famous overnight and talents like Justin Biber are discovered through shared videos. I could ask a girl in Tokyo to share her Planking experiences and she’d be all “Oh, yeah.” The possibilities are endless now, especially for writers.

You can be whoever you want to be on the Internet. A kid who has to sidle around school with a wall always at his back to avoid Wedgie Power by schoolmates who think that they’re “all that”, can be one of the most revered gamers on the Planet. He could be the next Bill Gates while his puffy-haired schoolmates end up patronizing AA meetings and living with their mums. The Internet can make dreams come alive and nobody remains a “Nobody”.

Internet Marketing and publisher/agent/editor searches are yet another plus for writers, although sifting through the con artists and home-made garage companies is a pain and a half. E-mails have changed the querying process like penicillin to the medical world and publishers really have to brace themselves against the wave of newly empowered aspiring writers out there (I officially belong to this notorious wave and am proud of it, although I have received my share of “Unless you’re selling pizza, please get lost.”). It’s also great to be able to check if a title that you want is already taken by another, faster writer. I’ve had some really nonplussing moments when I found out that the titles I wanted to use were already snapped up by the Power Rangers and Pok√©mon. Needless to say, I’ve been trying very hard to grow up ever since.

However, as with everything good and glossy, there will always be a rubbish-strewn alleyway out back (We could use the discovery of Justin Biber here, too, but that’s all I’m saying about it). Because of the abundance of information and inspiration on the Net, the competition has also increased making us once meek and soft-spoken writers into elbowing, hissing members of the literature market. The pressure to perform is sometimes unbearable and some writers’ forums only make you want to donate your laptop and take up hula-hoop gymnastics instead.

So, how did we humans survive before “LIKE” buttons and having shoes delivered to our front doors? Well, we did other stuff: we went real window shopping, read a book where turning a page actually involved a possible paper cut and talked to our friends without the words LOL and OMG in each sentence. However, all being said, as a writer, I just love Ms WWW with her educational sites—and freaky flaws—and I wouldn’t ‘Unfriend’ her for all the free credits in the world. Sayonara, bookworms and yellowed pages; Guten Tag, “Oh dang, the battery’s dead!”




Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Music and the Savage Beast


If you’re a day-dreamer like me, you’ve probably wondered at some point in your life why music is so important to us humans (and you witches, vampires and zombies). When I write, I choose the music that I listen to based on the mood that I want to evoke in a specific chapter. If I want it to be Lord of the Ring’s-magical, I listen to Enya’s Watermark album. When writing a battle scene that should make the readers want to dive into the pages and join the heroine in chopping up something evil (please look away, aforementioned creatures of the night), I like to listen to the Transformers’ soundtrack or my Dance cd. When the boy is supposed to say something Twilight-mushy to the girl, Dire Straits, Adele and Michael Learns to Rock are my choice of drug. Green Day, Eminem and The Bloodhound Gang are the only way to go when writing a scene with teenagers just doing their thing. In other words, I need to psych myself up before writing emotional stuff and what better way to do it than with some awesome tunage. But how does it work? What makes my brain send out all these signals that tell my body how to feel?

As a recreational musician, music inspires and steers my actions more than I care to admit. Grief that I have managed to keep at bay for months on end may suddenly burst through my heavily-guarded walls at the heart-rending tunes of Evanescence. People who I normally can’t stand seem a little bit more bearable if David Guetta is mixing something in the background. If I think a chapter of my book belongs in the garbage, I just listen to more appropriate music and edit the chapter, giving it a facelift (mind you, it doesn’t always work; sometimes even I have to face the facts and chuck a chapter because no amount of music genius can save plainly bad writing). 

Of course, others may simply be annoyed by my choice of music, like my sister for example who cringe at some of my more foul-mouthed singers. That’s another thing about music that baffles me: like mostly everything else in the world, its effects depend wholly on things such as individual taste, cultural background and all the “mistakes” your parents made in raising you.

So what makes our brains so receptive to music? Why is it that a series of notes can have the power to placate, motivate, sadden or destroy? I’ve always wondered and have read through articles beginning at anonymous bloggers who wouldn’t know good music if it bit them on the…right up to Yale and Harvard professors who have devoted their lives to this age-old mystery. Unfortunately, none of them could actually help me understand the phenomenon. (This could also be due to the fact that I’m somewhat lacking in the patience department, but let’s shelve that away for future discussions, shall we?)

