Thursday, 28 June 2012

BFFs


“A man’s growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
“A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.”—Arnold H. Glasow

This week, The Scarlet Omen has finally been released on Amazon and I’m proud to say that I made it to the top 10 on the bestseller list for English young adult fantasy in Germany. Now, there are about 100 books being released a day on Amazon and I know that The Scarlet Omen may not have even smelled the bestseller list if it hadn’t been for my family, friends and students (who have also come to be good friends). Even with my big mouth and sharp elbows, beating my way through the crowd of well-known authors would have been quite a feat. So today’s blog is dedicated to, you’ve guessed it, *trumpets please*...FRIENDS.

To me, a friend is someone who helps you bury the body first and asks questions later (for the more blur readers out there, please don’t go judging my apparent penchant for violence...it was a figure of speech). We grow up with friends, tell them secrets that we wouldn’t dream of telling our families. Friends know about your first crush and walk by their houses a thousand times with you, pretending to be looking for that darn contact lens. They make calls for you which you’re too chicken to make yourself and are the only ones laughing at your stupid jokes. They hold you when that crush breaks your heart by falling for someone else and sit with you at midnight to send evil spells his or her way. They risk certain death by being your alibi when your parents call while you’re actually out on a date. They understand when you’re too busy swimming in a new relationship to discuss their latest crisis and are always there to pick up the pieces of a break up. They believe in you when the rest of the world has kicked you so low that you have to look up to greet a passing earthworm.

 What would life be without friends? Mine would be a dreary plain of lonely tears and half smiles. We seldom take the time to stop and see the people in our lives because we’re too busy trying to live. It doesn’t take more than a minute to send a ‘thinking of you’ message, so “Sorry, no time” shouldn’t be the excuse.

In most young adult novels, the protagonist’s friends are the pillars of a story. Think about what Harry Potter would have been like without Ms. Granger and Master Weasley. They buoy the main character during their journey and bring them safely to THE END, throwing in some laughs and more often than not some drama. A lot of a story’s essence lies in the way the characters relate to one another and how they come out of an uncomfortable situation. Young adults live for their friends—their opinions, acceptance and support. They’re all in the same boat, striving to live in a world where they’re old enough to know what they want but are constantly being sent to their rooms for minor misdemeanours because (voice deepens)“As long as you’re living under my roof, young...”.

Many of us writers of young adult fiction have long since stopped taking allowance money from our parents (I did say “many”), so we sometimes forget how it was to live in an adolescent world. I can’t express how important it is to take these relationships and bonds formed between young people into account when writing a novel dedicated specifically to them. I don’t think that my protagonist Anjeli would be able to face a day without her best friend Sabitha, although Sabitha does sometimes give her cause to want to strangle her (yet another exaggeration, my dear literal ones).

So let’s take a minute to remember those who come over with ice cream (or booze for my older readers) and a shoulder to cry on when your life seems like it’s being written by a gremlin banging randomly on a keyboard. Cheers to the best friends a girl could wish for!

Psst! Watch out for July’s author interview: Watcha Doin’ with James W. Lewis, author of Slow Your Prose (A Writing Guide).

Friday, 22 June 2012

Dragons




My late father absolutely despised dragons. He never explained why—he just did. Anything that had dragons on in would be banished to the Realm of Garbage, unless it was a book in which case he’d just scribble out the offending dragon’s head. I wish I had asked him about this freaky trait…I’m sure it would have been an interesting tale. But that’s life—we’re so busy with our own daily trials that we don’t stop to take an interest in those of others. Yet another thing that I’m working on.

Despite growing up in a house that was dragon unfriendly, I simply love them. The idea of these magical creatures soaring through the sky just gives me goose bumps. This is why dragons reside in my mythical Valley of the Hornbills where my protagonist Anjeli gets to have all the fun while I sit at my laptop half the night.

