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Brian J. W. Lee is a writer. When he's not writing, he's plotting to plunge the world in a deep chasm of terror, darkness and screams. Sorry, did I get carried away?

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Authors on Pedestals & Getting Banned for a Week on Absolute Write

There's this thing that fans of books and the writers who produced them have. It's muted today compared to back then, when the internet is nothing but science fiction. To some, we're like immortals, always wise and never wrong, never given to human failings and flaws.

Just like some politicians (with often terrible consequence), actors, and in general, people we consider heroes, authors are put right up there on a skyscraper-sized pedestal.

And so, oh boy, if they fall, they're going to fall really hard. Your favourite President or Prime Minister? Yeah, he's raised a nation out of one crisis or another, built up the economy, but if you look hard enough, they're squirrelling money out of the treasury or having wanton affairs. That actor you loved in the latest Sci-Fi blockbuster? Busted for drugs, violence, wife-beating, etc.

And now we've come to authors. Stephen King was a drug addict.

Sorry Stephen, gotta say it man, gotta say it. Still love you!

Some modernist writers, including Gertrude Stein, people who'd contributed greatly to the international literary tradition, are elitist and supporters of authoritarian or fascist regimes. Then there's the more common disillusionment of famous authors, which happens when you get his autograph and you get brushed aside before you could open your mouth.

It all comes down to this: Authors, or writers, are regular ol' people. The sooner people realise this the better. I realised this with Stephen King in my earliest adult years, I believe. I was shocked to learn about this, but I understood then that in the end, we're all human beings, flesh and blood with a finite mind. I came to terms with it rather quickly, and I found that for all his drug addiction, he's far, far better off than other celebrities and the crazy stunts they're pulling. He kicked the habit, and as far as I know, he has no other problems (at least until the day someone discovers a secret basement full of skeletons, malformed animals and a portal to hyperspace-hell).

Now, with all that being said...

Well, shit.

So I got banned from a forum full of writers, full-fledged authors and artists, at least for a week.

Let's look at the crime, shall we?

Let's see, I was happily getting feedback for my poorly-done book cover when this happened:

Wha- But, but, but!

One of the commenting authors, a published giant with 10 years of experience in the AW forum and numerous books under her belt, decided to take things personally, when all I was doing was to try to form a connection with her, you know, empathise with you, like what normal human beings are supposed to do:

I said I wanted to be like you!

And so everything went down the shithole when I'm... Let's just say, a little displeased with what she's giving me. So I called her out on it, saying that she was being over-sensitive, and that she's probably having a bad day and needs to sleep it off.
What the fuck?

And of course, the admin decided to go down on me with the ban hammer and crushed my knees with it, instead of, you know, arbitrating the shit out of this, trying to keep the peace, collect both sides of the story, etc, like any good purveyor of justice would do:

Apparently, the rest of the thread with me accepting critiques with gratitude flew right over his head and the planet of Mars.

Specifically, these:

Maybe they think I'm double-speaking and is actually beating everyone up?

Note that I was completely fine with what said Over-Sensitive Author is saying. It's the fellow who popped up 3 times, so I waved at her 3 times.

And... The words that started it all.

And so the rest is history, I got banned for a week, but that's not all, folks! The admin deleted my last post, which is fishy to say the least. Maybe to hide evidence of my more reasonable side? My last post was more than those two paragraphs. If I remember correctly, here's the reconstruction of the first half of my post:

"I think you're being over-sensitive.

I misunderstood you, you cleared things up. It's supposed to end there.

I was just trying to straighten things out.

Why are you seeing ill-intention even where there is none?"

Not quite accurate as I remember it to be a bit more eloquent.

So, my takeaway from this is this: The author is accomplished, a veteran member of the board, popular and respected. Only problem is, she's a tad sensitive. Despite her flaw, she's going to get her way, because hey: Well-Published Author VS Unknown Guy. Fight!

And I promptly got my ass handed to me.

I knew right from the beginning that I'd get my ass handed to me. I'm just that kind of guy who can't stand any form of injustice, in this case, a misunderstanding of what I'm doing and the subsequent consequences.

And of course, the authority's in favour of the powerful. How can I not see that? It's the same everywhere, and it's even worse on the internet. I've encountered it on other forums. Two guys disagreeing on something. On average, the guy with more post and credit gets saved and the other gets the ban hammer. I guess the internet grants absolute power and control, and as the saying goes, 'absolute power corrupts absolutely'.

