Got questions for a noted #author and creative #writing teacher ?


Since I live and write out of Singapore, it features in a major way on this blog and in my writing. I’ve been posting writing advice and interviews from creative writing and publishing experts, and today, one of the luminaries of the current Singapore literary scene, Felix Cheong, has agreed to a chat here at Daily (w)rite. I get to ask him a bunch of questions about creative writing, his work, Singapore,  and how all these three mesh together. Feel free to add questions of your own after you’ve read his interview.

1. You write both poetry and prose. Do they feed into each other, and if so, how?

There’s a creative – and necessary – tension at work when I’m writing fiction. The story sometimes rushes ahead, the characters taking the narrative into this situation and that. But the language has to catch up – the attention to detail, the ability to crunch descriptions crisply and precisely. So the poet gets to work, forcing the story to slow down, take a breath, pay attention. But too much of this fiddling with language can stop the manuscript from moving forward. Which is why the poet has to be killed before the story can live.  But it can be a struggle – I’ve abandoned my first novel because after three chapters, the poet refuses to die a quiet death and I keep revising the language!

2. What do you enjoy most about teaching creative writing?

I enjoy the interaction with students, giving them triggers to find their own creativity. I enjoy hearing them read their on-the-spot written pieces, which sometimes surprise me with their spark and spunk. And most of all, I enjoy hanging around creative people!

3. What qualities would you look for in your ideal student?

Well, someone who is observant, who is alive to the world around him, who opens his senses and is open to inspiration in his day-to-day life. Someone who reads, loves reading and will possibly die without reading. Someone who has the imaginative capacity to dream and be able to put down in words that dream. Someone who has something to get off his chest, driven by that human need to tell stories. Someone who is willing to work hard, to see a work through to its eventual form.  

4. Could you tell us something about your favourite authors, and why do you like them?

At different junctures, I have different favourite authors. It’s as though they came at the right time to teach me what I needed to learn to become a writer. For instance, in my undergrad years, as I was struggling to find my poetic voice, it was TS Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Lee Tzu Pheng. Later, it was Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Milan Kundera etc. Too numerous to count!

Vanishing Point author Felix Cheong

Vanishing Point: Felix Cheong

5. Which of your works should a reader unfamiliar with your work start with?

For my poetry, start with Sudden in Youth: New and Selected Poems, which puts together the best-of in a slim volume. They are arranged thematically – from love poems to poems about my struggle with faith – and juxtapose my early poems with some of my later ones. For my fiction, check out Vanishing Point, inspired by real-life cases of missing people, and Singapore Siu Dai: The SG Conversation in a Cup, which satirises life in Singapore – from our obsession with Hello Kitty toys to the national pastime of queuing – in fun, bite-size stories.

6. Tell us something about your works in progress.

I’m currently putting the finishing touches to Singapore Siu Dai 2: The SG Conversation Upsize!, which is due to be launched in November. For some reason, these short satirical pieces have come out in a torrent over the past six months, triggered, no doubt, by Singapore politics. The stories are edgier and bolder than the first book, often taking the mickey out of politicians and their policies. For instance, their peculiar fondness to dress themselves up in a defamation suit.

7. As a literary activist, what is your opinion of the current literary scene in Singapore?

The literary scene is really exciting now and I sometimes feel the pressure to catch up with them! More new writers are being published; they are energetic and they have something to say, though some of them could do with more finesse and internalisation of craftsmanship. What is lacking, though, is the growth of a discerning readership. Not enough people are buying Singaporean writers’ books.

8. For someone new to Singaporean literature, what books — prose or poetry– would you recommend?

You can’t go far wrong with a few “best-of” anthologies. Value for money for a buffet sampling of voices!

i. No Other City: the Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry (Ethos 2000): A swirling cauldron of emerging and established poets, stirred vigorously around the theme of Singapore’s urban landscape.

ii. Best of Singapore Erotica (Monsoon 2006): Even in squeaky-clean Singapore, there is nothing like the erotic to open the proverbial can of worms. Best read with your loved one already asleep.

iii. Reflecting on the Merlion: An Anthology of Poems (NAC 2009) Love it or photograph it, the Merlion has become iconic of the island state – and a conversation starter between poets about its significance in Singapore history and culture.

iv. Here and Beyond: 12 Stories (Ethos 2014): The latest anthology of made-in-Singapore short stories, edited by award-winning writer Cyril Wong. This will be in the ‘O’ level Literature text come 2016.

