Friday, 27 July 2012

Bookworm Alert!

This week, I was featured in the national newspaper of Malaysia, The New Straits Times ( It was an honour and I’m very grateful to Ms Subhadra Devan for writing up an enchanting article. She interviewed me about my love for writing and books and how dreams do indeed come true if you work hard enough. So today’s post is dedicated to my favourite books!

Here’s a list of whats and whys from my personal collection: All of which get 5 out of 5 star ratings from Moi!
Magically written from the viewpoint of an extremely unexpected character, The Book Thief really changed the way I think about writing. Zusak’s beautifully simple yet gripping plot and enchanting prose combined with lovable characters taught me that books don’t always have to be about constant action and surprises but also about the subtle way we all see the world and interact with one another.

This is one of those books that bring out both the beauty and the monsters of a culture. I love the way Golden takes something that other cultures would find disturbing and draws out its fascinating qualities against a backdrop of cherry blossoms and strict moral codes. Each character blooms into life in a way that makes my author heart green with envy.

Manicka takes the different lives of many colourful characters and links them together in a world of decadence and magic. She has managed to perfectly blend the beauty of Asia with the dynamics of Western nightlife. Touching Earth taught me to how to build my characters as individual people with their own pasts and problems and not just as a part of a story.

By taking a domestic story about a young boy and his father, Hosseini showed me that stories can and should be part of a bigger picture but it’s the small pieces that make a book memorable. The way he has mastered storytelling truly inspires me. He weaves his words together, making them start off as ripples in a pool while cajoling them to grow into crashing waves. I looove!

Watch out for next week’s post: Author Interview in August…Watcha Doin’ with Richard Harland!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

East meets West

We’re sitting at the dining table with my nephew, niece, my son and his European friend. This 8 year old friend turns to me and calls me ‘Cinthia’, drawing a stifled gasp from my Malaysian family. My niece looks at me aghast and whispers, “He didn’t call you Auntie! How rude! You should tell his mother.” My Asian kids would never address an older person by name while the children in Europe sometimes even refrain from calling their real relatives Auntie or Uncle.

This got me thinking. My first novel takes place in Malaysia and is being read all over the world. Will my Western readers be able to relate to the cultural differences that are obvious in a novel set in Asia?

Here are some major differences between the two worlds:
1. Asians address older people with respectful titles (eg. Auntie, Uncle, Grandma etc.)
2. Wide-spread belief in supernatural beings in Asia.
3. Higher levels of corruption in Asia.
4.  Asians generally swear less in front of their elders. Young people also don’t normally get involved when older people are having a conversation (unless they plan on digging their own grave…which brings me to my next point).
5. Upbringing (my Indian friend once threatened to slap her German-born son and he almost called the police while his older Indian-born brother cringed in the corner and swore eternal obedience) Whoever has listened to Russel Peters will know what I mean.
6.  Food (my European friends call prawns “Cockroaches of the sea”. They’ve obviously never seen a real night crawler.)
7. Pupil teacher relationships (we have Teacher’s Day in Asia…the teachers in Europe can thank their guardian angels if their car tires are still intact by the end of the day)
8. Punctuality (you can set your watch by the Western respect for being on time, but when an Asian says they’ll meet you at 6 for dinner you should make sure you’ve had a big tea first)
9. General respect for the environment (my Asian visitors stare in awe when we separate our plastics and organic waste in Europe. I once saw a lone toilet sitting at the side of the road on a Malaysian highway)
10. Westerners sit and talk after dinner. Asians tend to compare their latest apps.

Of course, these are all generalizations and things that I’ve experienced over the years. There are always exceptions.

So, should a writer stay authentic or should he or she try to mix it up a little, making it easier for their readers? I’m betting on the fact that readers are smart and will figure it out on their own. Staying true to yourself and your ideas is what sets you apart from the million other books on Amazon.

I’m hoping globalization is on my side. The internet and television have broken down the barriers of race and culture, changing the Mysteries of the Orient into “Hey this t-shirt’s not made in Bangladesh! What’s wrong with the world??” Let’s just hope that no one reviews my novel with words like “sari lengths of gibberish” and “wok of insanity”. Cheers!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Watcha Doin' with James W. Lewis

Author Bio:

James W. Lewis is a novelist and freelance writer published in several magazines and books such as the New York Times best-selling anthologies Caramel Flava and Chicken Soup for the Soul (two series). He has won several awards, including a 2011 Best New Author Award and winner of the 2011 International Book Awards in African American Fiction. James is also part owner of the publishing company The Pantheon Collective.