I just woke up the next morning and found that I got banned. No messages, no demand for explanation, no anything.

Well, maybe this could be a good thing. I can now focus on myself and function autonomously to get my novel out, yay!

PS: I just realised that I might be staring at a Dystopian society in the Absolute Write Water Cooler forum. I came in thinking it's a perfect Utopia, only for shit like this to happen. And of course, like how any good Dystopia functions, throw in the elitist authority (Admin & Insta-Ban-Hammer), the censorship and fact manipulation (My post getting deleted and any post can be edited)... I have half a mind right now to migrate.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Book Cover Disaster!

So basically, my book cover artist, who is my mother, released the book cover to me.

At first glance, it looks fine, but when you look closely, such as at 100% zoom, the cracks would start to show. And boy, does it start to show.

The problems that I immediately identified are the following:
- Poor fonts done up on the fly. I admit that I have a part to play in this as I chose the fonts and colour. But I only had so many options, and I hadn't moved on to sourcing for custom fonts at the time.

- Also, the words are a little small. They get smudged up when zoomed out. As thumbnails, it'd be just a puddle of blood.

- The outlines give it a cartoonish look. Not good if I want to be in the military-horror genre. It looks more like a YA or children's book like this.

- It is still too bright, despite the artist's best efforts. Part of this might be due to her hardware problem.

I've posted this up on the Absolute Write Water Cooler forum, and I've received the following feedback:

- Half says that this cover needs a major cosmetic surgery.

- The other half says that this cover needs to be buried alive.

- Only one guy, in PM, says that some minor patch-ups and it'd be good to go.

In general, here's some of what they're saying:

- Perspective issues.

- Lighting issues.

- The room is undefined, and looks like the soldier is peeking at a monster who's taking a dump in the toilet. T_T

- The blood looks poorly done.

- The art style is improper for a horror novel.

- Plus they agree with me on all my personal criticisms of the art piece.

It's time to deliver the bad news to my mother and move on. I will probably get a pre-made, but if I can get some good recommendations from my pals in Absolute Write, then I might get a book cover artist.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Writing Report #18: Real Life Strikes Again

This writing report is for Monday and Tuesday (26/09/16 - 27/09/16).

The past 2 days hasn't been as productive, this time due to real life bleeding right through into my writing space-time (cool term, huh?).

On Monday, I was only able to edit a chapter and a half, and even then, I did one chapter with difficulty and all during office hours in between tasks - I was really being put through the meatgrinder that day. I had no choice, as I had to teach tuition. The other half was done at home, and it wasn't even one chapter as I just couldn't endure it anymore.

On Tuesday, I finished that up, and did another chapter - Again, with difficulty. While I had no tuition to teach after work, I had to exercise, and it wasn't just for my own good. The country demands it. Part of my conscription liabilities. One chapter was all it took for me to burn out way before midnight.

All that being said, I'm one chapter behind schedule if I'm following my old schedule. If. IF.

But no, according to the new schedule, I would be 5 chapters off. Five!

Part of this is due to the surprising difficulty of applying my proofreader's edits. I would have to decide if she was right. Moreover, she's more than a proofreader sometimes - I'm glad for it, but that means additional work per chapter. Then of course, add in all the hardware and software limitations on both sides, and we're even more inefficient.

If editing 4 chapters a day is impossible, I would have to tweak my plans once more. At 2 chapters a day, only half the book gets Abby's edits before publication - Provided that I don't overtake her at our current editing speed.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Writing Report #17: Tired & Low Morale

This writing report is for last Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (22/09/2016 - 25/09/2016)

Thursday and Friday represented the last leg of my journey in my self-edits. On Thursday, I completed chapter 10 to 11, and on Friday, 12 to 13. I discovered that, that's as far as I needed to go. It was here that a chapter was deleted due to redundancy and poor pacing, and the subsequent chapter was clearly edited.

So ends my final authorial edits, and so began the application of my proofreader's edits. And how appropriate it would be that we hit this climax with a huge problem!

See, I got the blues, coloured like I was choking to death. Pfffffffffff... Let's just say I'm a little tired of going through my own novel from start to finish. To have done it for the past month and then losing something like a week's work and then redoing those too? Yeah, it's so exhausting, I feel like putting out my eyes.

