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 You Read Speculative Poetry?


I met Shelly Bryant at the Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Conference, and one of the first things she told me was that she wrote speculative poetry and translated Chinese to English. I’d never really read speculative poetry unless you count Kubla Khan, and I have a huge amount of respect for any foreigner who can speak Chinese (it’s not the easiest thing to do, I can tell you that),  let alone write or translate it. When I looked at her work, I found that a lot of it is influenced by her interactions with the orient.

I was fascinated. I requested her to appear in my ongoing series of creative writing professionals, and she was kind enough to agree. In her guest post today, she speaks about speculative poetry, what it is, and why she writes it. Take it away, Shelly!

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When asked why I focus on speculative poetry, I often reply that my goal is to make sure to limit my readership as much as possible.

Of course, that’s not true. Not only do I prefer to have as wide an audience as possible for my work, but I’ve actually found a fairly good sized readership within one of poetry’s fastest growing fields, speculative poetry. There are numerous journals and websites dedicated mostly or exclusively to the genre, and the poets working in the field form an active, supportive community – a community which includes, but is not limited to, the Science Fiction Poetry Association. I have enjoyed being a part of this community since 2007, when my first piece of speculative poetry was published. Since then, I’ve had over 600 pieces of creative work accepted for publication, the large majority of which are speculative poems.

While some poets prefer to the term “sci-fi poetry” to describe the field, I usually go with the more inclusive “speculative,” because much of what circulates in genre publications is neither science nor fiction. For me, what sets speculative poetry apart from mainstream verse is its focus on and approach to a “what if.” The poem that grows out of the poet’s engagement with a “what if” question may end up being sci-fi, fantasy, horror, surreal, dystopian, mythic, slipstream, or perhaps a combination of several of these. Which term best describes a particular poem depends on both the question asked and the approach taken to exploring it.

Most readers of English literature have encountered speculative poetry at some point, even if they have not called it that. Some examples: Beowulf, Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight, Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry, samples from Edwin Morgan’s poetry, Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, 1974 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Harry Martinson (author of Aniara)

Some other notable authors who are more known for their fiction have also published speculative poetry, including: Ursula Le Guin, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Janet Yolen

Other poets might be less recognizable to the wider reading public, but are very active within the field. Some important names are: Bruce Boston, Susan Slaviero, G. O. Clark, Kendall Evans, Marge Simon, Frederick Turner, David Kopaska-Merkel, Joshua Gage, Albert Goldbarth, Deborah Kolodji

(Of course, any list is bound to overlook many worthy names. I’ve only provided a sampler here.)

The inspiration for a speculative poem can be found anywhere. Several years ago, when I was browsing the materials in the Reading Room at the Chinese Academy of Science in Shanghai, I came across an article describing the recent findings of the Hubble Telescope, including several exoplanets. In its description of HD69830c, the article raised the question of what seasons would be like on a planet with the features observed on HD69830c. And with that “what if,” I knew I had the starting point for a new poem. The result was this sijo (first published in Dreams and Nightmares, September 2012):

alone with you
on HD69830c

watching the meteor shower
that nightly lights the skies

we await the change of seasons
for which we still have no names

All of that is well and good, but it still does not answer the question of why I personally choose to write speculative poetry. For me, it is no different from the question of why I read so much speculative poetry and fiction. In the speculative genres, I find space to explore topics that are often either too messy or too big to treat in situations that are recognizably my own. When the issues are distanced in a defamiliarized world, I might not come to answers, but there is more freedom to explore the problems.

The most prominent recurring theme in my body of work is the question of Otherness. In speculative fiction, I can consider not only questions of racism, gender politics, or all the other “real” world areas where Otherness creates such difficulties, but can really push the boundaries and ask myself how far I can go in trying to empathize with something that seems so completely alien to me. What happens in most speculative fiction and poetry is that the reading (or writing) experience draws me close to the Other, opening the way for sympathy and understanding, perhaps even allowing me to abandon the sort of thinking that creates Others in my mind in the first place, and moving me to recognize all creatures as not Other, but as one like me.

