I’m not doing Nanowrimo this year.

Nanowrimo. The very competition that got me into writing my first full length novel.

And it was full of rubbish.

Not Nanowrimo. My novel, I mean.

Back in 2006, when Nanowrimo was a few years young, I finally decided to do it because I had a break from exams. I finished it, but all 50 000 words were rubbish. It did give me the motivation to try again for two more years, but then schoolwork was more pressing and suddenly looking for a job was more pressing. By the time I tried Nanowrimo again, I was working and exhausted consumed me so much that I didn’t even meet the deadline of 1,667 words per day. My so-called novel vanished into obscurity, and I was left in the month of December to decide if I wanted to continue.

That isn’t to say that Nanowrimo isn’t recommended. There are things I’ve learned and pitfalls I’ve avoided and fallen into when participating in this competition. Let’s take a look

  • You realise how important deadlines are.

Didn’t meet 1,667 words a day? That’s it. You have to write more the next day, and it snowballs. So if you didn’t write 1,667 words on the first day, you’re in a world full of pain the next day with 3,000 plus words. This meant that I had to be conscious of the deadline and do everything that I could to make sure I made the deadline. This worked very well in Job Land, where I also had to be disciplined enough to make deadlines. For most part. I think.

  • You learn to stay focused on one project at a time. And finish.

Creative people have lots of ideas. Often, they have too many and everything goes into this notebook. I was like that. I didn’t stay focused and I didn’t finish. But because I wanted bragging rights (yea, real mature, I know) and the Nanowrimo programme thing they had installed on their website to tell me that I had actually done it! I had actually written a novel. Woohoo!

However, there’s a lot of what I didn’t like.

  • Most of my novels were rubbish.

I mean, sure. First novels are supposed to be rubbish. That’s why they sit in your hard drive or cupboard or whatever, collecting dust. Sure, I made mistakes and learned from them, but looking through what I’d written and seeing that they were unusable was kind of disheartening. There wasn’t any quality, especially so when I’d put in so much effort.

  • No time to create my own schedule

I had to write every day. This is almost impossible while working, and I lost count of the number of times I fell asleep in front of my laptop. Now, I create my own writing schedule based on off days and weekends, and while I try to commit, I don’t put too much stress on myself because having breathing space to write actually helps complete a Draft.

  • It made me realise that writing is a privilege

Lots of writers go, “Oh, if you’re committed, you will make the time to write.” This is true if you have a stable income or don’t need to work very much or pay rent, or have an incredibly supportive family who will sponsor you. But a lot of the time, real life gets in the way, and these are legit reasons to stop writing because you have other commitments.

However, I don’t regret doing Nanowrimo — it gave me a taste of what writing a novel is like, and it was a test to see if I could make it.

Shui Gui — A Seventh Month Ghost Story

14688431665_cdc955f91d_z

I am often inspired by Chinese festivals, and this story is no different. Although we have just celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Ghost Month is now over, I thought it would still be pertinent as “It” just came out. I remember wanting to submit this to a journal but chickening out at the last minute, and that there was a 300 word limit.

Anyway, here’s the story:

 

I belonged in the water but my mother forbade me to go swimming.

“It’s the Ghost month. If you go, the shui gui will get you,” she said. “Go ride a bike, play badminton, but stay away from the pool.”

I groaned. She truly believed that the dead wandered the world during this month. It was an old Chinese belief, nothing more, and I had to train for the swimming tournament. Besides, no shui gui or water ghost existed in this pool. Our apartment and pool were brand new.

Shui gui lived in the seas, rivers or lakes. I would be fine. I left my house and went to the pool. She couldn’t control me here. I was free in the water.

I swam laps. I had to beat Li Ping at the tourney. The pool got deeper and deeper as I swam, and the waters darker and darker. It happened when the sky was cloudy, but now it was black as ink.

I sank my head beneath it and saw someone who looked exactly like me. She had my face, my eyes, and my hair that floated the same way under water. I gasped. She dragged me down, and I spluttered as the water entered my lungs. She shoved me in the darkness, and then, I could breathe.

My body swam to the surface and dried itself. It looked down into the pool.

“You’re right,” it said. “You belong in the water.”

 

Featured image from SurFeRGiRL30

 

 

 

How to Sign Books for Children

_DSC5513 copy

Many of the people who buy my book are people I know, and some of the people I know come from where I work. Parents and children who support me go all out to buy my book and ask their kids to muster up the courage and get me to sign them. Apart from that, there are parents at signings who smile and gesture at their children to approach me, since they are also keen on reading the book, or keen on teaching them Chinese culture. I see what you parents of mixed-race kids did there. Continue reading »

How Much of Xin Long’s Chinese New Year Mirrors My Own?

380427263_3e50b1eeeb_z

One very common question I get is whether Xin Long is based on me. The short answer is no. We’re very different people. However, since Dragonhearted is based on Chinese culture and more importantly, shines the spotlight on Chinese New Year, it’d be appropriate to unveil how some aspects of her childhood are all too similar to mine, just for fun.

