Thursday, 25 January 2007

Gee Willikers! My First Review!

Fellow writer-blogger and friend, Bibi Misbah has written a review of my story that appears in Write Out Loud with the title of, "The Secret Operation in the Matriarch's Kitchen":
Though Ted's story is simple, funny, witty and amusing but it's not without any underlying messages. From the way I see it the aliens were mistaken. They thought that the blender needed saving when the truth was the blender was content with everything that he had including the real live drama that it gets to watch acted out by the next door neighbours. Isn't it obvious that the blender doesn't want to be liberated? Liberated from what? From contentment? It's also obvious that the aliens are definitely trying to force their values on the blender by pinpointing the humans as the culprits.

Doesn't Ted's story remind all of us of the scenario of the world?
I think she likes it.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

More on Where to Submit Your (Short Story) Manuscript.

This is my response to Yang-May Ooi's post on where to submit your manuscript.

In her post, Yang-May gives her suggestions from a UK perspective. For short stories, a budding writer can also look towards the US to submit his or her writing. Other countries are worth a look-see too, but I'll focus on the US since they've got lots of literary magazines that accept submissions.

Instead of the Writers Handbook and the Writers & Artists Yearbook, the US has Writer's Market and Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. These too are published annually. I'd recommend Novel & Short Story Writer's Market over the former because this book has a very good listing for submitting short stories, from literary magazines to small circulation magazines to consumer magazines and even to online magazines. Each listing provides lots of useful info, like whether you get paid or not for submitting or whether the publication has previously won awards.

For the writer who's just starting to send out his stuff and does not have any publication cred to his name, I'd suggest he or she submit to the small circulation magazines or lesser known literary magazines for a higher chance of acceptance, unless of course you're like me and and you collect rejection slips. (I haven't received the one from The New Yorker yet, what's taking them so long?)

These books though are quite expensive (Borders sells them at RM80 or so I think), so if you're strapped for cash there are lots of many online listings too. I can't recommend any of them though.

You might notice that most publications will request an SASE, which stands for Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope. Don't be a dolt and send along an envelope with a non-US stamp. But you don't live in the US so how to get US stamps?

Two ways: a) Buy International Reply Coupons; or b) Buy US stamps online.

What's an IRC? An IRC is a coupon you send along with your self-addressed envelope (and manuscript) to the publisher that will pay for the postage for the envelope to be sent back to you. Cool idea huh? There's just one itty bitty problem.

Buying IRCs in Malaysia is tough. Almost all the major post offices I've been to either don't know what an IRC is or they say they don't sell them any more, which is just weird. I haven't tried the HQ at Central Market yet though. Maybe they sell them. But most likely not everyone lives near Central Market. Like me.

So that leaves option B. The United States Postal Service has a cool service that allows anyone in the world to buy their stamps. And the great thing is, they've even made a special stamp for you to stick on any letter, and it'll be valid to be sent anywhere in the world. This airmail stamp costs 84c each and they come in panes of 20. Oh the wonders of the internet where you can pay for snail mail online! I love it.

Now all you need is a good cover letter, which you will submit along with your manuscript and SASE. You'll find lots of conflicting information about what makes a proper cover letter but the one I prefer is the example that's given in Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. Basically, what you do is tell the editor in the cover letter is the title, a brief summary, and some personal background as well as any previous published works. Don't write too long. A good cover letter should always be no longer than one sheet of paper (US Letter format or A4).

Good luck submitting.

Oh yeah, and don't staple your manuscripts.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

We Need to Talk About George... (1)

I've been friends with George for nearly 4 years now. I can't really believe it's been that long. Doesn't seem so long ago that we first met.

It was early in 2003, probably a January quite like this, when I was with my uncle who took me to Senawang, south of Seremban, to visit a Volkswagen workshop. I was crazy over air-cooled Volkswagens; still am actually. At the workshop lay about a dozen or so old and abandoned Volkswagens. Beetles, Buses, both were there slowly and sadly rusting away. These Volkswagens were no longer usable and were kept around for their parts, or were just left there for lack of another place to abandon an old Beetle. The mechanic, Ah Meng, who worked there said he had some usable ones for sale, but they were at his house. We were welcome to go see those cars if we wanted to.