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Felix Cheong Singaporean poet

Felix Cheong

Felix Cheong is the author of nine books, including four volumes of poetry and a collection of short stories, Vanishing Point, which was long-listed for the prestigious Frank O’Connor Award. His latest book is a collection of satirical flash fiction, Singapore Siu Dai.

Conferred the Young Artist of the Year for Literature in 2000 by the National Arts Council, he was named by Readers Digest as the 29th Most Trusted Singaporean in 2010. Cheong has been invited to read at writer’s festivals all over the world: Edinburgh, West Cork, Austin, Sydney, Brisbane, Christchurch and Hong Kong. He holds a Masters in creative writing from the University of Queensland, and is currently an adjunct lecturer with Murdoch University, University of Newcastle, Temasek Polytechnic and LASALLE College of the Arts.

Have you read literature from Singapore or from Asia ? Are you familiar with Felix’s work? If you have questions for Felix on creative writing, Singapore, or creative writing in Singapore, leave them in the comments below!

Have you heard of the New York #Writers #Workshop ?


Here at Daily (w)rite, I run a series of interviews of publishing industry experts: I’ve had poets, authors, and creative writing professors. Today, I’m chatting with Tim Tomlinson, who teaches at the New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program, and is an author and poet in his own right.

My first encounter with him was through his book, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, one of the first books that gave me the confidence to go on writing without an MFA, and not lose heart. I took a writing workshop with him some time back, and speaking from experience, if you have the opportunity to go for one of those, do not hesitate.

1. You’re one of the founders of the New York Writing Workshop. What was the impetus behind it?

Solidarity and frustration. The founders were all teaching for another organization whose demands began to clash with our values. We met, somewhat conspiratorially, and we decided that we could do it better on our own. The rest is a combination of history and farce.

2. What do you enjoy most about teaching creative writing?

Meeting new writers, hearing their material, and giving them ideas for presenting the material most effectively. I recently finished two long sessions in Baguio, Philippines. Lots of talent, many wonderful people, but with a need for craft, useful practice, and self-belief. In two days, we made great progress in all those areas, and that’s gratifying.

Portable MFA in Creative Writing

Portable MFA in Creative Writing

3. Tell us about your book, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. How would you like a reader to approach it?

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing was meant as something of a substitute to MFA programs, or more accurately, a substitute for the expense of MFA programs.

At New York Writers Workshop we encountered hordes of recovering MFAs—aspiring writers damaged to varying degrees by destructive MFA programs. Writers who’d become convinced their work was garbage unless it matched whatever criteria were being pushed in whatever program (if, indeed, any criteria were being pushed). The Gordon Lish survivors were the most crippled: they couldn’t get beyond sentence one (which, according to Captain Fiction, must be perfect before one can proceed to sentence two). So we wanted to offer an alternative to spending $50,000 on nothing, or worse than nothing. For $16.95, the conceit had it, one could avail oneself of some, many, or close to all of the lessons of the MFA program.

But, and this is a big but, the book can’t provide community, or readers, or encouragement. MFA programs can (although none of these is guaranteed). The book also encompasses a range of disciplines: fiction, non-fiction, playwriting, poetry. Some programs prohibit movement between disciplines; our book encourages movement.

4. Can creative writing be taught? Why/ why not?

It most certainly can, and as we say in the book, one should run away from any program or instructor who says that it can’t. Talent can’t be taught, luck can’t be taught, discipline can’t be taught. But talent can be recognized and nurtured. And when it is, discipline follows – it’s more fun to sit down to the grind and discover that good work, or better work, is forthcoming. And when disciplined practice becomes part of the routine, luck often follows—one creates one’s luck. You teach the craft, you suggest the discipline, good things follow.