———-

Poems by Shelly Bryant

Shelly Bryant

Shelly Bryant divides her year between Shanghai and Singapore, working as a teacher, writer, researcher, and translator. She is the author of six volumes of poetry and a pair of travel guides for the cities of Suzhou and Shanghai. She has translated work from the Chinese for Penguin Books, Epigram Publishing, the National Library Board in Singapore, Giramondo Books, and Rinchen Books.

Shelly’s poetry has appeared in journals, magazines, and websites around the world, as well as in several art exhibitions, including dark ’til dawn, Things Disappear, and Studio White, Exhibition 2011.

———–

I’ve highlighted the last para of Shelly’s post above because I found it simply beautiful, and so relevant to our times, and didn’t want anyone to miss it.

I’ve really enjoyed reading Shelly’s poetry and have written about it. Have you ever read speculative poetry? Would you like to give it a try? (I’ll be giving out copies of Shelly’s The Lined Palm to two randomly chosen commenters.) Do you have questions for Shelly Bryant?

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.

——–

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!

 

Want to chat with a Literary Agent? #MSWL #amwriting


As part of my ongoing writer’s guest post series in this blog, Melanie Lee spoke to us a week back. Today, it is with great pleasure that I present Jayapriya Vasudevan, one of the best known literary agents in Asia, who founded the Jacaranda Literary Agency. She answers questions on various topics of writerly interest: feel free to leave your questions for her in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to get answers for them.

Hi Jayapriya, and welcome to Daily (w)rite. What was the impetus behind your becoming a literary agent?

I used to run a bookstore/café years ago, and got to know both writers and publishers really well. The agency started when a writer I adored asked me to introduce him to the head of Penguin, India. It seemed to be the perfect way to use all my experience in the publishing world ( I worked in various aspects of publishing before I set up the store with a partner). I was the first agent in India, and I figured out the business as I went along. An editor friend and I put the word out that we were looking for manuscripts. We received more than 40 in a week. Amongst the authors we took on were Anita Nair (her first novel) and Rohini Nilekani. The writer who started me on this journey, the very first author in the Jacaranda list, Shashi Warrier. I still represent his work. The publisher, David Davidar. Now head of Aleph.

What is your typical day as an agent at Jacaranda Literary Agency?

Insanely busy. We are four agents who work out of four countries, with around 80 writers on our list. With varying time zones it’s mad. The first half of the day is about calls and emails. I speak on Skype with either Helen in Singapore or Andrea in Manila at 6.30 am my time. I spend around two hours reading every day: a fiction manuscript and one non fiction manuscript at a time. Takes me around 10 days to finish two manuscripts. And meetings happen as they will, as well as literary events in Nairobi, put together by various organizations like Kwani, (works with emerging African voices) and Storymoja, (does a chapter of the Hay Festival), and then there are the major book fairs and literary festivals we attend through the year.

What do you look for in an author you choose to represent? What sort of submissions are you seeing too much of, and what are the kind of submissions you’d like to see more of?

Good writing is at the core of everything. At least two of us at Jacaranda need to love it. The agency business is also very relationship based. The author-agent relationship is one of trust, and partnership. The ability to talk freely with the author, discuss edits and ideas is as integral to the agency business as the work itself. We get too much debut writing, of a quality that we’re unable to represent ( also saying here that we read at least 50 pages before abandoning a book). Writing to a trend or a market does not necessarily make for good writing, and that’s what seems to be happening now. We’d like to see more narrative non fiction. More beautiful and personal stories. More memoirs. Writing that stems from real experience or very good research as the case may be. We’re looking to grow our brand new Children’s list, and writing from Singapore, India, The Philippines and East Africa.

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?
Anita Nair. Shashi Warrier. Suchen Christine Lim.( FH Batacan.Krishna Udayasankar. Kiran Khalap. Jess De Boer, Tracey Morton.. I could go on really…) These in particular for their incredibly beautiful writing. Vivid. Nuanced. With real stories to tell.

Will you be at any upcoming writer’s events, festivals, conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
I will be at Storymoja in Nairobi. Helen and Andrea will be at AFCC.

Any words of advice to authors worldwide looking forward to representation from your agency?

