state of mind for 2015

So here it is. We’ve made it over to the other side. 2015. How should it be any different from 2014? 2014 was a mess of a year, rife with natural and man-made disasters, and social turbulence, tragic accidents … Ugh, good riddance to 2014.

This time, I don’t want to pin too much hope on 2015. Because that’s what I did last year. Built up all that expectation and anticipation – I want to write two novels this year, enter this competition and that, write a short story and a blog post every week, post it up on forums, make more writer friends, take up a new hobby! THIS is the year I land a literary agent and get published and start leading a more fulfilling life! – only to meet roadblock after roadblock for No Room in Neverland, and receive rejection letter after rejection letter.

I’m not saying I’m going to be completely pessimistic and dour this year, in case you’re thinking I’m starting this year as a grumpy puss. No, I’m just tempering my expectations, taking whatever comes along for what they are. I’m not going to get ahead of myself, just do what needs to be done – rewrite that novel for the fourth time? Bring it. Edit and polish old manuscripts and look for new platforms to gather feedback. Read more books, read outside of what I typically read, watch more movies and drama series, find more new music, to collect fresh, new ideas. Just the gritty work that are a lot less pretty than those daydreams of being published. As happy as I am for authors who achieve mega success because heck yeah they deserve it, I’m done with sighing wistfully over their writing and wishing I could have what they have.

These novels, all this effort into editing and rewriting and pitching to agents, may amount to nothing. And it’s easy to get caught up in the whole quest of getting published. But really, what I really need is to write a book that doesn’t suck, that people would want to read.

As Chuck Wendig said,

Writing a book and putting it out in the world is an act of ego — not egomania, but the willingness and decision to create a story out of nothing and push it forward into the world is a bold, brash, unflinching act. You say: this story matters, and it matters that I wrote it. It is a demonstration of your belief in the story and the belief you possess in yourself as a writer, storyteller, and a creator. It takes a rather epic set of genitals to write something that’s 300 pages long and then say to someone: “You’re going to sit down and you’re going to read this and you are going to love it the way I love it. You are going to take hours, even days out of your life to read the little ants dancing across the page, ants that make words, words that make this one big story full of people.

That said, I’ve been considering other options outside of traditional publishing. Chuck Wendig, as well as many authors and publishing experts have been touting hybrid publishing and embracing crowd sourced novels for a while. Forbes also laid out the pros and cons of hybrid publishing. Some even go so far as to call hybrid publishing the future of publishing. I’m still reading up as much as I can about it so I can decide whether to take this route. If anyone has any thoughts on this matter, I’d love to hear them!

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s hoping for a less turbulent, more forgiving 2015.

Murakami wisdom, Tinder shenanigans and book talk

1. How girls talk:

That conversation came about after my girlfriends and I piddled around the Tinder app and were trying to figure out what a guy might mean when he doesn’t respond to an emoticon. And people say GIRLS are hard to figure out.

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Our responses to the faces we see on Tinder range from this:

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To this:

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(All the dudes baring their pot bellies or flexing their gargantuan muscles in minimal clothing, you know who you are!)

Occasionally, we’re like this:

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(There ARE some cute, non-creepy ones on the app, after all! Faith in humanity restored.)

But more often it’s this:

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(Why would you put a shot of yourself sitting on the edge of your bed in your boxers eating half a watermelon as your profile picture???)

By the way, can I just say that Tinder still has a lot of room for improvement? Not only are we unable to scroll back to the person we might have accidentally rejected, we are unable to go back and view the profile of someone we have approved until he approves back. Apparently not a fan of hindsight, this Tinder.

For now, though, while my friends have run out of guys to pick from, I’m still highly entertained by the different types of profile pictures (supposedly) single guys choose of themselves.

And because I think I’m permanently scarred by the sight of this one guy in a pair of green floral shorts hugging a huge block of cheese (another head-scratcher), THIS is very much welcome:

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Ah. Much better now.

2. Anyway, speaking of wisdom, here are some snippets of wisdom – so profound, but never self-righteous or self-important – from “the Yoda of Japanese literature”, author Haruki Murakami:

“Life’s no piece of cake, mind you, but the recipe’s [your] own to fool with.” ~ Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985)

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” ~ Norwegian Wood (1987)

“For ‘a while’ is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.” ~ South of the Border, West of the Sun (1992)

“Even castles in the sky can do with a fresh coat of paint.” ~ South of the Border, West of the Sun (1992)

“A person’s destiny is something you look back at afterwards, not something to be known in advance.” ~ The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997)

“Understanding is but the sum of misunderstandings.” ~ Sputnik Sweetheart (2001)

“In this world, there are things you can only do alone, and things you can only do with somebody else. It’s important to combine the two in just the right amount.” ~ After Dark (2004)

I read After Dark a few years ago, in my freshman year at university, and I remember being taken by sparse, beautiful and heart-breaking prose.

