Saturday, March 31, 2007

KLILF Lit Galore

The KLILF was spread out over a three day period, 28-30 March 2007 in Bangsar. The sessions I attended were held at Starbucks in Bangsar Shopping Village and Alexis Bistro. Hats off to Raman and his team at Silverfish Books for thinking out of the box and holding the events at these places. I enjoyed the talks and more so, the networking. It was a pleasure meeting with familiar names as well as lurkers at my blog. I could only attend the morning sessions and one-and-half afternoon ones as I had to rush back to round up the kids.

Eric, me and Tash Aw

Shannon Shah in conversation with Randa Abdel-Fattah

Kak Teh, Mariatini, Anedra and me

Azmi Talib, me, Raja Ahmad, Gerald Chuah and Kak Teh

Eddin Khoo with Brian Castro

Me, Helen Ann Peters, DK Hansra and Georgette Tan

Tash Aw’s Beginnings Workshop

It reminded me of Critical Appreciation during English Lit classes. Tash had us read some opening and ending passages from classics such as Emma, Farewell to Arms and Lolita.

He asked questions such as : What sort of mood was conjured? What are the images used? How about the choice of words?

Some of the things he shared with us :

You must have an arresting beginning. You have to drag the reader from the threshold into your world.

In Emma, this was the opening para : “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to united some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

I asked if we shouldn’t be showing rather than telling as in Emma’s opening. His reply : “Disregard rules. Do what works for you.” He loves adjectives. He is particularly enamoured with the choice of adjectives used in the first line. You couldn’t rearrange the words any other way without losing the cadence.

He then asked us to write the opening paragraph for this story: Razak is an ambitious guy who has his eyes on the CEO’s job. His wife, Amy, is beautiful and pushy. One day they invited the CEO, Tony, to their Kenny Hills home. They killed him and got rid of the body. Razak is tortured by his conscience and Amy becomes cranky. (For the more discerning participants, Macbeth quickly sprang to mind.)

He asked us to bear these in mind :

1. The opening must be representative of the rest of the novel – epic or intimate or humourous etc.
2. Give information while creating questions.
3. Drag the readers across the threshold into your novel.

The audience was very participative with dozens of hands shooting up when he asked for volunteers to read their pieces. I didn’t get to read out my passage. Here it is :

I see him in my dreams. He’s wearing his favourite bush jacket, the gold buttons gleaming like jewels in the sun. His hands are outstretched, as if he’s about to grab my hands and pump it vigorously. I extend my hands but he grabs my neck. I feel his fingers tightening.

Endings Workshop

Writers don’t often know how to end their novels because there are too many endings in mind.

Tash doesn’t like a neat Hollywood style ending. He prefers a fudged ending (as can be seen in Harmony Silk Factory).

We read and analyzed the ending passages of Farewell to Arms and Lolita. Then we did the ending for our story which had Razak meeting a sticky end and Amy committing suicide.

A young lady got up to read her piece.

“I’m experimenting with something,” she said. “I used the same image of the house in the beginning for the end too.”

Well, it turned out that quite a few of us experimented with the same concept. Another participant used the image of a spider’s web to represent entanglement both at the start and end.

I remember that was what Anne Tyler did in The Accidental Tourist where the novel opened with the protagonist in the car and ended with him in the taxi. If I’m not mistaken, in The Weekend Novelist, Robert Ray wrote of that as “framing.” Apparently there’s a name for it : elliptical ending.

Here’s mine :

I see her in my dreams. She’s dressed in a long flowing white gown, like a bride. She beckons to me with open arms. I want to embrace her but when I draw nearer, she vanishes. She has abandoned me and left me to face the harsh reality of cold prison walls.

When asked how he would write the novel, Tash said he would make it a first person narrative from Razak’s point of view and show his descent into madness. He would fudge the ending, suggesting a parallel in an oblique way.

Randa's Talk on moderate Muslim voices in the mainstream narrative

Randa’s book, Does My Head Look Big In This is about Amal, an Australian-Palestinian Muslim girl who decided to wear the hijab full time. In writing the book, Randa created a diverse range of Muslims as she didn’t want to moralize that those who wear the hijab are more pious or better than those who don’t.