5. What advice would you give someone who is applying for MFA Writing programs?

Ask tough questions, of the program, and of yourself. Who will be teaching? What is her approach? (Does she believe creative writing can be taught?) What’s the rate of acceptance? How many nonsense requirements will intrude upon my writing time? Can I afford this? How deep will I fall into a financial hole? Can I achieve the same goals through less costly means?

6. If you had three pointers to give an aspiring writer, what would they be?

Read a lot, write more, and spend time far away from books (or universities). The work of too many young writers is informed by university experience solely, or predominantly. That creates the kind of provincialism you see in American fiction and poetry today.

7. You have taught creative writing in the West, as well as in Asia. What would you say are the key similarities and differences in the two experiences?

Very broadly speaking, Asian writers have more humility, which is a good thing for the development of craft, but maybe not the best thing for career advancement. Aspiring writers in Asia, too (again, broadly speaking) have far greater awareness of global realities than most aspiring writers in the U.S. American writers are freer in their diction, less formal.

8. Which is the last novel you read that you would recommend and why? Which authors would you name as influences on your own writing?

I liked Xiaolu Guo’s Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth: A Novel. Her fragments are fairly large (in comparison to the fragmented fictions of Maggie Nelson, for instance, or Evan Lavender-Smith), but they’re still discrete units of narrative that enable Guo to focus on smaller moments, which build like blocks to a full coming-of-age story.

As for influences, in fiction no one has been more important than Henry Miller, particularly his Tropic of Cancer, for language and spirit. John Cheever for structure, Denis Johnson for lyricism, Robert Stone for rhythm, James Salter for vision, Lydia Davis for options, Junot Diaz for freedom, Mary Gaitskill for awareness, Edmund White for honesty, Chekhov for neutrality. The diction of cowboy movies. Sam Shepard. And the diction of gangster movies. Martin Scorsese, and David Mamet. So many. In poetry, I don’t know if I’ve been influenced. Rather, there are sounds and visions to which I aspire. Charles Wright, Li Po, Merlie Alunan, Mary Oliver. And subject matters that enable my own. Kim Addonizio, Jason Shinder, Philip Levine.

9. You help run a literary journal Ducts.org. Tell us more about it.

I’ve edited the fiction section for the past six or seven years (we also run essay, memoir, poetry, art, and humor). I’ve tried to make the representation global, and non-New-York-centric. I’ve run stories from Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, England, India, as well as from many places in the U.S. Our readership has grown, the quality of submissions has elevated, and publication has become more and more competitive. We have two best-of anthologies: How Not to Greet Famous People, and The Man Who Ate His Book.

Tim Tomlinson New York Writers Workshop

Tim Tomlinson

Tim Tomlinson is co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. Stories and poems appear or are forthcoming in The Blue Lyra Review, Caribbean Vistas, Coachella Review, Writing Tomorrow, and the anthologies Long Island Noir (Akashic Books), and Fast Food Fiction (Anvil Publishing). He is the fiction editor for Ducts. He teaches at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program.

Do you have questions for Tim Tomlinson? Have you taken an MFA or considering applying for one? Would you like to talk about your experience?

 

Have questions for an established #author and #Creative #Writing Lecturer at Birkbeck?


As part of my ongoing series with experts from the publishing industry,  last week I hosted Jayapriya Vasudevan, Founder of the Jacaranda Literary Agency. Today, I bring you Julia Bell, Senior Lecturer, teaching the MA in Creative Writing at the prestigious Birkbeck College, UK. I’ve had the good fortune of having her as my mentor under the Writing the City Programme, and I have to declare that she’s the best thing that can happen to you if you’re a noob like me attempting a novel.

Today I ask her a few questions, and encourage you to add yours in the comments– I hope to get you your answers. So without further ado, here goes:

1. Hanif Kureshi recently said that Creative Writing Courses are a waste of time. As a Senior Lecturer of Creative Writing at one of the most prestigious creative writing programs in the UK, what is your comment on that? What do you look for in a potential candidate for your program?

