Singapore’s Final Goodbye (and 10 Notable Articles about Lee Kuan Yew)

It’s been a week since Singapore learned that its founding father had passed away at the age of 91. This was my first experience with loss.

And while there were tears, outpouring of love and respect, and back-to-back documentaries of the man who built this nation, there were also many eloquent articles that surfaced all over the Web as Singaporeans begin to emerge from their shell of apathy to reexamine what it means to be Singaporean and reassess their view of their first Prime Minister.

Here are 10 notable articles that struck a chord with me:

1. Calvin Cheng’s defence of the Singaporean model of governance

2. Bertha Henson’s candid account of her encounters with Mr Lee

3. Lili Tan’s pensive musing on death and how it unites the living

4. Deborah Tan’s heartfelt letter to Mr Lee that made me cry

5. Steph Leong’s well-researched article on Mr Lee and his policies

6. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s interview with Today newspaper, in which he shared insights on the man we all thought we knew

7. Jaime Ee’s reflections on the surge of patriotic fervour that has arisen these past few days in the wake of Mr Lee’s passing

8. A taxi driver’s informal tribute to Mr Lee, as recounted by Tiffany Joyce Lim

9. Sahana Singh’s comparison of the Western ideal of personal freedom versus the Asian notion of community before self, and argues how much better off we are for sacrificing some personal freedom for the greater good.

10. A reflection on the past week of mourning that perfectly encapsulates all the reasons for our profound sorrow at Mr Lee’s passing.

And here were some of the ways we immortalised him,

At the Istana:

On the way to pay our last respects to him:

photo by Chen Zhirong

At community centres all over the country:

At the National Library:

And the ways the outside world honoured him,

In Time magazine:

In the words of foreign dignitaries,

And their physical presence:

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton
The Bhutan king
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Sultan of Brunei

And finally, this video that shows just how larger than life, yet human, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was (please get your tissues ready):

Yesterday, we sent Mr Lee off on his final journey.

Throngs of people gathered around the Parliament House and lined the funeral procession route to send Mr Lee off. Even the clouds hung low that day, and the downpour marked the climactic end to a great legacy. People wept for him, as did the skies.

I will never forget the day I waved my flag in the pouring rain and caught my first and only glimpse of Mr Lee, the day I broke down in public with my fellow Singaporeans as I whispered a word of thanks that I hoped he could hear.

At 4:35PM, we bowed our heads for a minute of silence, saying our final goodbye to the man who changed all our lives for the better.

Words can’t express how much gratitude, respect, and love I have for this man who was iron-willed enough to do what needed to be done to bring a tumultuous fledgling nation to its current state; who was never complacent and always sought ways to improve; who took no bullshit from detractors and opponents, but was always kind and protective of us, the citizens; who was so devoted to his country so much he made it his lifelong project and saw it through till his final days.

So we’ve lost him at last. Indomitable as he seemed, he was, after all, human, and no man – no matter how noble or gifted – can live forever. But perhaps we should also be thankful that we had lived in a time when a great, fearless leader by the name of Lee Kuan Yew was around to pave the way for us to venture another step forward.

Rest now, Mr Lee. We will continue writing the Singapore story for you. You will live forever in the hearts of your people, and be dearly missed.

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)

yes to no-angst Mondays!

Funny how jaded you get the more the year wears on. It’s May now and you realise you haven’t really done anything to take you a step closer to your goals. All you’ve got for your efforts is:

A) a pile of rejection letters (even worse, agents who don’t reply) for a story you miss writing and wish for people to read (the ache is real, people!),

B) no novel actually completed (I’m looking – glaring – at you, Neverland!),

C) a bunch of short stories you don’t know what to do with to get started on your Shiny New Novel, which you haven’t even started plotting

D) a completed novel you’re unravelling (i.e. rewriting). Hopefully, you’ll make it better. Hopefully, it’ll be good enough for the literary agent who requested for a revise-and-resubmit. Hopefully, this will be the one that will get you published again.

