Thursday, 24 May 2012

Delightful vs. KCoolSweet

I had an interesting conversation with a good friend of mine about slangs and what they’re doing to the English language. It was a heated discussion, she being all for butchering the written and spoken word and it got messy (apple pie forks went flying) but in the end I won. Little did I know that my euphoria would last for all of two days. My teenage niece burst my bubble when I asked her about the absence of full stops in her five sentence long proclamation on Facebook and she told me “LOL it’s the 21st writers need to go with it that means u 2”. As you can imagine, I felt like a decaying crypt keeper on a very hot day.

My opinion that Google is God’s cure for ignorance tends to lead me to places on the Net that even my weird world of dreams cannot possibly conjure. After getting over my shock and pondering what my younger friend and darling niece had said, I decided to do some surfing (cyber only—wet suits and my hips don’t go together). Lo and behold, I found out that my preference for grammatically correct sentences, draconian attention to punctuation and deep respect for the Oxford English Dictionary belong strapped to a wagon on its way to a quarry back in the days of the Roman Empire. Apparently, even Shakespeare paid more attention to slang than I do.

“…the use of slang is frequently ridiculed by culturally-ignorant people who feel it is the product of insufficient education and believe it to be counter-evolutionary; of course, they couldn't be farther from the truth. human language has been in a state of constant reinvention for centuries, and slang has been used and created by poets and writers of all sorts….it is the right and responsibility of the modern human to keep re-evaluating language, to give dead words innovative contemporary meanings or to simply invent new ones, in order to be more appealing and representative to the speaker/listener (which was essentially the basis behind language anyway, to understandably communicate thoughts or ideas verbally).”

In other words, if I don’t want to be a member of a dying clan, I need to “pick up my game” or “get my weight up” or “Hustle”. Blurgh. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for shortening words and leaving out my apostrophes on Facebook but aren’t books supposed to live on higher planes? Aren’t we writers supposed to preserve the beauty of literature by making magic come to life with words that don’t necessarily end with ‘ing’? (eg. planking, upcycling, tripping, flipping, hating, dissing and some other words that could get me banned from Blogdome. And then people go around slashing the real -ing words into –in’ words…apparently the sound of -g is taboo on Cool Planet.) So what happened? Wasn’t I the one walking around as a teenager with kidney-damaging jeans, mandatory Dock Martins and drumsticks pocking out of my back pocket? Did I grow up and become my English teacher?

I certainly hope not! It’s true: we need to go with the flow. Teenagers I meet normally love (heart) me and think I’m one “nasty-ass” (cool) adult. And when they say “adult”, I cringe and look behind me to see who they’re talking about. I gag at the mere mention of cauliflower and I think Eminem is one of the most brilliant composers alive. My eight year-old son boasts that his is the only mother who has watched all six episodes of Star Wars. Because of this need to live with one foot bouncing up and down at a David Guetta concert and one in the world of caviar and champagne, I tend to mix things up a little in my novels (Thank God for crossover genres!).

I try very hard to blend in the two worlds (Urban Dictionary vs Cambridge) because I fell off the young adult cliff awhile back but still squeal every time I hear the theme song of Harry Potter. It’s ok to grow up but I’ve learnt that a writer of YA (young adult) fiction needs to stay in focus and know his or her audience. You’re not going to convince General Grievous to buy your light saber unless you can prove that it once belonged to a Jedi!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Vampires Across the Globe

It is difficult to make a single, definitive description of the folkloric vampire, though there are several elements common to many European legends. Vampires were usually reported as bloated in appearance, and ruddy, purplish, or dark in colour; these characteristics were often attributed to the recent drinking of blood. Indeed, blood was often seen seeping from the mouth and nose when one was seen in its shroud or coffin and its left eye was often open. It would be clad in the linen shroud it was buried in, and its teeth, hair, and nails may have grown somewhat, though in general fangs were not a feature.--

Anjeli Xavier, my protagonist in The Scarlet Omen, comes up against Malaysian vampires (Pontianak) on her adventures. They’re not as cultured as your everyday European vampire and certainly not as charming. The Pontianak don’t just leave a person drained yet whole. Not ones to waste, they eat whatever they can. In my novel, I’ve tried to keep it as authentic as possible to set my vampires apart from their Western counterparts but I’ve also attempted to beautify the whole process so as not to turn some Western stomachs into nervous contortionists. Let’s hope that I’ve succeeded.

