Post-CNY Book Updates and Writing Links

Happy Lunar New Year!
It’s been a whole week (and more) of preparations (who knew one good meal with your family involved so much effort?) and spring cleaning and general merry-making that involves too much grilled honeyed meat jerkies (physically impossible to resist), pineapple tarts, cashew nut cookies, sashimi salads (I know I’m not doing the food much justice with these descriptions, but just know that they are basically the reason why the clean eating programme is going out the window this festive period), and mandarin oranges. Many, many mandarin oranges.
But it’s Monday again, so here’s an update on No Room in Neverland, and some great links to share:
1. Sophie Kinsella’s advice for writing a book:

Everybody, no matter who they are gets to the middle of a book and thinks crikey, I’ve had enough of this. You get bored with your story and your characters, you hate them all, you can’t think why you started this wretched story in the first place.

The truth is, every book is hard to write, everybody reaches a wall, whether it is a plot hole or a scene that you can’t get past. So you’ve just got to get to the end. Even if it’s not the greatest draft, if it needs rewriting fine, at least you have a book to rewrite.

Truth.

So this is me trying to put one word after another towards the end. I’m at page 220 now, which may not seem like much, but between Lunar New Year and spring-cleaning and hosting a party and trying to prolong reading Jellicoe Road
by Melina Marchetta and watching this Korean drama called Pinocchio so they won’t end so soon (which, of course, requires Herculean effort, because that book oh god that book and that drama oh god that drama I need to rave about them soon!), I think any progress is good progress.

At least what I’ve written so far for Neverland doesn’t make me want to barf, which is more than I can say for the first draft.
2. How wild is it that Harper Lee is writing another novel, “a sequel of sorts” to her breakout To Kill a Mockingbird
half a century after it was published? It’s called Go Set a Watchman, and she wrote it in the 1950s before setting it aside. Just goes to show that it is never too late to pick up that figurative pen and revisit a novel that didn’t quite work out.

3. As you may know, I’ve been caught up in this fantastic fantasy trilogy lately. The Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo is set in ancient Russia, and the plot and characters and writing just gets better and better with each installment. I’m on the final book, Ruin and Rising, now and am trying as hard as I can to read as slowly as humanly possible.
Here’s an interview she did with The Midnight Garden, a book review blog that features a gorgeous whimsical layout and thoughtful reviews on young adult books. In the interview, Leigh reveals her upcoming book, Six of Crows, which she describes as an “Oceans 11, Inglourious Basterds, ragtag band of misfits, impossible heist story” that stars a supporting character from the Grisha trilogy. Big yay for more stories in the Grishaverse!

4. Another old post from ex-literary agent Nathan Bransford, where he offers some advice for young writers:

Don’t judge your writing success by whether you’re able to find publication immediately. Instead, write to get better, write for catharsis and practice and fun. Your future self will be thankful for the time well spent.

I’ll admit, it’s easy to get caught up in the whole publishing game (not sure if game is the right word here, but let’s go with it for now). It’s easier to fire out query letters to literary agents than writing that book, but it just distracts from the whole point of writing a book in the first place. You end up worrying too much about whether the book will be worth the time and effort, and worrying about whether people will like it, and forget to enjoy the process of writing it, and forget to write the story that you will like.

quote by Timothy Zahn

5. And more great advice from the inimitable Laini Taylor:

Daydreaming, however awesome it is, is passive. It happens in your head. Learning to make dreams real is another matter, and I think it should be the work of your life.

Enough said, really.
Okay, back to working on Neverland now! For the first time since I started writing it in November/December 2013, I’m actually properly psyched about it. Because I see the end in sight and I’m making my way there, one word at a time.
Hope the year of the goat is kinder to you than the horse has been! :0)

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Chinese New Year weekend recap!

Happy Monday!

For those who celebrate, how was your Chinese New Year weekend? Mine involved lots of pigging out and selfie-taking. So much so that I’ve sparked the comment, “Why do you keep taking selfies? Have you never seen your face before?” from a selfie-hating friend. Oh yeah, he’s a riot.

Anyways, pictures!

Remember those horse decorations at Chinatown? They look even more magnificent at night.

On the eve of Chinese New Year’s eve, we had a visitor at the office. And then some.

Everyone, particularly the non-Chinese, were incredibly amused by the God of Fortune and the lion dance troupe that came knocking in a clamour of gongs and drums.

