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Monday, 6 July 2015

Cyberpunk: Malaysia featured at The Book Smugglers.

The Book Smugglers feature Cyberpunk: Malaysia in their monthly SFF in Conversation article. They speak with Zen Cho, the editor, as well as the authors featured within the anthology. And yes, I'm one of 'em, thank you very much.

An excerpt:
We received 100 submissions – a lot for a local English-language anthology – and filtering them down to the final 14 short stories was not an easy process. But I’m proud of the resulting book: it’s a fascinating snapshot of contemporary urban Malaysia, an exploration of what cyberpunk might be in a Malaysian context, and a glimpse of what we can hope for from the continuing growth of world SF.
There's also a giveaway, so if you hurry, you win a copy.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Rape Scenes Are Lazy Writing and Why You Shouldn't Write Them.

This article in Wired has made me rethink my fiction quite a bit lately:
Half the time, people can’t even seem to figure out how to define rape, let alone portray it in responsible ways. Indeed, one of the most baffling things about so many rape scenes in popular culture is that the people who scripted them felt qualified to do so, despite seemingly knowing nothing about rape except that it exists and it is bad. In short, anyone can write a rape scene—but should they? Chances are, the answer is no.
It's a well-written piece about the use of rape as a plot device and why it's most often unnecessary and makes for lazy writing.

I agree with this and I, for one, don't enjoy rape scenes, no matter how crucial it is to the plot in a story.

Yet, with that in mind, I must say the article comes at a crucial time for me as I was drafting out an outline for a future short story which happened to include a rape scene. The scene would have involved a woman raping an android and how that would be the spark that moves another character (the protagonist, also a woman) into action.

The article forced me to rethink my outline. Would the story work without the rape scene? Could something else replace it and be the catalyst to move the protagonist into action? Here was where it hit home for me. It was true -- making it a rape scene was taking the easy way out in plotting. I had to think deeper about what the story truly needed for its plot. Surely there would be a better way to advance the story and build the character in a way that wasn't demeaning.

I'm not sure if I've found a better replacement for the scene, but I'm glad I was forced to rethink the part so the story can potentially be stronger. I find that when you rethink certain elements of your story, you're forced to rethink the motivations of your character. And when you solidify their motivations, you're on your way to building a better and more believable character.

Anyway, we'll find out if I was successful when the story is eventually completed.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

My SF Story in Cyberpunk: Malaysia.




Yesterday was a landmark day for me because Cyberpunk: Malaysia was finally launched at the Cooler Lumpur festival. Cyberpunk: Malaysia includes in it my first SF short story published by somebody other than myself. That story is entitled "What the Andromaid Reads at Night" and is what I feel is the best short story I've written so far. It's a pretty big deal for me, in many ways.

But what really makes it primarily a big deal is that this was the first acceptance for me this year (out of three so far, and I'll talk about the other accepted short stories in a future blog post) and was the desperate affirmation that I sorely needed to prove I could indeed write something that somebody else actually likes. (Like most writers I am insecure.)

My awesome editor and me.

This somebody happened to be the all-round awesome Zen Cho, co-winner of the William L. Crawford Fantasy Award, and author of the fantastic anthology of short stories Spirits Abroad (some of the stories in there make me go, dammit, I wish I had written that first!) and the forthcoming Sorceror to the Crown.

Zen saying a lot of nice things about my story to the audience at the launch.

So for someone as accomplished as her to actually like my story enough to accept it and include it in this amazing SF anthology was truly an honour. She's also an amazing editor. We went through several drafts of the story to really tighten it up and make it work even better.

The result is a great story (imho of course) and something I'm truly proud of. The story features some of my favourite themes and tropes (Does it have a robot? Check.) and like a lot of my other stories, revolves around a small family. But because it's set in a dystopic future Malaysia (as opposed to the dystopic current Malaysia), I got to have a lot of fun with it.

There's nothing original about it of course, but what is? I cribbed concepts from Ghost in the Shell (jack into the Matrix, bitches!) and I even stole the first scene with Lego from another unpublished short story of mine. It's full of recycled parts combined to hopefully present something new.

The truly new stuff it does feature is that it features a secular, religionless Malaysia and it's not the happy wonderful place a lot of us would like to think it is. We're living in a cynical, jaded Malaysian society (or at least I am, I don't know about you) and a lot of Malaysians are simply fed up about certain religious authorities being heavy-handed in the way they go about policing other people's habits and lifestyle choices. They're quick to blame it on Islam, but I'm of the belief that even if you stripped the veneer of religion away, the authorities would still find a way to control what you think and what you do. Islam is just the excuse. Strip that away, and they'll just find another excuse.