Julia Bell: Creative Writing Coursebook

Julia Bell: Creative Writing Coursebook

Hanif Kureshi sounds like part of an older generation of writers who preserve their position through adopting an attitude of superiority. Creative Writing programmes have created a new democracy in literature where anyone with a story can learn how to tell it and I think it’s evident now that Creative Writing can be taught. This is an interesting article from Publishers Weekly explaining exactly how and why MFA programmes are a necessary part of the Literary Culture in the US.

I would say that CW MA/MFA Courses are a vital part of finding and developing new voices in literature. I can’t teach boring people to be interesting, but I can help interesting people to write better, to develop their work into a voice. I’m looking for openness to feedback, a sense of the experiential nature of storytelling and a felicity for language. Raw talent can always be shaped through editorial feedback and there is nothing more exciting than watching someone finding their real voice, their point of view on the world.

2. How does your experience as an author feed into your teaching? What do you like best about teaching creative writing and what puts you off? (The lecture she links to is fab– give it a listen if you’re an aspiring author)

I would teach by example – I write every day and I try to encourage students to do the same. Being a ‘daily artist’ is what it takes to sustain a career as a writer. There is quite a bit of my teaching available for free on the Birkbeck website Writers Hub – here is a link to a lecture I gave on a writer’s territory.

3. If you had to give just three pointers on ‘writing technique’ to aspiring authors, something general creative writing books don’t tell them, what would they be? (Here are a few she’s already spoken about)

It’s hard work. It demands your full and complete attention. And sometimes you write crap but there is always something good even if it’s only a sentence in a bad day’s work.

4. If you had to choose three of your favorite authors and their best works, which would they be? Why did you choose these in particular?

I don’t know if these are ‘best’ works but these books have hugely influenced my thinking about writing and my life itself:

George Orwell The Clergyman’s Daughter His prose is so clear and clean I would aspire to the same clarity of vision, but the story of a vicar’s daughter who is oppressed by the faith of her father was both a warning and a portrait of what I didn’t want for myself.

Jeanette Winterson – Oranges are Not the Only Fruit – I was jealous when I read this it seemed to articulate something about my own life, and I wondered what I could add to the story. It’s interesting how she returned to the subject in a memoir 25 years later – Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal – the two are companion pieces to my mind and make up her best and most interesting work.

Virginia Woolf – Mrs Dalloway – Oh I how I love her – what a writer – she understood that good prose also contains good poetry. Her essays are also a delight in the fluency of articulation and the way she approaches her subjects. Clarity and rhythm are for me what I want out of good writing. Something that sings in my head.

5. For those new to your work, which of your novels would you recommend they start with? 

Massive, by  Julia Bell

Massive, by Julia Bell

I write novels which are the equivalent of British Indie films. I want them to have a realism like Orwell and a voice that has the a poetic flourish – but these effects must be earned – too much poetry and the prose becomes dense, not enough and it’s too plain, too staccato. I’m very proud of my first novel, Massive which is to be republished next year in a revised edition with the cultural references updated from 2002 to 2015. It’s a real privilege to get to do this – there will then be two slightly different editions of this book out in the world which I think is a delight for a writer. You can find out a bit more on my website.

6. Tell us about your forthcoming novel.

My new novel is called The Dark Light and is the story of a girl who has grown up in a strange religious cult. It’s a bit like a reworking of the Wicker Man with a bit of Lord of the Flies thrown in. It comes out in May 2015 from Macmillan. Follow me on Twitter @juliabell for updates as the process moves towards publication – first I’ve got to do some editing . . .

7. What was the spark of the story, and what was the writing process like? Who is your target audience?

I think it’s a story about my childhood, but also it’s been inspired by an increasing sense of religious fundamentalism in the world. I’m interested in how rigid religious thought can become like a trap even as it purports to set people free. Ironically my upbringing fostered a sense of fairness which rails against religious fundamentalism where women are seen as subordinate to men and sexuality is seen as something to be feared rather than enjoyed.  I’ve also been writing a memoir in verse which I see very much as a companion piece to the novel. You can see me reading some of it here.