We decided to check them out. Ah Meng's house was just down the main road in a housing estate about a little more than 5km from his workshop. Ah Meng's house was an end-lot terrace house with a small side road right next to it. On that road, we found three Beetles, all post-68 models, all lined up one after the other, and a lonely Bus (also post-68) that slept in the access road behind the house.

I walked up to the Bus first and patted it. Then I took a good look at each of the Beetles, and the one who got my attention was the one who was nearest to the Bus, the baby blue coloured one.

"Hello there," I said. "You're a cute one."

He didn't reply of course. But there was something in him that I sensed evoked a vague but potential wonderful, something deep and meaningful, that I didn't sense in the Beetles next to him. We were forging a connection-an unbreakable bond between man and cute, little machine.

So it was with a heavy heart that I had to say goodbye to this baby blue Volkswagen. It was getting late. The sun was setting, mosques had already long ago called to come for Maghrib prayers, and it was time to go home. I would never forget that Volkswagen. We were now bonded together for life.

Friday, 19 January 2007

Celebrating the Short Story.

Eric Forbes takes a moment to give a tribute to that oft-neglected form of fiction, the short story, and asks:
Is the short story in dire straits? The short story is not exactly a favoured form for writers nowadays. Fewer magazines are publishing them and literary agents and publishers tend to shy away from them because short-story collections do not sell well enough to justify publishing them.
He also tells us that:
They make us see the world from another point of view; they make us do mental somersaults. The prolific Joyce Carol Oates defines the short story as “a minor art form that in the hands of a very few practitioners becomes major art,” while William Trevor, in a Paris Review interview in 1989, called the short story “an art of the glimpse,” whose “strength lies in what it leaves out.” A good short story resonates far beyond its smallness. Despite languishing in the shadow of the novel for the longest time, the short story is still alive.

Rejected Fiction Writing Contest.

Ah. The most rejection slips I've ever got for a single story has been two. That's three less than the required number of rejection slips to enter the first ever Rejected Fiction Writing Contest, hosted by The Rejection Quarterly:
Guidelines: Fiction to 8,000 words. $10 entry fee per manuscript. Up to two entries per person. Five rejection slips (or copies thereof) must accompany each entry.

1st Prize: $200
2nd Prize: $100
3rd Prize: $50


Each winning story will also be published in The Rejected Quarterly. An honorable mention award may be added at the discretion of the editors.

Entries will be accepted and read from December 1st, 2006 until June 30th of 2007.
Anyone interested?

Thursday, 18 January 2007

It's Reading Time Again.

Sharon sends word:
The next “Readings” will be held on Saturday 27th January, 2006 with the aim of giving established and aspiring writers a platform for their work, and encouraging networking.

Date: 27th January 2006
Time: 3.30pm (starting promptly!)
Place: 67, Lorong Tempinis Satu, Lucky Garden, Bangsar (for directions check www.seksan.com)

This month’s readers are:

Amir Muhammad
kG
Baharuddin Baki
Tshiung Han See
Peter Brown
Jordan MacVay

"Readings" is organized by Sharon Bakar and is made possible by the gracious sponsorship of Seksan from 67 Tempinis Satu and La Bodega.

Sharon Bakar: hp: 012-6848835
sbakar@streamyx.com
http://thebookaholic.blogspot.com
I'm planning on going. I've been regretting missing the previous ones, especially the one with the Elarti crew. Probably will be dragging along a few artist friends of mine. They like to talk about how they're so arty-farty, time to actually take them to an arty-farty gig :D

Dunno What to Write Next.

Seems Kiran Desai is spent:
“Right now it’s just emptiness, so you wonder if you’ll have enough in you to fill it,” Desai said on Sunday at Sri Lanka’s first international literary festival in the historic southern port town of Galle.

“I don’t know if I can do it.”

“Writing this book. I drew so much on my family history and on growing up in India,” she added. “I’ve written about that now, so it’s just a new stage of what I’m doing. It certainly worries me. It takes time for a story, for a narrative to develop.”

