Friday, 11 November 2011

The date 11.11.11 and 1

Decided to celebrate the day 11.11.11 my way by publishing my short story 'Last Stroke of the Brush' for FREE this time. Has been saving this story for such an occasion. It has all the things that I personally look for when I read fiction. Foremost, entertainment. Next, current social issues. Oh, maybe not so current will suffice too. Remember Charles Dickens? Then food for thought. That's why I'm a sucker for Clint Eastwood's movies. They entertain and have substance for one to mull over. That's how I want to be remembered for my stories.....Yeah, her stories got substance.

This story primarily deals with the issue of street urchins, a universal problem. Here in Malaysia, people may argue that street urchins are not such a big social problem. I beg to differ. In certain towns, they are a problem. Kindly refer to the following newspaper article Many illegal immigrants from the islands of  neighbouring countries slip into Malaysia to try and find a better way of life. When cornered by the authorities they skip back into their own countries, sometimes leaving behind their offspring to fend for themselves. If you think that in my story the girl Su being raped at knife point and having a baby on her own is kind of far fetched, well, not too long ago, there was a newspaper article about a baby being thrown into a river when a female illegal immigrant was pursued by police just to avoid detention. If not nipped in the bud, this social problem will only bloom into something sinister that can threaten the security of our country.

Many thanks to my hubby T.Y. Wee for designing the cover (pic above) of my ebook. Oh yeah, that's my hand in the picture. My daughter Mel wasn't around when we two got into the mood of doing the cover. Not so smooth and definitely not so elegant but my hand would have to do. As the Hokkien saying goes, "No fish, prawns will do". I really have a hard time choosing which of the two final covers to feature this time. The other is depicted below. It's such a shame to chuck it away so I'm posting it below.
Hope you enjoy reading the story. Oh, food for thought for this story? That's for my next blog post. Coming SOON....I promise.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The 'Last stroke of the brush' and I

How many times have I sighed and thought 'Another one bites the dust' when  great achievers sullied their own names and achievements with their actions. Think Bill Clinton, Princess Diana, Tiger Woods, Arnold Schwarzenegger and with the publication of his autobiography, Steve Jobs. He was undeniably a genius in his chosen field but as a man, well, eh....
As I look back over the ages, the casualty list is very long indeed.  Albert Einstein (pix above) came up with the equation of all times E = mc2 but was instrumental in urging President Roosevelt in building the first atomic bomb which was subsequently dropped on Hiroshima. One can just imagine the self loathing he had to live with until the end of his days knowing that he was responsible for the destruction that followed. Oh, one might argue that he was just one cog in a big wheel but remember, it all started with his equation. No equation, no atomic bomb, period! With the proliferation of nuclear weapons, time will tell whether Einstein will be responsible for the end of mankind on earth. 
Deng Xiaoping was lauded for his efforts in bringing about economic reforms and liberalization in China  but his name will always be synonymous with the Tienanmen massacre on June 4 1989.
The world mourned the death of Princess Diana (pix above) when she died tragically in a car accident on 31 August 1997. She captured the imagination and adulation of the multitudes with her beauty, charitable works and fame but one cannot deny that her personal life and loves were less than savory at the best of times.
At home here in Malaysia, Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak is highly regarded as a royal and a legal practitioner. In 1965, at the age of thirty seven, he became the youngest judge to be appointed in the Commonwealth. However, he was heavily criticised for his involvement in the toppling of the Pakatan Rakyat state government in Perak in 2009. 

What I am trying to say is that it takes just one heinous act to obliterate all the good that one has done in one's life. My short story 'Last stroke of the brush' is centred around this theme. Note how the main character Roxana was torn between the temptation to save herself or to save the street urchin called Jam just before the fire took her life. I sometimes feel that life is one minefield  and if one miscalculates and takes one wrong step, one's life is going to blow up in smithereens. In the story, Roxana has the luxury of ending her life, albeit unintentionally. For most of us, once blown up, we find that we can never get the pieces of our lives back together again. Needless to say, one needs a set of values to live by and I think the most important one is respect for life, be it human or otherwise. The attitude that 'Oh, it's only a cat.' or 'It's only a tree' should be discarded for they are forms of life that bring joy when treated right and trouble should they be abused. All human beings should be respected, not lusted after or used to further one's cause. Education, be it at home or otherwise, plays a major role in inculcating this value and I take this opportunity to salute those parents, guardians and educators who have done so. Sigh, only time will tell whether I have done my bit in carrying out this most important role as a parent.

So Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey....the world is watching how you handle every stroke of your brush. As for us ordinary mortals, we have our own little audience as we paint and may God guide us all as we fill up our own canvases.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Those stately homes and I

You will see them wherever you go in this world be it in India, USA, UK, Russia or Malaysia. You can't help noticing them for they are imposing structures. They were, and still are,  men's way of announcing to the world at large,'I have made it!' These are the stately homes belonging to the rich and the maybe not so famous. We stare and gawk at them, 'ooh' and 'aah' should their owners allow us to enter them but generally I think we all baulk at the idea of managing these huge structures. In Margaret Mitchell's epic novel "Gone with the Wind" we learn how Ellen managed Tara, the sprawling majestic home she took over when she married her husband.

In Kuching, we have our fair share of such structures. I am particularly taken with those with some history behind them like the one above. Unfortunately these buildings especially the wooden ones do not last long. Many were taken down to make way for more modern ones, a few are dilapidated and a number have been converted into enterprises like the ones below.

Since young, I listened to the tales and intrigues that invariably come about when large families totaling 20 to 30 members try to stay together under one roof. Sometimes as many as five generations attempted to do that. The Chinese especially loved big families and considered it a badge of prosperity to be able to produce one. Needless to say it takes an imposing character, usually the patriarch or matriarch to keep the whole brood together. Either by nature or design, these characters had one trait in common - they were able to hold their families together through sheer strength of personality. They might look ancient, small in stature or gentle in manner but these alpha beings would not counter any resistance to their commands. Just take a look at the line-up in the first picture and I think you can easily pick out such a character.

As time goes by, living together under one roof becomes more of a hassle than a convenience. This is especially so when women folk start receiving proper education and working outside the family circle. Hence many of these big families break up to stay on their own. My story 'For Want of Better Things to come' deals with the the dying throes of one such family.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

My first short story and I

Just released my first short story entitled 'For Want of Better Things to come' on Smashwords this morning. It was a breeze! Thank God. I had the jitters because this is the first time I did my own formatting and despite going through the Smashwords Style Guide countless times and following its instructions religiously as recommended by all the other authors who used it, I confess I still had butterflies in my tummy when I pressed the 'Publish' button. Oh, and I was quite sure those butterflies were going round and round inside my tummy as I held my breath and watched the circular thingy rotating on my computer screen as my manuscript was converted into the different formats. that it's done with, I can grin impishly and say, 'Well, as they say, it was quite easy.' Believe me, it is easy. I just thought it was hard and as we all know, when we think something is difficult, it will automatically be DIFFICULT.

For a few hours one Sunday evening, my hubby and I converted our living room into a makeshift studio (pix above) in order to take photos for the book cover. Jewellery both fake and real, was taken out for use. Earlier on, I had approached my Mum to borrow one of her heirloom pieces to make the cover more realistic. She dug the one I wanted out of hiding (Even I do not know where she hid it) and handed it over to me with some misgivings. I swore on my Girl Guide's honour that I would guard it with my life and return it pronto.

Many thanks to my hubby for taking time out to design the book cover for this story. He relished the task so much that there were many versions of it. I really had to put my foot down when he came up with one with my name encrusted with diamonds.(pix below) It made my book too much of a chick flick, I complained.

The hands on the cover are my daughter's. Thanks, Melissa, for your patience in putting up with your exacting parents. Hubby took heaps of pictures before I finally decided on the one I like.

This short story is greatly influenced by  renowned author Roald Dahl. A few years ago I read a collection of his short stories and was impressed enough to try my hand at emulating his style. In this story, the reader will have to decide what happens exactly at the end. Hence I decided to conduct a contest at the end of the story. The participants will have to figure out who the woman in the epilogue was and why she behaved as she did. I'm putting up USD5.00 as prize money. The result is to be announced on Chinese New Year day next year on this blog and my facebook account.

This short story was initially scheduled for release around 9 October but as I mulled over the idea of holding a contest based on it, I thought it wiser to ask Smashwords whether it is permissible to do so. An email from Smashwords came on 14 October stating the idea was fine as long as I kept the contest out of the descriptive metadata. So I went ahead with it on 15 October. 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Smashwords, a blue mug and I

is where you can publish your book for FREE.  And you get to sell your book too, although of course Smashwords would want a piece of the pie once it's baked. Go on, try it. It's fun.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

My first novella and I

Still can't quite believe I did it! Published my first novel? Ouch! That's me pinching myself. Since the day I penned my first story, almost four decades back, I have wanted to see my name as an author stretching across a book cover. At the rate things were developing, I thought my prayers might be answered in a different way. For example, having my name on a book cover like 'MURDER in CLASS' - a novel about SiewJin Christina Jee, a teacher who single-handedly took the lives of fifty students in her Maths class. Man, I did fantasize about that (not the book cover, the actual deed itself), when my contribution to mankind seemed to be turning a class of fifty teenagers into cave men and women. Don't get me wrong, I like teenagers. I just do not enjoy trying to get them to achieve anything.