What made you become a Storyteller?

I was always an avid reader, but my mother unlocked a gift for storytelling in me that I didn’t know I had, using a very unique, “slick” method. When I was about twelve years old, I got in trouble for something (I don’t remember exactly what) and my mother placed me on house restriction for a week. Not only that, she gave me assignments to write a short story every night of my punishment. I initially hated to write under duress, but as they say Mom knows best, and writing eventually became my passion. Thanks, Mom!

What and who inspire you?

My partners Stephanie Casher and Omar Luqmaan-Harris inspire me to strive for excellence in my work—not to mention keeping me on deadline! 

The only thing that I personally don’t like about writing is when self-doubt comes creeping in to spoil my moment. Is there anything that you find annoying or uncomfortable about being an author?

For me it’s focusing my energy on writing and nothing else. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to concentrate on that next book when I have so many other tasks calling my name from the to-do list.

Authors are normally avid readers themselves. What are your favourite books and why?

Books by Eric Jerome Dickey are my favourites because he was the first male author that I read who could write from a woman’s point-of-view extremely well. I knew my books would target a female audience, and I wanted to perfect my female characters. After I read one of his books, I was so impressed that I went back to my first completed manuscript, revised it, and fleshed out the characters because I realized they were one-dimensional.

If you could travel in time just for a day, where and when would you go?

I would go back to the days leading up to my father’s death because he left me and my family as a seven-year-old child. I always wanted to know why he left, but never got the chance.

What inspired you to write Slow Your Prose especially in the Cyberworld that we live in where thousands of writers have already had a go at publishing their writing tips?

With the popularity of e-books, I noticed a lot of authors venturing into self-publishing, probably for similar reasons that made me jump into it. However,  I noticed some of them were more concerned with releasing their work to the public rather than writing a quality book, skipping crucial steps like professional editing (trust me, I’ve made similar mistakes). I wanted to emphasize the importance of “slowing it down” and covering all the bases before debuting a new novel. A car manufacturer wouldn’t place their latest E-Class Benz on the lot without making sure it’s in pristine condition for the driver.
When we look around us, the world is just becoming more and more immersed in beauty products that promise to transform gremlins into Heidi Klum and those gadgets that give you a six-pack in two minutes. What do you think about our obsession with superficial beauty and its place in the literary world?

Beauty definitely has its advantages, and sometimes, the spotlight on a person’s looks often overshadows their talent, and that’s unfair. I believe our fixation on what looks good and what doesn’t infiltrates all areas of entertainment, but not so much with the literary world, which is a good thing. One can argue Stephen King has no chance (and never did) of becoming a model; yet, he’s one of the most prolific authors ever.

In The Scarlet Omen, my main character has some very realistic dreams that turn out to be omens of some sort. What is your opinion about dreams, their prophetic potential and their influence on authors?

I used to document my dreams because they were so real and epic, like the movie Titanic. At the time, I wanted to know what my subconscious was trying to tell me, so I kept a journal. I believe our minds have a way of creating fantasy worlds full of lively characters and plots. Writers should pay attention to the visions of the night. A dream was the inspiration behind Stephanie Meyer’s book Twilight, and we all know what happened next. Hell, I may even journal my dreams again for inspiration, starting tonight!

Once we publish a book, authors practically hand the world part of our souls on a silver platter to be scrutinised and dissected beyond recognition. How do you personally deal with both positive and negative critiques regarding your work?

No matter how much we try, you can’t please everyone, so some readers will not like your work. They may even leave a nasty review (I’ve received my share). A negative review can sting, but I suck it up and move on. Still, whether negative or positive, I try to learn from their feedback for future works.        

Do you have any advice for us novices?

You never know what can happen unless you try! We’ve heard these words many times as a child, but they are so true.

Thanks, James! Insightful stuff…

Hey, readers, want to know more James W. Lewis? Check out the sites below: