What’s Your Story? #socialmedia


Fishy thoughts

My thoughts on Social Media

Today, I had a minor setback. My first instinct– to go and share it on Facebook.

I don’t share much of my private life on my blog, nor on my Facebook or Twitter. But recently, I’ve noticed a tendency– or maybe a temptation– because I don’t give in to it, of sharing about my life on social media.

I recently read this article in the New Yorker by author Dani Shapiro, about exactly how damaging giving in to this temptation can be for writers:

I worry that we’re confusing the small, sorry details—the ones that we post and read every day—for the work of memoir itself. I can’t tell you how many times people have thanked me for “sharing my story,” as if the books I’ve written are not chiseled and honed out of the hard and unforgiving material of a life but, rather, have been dashed off, as if a status update, a response to the question at the top of every Facebook feed: “What’s on your mind?” I haven’t shared my story, I want to tell them. I haven’t unburdened myself, or softly and earnestly confessed. Quite the opposite.

In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea. I’ve waited—sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair—for the story under pressure of concealment to reveal itself to me. I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that our feelings—that vast range of fear, joy, grief, sorrow, rage, you name it—are incoherent in the immediacy of the moment. It is only with distance that we are able to turn our powers of observation on ourselves, thus fashioning stories in which we are characters.

There is no immediate gratification in this. No great digital crowd is “liking” what we do. We don’t experience the Pavlovian, addictive click and response of posting something that momentarily relieves the pressure inside of us, then being showered with emoticons. The gratification we memoirists do experience is infinitely deeper and more bittersweet. It is the complicated, abiding pleasure, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, of finding the universal thread that connects us to the rest of humanity, and, by doing so, turns our small, personal sorrows and individual tragedies into art.

I am given to Facebook updates and blog posts about the small things in life. Now I’ve begun to wonder whether that’s affecting my storytelling. Maybe I’m not building up enough steam over the years, by letting it out through my social media updates. Maybe the fact that I talk about small, impersonal-sounding details on my blog is affecting my storytelling abilities.

What’s your take on this? How much of your inner life/ rants/ life news do you share on Facebook and other social media? If you’re a writer, do you think sharing life experiences on social media detracts from an author’s ability to tell a story?

Have you read the Indian Game of Thrones?


Writing fiction takes a lot of talent, of practicing the craft, of endless learning. As part of learning craft, I’ve had the good fortune of interviewing authors, teachers and agents– and sharing their wisdom with you on this blog. Today, as part of this series, I bring you one of India’s promising authors, Krishna Udayasankar, author of mytho-historical series, The Aryavarta Chronicles, an exciting part of an emerging trend of historical fiction set in India.

Govinda by Krishna Udayshankar

Govinda by Krishna Udayshankar

1. Your first book, Govinda is based on an Indian epic, the Mahabharata. To an audience that doesn’t know the background, how would you sum it up in a teaser?

I’m going to borrow a reader’s comment here and call it: The Indian ‘Game of Thrones’. My own teaser would probably be to call it a story of political intrigue, war, action and social transformation set in what is often called the ‘Epic Age’ of Indian history. Read it also particularly for the characters.

2. Mahabharata is full of magic and myth. You’ve stripped fantasy from it and given your readers a historical socio-economic novel. What was the impetus behind that?

Understanding the history, the kernels of fact behind what has subsequently been aggrandized and used to legitimize or justify social elements, is an essential way of understanding the cultural and moral fabric of the society we live in. Consequently, I wanted to explore the scriptures as the epics as tales of humanity, not divinity; as something that could have been history and not some improbable fantasy-tale that defied all logic and science. The more I tried to find these explanations, the more I caught on to the idea of the epic ages as a time of socio-political revolution, and my story as one of change in the status quo.

3. For you, what are the challenges of writing historical fiction, and what are the rewards?

The biggest reward is a sense of closure. The attempt to demystify these stories and their injunctions is almost like a quest for a more believable truth, an attempt to make these amazing characters and stories more ‘real.’ If I can take the liberty of being dramatic: it helps me make my peace with the world around us.

As for challenges, research is an enjoyable but tough part of the process. It can take many months, even years of painstaking work trying to reconcile legend with logic and scholarly evidence and variations in popular narratives across the world – depending especially on what region and eras you are writing about.