“……How does music succeed in prompting emotions within us? And why are these emotions often so powerful? The simple answer is that no one knows. We are able to quantify the emotional responses caused by music, but we cannot explain them.”—Geetanjali Vaidya, ‘Music, Emotion and the Brain’, http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro04/web2/gvaidya.html.

There you have it: no one knows for sure. And throughout all our kazillion dollar research and theories, the brain goes on doing what it wants, with or without our permission. It picks up the splendor of the many sequences of minims and semiquavers, legatos and pianos and interweaves them with our miniscule understanding, creating a world of emotion that we might never learn to fathom but which we can and have been embracing since the beginning of time.
Caveman Boogie, ya’ll!

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Bogeyman and Co.


As a fantasy fiction writer, I personally love the supernatural and everything that goes bump in the night. Growing up in a country as steeped in myth as I did, it’s really no wonder. Ghosts and vampires belong inevitably to the night and evil spirits will roam the beach after sunset whether you like it or not. Some of the nefarious creatures that we learn about as kids are downright creepy while others are simply ridiculous and even I can’t find the imagination to believe in them.

Some of the more palatable Asian creatures of the night:
Pontianak: vampire
Toyol: something like a goblin but way creepier because it looks more like an evil baby
Hantu Air: ghosts that reside in rivers, oceans or swamps
Hantu Raya: a protecting demon of black-magic practitioners
Hantu Pari-Pari: fairies
Orang Bunian: whispering spirits that lead travellers astray in jungles

Who the heck came up with these preposterous fellows?:
Orang minyak: an oily, rapist ghost
Hantu bungkus: a ghost shrouded in dirty cloth said to feed on the blood of children
Hantu galah: a long, pole like ghost that hangs around bamboo trees

See what I mean??

As a teenager, walking down a dark street at night, I used to try and convince myself that my Malaysian parents simply filled my head with nonsense because children from respectable families should not be patronizing the streets at night. However, when everyone believes in something—and most Asians do believe in one form of crazy or the other—you tend to walk around looking over your shoulder. Despite all logic, I fell for it too and grew up shivering at the thought of the Hungry Ghost Festival, but secretly looking out the window in excited anticipation to see if any of them would try to make contact.

I remember spending weekends watching blood-curdling horror movies and hair-raising thrillers with my cousins, scaring ourselves to death. We lay awake half the night, praying for the sun to rise quickly before the shadows got us. Every time I swore to myself, “Never again.” Needless to say, the very next weekend we would be off to the video store renting the next emetic, heart-stopping DVD that would put the previous ones to shame. I almost walked out of the cinema during The Ring, but that crazy voice in my head forced me to stay and I spent the rest of the week looking in mirrors, taking photos of myself to see if it would come out blurry and practically losing consciousness every time the phone rang, convinced that I had merely a week to live.

So what is it with people and the need to scare themselves senseless? A psychologist friend of mine says that it’s because of our inbred need to survive which brings on an adrenaline rush (awesome feeling!) when we feel threatened. So in other words, we go mad for roller-coaster rides, scary movies and dangerous men because our deepest, ingrained instincts make us adrenaline junkies? Nice! Bring it on.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Once upon a time

It all started with ‘Once upon a time’. My sisters introduced me to a world of magic at a very young age, sharing with me their love of books and showing me that words have the power to transport, encourage and mystify. I have never once looked back.
Fairytales have a way of sucking you into another world, making you believe that princes will vanquish the evil witch and that the goblins under your bed can be repelled by light. Once upon a time was my beginning: of a love affair with books that have accompanied me through childhood, adolescence and then adult life.
Reading made me realize that as unpredictable as life is, stories are not. You know that Good will triumph in the end, while you hope that the Boy gets the Girl. As a six year old growing up in an Indian house with six adults, most of what I did was pre-written. Although my family was very supportive and my father thought me to reach for the skies, it was hard being the only kid at home with everyone always determining what I did and how I did it. So I started writing stories, stories where I was in charge of my own destiny. Fried fish and bath time had no place in my little world of sorcery and shooting stars.
Through stories about visiting aliens, talking animals and later, high school romances, I fell deeper and deeper in love with the written word. My personal favourite was the story I wrote about the rubber band when I was eight. It was about a red rubber band straight out of a Malaysian factory that made its way through shops, restaurants, hawker stalls and later different families, constantly living through cultural differences, privy to family secrets. In the end, my little rubber band, frayed and smudged at the end of its journey, lay on the hot tarmac and looked up into the sky thinking, “The world is indeed a marvelous place.”
Stories. It’s all about possibilities where even an insignificant little rubber band or a baby monkey with only one leg can have an adventure…..and experience magic.