Anyway, I hope you manage to get a copy of Cyberpunk: Malaysia and read my story. And since you already have the book, you might as well read the other stories written by the other writers as well, cos they're good too!

P/S

The physical copy of the book features a different cover from the e-book and if you can, get the physical book. It's amazing cos it's a mirror. Stare long enough into it, and the mirror stares back into you.

A mirror, darkly.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

I just finished writing a novel!

I just finished writing a novel (the one I mentioned in my previous post), and boy is this feeling exhilarating! Also, there is this overwhelming sense of relief. Word count: 55,827 words. Warning: Anybody who says it is too short to be considered a novel, will be shot. In the genitals.

To say I'm excited is a little bit of an understatement. I've written novels before of course, and they've been monsters that have reached almost 100,000 words, but they've all been stinkers and worse, they've all been unfinished. Unfinished in the sense that I managed to get to the first draft stage, then decided it wasn't worth it to plow on with them. A polished turd is still a turd. This novel, I can say with some confidence, has the potential of being not a stinking turd.

It's just a first draft of course and there's still a lot of work to be done to get it shiny and polished well enough for publication. There are names to be changed, MacGuffins to be inserted and Chekhov's Guns to be fired. I'll be spending the next month or so rewriting and editing and whatnot but before that happens, I'm taking a break by writing a short story simply because I owe a short story for April.

I haven't mentioned it before but for 2015, I'm again taking on my resolutions I made for 2008, which is to write a new short story every month and end up with twelve by the end of the year. I've successfully written one each month so far and have three awesome stories, one of which has already found a home in a soon-to-be-announced science fiction anthology. (Side note: if you read that blog post I linked to, you'll notice the other resolution is to finish a novel. Guess who totally just aced that resolution *wink wink nudge nudge*)

And when that's done, I'll dive back into my novel and hopefully work out the kinks enough so I can be confident in sending them to my beta readers who are already excited (or so they say) to read it. Well, I hope I can live up to their expectations.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Marathon Writer: Writing 20,000 Words in 4 Days.



I wrote 20,000 words quite recently. And I did it within 4 days. Why did I do it? And how? That's what this blog is all about, friends!

Some time in the middle of January, I got an idea that I felt would make an interesting writing project. Something light and easy for me to start my writing year with. The elevator pitch I came up with was something that went along the lines of: "First Blood, Part II, but with robots. Or Predator, without aliens."

I started writing a synopsis of what the novella would be. Spoiler warning: it's First Blood, Part II, but with robots. I planned out a beginning, a middle and an end, all plot points blatantly and shamelessly stolen from the awesome movie that is First Blood, Part II. I figured the beginning would be 5000 words, the middle would be 10,000 words, and the end would be 5000 words. Then I realised something, HEY! That's 20,000 words. Just nice for a novella.

Then I started thinking how much time it would take for me to actually write it. The previous week I had taken part in a Twitter challenge that required writing 1000 words in an hour. I managed to successfully complete the challenge and realised that an hour was a great way to time as well as measure my writing progress. If I could write an hour for a day, I could write 1000 words a day. And the Twitter challenge had proven I could indeed write 1000 words for an hour.

But what if I could write for five hours a day? That's five thousand words a day! If I could write for five hours a day, four days in a row, I'd get my 20,000 bloody words! Crazy talk, you say? Yes, I agree. Even I thought that would be a crazy thing to attempt. But not impossible. If only I had five free hours of the day to spend writing... not an easy thing to obtain when you're an adult working a 9-to-6 job with two kids waiting for you at home.

It so happened that there would be four days of holiday approaching that was perfect for me to attempt this crazy #20k4d marathon. From the 19th to the 22nd of February, Malaysia would be on holiday for Chinese New Year, a celebration I personally don't celebrate (not because I am Chinese Ebenezer Scrooge but because I am of a different culture).

I began preparing for the four day writing marathon like a runner preparing for a marathon. I made sure I had my plot points and story beats all worked out so I wouldn't get stuck during the five hour sprints. I made sure to tell my wife and kids of my plan. No disturbing me between the hours of 7am to 12pm, the five-hour block of time that I would spend non-stop writing. This is important because without family cooperation, my writing marathon would fail miserably.