I think the other bittersweet dimension comes up when what I write questions deeply ingrained beliefs or contravenes popular versions of the stories that people know. It has, on occasion, led to pretty strong feedback (if I can call it that) from readers. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good debate any day and more than open to discussion on my books. But the comments do get personal sometimes and I’m still learning to laugh at them, rather than get upset.

4. Who are your favorite authors, and why?

Rudyard Kipling, Isaac Asimov, Kalki Krishnamurthy and J.R.R. Tolkien, to name some. As for the why – it’s the mythopoesy, the world-building, not to mention Kipling’s way with words and phrases. I’m also a fan of the Calvin and Hobbes comics by Bill Watterson. My favourite book, though, is Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I also enjoy poetry a lot.

 5. What was the last book you read?

Kaurava by Krishna Udayshankar

Kaurava by Krishna Udayshankar5. What was the last book you read?

I finished both Julian Barnes’ ‘Levels of Life’ and Terry Pratchett’s ‘A Blink of the Screen’, recently. Am now reading John Williams’ ‘Augustus’ and have Vasari’s ‘Lives of the Artists’ lined up on my shelf.

6. What is the aspect of writing that interests you the most?

Daydreaming! Wordsmithy. Writing pithy dialogues, especially between characters that are good friends. Describing emotions usually not explored. Detailing sensations and feelings. Reading to write. Reading, wishing I could write that way. Writing crap and feeling miserable enough to go into existential angst.

Oh wait, you asked me for the aspect that interests me the most, right? That one is easy – I hang out with a really awesome bunch of imaginary friends almost all the time.

7. As an author of historical fiction, what is the one concrete piece of advice you would give to an aspiring fiction writer?

In general, I believe all writers should listen to, and then promptly ignore, all advice. Having said that, I’ll also add, more as a reminder to myself than for the benefit of aspiring writers: Treat your subject/story/material with respect. The story (and this is particularly true for historical fiction) has endured in memory and myth for a long time; it has a life of its own and is bigger than you are. Respect that and engage with the story. It was here before you and your writing, and will probably stick around long after you are gone.

8. Tell us something about your forthcoming publication. Where can readers find the Govinda?

Both Govinda and Kaurava are available in major bookstores as well as online. They are also available as e-books. Kurukshetra, the third volume in the series is expected to be out by this November.

Krishna Udayshankar

Krishna Udayshankar

Krishna Udayasankar is the author of Govinda and Kaurava: Books 1 and 2 of The Aryavarta Chronicles (Hachette, 2012; 2013) a bestselling series of mytho-historical novels that have received critical acclaim. She is also the author of Objects of Affection (Math Paper Press, 2013), a collection of prose poems. A co-editor of Body Boundaries: The Etiquette Anthology of Women’s Writing (The Literary Centre, 2014), Krishna holds a PhD from Nanyang Business School, where she works as Lecturer. Her current projects include a novel based on the mythohistory of Singapore’s founding by a Srivijayan prince. She lives in Singapore with her family, which includes two dogs with varied literary tastes.

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Do you read or write historical fiction?  Have you read any historical fiction set in India? Would you like to read the Aryavarta Chronicles? (Fire away in the comments and one of the commenters would win a copy of Govinda!)

Who do you #Follow ? Who follows You?


Fifteen years ago, the question “Who do you Follow?” would have seemed strange, slightly vague.

A crazy reader like me would have said, Toni Morrison, I try to read all her books, or Alice Munro, or Garcia Marquez. And the list would have gone on. A religious person would have said, I follow Jesus, or Allah or Buddha…who else is worth following?

And then came Social Media.

Following on Social media

Who do you Follow? Who follows You? Photograph by Anita Peppers

You can now follow people on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Blog, Youtube, and a gazillion other sites.

You may also have a Social media Strategy.

I don’t know if I have one. I began by muddling on Twitter and Blogging, and my Facebook mostly consists of people I have met, where I post random stuff, links, writing experiences. Nothing private, really. (But then, what is private these days?)

The continuous feed of the thousands of folks I follow on my Twitter and Blogs tire me out– I mostly pick what catches my eye and ignore the rest. I have a list of specific folks whose tweets and blog posts I enjoy, and I try interacting with them whenever I can. I enjoy chatting with folks online, just as much as offline. I’m thankful for those who follow me on my Blog and my Twitter, and I can only hope I don’t bore them out of their skulls or tire them out.