Kinds of Asian dragons:
-The Horned Dragon is considered to be the mightiest.
-The Celestial Dragon supports the heavens and protects the Gods. 
-The Earth Dragon rules all of the earth. 
-The Spiritual Dragon controls the wind and rain. 
-The Treasure Dragon is the keeper of precious metals and gems. 
-The Winged Dragon is the only dragon with wings. 
-The Coiling Dragon dwells in the ocean. 
-The Yellow Dragon is a hornless dragon known for its scholarly knowledge

The differences between European dragons and their Asian cousins are firstly their looks but also the fact that in Asia they are revered and loved while the poor European dragons were constantly being attacked by aspiring knights. Interestingly, for a mythical creature, the dragon has its roots in many different cultures across the world. How is it that almost every culture has its own version of dragons?

Dragon names throughout the planet:
Malaysian, Indonesian and Indian: naga
Chinese (Mandarin): lóng
Greek: drákōn
Slavic: zmaj
Persian: ezhdehā
Jewish (religious): Nachash Bare'ach
Vietnamese:  rồng
Japanese: tatsu
Read more about dragons on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon

I’m seriously starting to think that myths and legends made their way across the globe hitched to the noodle industry.

Friday, 15 June 2012

No one Cares!


When I first came to Europe, I was extremely impressed when I met a woman who I wanted to adopt as my mum. I thought that she was the coolest mother around and wished that my own mother weren’t so strict. Now, ten years later, I look back and think that maybe there’s never one perfect solution. That woman’s kids have now become adults who think that responsibility and rationality are things that happen to other people, there are so many things that I would like to thank my own mother for but will never be able to and my own son pretends to gag every time his friends want to replace their parents with me. Does this mean that whatever a parent does, whichever methods parents apply in raising their kids they will always be seen as uncool? Is it human nature to be grateful to our parents only when it’s too late?

Being a teenager in a strict Indian family was hard and I only now realise that every single rule was put there for a very good reason. I just didn’t know it at the time—and teenagers shouldn’t be expected to know it either. In Anand Giridharadas’ novel India Calling, he talks about how his family tried very hard to integrate themselves into American life, exposing their kids to the Western world instead of shoving their noses in their own culture. In the end, this made him want to experience India for himself…and he moved back to the motherland. I grew up in Malaysia and when my parents tried to make us watch Tamil movies we all but feigned temporary blindness brought on by appendicitis. Why the difference in reactions?

My protagonist Anjeli in The Scarlet Omen is fighting with her mother at every turn. She is convinced that Indian mothers ferociously try to ruin their teenage daughters’ social lives so that they don’t come home pregnant. All she wants to do is run away from her mother’s suffocating concern. Does everyone at one point or another behave like that? Do we treat our parents as dispensable parts of our lives as teenagers?

“…The young person proudly asserts individuality from what parents like or independence of what parents want and in each case succeeds in provoking their disapproval. This is why rebellion, which is simply behavior that deliberately opposes the ruling norms or powers that be, has been given a good name by adolescents and a bad one by adults….Although the young person thinks rebellion is an act of independence, it actually never is. It is really an act of dependency. Rebellion causes the young person to depend self-definition and personal conduct on doing the opposite of what other people want.”-- Welcome to the hard half of parenting, Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/200912/rebel-cause-rebellion-in-adolescence

So we can expect that anything we say or do as parents will be held against us 25 years later on a shrink’s sofa. Just great!

I personally don’t think it will come to that though. Once my parents allowed me to do stuff that they didn’t really approve of, it sort of lost its appeal. I use this method on my son often and it works wonders! The whole point of rebelling is probably just to see how far you can go (and how much you can upset your parents before they drown you in the fish pond). I suppose freedom is the key; everyone wants to be able to make their own choices and learn from their own mistakes.

As authors of young adult fiction, it’s important for us to integrate such influential adolescent feelings into our novels. Readers like to see their own trials and tribulations mirrored in their favourite characters. However, it’s also important for them to see that there is a way out—that there will be a solution at the end of the character’s journey. Remember, to young adults, the world DOES revolve around them…and I think it’s awesome.


Friday, 8 June 2012

Rueful Logic


“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” 
“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” 
 
Mahatma Gandhi

Through the last few weeks of final line editing (going through a manuscript for the last time to see if you’ve blindly missed any commas, full stops or whole words), I realised that no matter how careful you are, you’re going to make mistakes.