But that’s a big hope you’re holding out on. And you don’t know if all this time and effort you’re putting into this is going to be worth anything at all eventually, or you’re just wasting your time and you’re actually not good enough to get published and you probably never will and sob sob self-pity I’m a loser I should just quit.

That was the reason for last Monday’s post on writing quotes.

Okay, pity party over. Time for some happy!

I’m sorry, but once you get started on Harry Potter memes, there is no end to it.

Speaking of Harry Potter (no, I will never stop talking about it or loving it, so get with the programme or drop out), here’s a compilation of all the times Harry was the Queen of Sass.

 photo harrypotterfunny_zps83996ed4.gif

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One thing led to another (damn you, Buzzfeed!), and I came across this one on Supernatural (otherwise known as The Show That Broke My Heart), as told by someone who’s never watched it:

 photo deanwinchesterfunny_zpsd59d6703.gif

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Castiel is the only badass who gets away with calling someone an assbutt while holding a Molotov cocktail … okay, not quite.

Another Supernatural post caught my eye:

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Don’t you just love it when good-looking people behave like dorks?

Okay okay, I’m done. Back to writing!

Have a lovely week, everyone! :0)

Monday link salad!

A post full of random stuff today:

Funny fashion memes. Anna Wintour meets Mean Girls, anyone? Also:

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Strange things people found in walls. Money and shoes, I get (sort of), but fingernail clippings and hair?

 photo rachelbilsonew_zps9e79ec77.gif

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This old post from ex literary agent (now author), Nathan Bransford that offers a really useful tip for figuring out your novel: creating one-sentence, one-paragraph, and two-paragraph pitches.

A query is basically a two paragraph pitch with some query-related detail. But sometimes you’ll want to use a one sentence pitch (for a bio, if you’re into that whole brevity thing), or a one paragraph pitch (for briefly describing in real life conversation when you don’t want someone’s eyes to glaze over).

My feeling: get it all out of the way at once. Save yourself the headache and come up with a one sentence, one paragraph, and two paragraph pitch before you even start to query. Then: practice and memorize your pitches. You never know when you’re going to need them.

Speaking from experience, it really does help to have a pitch ready even before you plunge into the novel. You get a clearer sense of where your story is going, what the conflict is, and what the stakes are. You also get to pare down your character to his/her most basic trait, the one that defines her and her actions, and the one that you as a writer set out to change by the end of the story.

I should have done that for Neverland. (Actually, I should have done that for all my novels.) Maybe then I wouldn’t have gotten stuck.

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Also, I’ve started blogging for work.

One of the plus points of working for an online fashion retailer is that I get to fangirl over fashion trends and celebrity styles unabashedly in the name of work and write about them. Is this the marrying of two loves?

I’ve written quite a number of these articles so far, but the team is selective about what goes on the blog, and when. Here is one article I wrote about “must-have tops“.

Of course, they’re not really must-haves — people just write that to get you to read the article ;0)

 

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Blood Promise, otherwise known as The Manuscript That Will Not Yield, is in the midst of some radical changes right now. I intend to rip out the awful saggy middle and whip it into something that will put Victoria’s Secret models to shame …

Okay, that’s quite a mean feat. I mean, it’ll be really hard to top this:

Favourite VS angel ever, Doutzen Kroes.

 

But it’s okay. Because I HAVE A PLAN NOW. So let’s do this.

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In the meantime, I will heed this advice.

And this:

 

And keep happy with these:

from allthingsshabbyandbeautiful.tumblr.com

Peter Pan quote

 

Oh, stop. What are you trying to do to me?!

by Gelrev Ongbico

 

The view from the pier yesterday

 

Also, I’m really loving D&E’s new album. Aside from When You Cry, which I shared in an earlier post, this song, Teenage Queen, is another favourite. So catchy and upbeat!