Later, we had the traditional lou hei, where we tossed the mix of raw vegetables, salmon, honey, peanuts, crackers as high as we could without making a complete mess on the table, while yelling out whatever auspicious phrases we knew and our wishes for the Lunar New Year. Most of the wishes went along the lines of getting a promotion/pay raise/a boyfriend and winning the lottery.

When we were done, one of the guys from the International team asked, “So do you guys eat it or do you just play with it?”

Of course we tuck in! It takes a lot out of you to yell and toss things in the air. (I kid.)

Chinese New Year’s eve was the day of feasting, and we were all too busy stuffing our faces to take any photos of the spread. Ah well.

Per our annual tradition, my dad and I went to catch the fireworks by the bay after dinner. There’s something magical about fireworks. All these explosions of colour and light above you as the ground rumbles and shakes beneath you. You feel heady, dazzled, ready to take on what comes next. Like a star being born. Like you’re shaking off the grime of last year, one explosion in the sky at a time. Boom. Clean slate.

That family behind me couldn’t have been noisier. Don’t you just hate it when people talk during a firework display? It’s like being interrupted when you’re reading. You just need some space to appreciate the display in silence, reflect on the past year, and make wishes for the new year – NOT hear some guy behind you go, “Wah wah wah!” nonstop.

Ah well.

While waiting for the firework display, and after it was over, my dad and I got a little shutter-happy.

The God of Fortune in front of the Singapore Flyer
Light festival!
And more pretty lights!
And more!
What’s better than a horse? A pink horse!

There’s this Chinese custom where children sleep late – or better yet, don’t sleep at all – on Chinese New Year’s eve so that your parents can live to a ripe old age. It’s just as well that Dad and I usually go catch the fireworks at midnight. I get to prolong my dad’s life! Those who know me know that I abide by quite a rigid routine: asleep at 11 pm, awake at 7 am, swim at 8 am and start the day by 10 am. But this annual tradition calls for an exception. Besides, the pool’s closed on Day 1 of Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year Day 1 is when the entire family congregates at my grandparents’ place and – yes, you guessed it – feast. Again. Well, there’s the whole exchange of well-wishes and socialising and photo-taking. But food was a major part of the day too.

Again, we were too busy chomping down on my grandmother’s homemade dishes – vegetable and duck soup, stir-fried broccoli and mushrooms and prawns, braised pork belly and abalone stew with and hard-boiled eggs, roasted meats and ngoh hiang, which is this mix of minced meat and chopped water chestnuts and prawn bits rolled spring roll style in fried beancurd skin. HEAVEN.

Images procured from the Web, for the sake of those unacquainted:

Braised pork belly with hard-boiled eggs
Salted vegetable and duck soup
Ngoh Hiang

Is it any wonder my healthy eating habits go straight out the window during Chinese New Year?

Then we had to take the (pretty much) prerequisite selfies too. It’s not every day everyone is all dolled up and together, after all.

With my aunts and cousins on the left
And my dad

I swear by fit-and-flare dresses. They cinch in your waist and make your legs look slim. Bonus if they come in pretty colours like lilac or Ming vase prints!

On the second day, Dad and I caught I, Frankenstein, which turned out to be surprisingly good! I was pretty wary about it given the unfortunate experience with Hansel and Gretel (even the awesome Jeremy Renner couldn’t save it). Remixed classics tend to get butchered despite the best intentions.

But I, Frankenstein was pretty original, and as far as fantasy stories go, this one was entertaining enough without inane or extraneous dialogues. Frankenstein’s monster, in this movie, has become a modern-day demon-hunter caught in the age-old battle between gargoyles (descendants of heaven) and demons. So crazy it’s good!

And on the third day, there was more feasting. I’m starting to sound like an unapologetic glutton. This time, it was Korean barbeque, just because.

And that was it for the weekend! More gatherings to come, in the vein of Chinese New Year. And I’m actually looking forward to them!

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Anyway, this is completely random, but I am SO tempted to get some hair chalk. Have you heard of it before? Apparently, it’s like hair dye, but very temporary – so temporary you can wash it off anytime you want –  so this is perfect for someone who gets bored of her looks easily. With hair chalk, I can finally get pink streaks in my hair … like this!

Look how sweet but punkish Rachel McAdams looks!
You can look completely sweet too, but not boring, like January Jones
Ah, Chloe. I swear, she can do no wrong.

Have I mentioned that Chloe Moretz is one of my style icons? Such a fashion risk-taker but always classy and age-appropriate.

Pink streaks and waves, a la Nina Dobrev? Heck yeah!

And the best part about hair chalks? I don’t have to commit to anything. Just wash with water and shampoo!