Take the trouble to do more than one draft. Be critical of your own work. Edit. Edit. Edit. Stay with a style that you are comfortable with and not try and copy a writer you admire. Proof your work. Send it out in a format that makes for easy reading.

Jaypriya Vasudevan: Jacaranda Literary Agency

Jaypriya Vasudevan: Jacaranda Literary Agency

Tell us about a project you’ve represented that is coming out now/ soon.

Krishna’s next book this fall. David Grossman’s To The End of the World in Tamil. Shashi Warrier and his wife Prita ( adorable to have husband and wife writing), their novels also this fall. A riveting first person account on being bipolar. Zafar Anjum’s book on the poet Iqbal. FH Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles, and Table for Three.

About Jayapriya: I come from a family of writers. My father was one. My brothers are writers. I studied English Literature in College and have been in publishing since then. I adore the Arts, both performing and visual. Love books, naturally. I have lived in many countries and am delighted that this allows me to experience the literature of several countries as a local. Publishing is the only industry I would be a part of. I live in Nairobi, Kenya.

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Dear reader, what are your thoughts on Asian authors? Have you read any of the authors Jayapriya mentions? Are you on the lookout for a literary agent? Do you have any questions for Jayapriya Vasudevan? 

What is #Narrative #Nonfiction? #amwriting


Through the months of December and January, some fab writers have taken over Daily (w)rite and spoken about the art and craft of writing. Check out the posts by Suchen Christine Lim, Sarah Butler, Scott Bryson, Eeleen Lee and Suzy Vitello for some excellent discussions and tips on fiction writing.

Today, I welcome Trish Nicholson. She has a great blog, and her latest offering, Write Your Nonfiction Book: The Complete Guide to Becoming an Author

is on my TBR pile. If you’re intrigued by Narrative Non-fiction, I urge you to check it out. Take it away, Trish!

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Writing Your Nonfiction Book: The Complete Guide to Becoming an Author

Writing Your Nonfiction Book: The Complete Guide to Becoming an Author

What is Narrative Nonfiction?
I’ve noticed lately how often I write the phrase ‘applies equally to fiction and nonfiction’. Having had a book on story craft (Inside Stories for Writers and Readers) published last year, and now, a guide to writing and publishing a nonfiction book, the comparison is highlighted.

The fundamental difference, of course, is that nonfiction is not made up; it is based on verifiable facts, which provide its power to inform and influence as well as to entertain.

Because of this, the process requires careful research and planning – we cannot launch into a flight of fancy – but what of the writing craft, voice, structure, imagery?
We can’t invent, but that doesn’t mean we don’t use our imagination, and it is important that we do, because our brains have evolved to understand life around us as stories – narratives – with causes and effects creating and resolving conflicts, producing outcomes. Research into the psychology of reading confirms that our attitudes and behaviour can be changed by our emotional involvement in a story: it stimulates empathy. We understand and learn best through storytelling.

Significantly, this applies also to nonfiction that is written in a style to enlist a reader’s feelings, especially by the presence of ‘characters’ depicted in the narrative. In the US, the term ‘creative nonfiction’ describes the use of story techniques to factual situations, especially for essays and memoir, but the author is central to the composition: an event is explored through the personal experience of the writer. This may not be appropriate to all nonfiction subjects – e.g. for writing histories, biographies, text books, or documentaries with a wider focus. Here, the author may be the narrator, but his or her inner state is not the principal issue. So instead, I use the term ‘narrative nonfiction’.

Narrative nonfiction employs story craft, such as plotting to build tension, deep characterisation, and imaginative description, to present facts in a form that stimulates readers’ senses and engages them emotionally. Learning facts does not have to be a dry, mind-numbing experience. Today, publishers and readers expect to be enthralled, not bludgeoned, by information.

Although Write Your Nonfiction Book guides writers through the whole process – refining an idea, research, writing, editing, implementing publishing options, and marketing – the emphasis is on narrative style, and how to achieve reader-engagement for a wide range of nonfiction genres. And because technology allows writers from almost anywhere in the world to offer their books in the global market-place, I encourage these voices to be heard more widely by providing information that is, as far as possible, international.

Why not let the world hear your voice?