Suffice to say, I succeeded. I ended my four-day holiday with 20,000 words of a story. Was it a complete novella though? Unfortunately, no. By the end of the writing marathon, I had completely fell in love with the story that I decided I would expand it to a 50,000 word novel instead. I've since expanded the story that has become totally different from my original plan. It's no longer "First Blood, Part II, but with robots". It's... well, I'll tell you all about it when it's ready to be revealed, kay?

Here are some lessons I learned along the way:
  • Get enough sleep the night before. No point being too tired to write when you're about to begin in the morning.
  • Stay healthy. Exercise and eat well. No point if you're dead right? If you need breakfast beforehand, get it prepared. If you need coffee, have lots at the ready.
  • Stay on target. It's very easy to get tempted and divert from your path. I suppose you can take a little diversion now and then, but for me, that's putting you in the dangerous territory of potentially getting stuck and not knowing what to write later on. Write what you planned, because there's still the five-hour time limit to consider. Sticking to a plan also means you get into a routine, which helps make the writing easier and the words flowing.
  • If you do get stuck, remember Anne Lamott and take it bird-by-bird. Sometimes your brain will just refuse to work and you'll have no idea what to write even though you know what will happen next in your story. Take a breather, then just start writing a word, then another, then another. Eventually, you'll have a sentence! Repeat the process, and you'll have enough sentences to form paragraphs! And before you know it, you'll be getting into your groove again.
  • After a five-hour writing block is completed, rest and recuperate. Take the rest of the day off to relax and not think about writing. Watch a movie. Play with your kids. Take them to the park. It'll help your brain rest so it can perform again the next day.
Would I do this again? Absolutely! It was the most fun I ever had writing, and it was also definitely the most productive writing session I ever had. I'd love to do it again with another novella project.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Dangers of Having a Really Long Title for a Short Story.


So now my latest short story e-book is out for the consumption of the masses! Don't everybody rush to the bookstores at once! There's enough for everyone! Because they're e-books dammit!

Here's a summary of what you're in for:
When Sayyid opted to become an organic Volkswagen farmer, he did not expect the Volkswagens to misbehave and break out of his backyard. Now those crazy air-cooled vehicles are running loose in the neighborhood and only Sayyid can stop them. But the situation gets even more out of hand when they invade the home of cranky old Mrs. Winters and take her hostage. In this action-packed and absurd short story, all bets are off as to whether humans or air-cooled Volkswagens survive to see another day.
The Dangers of Growing Air-cooled Volkswagens in Your Backyard can currently be found at the following outlets:
 and Barbra Streisand knows where else.

Every time I push out an e-book I inadvertently learn a lesson. This time, I learned that you must always remember your title. In my previous post, you may have noticed the cover I posted had a slightly different title than the one on the image above.

Yep, I missed out the word "air-cooled". How embarrassing! Lesson learned. Next time, no more ridiculously long titles inspired by the Pet Shop Boys.

I'm sure this story will have the usual all-over-the-place reactions like my previous stories. I've already had one gushing review claiming "it's Ted Mahsun's best story yet!!!" and another basically saying "eh, it's all right, I guess. Ted put it in the wrong category though". I'm sure it won't be long before a hater will come along and say something like, "It falls into every left wing idiot's rant about how repubs, right wing people hate muslims and how muslims are innocent. i actually had to stop reading it because it was not entertaining, but mind numbing."

In the meantime, hey! I have a story out. How nice.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Four Years to Completion.

It only took four years but I've finally finished writing a short story that I never thought I would finish. As I mentioned in the previous post, on the very last page of Zombies Ate My Muslim, I had promised that the next story would be The Dangers of Growing Volkswagens in Your Backyard. I didn't think anybody would be interested in reading it due to its ridiculously silly title, and so I never was motivated to finish writing it.

Yet here I am, basking in the glow of a freshly completed short story. By complete, I mean first draft complete and not rewritten-umpteen-million-times-and-edited-to-hell complete. That process would probably take several more weeks and after that I'll self-publish it on all the major e-book outlets. That's still an achievement though.

I shan't be bothered submitting this one to any pubs; it's way too silly for the likes of them. Like Zombies Ate My Muslim, it doesn't take itself seriously and it doesn't even want to try. Unlike Zombies Ate My Muslim, it doesn't have gratuitous sex. Alhamdullilah.

I'll let you know when it's out. Meanwhile, here's a preliminary version of the cover:


What do you think?