Ah, hair chalk. Please stop tempting me!

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So now it’s back to real life, even though Chinese New Year celebrations typically last for 15 days. Back to writing and rewriting and revising and polishing, because damn I am making this year the year my writing dreams come true.

Stephanie Perkins on how to make yourself write even when the going gets tough:

Free-write before you write-write. Eventually, you’ll get so tired of your own whining that you’ll actually go write something.

Ha! Ain’t that the truth. After a while, I realised all my complaining and head-banging (that is, against the desk, not to the music) isn’t leading me anywhere with my work-in-progress. So I decided to push through. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.

Or, you know, you can also blog.

Steph goes on:

I know from experience. I have tens of thousands of freewriting words telling myself how much both my novels and me suck. That negative energy has to come out somewhere, and freewriting is a safe place to say the things you’re most afraid of — and to wake your brain up in the process.

Free-writing. Hmm. Laini Taylor also advocates this practice. I mean, come on. She wrote an award-winning book of short stories based on these free-writes that obviously took her places. But then again, she’s Laini Taylor. She totally has the writing chops to produce award-winning (National Book Award, no less) books.

Writing a novel — a publishable novel — takes work. Real, actual, hard WORK.

This requires an attitude adjustment from, “Oh, what a fun little hobby” to “I will DO this. Even when it gets hard, even when I don’t like it anymore, even when I want to give up. I will keep working until I reach the end.”

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And finally, since it’s Monday, here are some mood-lifters to kick start your week!

Misha Collins and his son West cooking – too cute!

For the complete version (and a bag of laughs), watch this:

Westie, stop being so frigging adorable! I can’t take this! 

Plus, can I just say how incredibly patient Misha is? Guys are the sweetest when they’re good with kids. I like how he lets West make the decisions and doesn’t tell him what to do, just guides and facilitates whenever necessary. Giving your kids some level of autonomy can do wonders for their self-esteem when they grow older.

Check out the earlier episodes! They are just as funny and adorable! :0)

Pink owl cookies – too cute to eat!

You pretty, pretty boy.
Hallim Park in Jeju Island
Jeju-do, I WILL be back again. Soon
Santorini. Some day.
Because that’s the best way to get by

Have a great week, everyone!

Happy 2014!

HAPPY NEW YEAR! We’ve finally made the leap over to 2014, and I believe things are only going to get better from here :0)

How has 2014 been for you so far? They say the first day of the year sets a precedent on how you will spend the rest of the year. I don’t really believe that because I think it’s never too late too start over even if you fall off the wagon. But I do believe in starting the year right. So after my loooong looooovely swim, I spent an hour and a half editing Blood Promise in the morning, woke my dad up, fetched my grandmother to the temple, had brunch with my dad and went shopping for Chinese New Year decorations after that at Chinatown.

The decorations for Chinese New Year are pretty much all up. And my dad and I walked up and down the streets in the blustery weather to capture some shots.

These flying horses look so portentous against the steel-grey sky. I am just itching to write a story based on this photo. Something for Indigo Tides, maybe?
This one was right in the middle of the road junction.
Horses galloping down Chinatown under a shower of golden coins.
Guess we weren’t the only ones getting started on our Chinese New Year shopping
Melon seeds, anyone?
How cool are the Chinese-mask lanterns in this bakery!

And finally, my dad convinced my my hair didn’t suck (my hairstylist wrecked my bangs – I’m sorry, but he did), and he made me pose for this photo. It doesn’t look that bad here thanks to the wind.

Oh, and I was reading Laini’s old blog today and I learned she’s a new-start/Monday/New Year-lover like me! This is an excerpt from her old post back in 2009 (yes, that’s how far back I’ve read, because that’s how awesome she is to justify my trawling through her old posts):

I love a new year. I love a new week, even — Mondays feel like a time for beginnings, for making new commitments, you know? So, a new year is like the emperor of Mondays, the perfect time to spiff up one’s life and routines, make new routines, break some bad habits, start fresh. It is possible to form new habits — as proven by the fact that since painting the bedroom and getting new linens back in June, we have made the bed every day. Which, er, wasn’t the case before. Nothing like new bed linens to entice one to make the bed every day! So: what is the life equivalent of new bed linens? How to spiff up your life? Your writing habits?

So. New reading/writing habits (or ones I’d like to keep) for 2014:

1. Write something every day, be it a blog post, a short story, a scene, a chapter, or even a miserable paragraph.

2. Read something every day. In fact, read more than I do now. Back when we didn’t have Internet (I feel old saying that), reading was about the only form of entertainment I had so I read more. But now with the Internet, there are so many other things you can do other than read, and I feel like I’ve fallen back on my reading. My Goodreads to-read pile has 186 books, at last count!