I think this also pertains to life in general. How many of us have that one skirt which you know is too colourful for anyone over eight and which has never left the confines of your closet? How many times have you gone over a conversation that you had with a friend and wondered why you used that word whose etymology is dubious to say the least and if that person is going to forever think you’re a complete moron? Mistakes and regret happen. They’re a part of life. I always tell my son that the only thing that matters is how hard you work at correcting them.

But is this true? Could that enormous no parking sign have been an omen heralding the appearance of that totally unfair traffic policeman? Are we just plain careless? In The Scarlet Omen, my protagonist Anjeli faces heart-rending regret and wishes that she could make things better. However, in her case, destiny and fate gang up and shove her out of the way. Sometimes, there is no reconciliation. Would it have been better never to have made the mistake in the first place?

“Because we live in an achievement and success oriented world, a popular rule is, "Whenever you do anything, do it right." Our parents, teachers, coaches, and friends helped us learn this rule. If we adopted it as our own then it may have been translated as, "Be thoroughly adequate and competent in everything you do." With this rule we become perfectionists and don’t like mistakes. Mistakes are now "bad" and something to be avoided.”—Daniel H. Johnston, 2002, Lessons for Living, http://www.lessons4living.com/wmaz14.htm

As an author, mistakes – especially those made during the querying process and final line editing – can be fatal. Compare: 'He glanced around the sea of faces' and 'He lanced around a sea of faeces'. Can you already hear your manuscript being flushed down the toilet? An author’s whole reputation depends on being a perfectionist! However, at any other time, I have to admit that mistakes are the tutors of life. We screw up, we learn and we move on, praying all the way that we haven’t left too much damage in our wake.

“The problem is that you are applying a bad rule about mistakes. It may have been a good rule and kept you out of trouble when you were six years old, but it is not a good rule now that you are older. It is time to change the rule…… a mistake is the first step in learning. Success comes from mistakes. This is good news…..With your new rule, what should you say to yourself the next time you make a mistake? Something like, "Great! Wonderful! Now I can learn something." You will be energized and feel excited, challenged, and motivated. You will get busy and work harder.“—http://www.lessons4living.com/wmaz14.htm.

Well that sounds a whole lot better. Pull out your pom-poms people because mistakes are the building blocks of a good plot. Characters in a novel go around making mistakes all the time and the whole point is to learn something from their journey - laughing, crying and cursing along with them as they bumble through life…and learn. Good news for us authors; bad news for that poor character who's about to answer the beckoning whispers of that Earth nymph!

“When you make a mistake, don’t look back at it long. Take the reason of the thing into your mind and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.”—Hugh White (1773-1840)

“If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error.”—John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)

Friday, 1 June 2012

Watcha Doin' with Ken Spillman

Hey people! This week I'll be starting my monthly Watcha Doin' posts. You've heard me ramble and go on about life as a storyteller; now it's time to get some other authors on board (you'll still be hearing me whinge the other three weeks of the month, so don't fret!). I'll be interviewing a different author every month, so stay tuned! This month, Ken Spillman has been kind enough to grace us with his presence. Enjoy!


Author bio
Ken Spillman is one of Australia’s most renowned authors of children’s and young adult novels, writing memorable novels and contributing lovable and colourful characters to the literary world. Ken has written over 30 books and has more than a few awards under his belt, including the FAW National Literary Award. His YA novels include Blue (1999) and Love is a UFO (2007, Winner of the Western Australian Premier’s Book Award), while his Jake series of chapter books for early readers appears in many countries and languages as diverse as Vietnamese, Farsi, French and Serbian. He is also the author of the Daydreamer Dev series, The Strange Story of Felicity Frown, Advaita the Writer, and Radhika Takes the Plunge. Ken Spillman is a popular international presenter, travelling widely to speak at festivals and visit schools.