Julai Bell, author

Julia Bell

Julia Bell is a writer and Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck College, London where she teaches on the Creative Writing MA and is Project Director of the Writers Hub website. She is the author of three novels, most recently The Dark Light to be published in May 2014, the co editor of the Creative Writing Coursebook as well as three volumes of short stories most recently The Sea In Birmingham. She also takes photographs, writes poetry, short stories, occasional essays and journalism, and is the co-curator of spoken word night In Yer Ear.

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Do you have questions for Julia Bell? Have you come across the Creative Writing Coursebook? Read Massive? Have you done an MFA/ MA in creative writing, or taken any other creative writing course? Would you recommend it?

Want to talk to the Hottest #Creative #Writing #Teacher I know?


 As part of my ongoing guest post series in this blog, Scott Bryson, the editor of Cigale Literary Magazine answered questions a week ago on what leads him to choose a short story for his publication. 

Today I give you  Suzy Vitello Soule, den-mom for the hottest writing group in Portland with names like Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Diana Page Jordan, Cheryl Strayed,  Lidia Yuknavitch. She talks to us about her famous writing group, her reading, her writing, her teaching, and last, but not the least, The Moment Before, her new book.

Suzy Vitello Soule

The Moment Before

1.  In your experience, what should an author keep in mind while creating or joining a writing group? What sort of group dynamic brings out the best writing from its participants?  

Chemistry, I’d say. Which is a bit of a crap shoot, isn’t it? The kernel of our group began with a local mentor, Tom Spanbauer, and morphed from there. We’re big on “no homework,” meaning, we give feedback on the spot after a participant reads his/her pages. It develops a critical muscle to do it this way, but it also lets loose a knee-jerk emotional response to the work, which is valuable, but takes time to navigate as the recipient.

2. You teach creative writing. Could you tell us more about it?  Where can we find your classes? What do you like best about teaching creative writing and what puts you off?

I’ve found a great place to teach, LitReactor – an online writing community which attracts a wonderful and diverse array of teachers and students. Look for my next class in April. I’ll soon firm up what I’ll be teaching.

What I love about teaching creative writing is that I learn so much from my students as I follow their paths, their stories, their hearts. As far as what’s off-putting, every once in a while there pops up a pedantic know-it-all who seems closed off to the journey. But that is very, very rare at LitReactor.

3. Your writing is vivid and forceful, and I love how you use details to bring your characters to life. Technically, what do you find the most easy part of writing, and which part do you find the hardest?

Thank you! I enjoy the initial foray into new territory, surprising myself. I suppose the hardest thing is to trust that, eventually, the sentences will take shape in a way that approximates the feeling in my heart. Patience is not my strength. I want it all NOW!

Revision is so underappreciated. When you back away from your initial sprint and allow your subconscious to engage, you (magically, it seems) have access to a more technical and objective part of your brain. It’s that combination of authentic outburst and craft and rigor that finds its way into the hearts of others.

4. If you had to give just three pointers on ‘writing technique’ to an aspiring author, what would they be?

1.Read your work out loud.

2.Enter into that space of the unknown by unpacking the smaller moments and following your depth of inquiry.

3.Resist completing energy in dialogue. In other words, take the reader someplace new instead of resolving conflict within scenes.

5. If you had to choose three of your favorite authors and their best works, which would they be? Why did you choose these in particular?

I absolutely adore Laurie Halse Anderson. Wintergirls and her new one, The Impossible Knife of Memory. Her precision with voice, her accuracy, and her fresh approach show me how exciting that sort of discipline can be. I also love stories by Antonya Nelson.  Her irony is masterful. Oh, and Tom Perrotta’s Little Children. A creepily delicious book.I’m a fan of contemporary realism, I suppose. And darkness. Always a pinch of darkness.