Murakami’s characters are always diverse and complex, even when the things they say and the conversations they have seem surface. Plus, there’s something tragically lonely about the characters and their voices, and uplifting about the way they found each other – which, I realise, can be applied to Norwegian Wood too. But while Norwegian Wood got a little draggy for me, I didn’t want After Dark to end.

Go read all 30 of them!

3. Romance writer Jennifer Crusie on how to create conflict in romance novels:

Conflict in general is pretty simple … The pursuit of these goals brings your protagonist and antagonist into direct conflict because neither can achieve his or her goal without blocking and thus defeating the other.

The romance plot has a protagonist and an antagonist (or vice versa) who are drawn together and who, during the course of their story, move through the physical and emotional stages of falling in love … Over the course of the story, they change as people so they can connect, learning to compromise and forming a bond at the end that will keep them together forever.

The hard part [is] taking the romance plot and giving it conflict. A good conflict has the protagonist destroying the antagonist completely (or vice versa). A good romance plot ends in compromise with both protagonist and antagonist safe, happy, and bonded. Trying to navigate the space in between causes most of the problems in romance writing.

Romance novels aren’t just the usual, fluffy boy-meets-girl, done-to-death stories that everyone thinks are so easy to churn out. (Well, there are some stories that go like that, but we try not to emulate them.)

Romance novels are, in essence, highly character-driven, and that’s what makes them so tricky to write. What makes this character different from another? Why choose to write his or her story? How do they grow as a result of each other? What do I want them to become at the end of the story?

My characters usually end up sitting around talking, so I try to toss in some action that is totally lame and pointless, and it all ends up looking contrived and my characters get really confused and annoyed with me.

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Still, it’s just the first draft, Joyce. Just the first draft. You can rewrite and edit the shit out of it later.

4. And from a literary agent’s perspective, Carly Watters believes writers should compete with themselves and not with other writers:

It doesn’t make it easy when you know how many other writers there are out there trying to get published, too. But that information has to light a fire under you and make you want to revise and want to write the best book you can. Competition is about writing better than you did the day before, and the book before this. You are your own competition. Make that your mission.

Also, she offers candid insight on what publishing requires from a writer:

Publishing is where creative writing meets Hollywood: Does it have a hook? Can you sell it in a sentence? Are the characters memorable? Is their journey compelling? Does it start when we meet the characters at an interesting point in their lives? Getting published requires some stripping down of overwriting and self indulgence. Getting published is about making your writing accessible to mass readers.

For more advice, go here!

5. Due to the slew of less-than-glowing book reviews that have popped up, particularly on sites like Goodreads, some folks are starting to question: Do we really need negative book reviews?

Of course, the first reaction would be to say no, that it’s unnecessary and let’s just all talk about books we love and enjoy instead of directing attention to the “bad” ones.

But without criticism, how are we writers going to learn what works or what doesn’t? I’d much rather be told candidly why my book is mediocre than be assured that it is deserving of critical acclaim if it isn’t true, even if the criticism may be harder to stomach.

Of course, if the negative review is mean for the sake of being mean and getting some laughs at the expense of the author, then please fold some origami and shove it up your pie-hole because the world doesn’t need more bullies.

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6. I don’t want this post to end on that note, so here’s some happy:

The Infinite Gallery : Cornwall, England

Okay, okay. Off to do just that now! Happy mid-week, everyone! :0)

nostalgic over kid lit

Came across this piece of publishing news today: “…nostalgia is one of the main driving forces behind the rising juvenile fiction sales in Poland.”

Awww. Is it because it’s Christmas season that everyone’s getting all sentimental? Whatever the reason, it’s sweet that people are going back to their literary first loves. There’s just something about children’s fiction that is so comforting, like you know you’re in safe hands, even though you may be swept away to foreign lands and meet terrifying villains and mean children.

What books did you read when you were young? And by young I mean below 13 or before secondary/high school. For me, these books kept me well-entertained in the pre-Internet age:

1. The Doomspell trilogy, by Cliff McNish

I remember how the Doomspell trilogy kept me glued to the pages when I first read it when I was 12. I finished the first book in a day, curled up in the couch and completely entranced. This was the first fantasy series that had ever rendered me useless in the face of a compelling story. Others came along, but you never forget the first one.

2. Double Act, by Jacqueline Wilson

It’s about this pair of twins who are polar opposites of each other in personality, and how they deal with the changes in their family and their lives, drift apart and find each other at the end of it all. It was the first Jacqueline Wilson book I’d ever read and also my favourite, although her others. I remember this awful story I wrote when I was 13, which mimicked Wilson’s writing style, back when I was still trying out different voices and find my own. I threw it out along with my diaries I’d kept since I was 11, as well as the very first “novel” I wrote for a contest. Still, it was fun experimenting with different writing styles.