Unfortunately I had to leave early to pick up the kids. On the way out, I bumped into Kak Teh who was buying Randa’s book and on seeing my hesitation when she asked if I was getting it too, she immediately offered to buy me one. Kak Teh, terima kasih. I’ve started on a few pages and it’s very good. I’ve passed it to my daughter to read first as I think it’s just up her alley.

Brian Castro's Talk on how family history can be used to create literature

Brian’s book Shanghai Dancing is based loosely on his family’s life in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macau from the 1930s to 1960s. Some of the things he said :

- Shanghai Dancing is a fictional autobiography. For a writer, an autobiography is inventing himself, unlike say, an autobiography for a Prime Minister based on facts.

- In writing, it’s not truth you’re after. It’s the psychological truth. As a writer, you’re an inventor, a liar.

- When he was a child, he used to hide under the table and listened to the goings-on from there. He got the idea that his mother was good for truth, and his father good for invention. When she died, he decided that he has to invent the truth.

- He wouldn’t have been able to write the book were his parents still alive. His siblings are still alive but he changed their names in the book. He didn’t ask their permission to write about them as he wasn’t in touch with them. “Forget about the legal implications, I have no money anyway.”

- Readers today want something short. They have no time to appreciate language.

- If you have interesting things happening to you, that doesn’t mean they’ll be interesting to others. There must be a shape to it. You have to make it interesting to them.

I wanted to ask how to derive this ‘shape’ but I didn’t as I didn’t think he could give me a satisfactory answer given the time constrain. That’s my problem. I’ve got a bunch of narratives gleaned from the family closet but they’re all over the place like an amoeba.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

February Litbloggers Breakfast Club

Xeus and I spoke at today's meeting. It was a small crowd of familiar faces. We had a special guest all the way from London, Kak Teh, who frequently moaned about not being able to join us in our writerly events in KL. Well, this time, she made it and on a special day too - her birthday!

Another special visitor was ND Gong, a reader who contacted me after reading Life's Like That. Though we had been corresponding via email for a few years, it was the first time we've met. He went through my Honk! manuscript to check for grammar errors. And when he turned up today, he gave me two books : Tracing It Home by Lynn Pan and a xeroxed copy of an out-of-print Chiese Jetsam on a Tropic Shore by N.I.Low. This is one of the perks of being an author. You get to meet such nice readers.

Xeus talked about the common mistakes she sees in the stories submitted for the Dark City 2 anthology. And if you're a regular at this blog, you would have known what I talked about, honk, honk!

Honk! If You're Malaysian is my third book and the most successful to-date. It's my only book that has gone into reprint. The other two are still in their first print (FP). So what made the difference? One word : Publicity. No matter how good your book is, if nobody knows about it, it's gonna be stuck in FP land.

These were the PR tools I used :

1. Blogging

I started the PR machinery for Honk! six months before it's release by running a suggest-a-title contest on my blog. It generated some buzz in the blogosphere. The week after my book was launched, it hit no. 1 in the local best-sellers chart in MPH Midvalley. It has made the best-sellers lists in Borders and Popular too. Later I ran a provide-a-link/post a mini review contest to help spread the word.

2. Media appearances

I contacted tv and radio stations to feature me in their programs. As Yvonne Lee says, you've got to be thick-skinned. I already know Sayed of RTM1, so getting the interview at Resensi was a breeze. The others I cold-called. Even though these aren't prime-time shows, they have an audience. People have come to my blog and book-signing, saying they saw me on tv.

3. Reviews in the print media

I've sent out a whole bunch of emails to magazines and newspapers entreating them to please, please review my book. It's gradually bearing fruit as it has been written up in Cleo, Midi, Going Places and best of all, it's got a fantastic review in The Star recently.

4. Book Talks

Though attendance is sparse at these events (I'm no celebrity and neither am I a foreigner), I conducted some talks at the bookstores. These talks help raise the profile of the book. The stores would put up posters and order more copies so my book gets more visibility.

5. Support from my publisher

MPH made 5 standees to display in the outlets. These help to attract more attention to Honk!