  1. Xin Long and I have had our fair share of yucky reunion dinners, probably because children are picky and don’t appreciate food until they grow older.
  2. I dislike yusheng, but Xin Long is ambivalent to it, and probably very sick and tired of it by the time the book is over.3266600196_039564c306_z Here is what yusheng looks like for reference.
  3. Xin Long has more cousins around her age than me, which is great, because that means she has friends who are around her age to play with.
  4. Unlike me, all of Xin Long’s cousins are all boys, and the generational name for them is the suffix, “long”.  It means dragon. There are lots of dragons in her family.
  5. Xin Long spends a lot of time with her Ah Ma getting ready for Chinese New Year, like buying Chinese New Year decorations, which they both paste around the house. Her grandma does let her pick out decorations from time to time. This was something I definitely did as a child, and we even hung ornaments on a pussy willow tree.
  6. Xin Long’s school, like mine, does have a tradition of writing auspicious spring couplets every year.
  7. Xin Long probably missed out on playing with a certain kind of “explosives” — they looked like cloves of garlic and they made exploding sounds when you tossed them — unlike me. And yes, I tossed lots of those kinds of “explosives” while growing up.
  8. While Xin Long and I both love pineapple tarts, her favourite snack is the kueh bangkit, precisely because it melts in her mouth, like magic.

With these eight facts, I wish you all a Happy Chinese New Year!

Featured image from Akuppa John Wigham on Flickr

Picture of yusheng by Alpha on Flickr

The best Christmas present, ever.

6598576457_8234fc4768_z

It is the new year and this post is long overdue. For me Christmas doesn’t have that much meaning since I don’t quite celebrate it the so-called Christian way, but I was very glad I was able to do this very simple thing for a very special girl.

One of my former students texted me about a friend who teaches English in Vietnam. He teaches a little girl who is afflicted with one of the world’s deadliest monsters–cancer. My former student wanted to send her my book, and asked me if I could autograph it. Soon, it was shipped off, I think, but that wasn’t the end of the story.

On Christmas, or was it Christmas Eve? Anyway, on that day, I received a video of the girl opening the present. Her teacher read the dedication to her and I saw that she was at a loss for words. I hope she enjoys the book. I hope she knows that she can fight, and being a girl is a wonderful, wondrous thing.

This is why I wrote Dragonhearted. I wanted to empower children, especially girls, and I am so very glad that I get a chance to do so with this book.

What I don’t understand about Pokemon

28002170775_72d21e3979_z

I am playing Pokemon Sun. I would like to write that this is the fist time I’ve touched the franchise since the 90’s, but that’s not true. I played Pokemmo, and completed Leaf Green and Omega Ruby on the servers. However, in the franchise’s latest instalment, the graphics are a lot more beautiful and colourful and I get to see and walk through a whole lot more. In terms of graphics, shows how far we’ve came from the pixelated interface of the ’90s.

There are no longer gym leaders, but trials that one has to go through. I also have to defeat totem Pokemon, which are powerful creatures, if I want a crazy crystal to power up my beasts. I like the game. It’s fun, and keeps me amused for hours on end.

But one thing I don’t undestand is this–in every single reiteration of the game, we are taught to love our Pokemon as pets, but the nature of collection all 150 or however many Pokemon there are now, you cannot love all of them equally because your time and resources are put into the 6 that are in your “dream team”.

Then, there’s also battling, and going competitive just makes it worse because Pokemon are discarded on the Global Trade Link. Pokemon, animals essentially made out of bytes and lines of codes, are thrown away because they were too common, or didn’t have the perfect stats, and so on. It pretty much parallels how people breed animals in real life, to be honest. In nearly every iteration of the Pokemon games, there is a recurrent theme of how human beings exploit Pokemon to their whims, which does serve as commentary in real life. In fact, if there’s anything Pokemon has taught us, it’s to be kind to our animals and the environment they live in.

Every single time I play Pokemon, I encounter this dilemma, and I end up becoming very elitist, steering away from catching yet another Zubat or a Fearow or some kind of common Pokemon because dangit, there’s too many of them. I suppose, at the end of the day, Pokemon is a test in treating all the creatures great and small well, even if they are pixelated iterations of their real-life counterparts.

But dangit, no more Zubats, please.

Hollywood has no original ideas

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

(Felicity Jones)

Ph: Film Frame

©Lucasfilm LFL

As the holidays are coming up, I’ve seen many movie trailers that are re-tellings of stories that we know and love. The Beauty and the Beast trailer came out yesterday, and there’s also buzz for Star Wars, Rogue One, which I didn’t think was very impressive. There’s also Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is a spinoff of the Harry Potter cash cow.

More and more movies are adapting the tales from books, like Mrs Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the not so recent Hunger Game and The Fault in Our Stars. Oh yeah, also Divergent.

The only original movie I am looking forward to is Disney’s Moana, because it’s the only thing on December’s holiday roster that has some semblance of originality. Not to mention that it’s a Polynesian story with a Polynesian princess. Now, that’s not something you see every day.

As it is, there are plans to re-make movies that have already been done until 2020. There’s also a list of re-makes that can be found here.