 

And on that note, have a great week, everyone! :0)

Thursday evening ramblings

1. What happens when a writer interviews herself? Take a look. If the interview sounds completely neurotic to you, welcome to the mind of a brilliant writer like Joyce Carol Oates.

2.

Also known as:

Now that I no longer have exams to contend with in November, I’m more than ready for NaNoWriMo. This will be the first time I’m taking part in it, even though I’ve completed a novel in a month before (LAMBS FOR DINNER) just to see if I could do it. 
I originally planned to write INDIGO TIDES for NaNo, but it’s just not coming along. I don’t see the theme of the story, can’t figure out my characters, and basically don’t understand why I want to write this story other than create pretty prose. But a novel is so much more than just pointless purple prose (sorry, couldn’t resist sticking an alliteration in there). I can’t write a story without believing in it, or feeling strongly enough about it. It has to be a story I am consumed by, whether I’m awake or asleep, where scenes pop into my mind as I brush my teeth or getting dressed, and where characters converse in my head while I’m swimming laps in the pool or on my way to work, where I think about what they would say to the things I encounter every day.
Damon Salvatore (from THE VAMPIRE DIARIES) says it best: 
Yes, a love like that would be nice. But for now, a story like that would do. 
(On a sidenote, hurray for Season 5 of TVD! Something to look forward to every week again, along with SUPERNATURAL and THE ORIGINALS.)
And with a bit of luck, I woke up yesterday with a pretty much completed novel in my head and a ready-made title to go with it: NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND. Yes, it’s the Peter Pan-inspired one I’ve been going on about for months. I have my characters, I have their motivations, dreams, fears and voices figured out, I have the climax for the three main acts planned, and the opening scene is just waiting for me to pound it out. Cause for the happy writer dance? I think so.

In case you need a reminder of the face that triggered my Peter Pan obsession, here it is:
 
(I admit, I might just be looking for a reason to post his pretty face here.)
3. YA writers, here’s an update on the new trends in the YA market.
I’m glad contemporary YA is making a comeback. It’s been a while since books like Sarah Dessen’s have taken up a good part of the shelves, and I’ve been searching for a simple coming of age story in which the protagonist goes through a significant transformation and growth that is gratifying to the reader, preferably with a generous dash of romance. Contemporary YA has always been and will always be my first love. I remember the book that started it all: KEEPING THE MOON by Sarah Dessen. It was the first Dessen book I read and I’ve been a fan of her ever since. Shortly after came Deb Caletti and her book, WILD ROSES, which inspired my first standalone novel that I completed in 2008 (after working on it since 2005), WHEN THE LILIES TURN ORANGE. There are certain books that change your life and influence you and your writing, and these two happen to be of the contemporary YA genre. Which is why this genre will always be my true love, despite how much fun I’m having with urban fantasy now.
But even though I agree that we need more contemporary YA now, I find it a bit of a stretch to say that the time of YA fantasy is coming to an end. While it’s true that the YA market is saturated with paranormal fiction of all things fanged, furry and/or winged, and that it’s understandable for literary agents to get weary of such stories and crave something simple and authentic and grounded in reality, something that can resonate with them and the readers, I believe that a well-crafted story, regardless of its genre, will always have a place on the bookshelf. 
Perhaps the disillusionment with the fantasy genre stems from the done-to-death formulae: forbidden love between angel and human, pact between wolf packs, average human girl is introduced to the mysterious dangerous world of handsome paranormal boy. But writers like Maggie Stiefvater have broken from the norm and created versions of this genre with their personal stamp on them. And writers like Laini Taylor have gone beyond the regular run-of-the-mill fantasy story and brought the genre to whole new levels of awesomeness, with mind-boggling plots and perfect prose and pacing and complete character arcs.
Really, all we need is just a good mix of contemporary and fantasy. Personally, when I get tired of writing contemporary, I dabble with some urban fantasy. And when I feel like I can’t take reading or writing another paranormal story, I go back to contemporary.
Maybe it’s all about shaking things up and attempting the things that you’ve never tried before and that scares you. I think I’m terrible at writing from third-person POV, which is why it’s the challenge I’m going to take on for INDIGO TIDES. For now, though, INDIGO is not the story I’m ready to tell. So I’m just sticking to my first love, what I know and love best, contemporary YA romance told from alternating first-person POVs.
Whatever genre we write in, as Joyce Carol Oates put it, “We write to create the books that we would like to read, that haven’t yet been written.” Fantasy or contemporary, we write whatever is true to us, whatever moves us; we write the story that we believe in. A friend of mine asked me a couple of days ago where I find the patience to complete a novel and all I could say in response was, “If there’s a story you strongly believe in that you want to share, you WILL find the patience for it no matter how much it torments you.”
And maybe we all have a story like that in us. And we might just discover that this NaNoWriMo. Happy writing!