I don’t want to give away too much about Lady Suriya and her blood drinkers, so let’s have a look at these ancient creatures from other parts of the globe.
Some international similarities: blood drinking (duh!), the undead, corpses that show little sign of decay, dislike for sunlight, origins as demons, can be destroyed by sharp objects, very pale skin (with the amount of blood they drink they should actually glow healthier than the rest of us, right?!), fangs, arithmomania (the need to count things—in Asia it’s rice, in Europe it’s poppy seeds), immortality, contagious bite.

Some interesting differences:
European vampires: well-groomed, sophisticated, brooding, alluring, rich, afraid of anything Christian.
Africa: iron-toothed, tree-dwelling, changes into insects or birds, ability to summon thunder and lightning, eats nail-clippings of the nobility (oh, come on!).
South America: practices black magic, takes the shape of a fireball, lives as a hermit during the day.
India: a head encircled with intestines, takes over corpses
Japan: can detach its head and travel away from body
Philippines: butterfly tongue and wings (don’t be deceived; these things are not cute!)

I find it fascinating that almost every culture has its own version of night demons. Vampires are as old as time. Is there then some truth to their existence? Or were they just made up to keep little children from wandering at night and naughty young women at bay? The Mesopotamians wrote about flesh eating creatures long before Brahm Stoker introduced us to the Count. The Ancient Greeks were discussing cannibal monsters way before Polidori raised his quill to create The Vampyre. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I grew up believing in all sorts of things. I’ve shed a few of the silly beliefs but have kept equally as many. There are things that we can’t see and things that we will never be able to fathom. If hundreds of cultures all believe in the same thing and have for thousands of years, who are we to say otherwise? I personally can’t imagine a real life Dracula but I wouldn’t put it past a few demons or fallen angels to have started a millennia-lasting cult by suddenly taking a liking to human blood (not to mention the occasional virgin or falling drunk into a nearby coffin and sleeping the day away). Legends do arise from truth, even if they get twisted down the line into handsome strangers with widow’s peaks who like their steaks practically grazing on the garnish.

Friday, 11 May 2012

To Sulk or not to Sulk

You know you’re having a bad day when you feel like hurling shoes at the lucky, small footed ladies at the shoe store, all the clothes you try on look like they’re from the kids’ section and the pharmacist discreetly hands you stomach flab reducing cream samples. It’s just one of those days filled with multiple paper cuts, streams of red traffic lights and broken heels. However, I often stop to wonder if my foul day could have anything to do with my foul mood. I wake up just knowing it's going to be one of those days that if something actually goes right, it would be a mere taunt from the universe. Did I jinx the day with my sunrise frown? Does a day seem worse than it is because of a bad mood?  

Any art communicates what you're in the mood to receive.”--Larry Rivers,

So are moods just a chemical reaction or do our surroundings have some influence on how we feel? I tend to be more on both extremes than ever in the middle (I truly envy those down-to-earth earthlings who seldom fall into crankiness). If I’m happy, the whole world gets to know about it and if it’s one of those days where I wish I really could perform magic and turn someone into a gnat, well let’s just say my friends have learnt to recognize the twitch and the bulging vein. Everyone has a bad day, but everyone also has equally good days, so despite being a pain, moods do colour our lives (my disclaimer for those who think that I'm dissing a part of nature).

What I’m interested in is exactly how vital moods are in a novel. When you think about it, the mood is everything. Character dialog, language, the way the sun hits the horizon at exactly the right angle—it all boils down to the Mood. Before creating a set, we need to set the mood. So is it possible to create convincing happy scenes in a novel if you feel like shoving the slow-poke cashier aside and scanning your stuff on your own at the supermarket? Can you put your soul into a heartbreaking moment when you’re personally nibbling grapes on lover’s cloud nine? I find it hard to sometimes. Theoretically, writers need to be able to leave their personal lives at the door when entering their made up world but I haven’t yet mastered the art of emotional stripping. I now leave happy scenes for a better day if I don’t feel good because I’ve found my supposedly happy chapters floating on sarcastic undercurrents at times.