But, you know:

3. Be constantly updated on publishing news. You have to learn all you can about the place you want to go, after all. Being in the know can only up your chances in the game.

4. Be more of a perfectionist in my writing. And less impatient to see results. I tend to hurry the writing/editing process because I’m to eager to see the end product and start querying agents. But you can’t really rush this. Because you only get one chance to impress an agent before he or she decides to toss your manuscript into the slush pile. It has to be PERFECT. Or at least somewhere close to it.

And some mood-lifters for the first workday of 2014,

*dies of cuteness*

(Speaking of cute babies, Laini Taylor’s daughter, Clementine, is impossibly adorable! I die every time I see a picture of her! She always seems so happy, like her parents. Arghh, so much happiness and cuteness – such a perfect family.)

And more cuteness (of a different sort):

Yes, I am completely shallow. What’s your point? ;0)

And something to ponder over for the day:

And with that,

Have the best year of your life yet!

on fresh slates and pretty horses

It feels like forever since I last spent a day with my dad. Ever since he got transferred over to Westgate Mall, we’ve been seeing less of each other, and most of our conversations take place over the phone or via Whatsapp.

But he finally had Sunday off, and we were determined to make good of the day! We’d originally intended to catch The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but because of a couple errands to run we decided to just chill and not rush to the theatre. There’ll be plenty of time to watch it.

Instead, we had a long, lazy brunch, after which we took yet another selfie in the same lift. Ha, call us creatures of habit.

Yes, it’s a horribly grainy photo, because I was trying to press the shutter before more brunch-goers could enter the lift and wonder what the hell these two vainpots are doing.

Later, we went shopping for 2014 calendars and stationery at Bras Basah’s Popular bookstore. Simple pleasures :0)

There’s something about shopping for calendars – it sort of symbolises the expectations we have for the coming year, like by getting something to organise ourselves for the coming year we can make it our best year yet.

And since 2014 is the Chinese year of the horse, my Chinese zodiac (plus, I just can’t get enough of horses – so powerful yet graceful, how can you NOT love them?), I’m having high hopes for 2014. I know, I know, I shouldn’t build up my expectations and wait for things to happen but go and make them happen instead blah blah blah, but sometimes you just want to believe that the next year will treat you good, that you’re in safe hands no matter what you do.

Then we cruised around Chinatown (another perk of spending the day with my dad, I finally got to drive again! How I’ve missed driving!), where the decorations for Chinese New Year were halfway up. I didn’t manage to take photos because I was driving, but it was all golden horses galloping down the entire stretch of Chinatown, cresting and dipping, while gold coins are strung across the street from lamppost to lamppost. The coins looked a little messy, but the horses were pretty.

Ooh, pretty horses! Now I need to look for images of those on Pinterest.

by Marcia Baldwin

horse art 2

Carousel horses! Something so magical about them, don’t you think? That may be why so many of my stories take place in an amusement part, and the important scenes take place at or around the carousel.

Anyway. I’m actually more excited for Chinese New Year than Christmas. Probably because Christmas means the year is coming to a close, while Chinese New Year, which marks the beginning of spring, is the start of All Things New.

I’m a sucker for new things. It’s why I love dawn, and – weirdly – Mondays, and the New Year, the writing the first chapter of a novel, more than dusk, Sunday evenings, and Christmas and writing The End. There’s just something about the start of a new day, a new week, a new year, that is so … invigorating. Like it’s brimming with so much potential, so much room for something wonderful  and serendipitous to happen.

If you ever do wake up at dawn, when first light is just beginning to pervade the sky, smell the air. Smell it. Then look up at the sky.

Don’t you feel happier already? Instant mood-lifter, and all you have to do is wake up early! (Okay, now I sound like one of those annoying morning larks.)

So yeah, Christmas what? I’m all about Chinese New Year. New beginnings, fresh slates! Always welcome.

Which do YOU prefer?

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An update on the “too many books, too little time” situation: I charged down to Kinokuniya last Friday on my lunch break and bought Fangirl and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.

Such adorable covers! How could I resist?! I’m getting excited thinking about reading them already. Whee!

 photo jeremyrennerexcited_zps85194e5c.gif

Yup, Jeremy Renner conveys it pretty well.

In fact, so infatuated with the pretty pastel-y covers was I that I did this:

Because we all need some colour in our lives.