For now, I’m happy with where I am, though sometimes I do consider quitting all social media. Imagine how much I could get done in all that offline time!

(Rant Alert) I don’t know if I’ll take to hawking my books (if I ever publish any) on social media– because frankly, most author marketing pisses me off these days: I don’t want to know about yet another book reveal or giveaway or sale. I’m sure the books are all lovely, but that’s just too much information crowding my timeline. My fault, I guess, for following back every author who followed me. (Rant Over)

What about you? Do you participate in Social Media? Do you have a Social Media Strategy? Do you hawk stuff you’d like to sell on Social Media? Do you buy a book you read about on tweets? Who do you follow? Who follows you?

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Blogs you must read!

Blogs I Recommend

I’ve been neglecting my duties as a member of the Blogging community, so here’s spreading some love. Bloggers I recommend visiting today:

C. Lee McKenzie : Fab author, awesome blog-friend. If you make one online friend this August, it should be her.

J. Gi. Federizo : But. Consider, please do consider making two blog friends this August. Meet the equally lovely J. Gi. She’s been one of my kindest visitors, and you’ll love her blog voice.

Bruce Goodman : I actually suggest you make three blog friends this month! I love Bruce’s stories, and you would, too. Besides, he leaves you the most awesome comments! What’s not to like? His blog is recommended reading.

 

Been to a Writers’ #Conference ? #Writing


All APW conference photos published with permission from Tim and Deedle Tomlinson.

All AP writers conference photos published with permission from Tim and Deedle Tomlinson.

One of the things I love about writing is the ability to do my job all scruffy, hiding behind my desk, or some nondescript cafe table. A conference? No, thank you very much.

But last week I did attend a conference (the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Conference), my very first. I admit I’d gone there just for the workshops– they sounded great. One of my first ever ‘writing’ books was Tim Tomlinson’s Portable MFA in Creative Writing, and he would teach a workshop. Dr Sally Breen from Griffith University would lead an editing workshop, and Francesca Rendle-Short would do a session on voice.

I attended all three, and let me tell you– if you ever hear of a workshop from any of them, queue up. My only wish for those sessions?  They should have gone on longer. (I’m sure the others were equally good, but they either didn’t relate to my fields of interest, or clashed with these three.)

A few things I learned from the workshops:

1. Fragments strung together can make a story/ novel, you just need the right connectors.

2. It is perfectly acceptable to write with your left hand, eyes closed, when working around a writer’s block. Or otherwise.

3. Look at each word you use while writing. Take away as many as you can when revising, leaving a spare, beautiful structure.

AWP Writers' conference

All AP Writers conference photos published with permission from Tim and Deedle Tomlinson

I had a short editorial consult with Literary agent Kelly Falconer, and her insights were helpful. Her comments would help me polish my work further.

I also went to book launches. I watched authors read, talk in panels, and chat with each other during breaks. Authors are some of the most interesting people you can meet– they talk about everything from speculative poetry to sunflower seeds and everything else in between. They are also kind, generous, and courageous souls with a sense of humor, who stand up against injustice. (There could have been bitchiness and negativity somewhere, the stuff writers’ events get a rap for, but I didn’t see any that I can report. Quite the opposite!) It all ended in a great open mic session with singing and poetry. Couldn’t have ended on a better note.

So if there’s another writer’s conference I can go to, I’ve decided I will.

Especially if it is organized by Jane Camens, because if not for her help, I wouldn’t have been able to register for the conference or the workshops during weeks of traveling madness. Besides, throughout the conference I saw her add that touch of compassion and good cheer to each event I saw her at– it brought home to me why at the heart of writers’ events we need writers. Not just a great organizer, or fundraiser, but someone who understands writing and writers. (For more details on the conference, read this excellent article.)

What writing conferences have you taken part in? What was your experience like? What advice would you give me and the Daily (w)rite audience on writer’s conferences?

 

Do you have to be intelligent to be evil?


A question like “do you have to be intelligent to be evil” can seem philosophical and vague, but it becomes less theoretical when you apply it to a death penalty court case like the one that has played out in Georgia. Must there be a conniving, Machiavellian mind behind evil, or is it something inherent in anyone — or everyone?

…..At the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s department of cognitive science, a research team explored the logic of evil by programming a computer character named “E” that “acted on” or was motivated by a definition of evil. The Rensselaer crew defined an evil person as one who decided to commit an immoral act without prompting and carry out the plan with the expectation of considerable harm. When reflecting on those deeds, the person would either find incoherent reasons for his or her actions or think the damage caused was good.