But I must go on. On Saturday, I did only Chapter 0 - The prologue - though. I was just feeling too down. On Sunday, I did the next 2 chapters. It's projected that I need to do 4 chapters if I want to come close to following the schedule.

The easy part is that following my proofreader's work is easier than self-editing, because I'm only taking suggestions, deciding if they're right and putting them in. The hard part is the above - fighting fatigue and low morale. It's that switch in me that says 'Man, I need to put aside my manuscript for the next time I edit!', except this is the final edit... At least until I want to work on a 2nd edition.

The one thing I'm glad for is that my proofreader, despite her inexperience, has proven herself quite capable of holding her own. Abigail's her name, or Abby for short. She had a master's in some engineering course, but she's a lifelong avid reader, and she'd written for amusement on her own. It shows.

I still don't know if I can do up 4 chapters a day. My contingency plan is to release the novel with half the proofreader's input, but then it may not be up to me. Abby'd upped her pace, but she's still not fast enough to finish by the 10th-15th October.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Book Cover Blues

Progress on my debut novel, The Keeper of Pulau Purba, is going well, cruising along the canal of hope at moderate knots.

Both my cover artist and proofreader are slow in their work, but it's the former I'm starting to worry about. I had a sit down with her, and realised that she doesn't back up her work, she doesn't know how to expand an entity in size while keeping the proportions intact, and she's resistant to change.

She was the one who objected to me hiring a cover artist in the first place.

She is my mother.

Yes, I know that engaging family is not recommended and borderline nepotism in the self-publishing business. Lemme tell you a flash fiction.

My extended family includes many artists without a future. My mother and her siblings were amongst the people with that distinction. Asia is an amazing place for artists, you know that? At the top, you get persecuted and fined at best for writing something controversial, and at worst, you get jailed and/or executed. The more obscure artists just... Gets no business at all. It's not like the United States or the UK, there's fewer human rights protection, and very much less business for the arts.

So my mother and her siblings gave up their artistic dreams. My mom couldn't even become a hairdresser when her Godmother refused to pay for her education. That was in Brunei and Taiwan, I believe.

After raising me and my brother, she was plunged in the modern world with the internet and e-commerce, which was when she started thriving, earning far more than most authors on Amazon with her art tutor business and website. About $1,000 a month, last time I checked. She started learning and packing her artistic arsenal, going for courses in oil painting and stuff. She learnt how to use Photoshop all on her own! And I'm still clueless with it!

This is why I decided to give her a chance, over hiring a book cover artist, nepotism and recommendations be damned.

But the world is cruel, and despite her outstanding journey as an artist, I might have to let her go... Even though she's doing this for free.

I wish I can avoid being so professionally cruel, but in the end, it's quality that matters, and she's having trouble with applying colours and adding shadows at the same time. I need to sell my book, and a bad cover will put an end to my writing career before it even gets off the ground.

Even right now, I am spoiled for choice for premade e-book covers on the net. They may not convey exactly what I have in mind for my book cover, but the artwork is amazing, and some are even able to get aspects of my ideal book cover right... Without knowing what I want!

I will weep for now, but I must move on.

Only time now can tell me if I need to replace my mother with an anonymous ghost-artist from the ether.

Writing Report #16: The End is Nigh!

This Writing Report is for Monday (19/09/2016), Tuesday (20/09/2016) and Wednesday (21/09/2016).

Things are progressing well. There has been no delays, and I haven't been falling short of the schedule at all. I really hate making up for being behind schedule. I would rather set my hair on fire.

Anyway, that means 6 chapters at the beginning done in terms of final authorial edits. Today, Thursday, will see me going through chapter 10, and for safety's sake, I will edit up to chapter 15, and then it's all up to my proofreader now.

Speaking of my proofreader, she just decided to increase her pace too, to meet my target of going through the entire novel in a month. The actual speed, though, is less than what she's targeting. I guess I'll just have to publish with only half her edits and put everything else in only after the book's out. Being an unknown has its merits.

She has reported enjoying the book so far, and is anticipating what's happening next. At least, that's what's been reported to me. The fear I have in roping in family is that they just won't be edgy and honest enough, even if my cousin's living in another country and we don't see each other often at all. Good enough, I suppose.

The book cover is coming together slowly. The initial sketch was done, and the line work on Photoshop was done and over with. It looks like a comic book panel now, with some shadow around the edges thrown in.