————–

Trish Nicholson narrative non fiction

Trish Nicholson

About Trish Nicholson: Dr Trish Nicholson is a writer, photographer, social anthropologist, and author of short stories, and narrative nonfiction on ethnography, travel, popular science and writing craft. Her latest titles are, Inside Stories for Writers and Readers, and Write Your Nonfiction Book: The Complete Guide to Becoming an Author. You can connect with her on Twitter, @TrishaNicholson, and follow her blog at http://www.trishnicholsonswordsinthetreehouse.com

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       As a reader, what are  some of your favorite non fiction narratives and why?

           If you’re a nonfiction author, what tips would you give a beginner??

Suchen Christine Lim Talks about #amwriting in #Singapore


As part of my ongoing writer’s guest post series in this blog,  Suchen Christine Lim, one of Singapore’s best known authors, spoke to us about her writing journey last Thursday. Today, she answers questions on various topics of writerly interest. Feel free to leave your questions for her in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to get answers for them.

In October this year Suchen’s latest novel, The River’s Song was launched in Singapore (click here for video) and below she answers questions about her writing in general and her new novel in particular.

1. You’ve written novels, short stories, children’s stories and plays. What sort of writing do you find the most challenging, and why?

Writing a novel is the most challenging. Not just because of its length, but also because of the necessary chaos that one has to go through before one can see the beauty of the form and substance woven and integrated into an organic whole. And that journey through chaos may take a year or two or three or four. The novel’s demands are many, and each novel has its own unique set of requirements. Having written a novel doesn’t mean that the next novel will be easier to write. The novelist is forever a beginning writer.

2. Your work shows a fascination with history. What role, in your opinion, does an author play in the recording of a country’s history?

There’s a common saying that history is written by the victor.  Official history textbooks present the official point of view.  Individuals with political, economic, and religious power and influence are identified, named, and honoured. The powerless are always referred to as ‘the masses’.  Faceless and anonymous.
Literature, however, is the great leveller. To the novelist and playwright, the beggar or the king, the rich entrepreneur or the poor labourer, the powerful dictator or the powerless citizen, all are worthy subjects for one’s art. The novel often offers multiple points of view, and historical novels often interrogate the official view of the past.  In fiction, the defeated could rewrite the victor’s version of history. 

3. As an established creative writing guru, what do you look for in your students? What do you think makes a successful writer?

I beg your pardon. I’m not an established writing guru.  I run the occasional writing workshop when universities or organisations such as the Arvon Foundation, the British Council or the National Arts Council invite me.  What I look for in aspiring writers is passion and commitment.  Many young writers are highly talented, but few have the discipline to sit down and wrestle with their writing till the complete draft of a novel emerges.

4. There are various opinions on whether creative writing can be taught. As someone who has long taught creative writing, what are your thoughts on this?

No one can make us creative. But a creative writing course can teach us to hone our writing and storytelling skills.

The River's Song by Suchen Christine Lim

The River’s Song: Suchen Christine Lim

5. What part of your writing life do you enjoy the most, and why?

What part of my writing life?  The first part when I am alone and writing, or alone and walking with a story about to come to birth.

6. Could you tell us something about your latest novel, The River’s Song?

The image of a wiry, bare-chested, sun-browned man crouched among his pots of wilting chilli plants, his lost and vacant eyes gazing through the railings of a 12-storey apartment block, had haunted me for a long time. This memory of a squatter farmer evicted from the Singapore River in the 1970s led me to write ‘The River’s Song’. The novel is both a moving love story between a music professor in UC Berkeley and the master flautist in the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, as well as a fictionalised account of the eviction of boatmen and squatters from the Singapore River.  Today the river is a tourist attraction and a prime residential area of expensive condominiums.
__________

Suchen Christine Lim

Suchen Christine Lim

Author Bio: Born in Malaysia but educated in Singapore, Suchen Christine Lim was awarded the Southeast Asia Write Award 2012. In 1992, her novel, Fistful Of Colours, won the Inaugural Singapore Literature Prize. Critics have described her first novel, Rice Bowl, as “a landmark publication on post-independence Singapore”, and A Bit Of Earth as “a literary masterwork as well as a historical document” that was “un-put-downable – a sure sign of a master storyteller.” A short story in The Lies That Build A Marriage, was made into a film for national television.