3. Island of the Aunts, by Eva Ibbotson

Oh, Eva Ibbotson. She’s this wicked lovely blend of Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling. Her stories are thrilling without being too sinister, with characters innocent but not naive, and her writing style is the sort that makes me nostalgic for kid lit. I can’t describe it. You know how you read a children’s book and sort of smile to yourself because the voice of the narrator is so friendly and engaging without being too mollycoddle-y? It treats the young reader as sensible and smart, but doesn’t wreck his or her innocence. Island of the Aunts was the first book of hers I’d read, and remains my absolute favourite.

4. Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren

She’s the first strong, smart and feisty heroine I’d come across in a book. Being raised on a steady diet of Disney films (I re-watched Sleeping Beauty almost everyday – hey, we didn’t have Internet back then), Pippi Longstocking was a culture shock. She didn’t hang around waiting for her prince to come, or loiter in forests singing with woodland animals, or ogle at cute boys on ships. Okay, so Belle from Beauty and the Beast wasn’t so bad, but she was locked up too many times for my liking, first by the beast and then by Gaston. But Pippi was in a league of her own. I wanted to be her sidekick and get strung along on her adventures (because I was too chicken to go on adventures on my own, like her).

5. (More) Tales from Fairyland, by Enid Blyton

Personally, I think no kid lit list is complete without good old Enid Blyton. It is mind-boggling that kids these days don’t know of her. Hello? She’s a kid lit classic! There may be people who think her stories are too morally-righteous and repetitive, but she was the first author I remember reading (just before I entered primary school, if memory serves me well). My dad recommended her to me and bought me The Lost Beads, which was the first of her books I’d ever read. And her stories are so charming and delightful.

6. A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I think I read it when I was 9? I identified with the main character because she was really close to her dad, and the story is about the days after her dad’s untimely death and her chronicles in the boarding school she was subsequently sent to.

7. The Witches, by Roald Dahl

Yup. I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t like Roald Dahl. (Don’t you just hate it, by the way, when pushy mothers squawk, “Read Ronald Dahl! Read Ronald Dahl!” at their kids in bookstores? Like, back off, woman, and get the pronunciation right.) I LOVE The Witches. It was just the right blend of sinister and exciting and sweetness. The BFG is a close second, along with Matilda. But The Witches hit all the right notes with its creepiness. My favourite chapter was the one around the beginning, where the narrator’s grandmother taught him how to distinguish a witch from normal women. Delicious writing.

8. And of course, Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling

Of course. I picked Order of the Phoenix because it’s my favourite of all the seven. Mostly because it’s the longest and I got to hang out with the characters more and linger in the wizarding world longer, and also because there is action and emotion and character quirks and interaction building up to the climax that made the scene at the Ministry of Magic all the more heart-wrenching. Plus, the Weasley twins giving their best fuck-you to Umbridge. Nothing can top that. (In my head, Fred is still alive and having the time of his life managing Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes with George.)

I could go on and on with this list, but I think children’s books that sprouted even after I’m “too old” for them are also worth a mention. I completely do not buy into the whole “too old for children’s book” spiel literary snobs like to give. Kid lit is definitely not inferior to adult lit – it requires just as much effort and skill to craft a story that will entice young readers and keep them glued until the very last page. To think that adult lit is a more worthwhile form of literature than kid lit – or in fact, any form of literature is superior to others – is to undermine readers of the latter.

And really, where does anyone get off deciding what is the right thing to read at a certain age? With so many distractions nowadays, we should be glad children are still reading at all. It’s so common to see kids glued to their smart phones and gadgets these days that to find one kid who reads* while he is walking makes me ridiculously happy. So happy I almost asked to take a photo with him.**

*(He was reading Bridge to Terabithia, if you’re curious. Yes, I peeked.)

**(I didn’t, eventually, mostly because I was afraid it might deter the kid from reading in public ever again.)

Anyway, my point is, you are never too old for kid lit, just like:

There are so many lovely children’s books these days that I wish I were a kid again and discovering them the way I had discovered the above books.

Here are some recommendations, along with one from my To-Read pile (which, at last count, has hit the ceiling at 156 books):

1. The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart

Who it’s for: the kid who loves solving puzzles and fantasizes about going on adventures. It’s a little on the long side, but it’s like Order of the Phoenix, such a fun read you’d rather it kept going on.

2. Wildwood, by Colin Meloy

I read this one a while back, but I think it’s about this pair of children who venture into Wildwood, another world of its own – nay, a kingdom – ruled by animals, because the girl’s baby brother was abducted or something. Fun read, reminiscent of The Mysterious Benedict Society. Only with animals that talk.

3. Drift House, by Dale Peck

Read it, loved it, and later found it in the National Library book sale, yay!

4. From my To-Read pile, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, by Maryrose Wood

Children’s books sure have prettier cover designs these days. Not that those in the past were awful, but I mean look at the cover illustrations! So cute. Can’t wait to read this!

So what books did you read when you were young, and what children’s books are you still reading now?