Again, I have my doubts though. With my input, the creature's legs, which are the only parts showing, is weird and disfigured enough, but is it scary enough? I'm not sure. I'm under the impression that it's actually slightly, just slightly, better than what I've depicted in the scene the cover is based on, but will it draw a potential reader in? I guess I'll have to look at it when it's completed.

I'll see if I can get the sketch up on the blog for you guys.

Regardless of whether people are willing to pay for my novel or not, I'll be a happy man. To have a novel in public would be the start of a new era for me! Hah, grand terms... Sorry, old habit.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

5 Video Games to Play Between Writing Sessions

The way I write is best described as low-intensity, but it is a matter of perspective. By low-intensity, I mean in bursts of at least an hour, followed by at least an hour or two of rest, relaxation, entertainment and the consumption of inspirational art, repeat the process. On a normal day, I'd have two sessions to produce 1,000 words.

So, what do I do in between writing sessions? Video games are one thing, other than reading or watching movies or television (unless I'm working in my day job, which is pretty much 66% of my weekdays).

I can already hear the whispers of disapproval! Hah! After all, Stephen King disapproved of television shows, what more for video games? *Gasp*

Let's just say, I've learnt a very long time ago that the video game is just another medium like your good ol' folk songs and poetry, just that it's a medium that, like the novel, isn't as widely accepted because it's, well, novel, at least compared to your tried and true ancient forms of art.

In fact, I'd say that video games are indispensable to me, and have become a very permanent part of my writer's psychology. Here are 5 video games I've played that has played some part in my writing life, or even influenced my writing:

(Note that I have very little access to consoles, so I've played all my games on the computer)

Oh, and disclaimer: Minor spoilers alert! Will try not to spoil too hard though.

5) Minecraft (5

The charm of Minecraft doesn't come from its story or plot. Simply put it, it has none. The charm of Minecraft comes from how that literary void gives your imagination a kick into an overdrive. If you're the right sort, you'll fill in the blanks just fine. Why are you in the middle of the wilderness? Why is there no one else? Why is the world made of blocks? And why don't you have any fingers!?

Most importantly, this story-generating setting is aided by just how much you can manipulate the environment around you. You can craft tools, furniture, build buildings, etc. It helps you make sense of the story you impose on the world of Minecraft.

As such, this Lego-like game makes a very good massage chair for your creativity. It soothes your mental muscle, trains it and it's not a painful process at all, quite the opposite!

The reason why it's at the bottom of the list is exactly that: It has no plot nor story, and as such it offers nothing specific to the writer. That's why it's so popular, it's for everyone, From ages 5 and up, of any background.

Its open-ended nature may also mean that you'd derive nothing for your writing life if the conditions aren't right. I mean, just yesterday, the Minecraft Realm I was in was devoid of any other players, and all I did was to slaughter some cows in my ranch and look at how my farm is doing - It's relaxing, but that's it.

4) The Stanley Parable (4

The Stanley Parable is about a man named Stanley, working in his office as usual... Until he discovered that everyone in the building has disappeared - Or is that what it's all about? This game is called a 'walking simulator' by gamers, but a better way to describe it is to call it a highly interactive video game choose-your-own-adventure novella, with a very, VERY prominent narrator.

Let's just say that the twists that this game has in store for you will turn up in double or triple knots, which leads me to what this game has to offer.

The first time I've seen it in its development was as a Half-Life mod probably over a decade ago. Even then, it was marketed as an experiment in storytelling. It was then developed into a real stand-alone game on its own. To great success.

This game will have you question the relationship between the Player Character, Narrator and Player. In fiction terms, the Character (Mainly the Protagonist), Narrator and Reader. If you were never aware of the intricacies of the relationship between these three entities surrounding a story, then The Stanley Parable can serve as a crash course in it.

While not directly addressing writing, it comes really close, and as you can see above, writing as an analogy for the writer's education is easily possible. You'll learn a lot about storytelling, and its creative, fourth-wall-busting plot and story will likely do wonders to your list of plot ideas, not to mention your writing arsenal.

3) The Novelist (3

I'll be honest, I've only played an hour of this game. But it isn't because of poor story, plot or characters that drove me away. It isn't even because the presentation of the game is sacrificed for the sake of story (No, it isn't). Surprisingly, it's due to the inclusion of serious gameplay mechanics that actually drove me away.

Yep, that's right, the storytelling of this game is so good that actual and well-done gameplay is a detriment to it!