It was an interactive session, with the audience participating heatedly in the Bloggers are Liars discussion. Thank you, MPH for organising the talk and for the lovely spread of food.

Facing the camera is Esther Teoh (in white shirt) with tape recorder in hand. She was there for a college assignment on blogging.

Kenny (in tie) was there as my introducer. Beside him is Sharon Bakar and behind her is Grace who came all the way from Seremban.

(L-R) Chet, Xeus, me, Kak Teh, Eric Forbes and Janet Tay.
The woman in the tree is Sharon. (She is fully and nicely attired, so don't ask me why she's hiding behind the leaves. Chet, thanks for the lovely Janis Ian CD. Now I know who she is. I loved her song, At Seventeen. Had been listening to it without knowing who the singer was.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hello on Two

The interview was held today at Hello on Two over RTM2. Since it was the school holidays, I brought no. 2 along so she could see how the interview was done. She also took these nice photos.

There was supposed to be three authors, Mohana Gill, May Zhee and me. The angle was women writing at different age groups. However, May Zhee couldn't make it and it was just the two of us. Somehow without May Zhee (she wrote Vanitee Bee at 15), the angle just sort of got sidelined and we talked at length about our books instead of just writing. Mohana who's in her sixties, started writing just last year whereas I started in my thirties. Naturally she thinks I've got a headstart on her and I think the same way of May Zhee.

Mohana has published two books, Fruitastic and Vegemania. Recently she won an Gourmand Wold Cookbook Awards 2006. Fruitastic!, released in March last year, won the award in the Best Single Subject Cookbook and Best Nutrition and Health Cookbook category. Congratulations, Mohana!

Look at the paper bags on the floor. Aren't they beautiful and attention grabbing? It's not cheap to make them. It's RM5 a piece! Next time I should make some of these (home-made ones-lah) for my tv appearances. They make fantastic visuals. My book is completely overwhelmed by Mohana's paperbags and books.

(L-R) Producer Khatijah, compere Soraya Ghazalie, Yen Nee, me and Zamil Idris, compere (ex-Malaysian Idol 1 finalist).

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Going Places

Going Places, February 2007

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Book Talk, Borders Berjaya Times Square

The book talk today is the last in the series to kick off Honk! This time I did something different. I got Kenny Mah, a blogger I met at the last book talk, to interview me. He asked two interesting questions :

1. What are my favourite pieces in the book? Fortunately, he also provided me the answer, i.e. they’re like children, no favourites, please. But if I have to choose, they’d be We’re Malaysianslah, We don’t Kiss, None of Your Business, oh and 55 other essays.

2. Would I be apprehensive of being pigeon-holed as a humour writer? Nope! Let me be a humour writer like my favourite American humourist, Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry or Kevin Cowherd. That’s not to say I wouldn’t try my hand at other genres. Already inching into fiction with the acceptance of my story in Dark City 2.

Kenny did a great job as an emcee. He now has another option to add to his increasingly crowded plate which includes book cover and poster designing.

Only a small crowd but they paid rapt attention. I'd rather have this than a big crowd that is inattentive. The girl in black on the second row was such a dear. Halfway through the interview, she excused herself with "Sorry I have to go to work now." I wish she could've stayed, she was hanging on to every word that was said.

Kicked off the session by throwing mandarins to members of the audience who contributed a Malaysian trait. Even those who were standing in the vicinity got caught up in the fray.

Truly appreciate this group of staunch supporters. Thank you, guys!
(Standing L-R) zewt who postponed his movie to come here, Tunku Halim, Eric Forbes, Spiffy who came in after the interview was over, Lynette Kwan and Joel.
(Sitting L-R) Kenny, me and Daryl. Daryl and Joel are brothers. I roped them in as honkers as my children were not available.

This boy got Honk! for his lecturer, Dr. Gopala. What a lovely gesture.

Norman fits the ideal audience profile. He participated, listened and laughed at all the right places.

Life's Like That as a thank you present to Kenny for interviewing me.

"Thank you, Kenny and Lydia for putting me to sleee... zzzzz..." The bookcover draped over him provides a touch of irony.

Note : Thanks to Tunku Halim for taking the pix, especially the last one there.