“I hope I tap into something,” she said.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Wait? We have a writing scene?

On some mornings, if I'm lucky, I'll be able to find a copy of The Sun lying on the seat in the LRT when I enter. Today was such a morning. And the other sun - the real, big ball-of-gas one - was even out too.

In today's edition of The Sun, on page 18, in the U! section (which isn't linked online... yet), there is an article written by Joanna Van, headlined, "The Write Stuff". The gist of the article is this: Ms. Van talks with four college students between the ages of 19 - 22 about the Malaysian Writing Scene.

*cue horror theme*

These four students's opinion of the local writing scene is that it is almost non-existent, as is voiced by Erin Chong, "Wait? We have a writing scene?"

Very observant.

Fortunately, all of them agree that there is a problem with Malaysian Writing. They are quick to point their fingers at the culprits:
"Censorship!"; "People don't read!"; Narrow-minded teachers!"; "Money-minded parents!"
Yes, yes. Those are very real problems. Of course. But there's also one other problem that they haven't pointed out: No self-initiative.

Yes, that's right! You punks got no initiative, yo! You can talk all you want about how Malaysians aren't encouraged to write because of [insert reason here] but if you don't start doing something about it yourself, it doesn't mean a thing; it's all a lot of hot air. Do something about it, write something yourself, and contribute to the local writing scene of which - I assure these students - it is very much existent, and alive, and probably could even be considered vibrant (but depends on who you ask, really).

And stop saying things like, "we have a writing scene?" It betrays a level of ignorance that's just flabbergastingly miserable. If you cared at all about the writing scene, you'd know it exists.

A little kudos however, to one of the students, Ashvini, who tried to educate her comrades about the "scene". No surprise there, Ashvini happens to be one of my fellow writers in "Write Out Loud".

Rain Taxi's Fund-Raising Auction.

The nice folks over at Rain Taxi, the book review magazine, emailed me to ask me very nicely to put up an announcement for their fund-raising auction:
In order to support our magazine and literary events series, we are holding a fund-raising auction this week on eBay. Our many amazing items include comics and books signed by Neil Gaiman and his long-time collaborator Dave McKean; rare signed chapbooks by Paul Auster, Alice Notley, Stephen Dixon, and more; hard-to-find collector's books; and lots, lots more! Our website, www.raintaxi.com, contains all the details. Bidding ends this Sunday, January 21st!

Friday, 12 January 2007

The Top 5 People Who You Respect The Most.

Early on in my Form 5 term, the disciplinary teachers of my school, SMK Gunung Rapat, Ipoh, thought it would be good for some of the students to attend a "spirit-building" camp over the weekend. The venue chosen was the Kem Bina Semangat in Segari, a sad and lonely place across the river from Lumut. I hear it's been converted into a National Service camp now. The students for whom it was compulsory to attend were the Prefects, Librarians and the Class Heads. I was a prefect so I had to go, no matter how much I protested.

From what I remember, that spirit-building camp consisted largely of lectures, group exercises and a lot of marching up and down the road that leads to Segari. One distinct memory that stands out until now for me was this one group exercise in which there were five of us prefects. We were all from the same form, but from different classes. The guy who handled our group was this young teacher, just out of teacher training college, who I remember smoked a lot outside the gate of the school.

The theme for this group exercise was, I think, the people who you respect the most. The teacher asked everyone of us to name the top 5 people who we respected most.

Yazid was first.

Yazid: God, Prophet Muham...
Teacher: God's not a person.
Yazid: Oh. Okay. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Azim: Peace be upon him!
Nurezam: Peace be upon him.
Razif: Peace be upon him.
Yazid: ...and my father, my mother, my elder brother, my elder sister.

Then it was Azim's turn.

Azim: The top 5 people I respect the most are, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him-
Yazid: Peace be upon him.
Nurezam: Peace be upon him.
Razif: Peace be upon him.
Azim: ...my father, my mother, my uncle and my elder sister.

He was followed by Razif.

Razif: I respect Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him-
Yazid: Peace be upon him.
Nurezam: Peace be upon him.
Azim: Peace be upon him!
Razif: ...as well as my father, my mother, my elder sister and Dr. Mahathir.