Writing is basically wishful thinking: creating a world in which you would like to be, even if it’s just for a day. So it is possible that if you’re suffering from say IBS (Irritable Boyfriend Syndrome) to quote author Kathy Lette, you’d be able to create a lovely story about a couple who get it right. Or you may just learn something when your characters turn around and say, “No one’s perfect, so get a grip and quit nagging us to do your dirty work, Woman!” It could go either way. Whatever it is, I think the Mood is the most important thing in a novel. It’s the deciding factor of whether you lure your audience in with the dangling carrot of goose bumps or scare them away yawning with monotony. We don’t want our readers feeling like they’ve gone to bed with only a paper cut out of Brad Pitt, do we?

Friday, 4 May 2012

Apps and Bellbottoms

Last year, my niece and nephew came to visit me. We were getting ready to go out and I wore my Guns and Roses hoodie and a pair of turquoise pants/jeans. My niece looked at me and said, “You look like an Auntie from the 70s.” (Auntie: Malaysian word for old fashioned, also used as a sign of respect, so it tends to get confusing when used in public) Needless to say, I was appalled—I wasn’t even thought of in the 70s. This year, people are stopping me on the streets to ask me where I bought my turquoise pants because dull colours are out. Suddenly, I’m in. Sayonara, Auntie status. So what happened? The gods on fashion Olympus (Paris, Milan, London and New York) are what happened. They decided that if you’re wearing pants, they need to shout, “Groovy, Baby!” And out of nowhere, my interesting pants are no longer embarrassing.

Trends. They’re apparently what makes the world go round (or oval or square, whatever’s IN at the moment). But why? I’ve been reading up on trends and I must say no one really wants to give an official statement about it. Most articles talk about the importance of trends and how you will forever be a social outcast if you don’t follow a certain trend but no one can tell me why we do it. From what I’ve read, it’s safe to deduce that people just need to fit in. When I was little there was a cartoon called Jem and the Misfits. Jem was the perfect girl and the misfits were the opposite with their crazy outfits and warrior make-up. I wanted to be a Misfit, but every week, we were brainwashed into believing that only Jem got the guy, fame and fortune while the Misfits either fell into a bucket of goo at the end or were booed off screen. So I had to go with Jem and her star shaped earrings.

The need to conform affects all of us, be it at work, school or with friends. I personally have a bunch of friends who have very little in common with each other, making my life always fun (My BFFs: The Intellectual, The Fitness Freak, The Fashion Diva, The Cosmetics Queen, The Health Expert and The Creature of the Night). We wear what we want as long as we look good and we don't care if we're being too loud in a restaurant. However, if you go shopping and the only thing hanging on the racks are leopard print tops (again because of MPLNY Olympus Convention 2011), you’re going to have to buy at least one. 

My only problem with trends is their significance in the literary world. At the moment, I write for young adults and everyone says that they’re the most "susceptible" to whatever’s new. So do I need to make sure that I mention social networking and Hipsters in my novels? (“Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.”--

 I don’t know. I personally believe that readers are constantly bombarded with these things everyday and would maybe like a break once in awhile. (Bring out the trumpets please) In comes my novel of a faraway land that runs on magic alone. Incorporating trends in a novel can get tricky, especially if the writer is trying to make their novel a timeless experience. (I don’t know if I like the image of someone picking it up in 20 years and saying, “Holy Fiber Glass! They still had Farmville in this.”)

Trends are great; they bring gusts of fresh air into our lives and stay until they get stale. Although I don’t religiously follow trends, I do like to check out what’s new and IN, simply because I might find something nice that I have never thought of wearing or doing before. In a way, trends help us decide what kind of people we are or would like to be. However, independent thinking is even better and I think that young adults are the best at this. If they follow trends, they do it with a passion that could put boot camp trainers to shame and if they decide to go their own way, they also do it with total conviction (hence the birth of the Hipsters). I love it! Be the best that you can be and follow your heart till there’s nothing left to follow. If someone has a problem with your Nerd glasses and floral pants, let them take it up with Vogue and co.