In this game, you play the role of a ghost-like entity in a holiday home, when a novelist and his family moved in. The novelist is having a great struggle against writer's block, and all the distractions of real life (including his family) impeding his writing. Your job is to learn about the family, and try to help (or failing to, hinder) the novelist, in the way you see fit.

The relation of this game to writing is obvious. It's a game about a writer, and it features the problems of a writer on the forefront. It'll sing to you if you're a true writer. If you aspire to be one, it'll give you an unadulterated (as far as I know) view of what it's like to be a writer, and not the often wrong popular perception of it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go ahead and try to finish it. There's an option to turn off most of the gameplay, by the way, to turn it into a video game novel. Yeah, I'm thinking it's supposed to cater to the likes of me.

2) Silent Hill Series (2

The Silent Hill series is known to contain some of the scariest video games in existence. I can vouch for the franchise firsthand, as I've played Silent Hill 3 and 4. What can I say? I'm a latecomer to the franchise.

The scare tactics employed by the franchise's core games (everything else just aren't as good), which I'd say would be from Silent Hill 1 through to 4, are what Stephen King would have been proud of. And you know what? Stephen King had a hand in starting the series! The developers had read Stephen King's The Mist back in the 80s or 90s (can't remember), and the novella inspired the titular setting and even a Pterodactyl-type monster. The rest is history.

Other than this very loose connection to one of the grand masters of horror, the story of the franchise is superb, one-of-a-kind. By that, I mean the lore and backstory surrounding the town of Silent Hill and what has happened to it.

The plot, I feel, did not really take off to greatness until Silent Hill 3 and 4. Before those games, it's mostly all about the protagonist looking for someone. Sure, there are struggles and some character development here and there, but there's more to an engaging plot than that.

The characters are awesome from 2 onward to 4. In the first iteration of the game, Harry Mason is a writer looking for his daughter - Nothing much beyond that. In 2, we get more characterisation with a really conflicted husband in a weird situation. In Silent Hill 3, it's a teenage girl with a troubled past and how she eventually learn to come to terms with it. In 4, it's a case of the supporting characters overshadowing the protagonist, as Henry Townsend is meant to let the player fill his shoes.

Needless to say, the Silent Hill franchise is an excellent treasure trove of examples when it comes to setting, such as atmosphere, lore and backstory, as well as plot, character, hell, anything to do with storytelling. For horror writers, you'll get more than enough of the gross-out, horror and terror.

You'll probably get ideas when it comes to monster creation, and tying those monsters to the plot. I know, because these games had taught me a thing or two about horror and monsters in general, something that I'd still struggle to learn about for years to come.

Who knows? Play it, and its darkness might even contaminate your next novel. :)

1) Alan Wake (1

And finally we've come to the champion of video games for writers.

Alan Wake, at its core, is a psychological thriller, but fiction genres can be very murky on the lines. It certainly has many aspects of horror such that it could easily be put in that category. But most importantly, it is a game that works, I mean, on every level. You see all those other games up there on this list? Yeah, Alan Wake has almost everything they offer.

You want a good gameplay and open world like Minecraft? Alan Wake has got you covered. You have many ways to dispatch your enemies, and many ways to travel, by a number of cars or on foot. You can explore, and there are many secrets to find.

You want innovative and self-reflexive storytelling? Alan Wake's your man... Literally. You'll find suspense, plot twists and frame stories, that the story has clawed through your screen. These are stuff that few video games have, and heck, even most books aren't that complex for good or bad. Alan Wake himself's got some writing chops to show off as well, in the form of frame-storied manuscript pages. A world within a world... Within a world?

You want to understand the struggles of a writer or empathise with a fictional writer as a writer? Alan Wake will accompany you to the bar. The character is a writer on a holiday... Because he couldn't write for 3 years. You'll get a very close look at his psyche, and he's not your stereotypical writer.

Or how about awesome story, plot and characters? No worries, you got Alan Wake and gang! Surrounding the titular Writer-Character is a town with a secret, populated by some interesting and memorable characters, and did I mention that the plot twists and turns and goes in all kinds of interesting directions?

And lastly, there are a few DLCs for Alan Wake, and no, they don't suffer from Sequel-itis.

So go enjoy yourself! And feel inspired in the meantime! Because as writers, it's important to mix business with pleasure. Bleh... Time to go back to my office work...