….Trying to get an objective answer about evil or intelligence is never going to work. We all have too many inherent prejudices and biases to ever get a response that satisfies us. But looking at something like Dr. Welner’s Depravity Scale does lead me to believe that critical thinking about intelligence and evil does have a purpose in our society: if we’re ever asked to use our own definitions of what is evil and intelligent to judge someone’s actions, we better have a compelling reason to believe our own opinions.

Hakone Open Air Museum

Intelligence and Evil

 

That was an excerpt from an article I read the other day, and though it goes on to talk about insanity pleas and so on, it reminded me of what weighs on all our minds.

Like a lot of us, I’ve been watching Gaza, and also the Malaysian plane shot down in Ukraine.

Since I can’t do anything else to help this world gone mad, where children are murdered (while they play on a beach or fly 33,000 ft above the earth towards a vacation or their homes), I try to gather positive energies. If the world goes negative, the only thing in my small, insignificant hands is to be positive. I can only add myself to the sum total of positive energies in this world, and thus stand against the negatives.

But somehow, I wonder whether the intelligence that has given us humans such an advantage in evolution would one day be our undoing. (Even in the animal world, it is the dolphins who rape, the chimpanzees who murder– is evil a function of intelligence quotient, after all?)

What do you think? Is what’s happening in the war-torn areas of the world a result of intelligence gone mad? Other than ranting and fighting virtual wars on Facebook, how can we as human beings help undo this horrific situation?

Do you have questions for a Literary Agent? #agentchat #amwriting


I’ve been away for a while– traveling and recuperating,  but today I’m back with my  writer’s guest post series in this blog.

It is with great pleasure that I now present Andrea Pasion-Flores from the Jacaranda Literary Agency. She’s a joy to talk to, extremely kind and helpful, yet a thorough professional– a spirit that is reflected in her answers below:

1. You’re both an author and a literary agent. How did this happen, how do you balance the two roles, and how do they affect each other?

For Love and Kisses: Andrea Pasion-Flores

For Love and Kisses: Andrea Pasion-Flores

It’s difficult, but I try to make the time. I’m also a mom and a college teacher. But I find that my many roles feed on each other. My teaching (it helps that I teach literature) and my being a writer certainly help me spot a good story and allow me to help the writers in our list improve their writing.

2. As an agent, what are the sort of books are you looking for?

I’m looking for the distinct voice, fabulous narrative, mastery of language. It’s hard to describe. I guess I want to be blown away.

3. As a reader, who are your favorite authors, and why?

There are so many! At the moment Aravind Adiga, Junot Diaz, Mohsin Hamid, Chimamanda Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Kerima Polotan, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Jose Y. Dalisay, Sally Gardner, Zadie Smith come to mind… so many!

4. What was the last book you read as a reader, and not an agent?

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner–fantastic, young adult dystopia. I want to buy all her books!

5. What book, published in recent times, do you think should be more recognized, and one that you think is overrated?

Haha. This is a trick question! I think Asian lit in general should be recognized. It’s sorely underrated and not as widely available. I think most of the independent presses, carried by the indie bookstores, are doing a lot of good stuff. Unfortunately, we’re all used to going to the mainstream bookstores to buy what’s pushed by mainstream media–especially the kind with the movie tie-ins. The answer to the second part of your question is hinted. But, having said that, the “overrated” have their markets–and they do serve an important purpose: they get people into the habit of reading! Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a quick read or two now and then? I certainly do. So I say the overrated books are great. I’d love to pick some out and push them myself.

6. As an author, what is the aspect of writing that interests you the most?

I like discovering where a story will take me, each story being different from the past stories I’ve written although in some sense the same. When I wrote the stories in my book, I didn’t quite realize how easily they fit into each other when I put them together years after they were written.

7. As an agent, what is the one concrete piece of advice you would give to an aspiring fiction writer?

The real writing happens in the revision. One of my creative writing teachers said this to me. The more painful the process, the easier it reads. The first draft shouldn’t be given to anyone, so don’t give them to me. If you let an agent read a first draft, and it’s not great, you’re not likely to be taken on.

