Friday, 31 July 2015

Journey of a Nine-Year-Old Short Story.


Yesterday, the New Asia Now edition of the Griffith Review went on sale:
Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now showcases outstanding young writers from the countries at the centre of Asia's ongoing transformation. They write about the people and places they know with passion, flair and insight.

All born after 1970, our contributors are cultural agenda setters at home who explore issues of identity and belonging in the new world that is unfolding.

Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now, co-edited by Julianne Schultz and Jane Camens, takes a journey through the region’s diversity, featuring a new generation of literary stars who will shape the way we understand the complexities of culture, politics and modernisation.
The editors received so many good entries they wanted to include that they decided to publish this edition in two volumes -- a print edition and a supplementary e-book entitled, "New Asia Now: Volume 2".

Now, why am I telling you this? Because not only is New Asia Now a great showcase of the modern Asian zeitgeist in writing, but the e-book, New Asia Now: Volume 2, includes a story by yours truly!

Long time readers of this blog (all three of you) may remember nine years ago, at a Readings session run by Sharon Bakar, I read a story I had just written called Ghost in the Garden. This was the first time I presented this story (still a very early draft at this stage) to the public and the response was encouraging. (It was also the first time I had read in public.)

Born in one of Sharon's writing classes back in 2006, the story has been rewritten several times over. Sharon's been instrumental in encouraging me to continue submitting it for publication, even after it was rejected by many publications over the years. (Incidentally, an earlier draft was also rejected for Readings from Readings 2, an anthology of Malaysian writing that was co-edited by Sharon herself along with Bernice Chauly, though my other story, Pak Sudin's Bicycle, managed to sneak its way in.)

Earlier this year, I saw the call for submission from Griffith Review for New Asia Now and told myself, ehhhh okay one last time. I took another look at the story and decided to give it one more round of polishing and rewriting. Then in February I submitted it and promptly forgot about it. That's what you do with a story you've kept for nine years that's been rejected repeatedly. You don't put much hope into it.

Early in April I had an email from the editors telling me I was among two hundred writers long-listed to be included in New Asia Now. I was happy to know that but didn't put to much stock in it. Two hundred? Surely there were a hundred and ninety-nine other more talented writers who had a much better chance at being accepted!

Another month passed and I hadn't heard anything regarding my story. I assumed that my story had been dropped. Suddenly I received an email with suggested edits for my story. They also let me know that while the story might not make it into the print edition, they're going to publish the story in a supplemental edition as an e-book.

And so now, after nine long years, you too can read The Ghost in the Garden, if you get a copy of Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now Volume 2. And of course, you totally want to.

Malaysian author, Chuah Guat Eng, had this to say about The Ghost in the Garden:
"Loved it. You had me expecting a ghost! I also love your writing style."
Oops. That's kind of a spoiler. But I suppose I should say that the story isn't a genre story in case someone expects it to be and finds themselves disappointed that it isn't.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

#BookReview: Starfire by Paul Preuss



A solar flare causes an accident on a routine mission around the Earth's orbit. This causes astronaut Travis Hill to take extreme measures by leaping out of the craft and into an escape pod, effectively becoming the first astronaut ever to jettison to safety from space and make a reentry back to Earth.

This amazing starting sequence in the novel, Starfire by Paul Preuss, hooked me straight in and kept me turning the pages, wanting to know what would happen the thrilling moment next. Unfortunately, as action-packed as the opening was, the rest of Starfire left me wanting.

Several years after Travis Hill's amazing escape from the solar flare accident and his daring descent back to Earth, he has been deemed unfit to go back to space. But when he hears about an asteroid that makes a near pass to Earth and is heading towards the Sun, he spies an opportunity to get back to space. With NASA launching the brand new spaceship, the titular Starfire, very soon, plans are made to readjust the spaceship's maiden voyage with an ambitious mission to land on the asteroid before it heads into a closed loop near the sun.

The premise of Starfire may remind you a little of the film Armageddon but this novel was first published in 1988, ten years before Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck ever went to space to the sound of Aerosmith. Also, Starfire, being a hard SF novel, likes to think it's a little brainier than Michael Bay's popcorn fare. And truly, the science and realism that permeates the novel is a joy for those who prefer their science fiction leaning towards science more than fiction. It is to the author's credit that all that science and realism does not get in the way of the story and actually enhances it.

Where the author fails is in the characters and the extraordinarily slow pace of the plot. The characters are either forgettable and especially in the main character's case, unlikeable. Travis Hill recalls one of a cowboy from Texas and retains all the negative stereotypes of one -- mainly a misogynistic white male. In fact, the cowboy elements were so strong that half the time I wondered whether I was reading a Louis L'amour western or a scifi opera.

The plot is simple enough, and the author possibly realised that this meant he had to pad his novel so that he could make his wordcount. And so every time things start to get a little exciting, we are thrown into a pointless flashback of a character. The flashbacks were so many to the point of annoyance; I kept wanting to shout at the book, "Get on with it already!"

I really wanted to like this book, I really did. The premise was sound and normally, anything with spaceships in it would get me hot and bothered, but this one left me as cold as a floating rock in space.

This book review was possible thanks to an ARC provided by NetGalley.

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 might be able to 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.

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