Awarded a Fulbright grant, she is a Fellow of the International Writers’ Program in the University of Iowa, and its International Writer-in-Residence. In 2005, she was writer-in-residence in Scotland, and has returned to the UK several times as an Arvon Tutor to conduct writing workshops and read at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Her new novel, The River’s Song, will be launched in London and New York next spring.

—-What are your thoughts on Asian authors? Do you have any questions for Suchen Christine Lim? Leave them in the comments.

Dear Author, Are You Writing a Series?


Through the months of November and December, some fab writers would take over Daily (w)rite. I still have a few slots open for December, so I would welcome guest posts by writers who have something to say about the art, craft, and business of writing. Write me a mail at atozstories at gmail dot com to discuss this.

Today, I welcome Rick Gualtieri. He has a great blog, and his latest offering, , Sunset Strip is on my TBR pile (Just look at that gorgeous cover!). It is a 60k words of paranormal fantasy with attitude, and is now available Kindle, Nook, Kobo . If you haven’t already, I urge you to check it out. Take it away, Rick!

Sunset Strip: A Tale From The Tome Of Bill

Sunset Strip by Rick Gualtieri

Surviving a Series

 I’ve just released the fifth book in a horror/comedy series I’ve been writing.  I’m lucky in that it’s been well-received by readers and has developed a bit of a following.  There’re few better feelings for a writer than receiving a message asking when the next book will be coming out. At the same time, it’s not all wine and roses. It’s very possible to suffer from series burn-out. There’s also the ever-present fear of ‘jumping the shark’, where everything afterward doesn’t quite reach the highpoints that came before.  In short there’re plenty of challenges for series authors. In between writing mine and reading others, though, I’ve come up with some suggestions that hopefully you might find useful.

 -        Know where you’re going.  A series should have a destination in mind.  Even if it’s not an ultimate destination, there should be a culmination to story arcs in mind before starting anew.  Closure is good and gives readers a sense of satisfaction.  Without that sense of direction, your multi-book epic adventure could start to seem aimless. Treat your series like a singular story, except each book represents a chapter.  Make sure you have a coherent beginning, middle, and end when it’s all viewed as a whole.

-        Change is good, as long as it’s not for the sake of change.  Mix things up, kill characters, introduce new ones, and have the survivors grow as a result – as long as it makes sense for the story.  The same thing over and over again is comfortable, but can rapidly become boring.  Just make sure when you change it, you know where you’re going with it.

-        Don’t milk it.  While you wouldn’t be the first writer to throw a few extra books into a series to keep the old cash cow alive, remember that readers aren’t stupid.  If it’s filler, people will realize it. Go to that well too often and don’t be surprised when readers react to the announcement of the next chapter with apathy rather than excitement.  If your series is reaching its end, go for it and go big.  Don’t put off the inevitable just because you hope to squeeze people for a few more bucks.

-        It’s okay to take a break.   You may get some grousing, but it’s perfectly okay to work on a different story in between series volumes.  You need to respect your readers, but that doesn’t mean they should dictate what must come next.   No ideas for a different world? Consider a side story for a sub character. This can be a great way to mix things up and keep them fresh for you, while at the same time expanding upon your universe.  My latest falls into that category.  It was a nice breath of fresh air to help me recharge my batteries, while still treading familiar ground.

Writing a series can be an awesome experience in extended world-building and storytelling.  But much like a long road trip, it’s easy to get lost. If you can avoid doing so, though, you may find it personally rewarding as well as potentially lucrative.

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Rick Gualtieri

Rick Gualtieri

About Rick: Rick Gualtieri lives alone in a dark, evil place called New Jersey with only his wife, three kids, and countless pets to both keep him company and constantly plot against him. When he’s not busy monkey-clicking out words, he can typically be found jealously guarding his collection of vintage Transformers from all who would seek to defile them. Defilers beware!

———  As a reader, what are some of your favorite series, and why? If you’re an author, what’s your take on surviving a series?