Back to the origins of this novella. Right after getting over the euphoria of going into retirement which involved lying in bed a whole day, finishing a thick novel at one go, buying my pet parrot Buddy...I think this euphoria thing requires another post, I sat down to write. The problem was ....write about what? I mean I have plans to write a historical novel on the Brooke era, a peranakan piece centring  on a female Heathcliff -like character and so forth but these would take a lot of time and research. I needed to do something easier to complete, more contemporary and wildly imaginative just to prove to myself that I have it in me.

So there I was, at the kitchen table, one early dawn, casting around for ideas when everything started coming together. The rats could be heard squeaking down in the pipes below the kitchen sink, climbing the gutter leading up to the roof and gambolling in the plaster ceiling above my living room. Irritation at their intrusion into my Zen corner turned into speculation about their livelihood and slowly but surely there evolved this tale about mice and men. The character Motley/Temper came about after listening to one particularly loud squeak from a distressed rat residing in my kitchen pipes. The character Ju was an ode in prose to the teenage boys I had taught before especially the ones who were not that bright. I never had a chance to tell them that though I frowned and chastised them for looking out of the windows at the activities on the basketball court, for having fights behind the sports equipment store....I totally understand their need to do so. Some of their unsavoury activities are featured in this book and I'm sure my students from SMK Green Road will smile when they read certain passages and reminisce their school days there. As for Ju being cancer-stricken, my own relatives, colleagues and friends were getting it on a regular basis then. Needless to say, I was affected, well enough to 'infect' my main character with it.

I think I started on the book sometime in May 2008 and finished it just before the Chinese New Year in 2009. In long hand, mind you, much to the anguish of my family members. To my chagrin, they wrung their hands, hit their foreheads, 'tsk,tsk'ed like mating lizards and jigged around me like aborigines praying for rain.  Much was said about my computer skills. "Technologically disadvantaged" was one of more polite phrases used. The rest were downright unflattering and designed to drive me towards the computer. If I dwell too much on the words used, I think I'll regress. Oh did I tell you, they succeeded in their quest. I'm better, much much better at it now.

As every author will attest, writing turns out to be the fun part of producing a book. I would wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and start work. Around 6 or 7, distractions like phone calls and daily chores take over. I did not plan much, preferring to let the story just flow like the meandering Rejang River. It was more fun that way. I look forward each day to getting up and finding out how the story would move on. Occasionally it would hit a snag and I would have to sit morosely at the kitchen table until the ideas started flowing again.
Once the novel was finished, I had to edit and revise it again and again. The minute I was satisfied, I started looking for a publisher. Gave the local ones a shot first but was rejected. Then moved onto the ones in UK and US. Failed. Tried finding agents. Failed too. Hubby did tell me about self-publishing but the idea of spending my hard-earned pension on producing books and selling them on my own put me off. I was pretty jaded by the time I happened upon an article about e-publishing and Smashwords in the Borneo Post. Just had enough presence of mind to tuck it away in my drawer. After getting the year 2011 off and feeling more settled, I took the article out, google Smashwords and the rest is history.

Quote from THE BORNEO POST (Your guide to Good English) Wed. 31/8/2011 Pg 9
"If you can pay your bills and are happy doing what you're doing, that's the key. It's really pretty neat being surrounded by your passion."

Monday, 29 August 2011

Blogging about what?

I was rather reluctant to start blogging as I was (and still am) scared that it will take up more of my most precious commodity.....TIME. Since the day I comprehend its value, it always seems to be in short supply. There never seems to be enough time to finish revision, complete assignments, keep the weeds at bay,  learn the Korean language, grow a durian orchard. Multi-tasking is a way of life. Even now I'm blogging (Ahem!) while waiting for the oxtail stew to cook. Needless to say, CHAOS is the order of the day sometimes when the oxtail stew burns, when the water in the aquarium spills over, when loved ones complain about the ever so slightly greasy kitchen floor......OMG, what's that loud squawking sound outside? Jeez....Heidi (my cat) is eyeing Buddy (my parrot) for a long overdue lunch. I must have left the wet kitchen door open again. Gotta go feed the cat before murder is done.

A year later...
I think I have finally found my 'voice' here. I will hence forth be blogging about the things that impact on me. The books I write, the books other people write,  quotations, the weather in Melbourne on 3 June 2012, the singers who perform in Kuching.....anything I find worthy. Thus all posts will begin with '.......and I'.