"Who are the people you respect most, Muhtadi?" the teacher then asked me.

Me: Er.
Teacher: Yes?
Me: Um. Roald Dahl. Steven Spielberg. Nobuo Uematsu. Rene Goscinny. Can't think of the fifth one...
Yazid: What about Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him?
Nurezam: Peace be upon him.
Azim: Peace be upon him!
Razif: Peace be upon him.
Me: What about him?
Yazid: We must respect him the most.
Me: Oh. Uh, okay. Why not? Him too then.

I think I got pulled aside by the teacher after the group session but I can't remember exactly what punishment I received. Ah those mists of time sure are cloudy.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

I want to write fiction, I say.

"I want to be a published writer," I tell them.
"I want to write fiction," I say to them.

The response I usually get are some raised eyebrows, and an indifferent "oh" followed by a pause, a look beyond my shoulder, and then, "tell me if you publish something". Then they walk off.

If they don't walk off, then they say something to the effect of: "But there's no money in writing!" Then they give me a look like I've just told them I've invested in a get-rich-quick scam. "Have you thought of this carefully? Are you sure?"

"They" are the sort of people who think bookstores are only good for purchasing a copy of Azizi Ali's How to Become a Property Millionaire or mXe! Five Keys to Become an Extreme Millionaire. Forgive my naivete, but it never fails to amaze me that money seems to be the only impulse that fuels them on. Attempts of explaining to them that I'm pursuing writing because that's what I like to do (rather than what I need to do, e.g., get a proper job) seems to fall on incomprehension, resulting in fear and misunderstanding and panic.

DON'T PANIC.

Look. I'm not in this for the money. It's not like I'm quitting my job to write full-time (which is a bit weird because my current job involves me writing full-time anyway). I write stories to get them published because knowing other people will likely read them gets me high. Like how young boys write silly love poems to impress girls they have a crush on but aren't really interested in making the girls like them, rather, to show off their art. But on a vastly larger scale. You know?

Er, no? Um, okay. Bad example. Try this. Remember that kid in class who always drew comic books for his friends to read? Yeah? Well, my writing's in that same spirit. The joy of entertaining others by creating something of your own. Taken to another level (sorta).

What? Still don't geddit? Fine, fine! It's nice getting an honorarium once in a while. Happy now?

Monday, 8 January 2007

Reading List Update.

Haven't done one of these in ages!

I am currently reading:

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
I am sooooo in love with this book. It's a book that makes you think and reflect on imagination, the human condition, society and life using cities as a frame and guide. Also, Marco Polo is one cool dude.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
I'm reading this very slowly. I started reading this back in October... only half-way through... Is it any good? It makes for interesting reading but if Dawkins thinks he can stop people believing in God by writing this book, then I can only say that's one heckuva climb up Mount Improbable.

I have recently finished:

14 Oct 2006: The Malayan Trilogy by Anthony Burgess
because of its many "controversial" elements (racial stereotypes mostly) many people here will pass over it. A pity, because not only is it a very good caricature of Malayan/Malaysian society, it also serves as a warning of what things could become (have become?). Apart from being a political and social diatribe, it is also a work of art. Burgess skilled use of wordplay and poetic prose is to be admired.

28 Oct 2006: Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words by Jay Rubin
Probably of interest only to hardcore Murakami fans. Includes some interesting trivia of Murakami and his wife, Yoko, and provides insight to almost all of Murakami's major works. Not much worth reading otherwise.

16 Oct 2006: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
A superb adventure filled to the brim with the most unique of ideas. Forget Dianne Wynne Jones, Hayao Miyazaki, this is the book you want to adapt into a movie! C'mon, huge cities moving on traction, a dystopic vision of the world in the future, a gripping plot - what more could a reader ask for? (Don't answer that.)

21 Oct 2006: The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil
Quite intriguing. Slow in parts but was very interesting in the way the story folded out. I was amazed at how Kurzweil managed to make computer searches not as dull as they are in real life. It reminds me of The Da Vinci Code in quite a few ways - a refined gentleman as mentor and later betrayer, a French love interest, a search for a long missing artifact. On the whole enjoyable, but not likely memorable. The language used was beautifully archaic though.