6. Which of your characters is closest to your heart, and why?

I’m pretty sure I don’t have a standout favorite. My main characters tend to be heroines who are a bit, shall we say, left of normal. Lily, Brady, Liz and Sisi – they are the four main characters in the three books I’ve written and rewritten recently. What fascinates me about these characters is the ways in which they discover their strengths during their meander through my psyche. They all start out in crisis. All seem to have experienced a level of maternal abandonment, and so, I become their mother as I write them through peril and eventually shepherd them to a better place.

7. Tell us about your newly released book, The Moment Before.

It’s a love story. Between the author and the city in which the book takes place. Between the main character, Brady, and her dead sister, Sabine. And, subtly, between Brady and Connor, the boy who also loved Sabine, but was implicated in her death. That’s more than a run-of-the-mill love triangle, yes? More like a love web.

8. What was the spark of the story, and what was the writing process like? Who is your target audience?

Brady had been living inside of me for quite some time, and when I sat down to write a book that began with the death of a loved one, her voice permeated my every thought. The story crystallized around a plot whereby Brady would discover things about herself – strengths, weaknesses, her capacity to love – as she uncovered more information about Sabine.  

My target audience is young adult, but I’m finding that my readers are less definable by age than by their expectations of story. Looking over reviewer comments, it appears that Moment appeals most to a certain type of indie reader. Readers who tend to enjoy the nuances in humanity and enjoy a more lyric and wistful approach to coming of age. Plus, there’s that Keep Portland Weird vibe running throughout.

Suzy is giving away a copy of THE MOMENT BEFORE book (an e-version), plus an electronic version of Averil Dean’s new erotic thriller, ALICE CLOSE YOUR EYES, to two randomly selected commenters a week after this posts. So if you’re leaving a comment here, you might expect a copy of one of these wonderful books!

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Suzy Vitello Soule

Suzy Vitello Soule

About Suzy Vitello Soule: As a founding member of what the Oregonian has dubbed Portland’s “hottest writing group,” (whose members include Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Lidia Yuknavitch, Monica Drake and Cheryl Strayed), Suzy’s name has graced the acknowledgement pages of many a book. Her own award-winning writing has appeared in a bunch of journals and anthologies. THE MOMENT BEFORE is her debut novel. Suzy lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Kirk, and son, Carson.

Find out more about Suzy’s projects on www.suzyvitello.com, where you can also read the first chapter of The Moment Before.

Buy The Moment Before here, the linked page leads you to all sorts of places on the web the book is selling at, including Amazon.

Become her friend on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

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Blurb of The Moment Before: “Don’t get me wrong. I loved my sister. I never, not once, wished her dead.”

Brady and Sabine Wilson are sisters born eleven months apart, but they couldn’t be more different. Popular Sabine, the head cheerleader dating the high school hunk, seems to have all the luck, while her younger, artsy sister “Brady Brooder” is a loner who prefers the sidelines to the limelight.

After Sabine dies in a horrific cheerleading accident, grief unravels Brady and her family. Once recognized for her artistic talent, 17-year-old Brady finds herself questioning the value of everything she once held dear. Her best friend betrays her. Her parents’ marriage is crumbling. And the boy everyone blames for the accident seems to be her only ally in the search for answers in the wake of her sister’s death. As an unlikely friendship emerges, Brady learns more about Sabine – and love – than she bargained for.

Would you read The Moment Before? Do you have raging questions related to creative writing or her book that you want to ask Suzy Vitello?

Do you warm up before you start on your #WIP ?


Today, I’m posting one of my warm-up sessions, unedited. Do you warm up before you start writing on your #WIP ?
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When writing becomes second nature

Writing warm-ups

I write often at a food court in one of the shopping malls in the neighborhood. Today I have 600 words already under my belt when I set off, so I do not feel that fear which always accompanies an empty page. But I do have to start a chapter, and that is hard.

Sometimes the best way to write is just wait for it to come, and surround myself with the hum of conversation, with the clatter of cutlery thrown against ceramic plates, the muted screech of chairs drawn out from under the tables, the whir of the food processor as yet another milkshake is born.