mondays don’t have to suck

Because it’s Monday,

1. For those of you plotting your story out there, here’s a tremendously helpful list you can use to bring that Shiny New Idea floating around in your head to paper. I know I’ll be using it for INDIGO TIDES.

Yes, INDIGO TIDES is the name of my new novel. Nothing more can be revealed because nothing else makes sense anyway – yet. I’m hoping that will change once I get to the end of that list.
2. In the similar vein, here’s another guide on how not to get lost in your story and finding your way from start to finish. Some suggestions like a) plotting your novel chapter by chapter, b) writing a script beforehand and c) delineating character arcs are pretty useful – at least for me. I’ve tried them before, and they make it so much easier to crank out the words. 
a) For LAMBS, I plotted about two to three chapters for the next day, and wrote an average of 3,000 words each day. It’s how I managed to complete the first draft in a month. 
b) UNTIL MORNING was originally a script (as those of you in EN3271 Advanced Playwriting might remember) before I ran with it and turned it into a novel. The first few scenes took less than a couple of days to write because I already had a little more than the skeleton of each scene ready. 
c) Just a simple line of how you expect the character(s) to change over the course of the story can help provide more focus on where you want to take them. Worked for me for 15 MINUTES, which I finally finished after letting it languish for months and months and months because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my characters.
So give those tips a try and you might just make sense of that Shiny New Idea after all.
3. If you’re a grammar Nazi, you’ll probably want to figuratively make babies with this website, if you haven’t already. I stumbled across it when I wanted to find out what the deal was between addictive and addicting. The latter has never sat well with me, because it sounds about as grammatically credible as “would of” instead of “would have”, probably because the only times I’ve ever seen people use it is when they comment on how “addicting” [insert addiction such as Kpop or a drama series or a figurehead for a beloved book character like Jace Wayland] is. 

Not, of course, that I’m a grammar Nazi.

4. And in case you start thinking I’m only about writing and books and blah blah she has no life blah, here’s something other than writing and books.

In the words of Sarah Dessen, “Don’t think or judge, just listen.”

And this:

And:

I’m not one of those crazy fangirls, but I have to say Big Bang produces some really sick (original) songs. These instrumentals keep me awake during the workday, and are great for working out to!

Have a great week, everyone!

(And just so you know, I’m not usually this organised. I usually just dump all my words into one indiscernible paragraph and attempt to slice it into something more structured after that, but for the sake of those reading it I’ve decided to be less annoyingly trend-of-thought-y.)

Update on books (what else?)

How is it that I only just discovered this amazing website?

It’s got blog posts on writing advice from YA authors like Lish McBride (HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER, which was a really fun supernatural romp) and Laurie Faria Stolarz (BLUE IS FOR NIGHTMARE), advice on setting and POV and creating conflict in your story, and how to differentiate a YA novel from an adult novel. I especially love this one by McBride, in which she writes for young adults. It’s true. People often dismiss YA fiction, thinking they’re easier to write than adult fiction. Well literary snobs, news flash: a story is a story. Crafting one is difficult, no matter what genre they’re in or what demographic they’re targeted at. McBride also shares her thoughts on her own writing process, and Stolarz gives some pretty sound advice for writers.

And I just realised I haven’t spoken about this book, GRAFFITI MOON by Cath Crowley, yet! I read it a couple of months back, and fell completely in love with it.

Here’s the excerpt and blurb from goodreads:

“Let me make it in time. Let me meet Shadow. The guy who paints in the dark. Paints birds trapped on brick walls and people lost in ghost forests. Paints guys with grass growing from their hearts and girls with buzzing lawn mowers.”

It’s the end of Year 12. Lucy’s looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist everyone talks about.

His work is all over the city, but he is nowhere.

Ed, the last guy she wants to see at the moment, says he knows where to find him. He takes Lucy on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s thoughts about heartbreak and escape echo around the city walls.

But the one thing Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.

The prose is lyrical and funny and poignant, full of heart and wit, while the characters are flawed and bumbling and real and uncertain but hopeful. Gotta love some teen angst in a YA novel. Crowley’s characters, Lucy and Ed/Shadow, convey a certain sense of whimsy without coming across as pretentious or annoying. They are funny, witty and like all young adults, they dream. They are fearful and excited about their future, and in that one night after their Year 12 exams they find a piece of the future in each other.

It’s the kind of book I wish I had written.

And yet another book I wish I can write: DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor.

I’ve talked (more like gushed and raved) about this book before here, but now that the sequel to DAUGHTER is out, called DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT, I decided to reread DAUGHTER because that’s the whole problem with writing an amazing series. It takes a long time to perfect the book and get it published and by the time it’s released readers would’ve forgotten what happened in the previous book.

I’d like to say I’ll write something as amazing as this one day, but that day seems pretty far away for now, because Taylor’s writing is UP THERE. In terms of plot (tightly woven), pacing (riveting), characters (a main character who is not too cloying or or clueless or damsel-in-distress-y, but not too unbelievably tough and brave either) and prose (OH GOSH THE PROSE! I can go nuts just talking about it).

And it looks like I’m not the only one who thinks the world of this book from the National Book Award finalist. Joe Roth, the producer of ALICE IN WONDERLAND from Universal Studios, will be making the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE movie. I’m always hesitant about movie adaptation of books, because once a book hits the silver screen somehow it feels like it’s being shared with the rest of the world and doesn’t belong to you alone now. I know it sounds dumb, but I like discovering a wonderful book and living in my version of the world the book’s created, without a bunch of fanatics who snatch the book off the shelves after they’ve watched the movie and gotten into the hype. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that DAUGHTER and SHIVER (by the multitalented New York Times bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater, whose book is going to be made into a movie though the details are still in the works) will not rob me of the memories associated with discovering and living in the worlds those stories have created.

I’ve also gotten my hands on THE CURIOSITIES, an anthology of short stories by the Merry Sisters of Fate, a writing critique group that comprises of Maggie Stiefvater, Brenna Yovanoff (THE REPLACEMENT) and Tessa Gratton (BLOOD MAGIC). They used to each write a short story every week on their website, which is now defunct. It’s so nice to have a tight circle of friends who love to write as much as you do, who put up with your writing quirks and rip your stories to shreds and cheer you on when you’re in a writing funk, whom you can learn from and hone your craft together with.

So if anyone is willing to be in a committed writing relationship, drop a comment here or email me at jcxw2590@yahoo.com.sg. I am not kidding. I want my own Merry Fates circle! After taking those playwriting classes in university, I’ve come to realise how fun and helpful it is to be part of a group of creative, talented (and angsty – sorry, guys, but we were kinda angsty!) writers. Sadly, though, it’s hard to find people who can spare the time to devote to their writing, unless we’re all full-time writers. Otherwise, you know, life just gets in the way.