27 Oct 2006: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
An incredible tour-de-force of adventure and tech involving memorably-named characters, Hiro Protaganist and Y.T. Awesome gizmos and gadgets help propel the story along and use of the virtual world Metaverse as a plot device is inspired. Some of the parts of Sumerian mythology went over my head though and the part where Hiro was explaining the origins of the Snow Crash virus was unbelievable to me because Uncle Enzo, Ng and Mr. Lee seemed to understand the concepts too easily. On the whole enjoyable and fun.

8 Nov 2006: Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver
Profound, sad, true to life. A collection of short stories that revolve around normal everyday people with normal problems. Sometimes it's the usual everyday problems that hurt the most.

15 Nov 2006: His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
Fast-paced and immensely enjoyable. Will Laurence keeps saying "my dear" a lot to Temeraire though and I sometimes wonder how deep their relationship really goes...

1 Dec 2006: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
Slower-paced, but by no means is it less on the action. This book takes Laurence and Temeraire to China after a diplomatic near-disaster. The first two acts take place on the sea and while they do have their moments, I really had to slog through them. The book shines when they finally arrive in China in the third act and from there it's all good. Too bad the China bit is short.

11 Dec 2006: Black Powder War by Naomi Novik
The third book in the Temeraire series is much better than the second book, Throne of Jade. There are so many cool scenes in this book - one being a covert extraction operation in Istanbul - that I feel overwhelmed every time I try to think of them. And the great cast of characters: Tharkay, Arkady, and a certain fiery personality that appears near the end of the book - are all very engaging. Well done, Ms. Novik, though I wish I could forgive you for writing a cliffhanger ending before making me wait a year for a follow-up.

15 Dec 2006: I'm Not Sick, Just a Bit Unwell by Yvonne Foong
Well-written, even though self-published. Obviously it has benefited from being edited by John Ling. Very educational about neurofibromatosis and provides information and answers to questions that most people won't ask. The only problem I had with this book was that it had no sense of closure, though hopefully that would be fulfilled in a later book perhaps. Also, the religious bits near the end were a bit too sappy for my tastes.

28 Dec 2006: The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa
Nice language, too bad I couldn't stay awake long enough to read it. It just took too long to get anywhere. Go is sadly underused, though the philosophies of the game run as themes throughout the book.

30 Dec 2006: The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
A wonderful homage to a certain famous detective. Now an old man, the detective must summon his failing powers when a parrot that squawks out mysterious numbers and a mute Jewish boy who escaped from Nazi Germany enter his life. A good story though ending is a little unsatisfactory and story is too short. Also, the archaic twist-abouts of language employed may turn off "modern" readers.

30 Dec 2006: Jennifer Government by Max Barry
Jennifer Government is to capitalism what Nineteen Eighty-Four is to totalitarianism. And it's funnier too Taxes have been abolished and US companies have taken over half the world. People in US-affiliated countries take up their company's names as surnames. A near-literary thriller that puts forward some interesting ideas and cleverly satires the ruthless expansion of US-based corporations.

3 Jan 2007: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay Mcinerney
A young man finds his life slowly spiralling into the depths of chaos of cocaine and depression. His wife has left him. He is close to being fired from his job at a reputable New York magazine. A good read; honest and simple; use of 2nd-person voice suits story very well. Sort of a (much) tamer Fight Club.

I might be reading these next:
  • The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
  • The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Previous Reading List Updates:

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Gaiman on Writing Novels and Short Stories.

Neil Gaiman on writing novels and short stories, in an interview from Rain Taxi:
If writing a novel is a year's exile to a foreign country, writing a short story is a weekend spent somewhere exotic. They're much more like vacations, more exciting and different, and you're off. "Look at me, I'm writing something that I will finish by tea time!"
Though he doesn't write that fast all the time (later in the interview he reveals that a "pornographic" story had him stuck for four months), I think I can understand the rush of writing a short.