At a table near me sit four Chinese women, animated over their cups of black coffee, all short-haired, middle-aged, frumpily dressed, with big smiles as they discuss some achievement or the other in Hokkien. Must be related to badminton practice, because I see pink and blue and red racquets poking out of each bag.

The Hong Kong Roast stall near which I’ve picked my table is the most eye-catching. Red-browned, glazed piglets, ducks and chicken hang motionless under yellow incandescent lighting, the queue is witness to the stall’s skill at cooking and the reasonable prices. A large portion of roast duck noodle sells at SGD 4.

They’re not shy of promoting their culinary efforts either—each plate of sliced roast pork comes with a pink or orange or yellow plastic rose and plastic green leaves, which later lie sad and abandoned on the plates amongst a pile of bones. The elderly cleaning lady (all cleaning staff at the food court is elderly, the young generation mans the sales counters), cleans off the plates with brattles of sound off stage behind a screen, and I think of the poor crushed petals of plastic roses lying under chewed-up bones.

I pick at the pile of pineapple slices on my plate with a toothpick the fruit-seller served them with. Why you eat so many fruit, ah? he asked me today, by way of conversation.

Rare in Singapore, to be addressed about anything other than your food when eating at food courts. But he has seen me off and on for weeks and months, and with no waiting queue behind me, threw me a question.

I smiled back. Love fruits leh, but too lazy to peel them one. I mangled my English on purpose. I knew I didn’t get the slang quite right, but they say, Ha? if I talk with all the conjunctions and prepositions I learned in school. The fruit-seller smiled back, Healthy one, ah, and handed me the change. I’ve used this sort of conversation in stories before, but my novel isn’t set in Singapore, so today’s exchange at the fruit counter isn’t helpful.

In all this time today, I’ve just sat and typed at random about where I am, about the Indian man gobbling up his chicken rice, dressed in striped shirt and office gear, a red backpack beside him, fake golden Rolex watch glinting under the light.

Or the elderly Chinese lady in glasses, coaxing strands of noodles on to her ceramic spoon, garnishing each mouthful with a slice of pickled chili, and popping the whole thing into her mouth while swaying with the music from her headphones.

Beside her sit two white women, one of them making inroads into her vegetable and rice with fork and spoon, the other making a mess of it with crossed chopsticks. The Chinese lady doesn’t look at them, not once.

Now that I have warmed up again, written my way through the Food court and waited, I’m hoping the Chapter will come to me. When I go home I’ll upload this on my blog, and tell you all about how I sat down today and waited to write.

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(P.S: I got in 1056 words after my warm-up, which, though not scintillating, is still much better than nothing)

What does it all mean?


What does it all mean?

What does it all mean?

When I write a story, (especially flash fiction like this one, that I wrote on the spur of the moment for the A to Z Challenge) I often wonder what it means—what I as the writer meant it to mean, and how does the reader take its meaning.

I’ve written stories which I thought were literary, were the subversion of a myth, and been congratulated on writing a fairy tale; I’ve written about a boy suffering abuse and have had folks root for the abuser; I’ve killed a character and then had the readers wonder what he would do next.

The problem, as I see it, can lie in two things:

I suck at writing: My craft could be undeveloped enough not to be able to support my muse—the story hovers inside me, a shiny hummingbird, comes out on the page a slimy, slow-moving slug.

Counter-argument: Some of the folks get exactly what I’m trying to say—how do they see the hummingbird instead of the slug?

Reading fiction on blogs demands too much attention: And some readers just can’t focus well enough to read the whole story. They comment on the few words they have read, move on.

Counter-argument: Doesn’t that show my weakness as a writer, because I wasn’t able to grab the reader, pin him or her down till my story was done?

This leaves a very confused writer. Do I suck at writing? Do I give up writing fiction on my blog?

Over the last weeks of writing a story a day, I have come to the following conclusion:

I will keep writing fiction on my blog, because it challenges me, and I enjoy it.

Yes, the writing process is never complete without the readers and their reactions– but there is something to be said for perseverance.