I get it. They are made for the fans, and the kids of the fans who will see these movies so that the fandom will continue forever more. These are safe bets. Hollywood and Disney or whoever is behind producing these films will make money, and making movies is a risky business since you spend a shit ton of it.

However, when you put money in the equation of creating something, it corrupts the integrity of the project. Whatever is being created has no soul, but is formulaic drivel. Star Wars, Episode VII was completely derivative of Episode IV, and it was staring at us right in the face. So many fans, even the ones who loved the movie, conceded that it was pretty much like copy and paste from the very first movie, but they were so choked up on feels that they saved their criticism for later.

The thing is, there is still room to tell original stories, like Kubo and the Two Strings. Even the books that were made into successful movies sold well because someone took a chance on an idea. Yes, the risks of success on an original project may be lower because there isn’t much of a fanbase, but investors and audiences will not learn to love something original if it’s not even given some place to shine.

I’ll do my best to watch as many original movies as I can, but I won’t be surprised to walk to the cinema and see sequela or prequels playing.

I Don’t Want to Write as a Girl! and Other Gender Related Problems at Work

3202433-01

said all the boys I teach.

I teach young children to write picture compositions, and sometimes, the image shows that the main character is a girl.

I always ask them to write as “I”, and somehow, when a girl appears as the main character, there is this roadblock amongst the boys. They protest as they don’t want to write as a girl. They don’t want to be seen as girly, and it’s as though being girly is a crime.

Once again, the patriarchy has done its work, even though I have told them that it’s easier to delve into your feelings and describe the facial expressions your main character has. We draw inspiration from ourselves, after all. Here is how one such conversation went:

Boy: I don’t want to write as a girl!

Me: Is there any problem with being a girl? Girls are everywhere! They exist! You came from your mum, who was once a girl.

Boy: But what do I say to some people in my school, who don’t want to write as a girl?

Me: Then tell them this. The very good writers can imagine themselves as different people, from old men to young ladies. When you come here, you learn how to be a skilled writer, and writing as someone of a different gender is just the beginning.

And don’t even get me started on how one child came in and saw a Thea Stilton book.

3202433-01-1

Boy 2: Thea Stilton is for girls!

Me: Who says? Books are for everyone!

Boy 2: But my classmates say Geronimo Stilton is for boys, and Thea is for girls!

Me: (to a girl classmate of his.) Girls exist, right?

She nods.

MeL They should appear in stories, too, right?

The boy nods.

Me: You can and should read a story about a girl, too! There’s nothing wrong with doing that. It’s great if you do that because it’s all about putting yourself in another person’s shoes.

I can’t remember what I said because this occurred some time back, but as I type this, I feel like I could have said more. I guess this is a battle, and if this comes up again, I’ll deal with it one step at a time.

The image of Thea Stilton and The Secret of Whale Island belongs to its creators.

Kubo and the Two Strings is such a beautiful movie!

kubo

I recently had the pleasure of watching Kubo and the Two Strings in a quiet movie theatre, and boy, was I blown away. When I watched the trailer (it wasn’t the one below, but I can’t remember which one I watched), I thought that Kubo was a girl until the text, “His adventure begins…” hovered across the screen.

I mean, the character was Asian, and it was of a young child. Naturally, I thought the voice belonged to a girl because I wanted to see more female characters who are not white.

Despite that slight disappointment (or rather, misaligned expectations), I loved almost everything about its movie, especially how artfully it was made. I had the sense that some really hi-tech animal techniques were used alongside stop motion, and watching the making of these proved it.

Spoilers below: tread with caution.

Continue reading »

Why is everyone in Dragonhearted Chinese?

1131325753_076728fc48_b

My dear, lovely editor, Daphne, who is always pushing me to write better, asked me this question: “Why is everyone in Dragonhearted Chinese?”

I almost wanted to answer I don’t know, but I’d originally written about how Shu Ping and Four Eyes were sort of meant to be Malay and Indian respectively, but it didn’t fit their characters. That immediately fell away when I started writing the book, and so did everything else.

Dragonhearted is also very Chinese because the school in which the protagonist is from is a very Chinese school. We have to learn how to recite Tang poems and we also had to take advanced Chinese from Primary 1-6, something that I also failed at. Many of the kids are mixed race, and I have made friends with them, but the kids are mostly Chinese.

We were, of course, encouraged to make friends with people who are not Chinese, but my neighbours also happened to be Chinese, and so, I didn’t have Malay friends until very much later. I don’t like to think of myself as sheltered, and I wasn’t, but spending most of the time in a Chinese environment as a child translated to the book.

More importantly, everyone in Dragonhearted is Chinese, because it’s much easier to write about a Chinese person than to slap on a race on some character under the pretext of diversity and get everything wrong. I wanted to avoid tokenism, among other things, and also, obviously, getting the culture wrong. It takes ages and ages to do research on a culture, and I would imagine that research into another culture takes twice as long.

I don’t know if the protagonist of the next few stories will be of another race, but if so, there is always the internet, the library, and my friends of other races to help me.

But the most important thing is always to write a story that is authentic, and thinking that I have to tick all the boxes in the race card defeats the purpose of what I want to do as a writer.