Questions:
When you were little, did you dream of becoming a writer or did you also run around every Halloween as a fireman and pretend to chase villains down the street in the evenings? What made you want to become an author?
I didn’t dream of being a writer. My first thought was to become a veterinarian, but then my sister decided she wanted to be one too, so I dropped the idea. I didn’t really think about becoming a writer… but imagining stuff was what made life interesting, and I actually DID imagine chasing villains. I simply loved writing stories. Around the age of 8, I started writing stories out of school, just for the fun of it. Later, when I was 14 and 15, I had an English teacher who told me that I should never stop writing. Obediently, I never have and never will.

 What do you love about writing? What are the things about writing that sometimes leave you wishing that you did indeed take up that police badge?
Kids often ask me what I love and hate about writing and I answer it this way…  In your imagination, you can do anything, go anywhere – what could be cooler than that? The downside is that you have to sit still for long periods, and that isn’t good for the body. If I didn’t exercise, I’d be a hunched over and obese cripple.

Who are your heroes/mentors and why?
That teacher who told me I should keep writing – simply because other people would enjoy my work – is a hero. Sure, there have been times I’ve blamed him for my bank balance, but there are many more days I’ve thanked him. The people I admire come from all walks of life. People who work hard to make the most of what they’ve got, and the circumstances they are in. People who give more than they take. People who care about other people.

 If you could be anyone for a day, who would it be and why?
Wow, what a question! The first person who comes to my mind is Roger Federer. The man has reached the pinnacle and stayed there for so long, yet remains the same man he always was. Pleasant, generous, humble. And fit… I’d love to be so fit!

What do you like to read when you’re not jet-setting around the globe or filling our heads with stories? Why?
I read very widely. I am moved and inspired by literary fiction, especially by such Indian authors as Anita Desai, Vikram Seth and Rohinton Mistry. I discover little gems like Rachel Trezise, from Wales. I adore YA fiction, and think Australians lead the field. And what is more gorgeous than a visually and narratively enchanting picture book? Why do I love them? – I just do!

 Do you listen to music to get in the mood for writing? If not, what do you do to psych yourself up before jumping into a novel (or during)?
Music’s important to me, but not for writing. Confession time: coffee is what I need. No coffee, no words. Something else I’ve learned is that it is good for me to be surrounded by non-English speakers… it forces me into an inner world, but not an isolated one.

What are your personal experiences with writing and the Internet?
The kids who read my books can email me anytime, and I’ll reply. And when I visit a school, I let them know. A few weeks ago I was in an Australian library, working on my laptop, when a notification popped up – it was a message from a reader in India, near the Bhutan border.  What a world! It’s wonderful! Readers also reach me on Facebook, but personally I prefer Twitter for networking and promotion. It’s something you can dip into as time permits, and unlike Facebook it never becomes a substitute from proper email communication.

 In The Scarlet Omen, my main protagonist comes up against vampires and witches. What do you personally think about supernatural beings and their place in literature?
 I look at it this way – there are supernatural beings in real life! For me, stories are about challenges and journeys, forces of nature and forces we don’t understand. Whether we are facing bullies or vampires, we need the strength and creativity to deal with them. So let’s all tell our stories, just the way they present themselves to us.

In Love is a UFO, your main character loses his father. How far do you think readers can emotionally delve into a story? In such cases, how can we tell if an author has done his or her job well?
 A novel presents a real world. It’s not quite the world the reader inhabits, but it meets them in it and transports them away. When we respond to a novel, we respond emotionally as well as intellectually – we feel sadness, excitement, fear. When readers get it, they feel it. That’s when we know the art and the craft are good.

All writers always tell their aspiring colleagues to “Never give up and always believe in yourself”. What do you think about this statement? How much confidence should one have in their work before giving up altogether?
 If you love something and believe in it, you will work very hard for it. And when you work very hard on something you love, the chances of eventual success are good. Writers write because they must, because they do, because they really want to. If you can give up, you should. That sounds weird, I know… but the thing is that good writers can’t give up.

Could you give us some words of wisdom about writing?
Feel it. Be on the page, or on the screen. Be present in your work and know that every good story is not just the story, it says something more. Oh yes, and get up off the chair to stretch and exercise, otherwise you’ll be soooorrrry!!!

Thanks, Ken! How inspiring. Check out www.kenspillman.com and www.jakeseries.com. Follow Ken on Twitter @kenspillmansays.