The spark of an idea appears; you try to hold on to it for as long as you can; if possible you play around with it; turn it this way and that; see what can be moulded out of the idea. Then you grab pen and paper, or keyboard and word processor, off you go! - exploring a little world that's approximately 3000 to 5000 words long; before you know it, time bends in extremely complex ways just so it can deceive you by running faster than it ought to. In 4 hours that feels like 4 minutes, you've finished a short story. It may not be a good one, but you had fun writing it anyway, which is the most important part.

What Teddy Did.

The book launch on Saturday went good. Met my fellow writers, Alex, Jolin, Richard, Paul, Agnes and Karen-Ann as well as well-wishers like Farah, Shark, Irene and Allen. T'was good and all is well and I guess I can call myself a true published writer. I'm glad a lot of the writers were so happy that they had stories that were finally published. Their enthusiasm was heartening.

I wasn't as enthusiastic though. Not because I wasn't happy I got published. No, no. That's great. In fact, it's so awesome it's mind-blowingly freakingly coolz0rzx!!!11 and the only reason I wasn't leaping for joy was that well, I made the mistake of going to Tango Mango and Borders first before the launch... and to celebrate the launch I kinda splurged a bit on some stuff so in the end I was happier for the stuff that I got... than the fact that I was published. Huh. Weird. In a way, I guessed I peaked my joy before the launch started. Does that make any sense?

The sources of this outrageous imbalance of happiness was a large Plain Moleskine, to replace my current one (that's almost full), a copy of the Penguin Graphic Classics Edition of Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, and a copy of Max Barry's Jennifer Government which I've wanted to read for some time now.

If you're aware of the cult rep Moleskines have, well maybe you can understand that buying a new M is always a major event. It definitely is for me... ah! that wonderful oilskin-wrapped cover, those smooth and soft, slightly yellowed pages, that wonderful back-pocket of secrets, the allure of being in the same company as Chatwin and Hemingway Henry Jones Sr.! Who wouldn't love a Moleskine?

As for Paul Auster... when I saw the cover for the Penguin Graphics Classics... I had to have it. And the rest of the goddamned series too. They're too beautiful. They look wonderful, they feel wonderful and they read wonderful. Jack Kerouac has never looked sexier!

About Jennifer Government, I think I'll reserve my thoughts about that for another post. I read and finished it on New Year's Day and the book is to capitalism what Nineteen Eighty-Four is to Totalitarianism.

Hey New Year. I'm Talking to You!

Now that 2006 has packed his bags and left town, it's time we sat face to face and had a little chat. You see, 2006 was good. But he wasn't all that good. He had his good moments, yeah, but there were a lot of screw ups and disappointments which I want to lessen with you.

Yes, yes, 2007, I would like our partnership to be a good one. That means I want to have one that is without much problems. Yeah, yeah. I know it's impossible to expect no trouble at all... but it's good to set high standards and to work towards it. Set too low a standard and there won't be any challenge when we work together to further my - I mean our - goals. Trouble is good when we can learn from the lessons of our mistakes but too much of trouble might cloud our vision and lead to depression. And depression sucks when you're a teetotaller and non-smoker like me. I have to make do with Campbell's Cream of Corn and lemme tell you, that's no way to drown one's sorrows!

So here's what I'm expecting to accomplish in our collaboration:
  1. I will finish my novel (from one of two manuscripts I started with Mr. 2006)
  2. I will write at least 12 short stories, one to equal each month. It's a no-brainer that I will be sending them out, so what I want you to do is to try and steal time - I don't care where you get it, try looking where there's lots of it, like in the mountains or the ocean or something - and give it to the editors to read my stories.
  3. I will start translating stories into English (for fun and not much for profit).
  4. From the same mountains and oceans, save some of that time for me so I can read at least 54 books this year, one book for each week.
  5. Remind me to pay my Internet bills on time so I don't have to wait till I get into the office so I can start blogging.
  6. I shall contribute to that Manuscripts Don't Burn blog. *cough*
Well, that's it for now. We'll make more goals up as we go along, 2007. This looks like the start of a beautiful friendship.

And stop slouching. We've got work to do.

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