If my craft is lacking, practice would help. If blogs aren’t the best place for fiction, well, they’re still the best place to play around and experiment. Most of the stories I have written during the challenge are in genres I wouldn’t have written but for the prompts I was sent.

It is all good.

So has this happened to you?

As a reader, have you ever come across a meaning in a story which you discovered was different from anyone else? As a writer, have you had a reader give you back a meaning to your story that you never intended?

How To Adapt A Well Known Story For Fiction


Life has gotten in the way of blogging this last month. But a new year is here, and I’m making a new beginning. All the writing-related guest posts that got derailed (due to my blog and life problems) will now appear in January. First up is the excellent post by author Bryan Schmidt, where he talks about adapting a well known story for fiction. Take it away Bryan!!

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It’s been done. All too many times, if you listen to some. The story is world famous, well known. Many know its details by heart. Yet it’s compelling and you have an idea you know is different—one no one’s done before. So how do you keep it fresh? Adapting a well-known story for fiction has many challenges, but above them all is the issue of freshness, avoiding predictability.

There are some techniques which work well to invigorate the retelling:

1)      Use the original story as character history/backstory so the parallels are interesting but you don’t have to follow it to the letter—In The Worker Prince, my debut novel, because my characters are colonists to space from Earth and Protestants, they share the religious history of Christianity so the Moses story, which inspired mine, is prehistory. Some parallels from that story occur, when a prince discovers he was born a slave and helps the slaves fight for freedom, for example. But having established that as prehistory, I was able to depart quite a bit from biblical elements like the plagues, miracles, and parting of the Red Sea to tell a different, although familiar story. The inspiration remains the same but the story takes new and interesting twists.

2)      Change the timeline (order)– What if the events are the same but they don’t happen in the same order? Sometimes the order of events is not vital to the story and you can make new twists and turns just be changing the order of events and, thus, how those various events affect each other. It can lead to new conflicts and new undercurrents which didn’t exist in the original story and make it more interesting for those familiar with the story on which yours is based.
3)      Identify the core elements and throw away less important ones—In The Worker Prince I did exactly this: keeping the idea of one people enslaving another under a ruthless dictator, a prince secretly adopted from slaves, ideological conflict, and injustice but dumping things like the Red Sea, years of exile in a desert, plagues, etc. It kept the story familiar and grounded in the tropes of the original while allowing me to take it in totally different and surprising directions. Some scenes and events are vital for the story to remain familiar. The same can be said of key characters. Others can be thrown away or reinvented to keep things original and unique in your telling.

4)      Reverse roles, species or genders of characters—What if your hero in the original story was male but in your story becomes female? What if a human character becomes alien or animal? What about a robot? What about other characters? Can your sidekick become the love interest? What if your antagonist becomes a relative instead of  a social acquaintance? What if the characters take on bigger roles and multiple functions they didn’t have in the original? The differences between genders, species, etc. can then be exploited for new aspects of your story and new twists and turns different from the original in fun ways.

5)      Change the setting—Setting your story in a culture and context far removed from the original can provide interesting opportunities. I set The Worker Prince in distant space far from Earth with different aliens and plant species, etc. It allowed me to have technology and related problems totally foreign to the original Moses story and made for a more fun and interesting telling for me as storyteller and for readers. The same can be true of resetting the story in a different decade or era from the one in which it originally occurred. Imagine, if you will, a steampunk Cinderella or Sherlock Holmes in the 24th Century. All kinds of possibilities present themselves.

All of these suggestions are about making the story your own. If you can find ways to do that, you can create a fresh experience and telling while utilizing powerful elements of the familiarity and themes of the original story. Grounding your story in a well-known tale, definitely has advantages.  But a little creative rethinking can make it even more powerful and draw in an audience of people it might not otherwise appeal to. It’s fun to work from a familiar foundation and structure. Especially if you love the story, it can stimulate the imagination. But if everyone knows the twists and turns and outcome of your story, why should they want to read it? I hope these suggestions give you ideas how the old can become  new and fresh in the retelling.

Bryan Schmidt

Bryan Schmidt

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎3 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.