Next month, a local writers’ Facebook group, #MYWriters, which I am a part of, will be celebrating its first anniversary all month long, and in a big way. The masterminds behind this group, Tina Isaacs and Gina Yap, are also the moving force behind this celebration, which will take place at various venues in and around KL and Penang. There will be some get-together, book sales and signing, and meet-and-greet.
Of course, there’s a high chance said get-together, book sales and signing, and meet-and-greet will only happen among members of #MYWriters, and not actual “fans”, because let’s face it. While events organized by publishers like Fixi and Alaf21 will definitely have actual fans attending their events, Malaysians in general do not read Malaysian fiction, especially English ones.
Fine. I’m generalizing here. Whether I’d like to admit it or not, I do have people who actually like and follow my literary work. I did have a fan/patient who asked for my autograph while I was attending our Neurosurgical clinic.
Yep. Separating both facets of my life went out the window that day.
Today, Daphne Lee published an article in Star2 addressing these series of #MYWriters events. Click here to read it yourself.
OK? Back with me?
Here’s the thing: I wholeheartedly agree with her. I have not heard about some of the names listed, and some of the writers either have only started publishing, or are riding on past publications with nothing new to share. Here’s a quotable quote from the article:
Unfortunately, there seems to be a tendency for Malaysian writers to be more attracted to the “writer’s life” than to actually writing. They want the “fame” and the “glamour” without the effort.
They are quick to consider themselves having “arrived” with the publication of a couple of short stories, or a volume of poetry. Getting published is the prize. Getting published means being interviewed by the media, being photographed (wefies, anyone?), and signing books.
So are we (I’m saying we because I’m scheduled to attend the events on Oct 18 & 31) being self-indulgent? Are we celebrating our mediocrity?
Here’s my take on this. When I started publishing in 2009, I had first written for a local competition. I didn’t do it voluntarily. I blame Azita “Tita” Baizura for pushing me off the precipice, from which I am still plummeting. One of the judges said she didn’t even get to read my submitted pieces; they had been rejected by slush readers. One of the rejected stories—which, for the record, did not undergo further revisions other than shifting scene places—was picked up by a British publisher, and has been reprinted in my anthology, Faith and the Machine.
I know for a fact that my story doesn’t suck. The slush reader, a typical Malaysian reader (I think), was not ready to accept my story. Perhaps the reason for it was because I didn’t use Manglish. Perhaps it was because my story line wasn’t typically Malaysian, which has a meandering plot and a trick/hanging ending.
What I learned from the experience was that I wasn’t going to get any help or encouragement locally. So I sent my feelers out. I published my stories internationally, at first for free at venues like QLRS, then to places that offered token payment like Every Day Fiction and Expanded Horizons, and then to established ones like COSMOS and Interzone.
Throughout my journey, the one major force that has been propelling me lives half the world away. I still get agitated when I email Breanna Teintze new stuff, and whatever happens, she will always be my first reader. She also writes AMAZING Fantasy stories, which you can get via Amazon/Kindle. Then there are people in Malaysia whom I’ve picked up along the way (besides Tita): Rumaizah, Mei Sin, Adlina, Siaw Nee, Sabariah & Kak Maizura.
Notice that my beta readers are women. If you’ve read any of my works, you’d know that my specialty is in producing waterworks.
Anyway. My point is that when I started my career as a writer, I didn’t get any support from Malaysians in general. I didn’t want to self-publish because reasons. I also wanted validation that I didn’t suck as a writer. I still think I’m not good enough, and I’m still seeking validation.
Even now, my publisher is having trouble distributing my book. Because of the subject matter.
Recognition and local support do come, eventually. Several university students had interviewed me for their assignment. Dr. Anita Harris has invited me to share my experience in Science Fiction writing at CONfabular, a genre literary event hosted by UKM in October.
Perhaps, in the not so distant future, I will make actual money from writing. In the meantime, I am concentrating on what Daphne urges in her article: writing well and improving my craft.
That's my story. Times have changed. Platforms such as #MYWriters provide a venue for emerging Malaysian-English writers to gather enough courage to showcase their voices. In this Facebook group, I freely share my opinions and arguments; sometimes I go too far to send my point(s) across.
Like this post.
Some of the members approach me personally to seek advice, to ask for my opinion on their stories. And I do what I always do. I give unfiltered, honest criticism because that’s the only way for a writer to grow.
That’s how I see Daphne’s article. Some people may think she’s being negative, but for me, she’s offering unfiltered, honest criticism.
Are we indulging in mediocrity?
Of course we are. But at the same time, we are also celebrating new and emerging literary voices. Perhaps these events will be nothing more than like-minded people gathering to share their aspirations and fears.
Perhaps, just perhaps, in a few years from, one writer will share a blog post on how the yet-to-be-held events have played a pivotal role in launching his or her esteemed career.
Here’s to self-indulgence.
The details of the #MYWriters events can be found here.
My publisher, Kushairi Zuradi, will hopefully be selling books from Simptomatik Press at some of the events (Fadli al-Akiti’s Gugurnya Azazil, Azida Ishak’s Resesif, Kushairi’s Biohazard & my Faith and the Machine. You can get the books online, or at Kedai Fixi and Silverfish Books. MPH now carries Simptomatik Press’s titles (other than mine).
Those who are interested in attending CONfabular 2015, check out the details below.
And seriously. Do buy and read Breanna’s Goodbye, Goddess.