8. Tell us something about your latest publication. Where can readers find the book?

Ken Spillman’s blurb reads thus:
“Andrea Pasion-Flores unpacks the black boxes of everyday disasters. Among the casualties are women burned by men and children bruised by the turbulence of relationships around them. Among futile love affairs, irretrievable marriages and unspoken loss, we are brought face to face with hungry ghosts and consuming frailties.”

It’s a collection of stories written over a 10-year period. That span of time yielded many other things for me aside from stories, such as a government job, three kids (two of them twins), etc. So it does feel like a slim volume, given the amount of time it took. However, there was also that feeling that I have to bring out the best of what I’ve written thus far so I do feel those are seven good ones (with varying length and styles to show a range). In Singapore, there are a few copies at the moment with Closet Full of Books.

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Andrea Pasion-Flores

Andrea Pasion-Flores

Andrea Pasion-Flores  is the former Executive Director of the National Book Development Board of the Philippines, where she was known for her pioneering work introducing high-impact literary events to the country. Andrea is also a copyright lawyer and teaches English at the University of the Philippines as a member of the faculty of the Department of English and Comparative Literature. She brings her experience in these fields into her role as an agent with the Jacaranda Literary Agency. She is also a Philippine contemporary author in English, and the author of bestselling book Have Baby Will Date, as well as her recently published short story collection: For Love and Kisses.

Dear reader, Have you read any of the authors Andrea mentions? Are you looking for a literary agent? Do you have any questions for Andrea Pasion-Flores? I’ll be randomly choosing one reader from the comments below, to receive a gift copy of Andrea’s book– so fire away!

 

Are You Really Dead When They Say You Are?


The Evolution of Death

The Evolution of Death

What is the one certainty of life? Death, right? But it is the least discussed of topics. People call you morbid, negative, depressed if you talk about it.

To me, since we’ve all got to face it some day, what’s the harm in touching on it once in a while?

I recently came across an article that talks about the moment of death, and what fascinated me was that the scientific community is still uncertain about the exact moment of death:

 “Most of us would agree that King Tut and the other mummified ancient Egyptians are dead, and that you and I are alive. Somewhere in between these two states lies the moment of death. But where is that? The old standby — and not such a bad standard — is the stopping of the heart. But the stopping of a heart is anything but irreversible. We’ve seen hearts start up again on their own inside the body, outside the body, even in someone else’s body. Christian Barnard was the first to show us that a heart could stop in one body and be fired up in another.

As I went on to read it, I was intrigued by the concept of life residing in various parts of the human body, not just in the brain or heart: (Warning: this gets a little gory)

“What’s alive and what’s dead breaks down when we get above the cellular level,” Sorenson says. “Pathologists don’t feel comfortable that a brain is dead until the cell walls break down. True cell death is a daylong process.”

…Cell death is far removed from brain death. As shown, brain death can be declared when only a few brain cells have actually died. Cells in the remainder of the body are alive and kicking. Brain-dead patients being sustained as beating-heart cadavers are still supplying most of their body’s cells with blood and thus oxygen, so total cell death is nowhere in sight. Cell death begins in earnest when the heart stops beating and the lungs cease to breathe. No longer being pumped through the body, the blood will drain from the blood vessels at the top of the body and collect in the lower part. The upper body will become pale, the lower body turning much darker, looking bruised. This is livor mortis.

Even at this point, however, most cells are still not dead. After the heart stops, brain cells will die in a few minutes. Muscle cells can hold on for several hours, and skin and bone cells can stay alive for days. Cells switch from aerobic (with oxygen) respiration to anaerobic (without oxygen) when the blood stops circulating. A by-product of anaerobic respiration is lactic acid, which is what makes your arm muscles hurt during arm wrestling or your legs hurt during a hard run. When you are alive, your blood flow clears out the acid, but in a dead person the body stiffens. This is rigor mortis. Rigor mortis usually begins about three hours after the heart stops and lasts thirty-six hours. Eventually all of the cells die. After rigor mortis come initial decay, putrefaction, black putrefaction, and butyric fermentation. Somewhere in these processes — taking as long as a year, depending on the conditions and the weather — is a moment of death. Where that is may be impossible to determine.

To get a better picture of what I’m talking about, read the article– because it talks not just about the moment of death, but the question of selfhood, and how important human beings really are, are we the ultimate in evolution?

Do you ever wonder about death? Do we think more about death as we grow older? What is death, really? What is the moment of death? Are you really dead when they say you are?