Monday, 19 September 2016

A Typical Day in the Life of Brian

When my schoolmates and friends said that our days in university will be missed, I scoffed at them. I, for one, felt then that my life could use a little more freedom from the lecture halls and professors and academic straitjacket. I needed focus, I needed the space to do what I want, to write and eventually get published.

As some of you may know, I couldn't even wait for the exams to be over to get crackin' and clackin' words on a page, and I nearly got retained for it. But those were the days! With that crisis over and my graduation guaranteed, I would move on dedicate my life fully to literary pursuits.

Back then, my days were centred around putting words on a page. I had no other occupations, ambitions nor passion.

  • I would wake up in the morning. Usually at 9+ am.

  • Have a good breakfast, the most important meal of the day.

  • Then I let my mind dig in on some reading, as well as games, and sometimes television. This helps with inspiration and ungrounding the mind for creative pursuits.

  • Human interaction is important too, especially with 'fresher' people, rather than ancient contacts you'd known all your life who tends to be grouchy. Learning about people is important. The estranged writer trope is certainly a rare case.

  • As you may have noticed, I don't write in the mornings. I don't always write in the afternoons, but I do it common enough.

  • I work out 1,000 words throughout the afternoon (sometimes), evening, night and midnight.

  • On average, I write about 500 words an hour, or 8.33 words a minute. This is likely due to the auxiliary activities of a writer: thinking, plotting, planning, immediate edits, rewriting, etc. So, 2 hours a day of writing, unless I'm filling backlog or catching up with deadlines.

  • My work tends to be spread out with chores (such as laundry or exercising) and entertainment/inspiration in between.

  • If the day is good, or if I have backlog to fill or deadlines to fear, I can easily put down up to 2,000 to 4,500 (my record) words.

  • Sleep by 12+ to 1+ am.

But those days are over. I am now a working adult, That means wrapping all that around my day job. The most important thing is to breathe life into my world at the end of the day. Thus evolves my schedule:

  • Wake up in the morning at 6:45am.

  • Have a good breakfast.

  • Go to work.

  • Work will provide much of the human interaction you need. A narrow spectrum, but nonetheless just enough.

  • Entertainment and inspiration will have to be squirrelled in here and there, in tiny spurts, usually from the internet in between tasks.

  • Similarly, my writing will have to be squeezed in between tasks.

  • Back home, time will be taken up by chores (including laundry and exercise) and Triple-A grade entertainment and inspiration. On some days, I teach tuition for a side income.

  • More writing to be done at home. It should all add up to 1,000 words by the end of the day. This can sometimes be achieved entirely in office.

  • Sleep by 12:45am, though sometimes unconsciousness sets in as early as in the middle of writing at 11+ pm.

  • The weekends can present a chance to go back to a more writing-centred routine as in the above, but exhaustion may render it difficult.
Yep, so that's basically my life these days. Writing has been forcibly displaced as the first love of my life, with me getting dragged into a shotgun wedding with my job by the necessities of survival. An affair is inevitable. It kinda helps that my 'wife' treats me poorly, with poor benefits, mediocre pay, lousy work culture and all the pride sapped by poor clients and even poorer business and job prospects.

My plan for the future is to somehow achieve greater focus in my writing, and push up my output to 2,000 words a day, which is neutral on the Stephen King scale. That means 4 hours of writing, on average, a day.

Hopefully, with that kind of breakthrough, I might even be able to achieve writing-nirvana, and put in over 4,000 words on some days when I transcend the worldly worries that are holding me back.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Writing Report #15: Post Authorial Edit

This writing report is for Friday (16/09/2016), Saturday (17/09/2016) and Sunday (18/09/2016).

I have entered another sub-stage in the self-publishing of my novel.

On Saturday, I have completed the edit for the final epilogue chapter. I had decided on Friday to take it slow, as I had made my schedule more efficient by overlapping the re-edits of my first 14 chapters and my proofreader's edits.

By the numbers, I did chapters 57 to 59 on Friday, 3 chapters in all, and chapter 60 on Saturday. On Saturday, I went straight off to do 2 chapters right at the beginning and 2 more on Sunday.

As it is right now, the most important thing to do for the book is to handle the logistics of producing the final version of the e-book for self-publication in Amazon. Unfortunately, that would prove to be a challenge as I am unaccustomed to such work. It will be my first time. Hopefully, the first of many endeavours.

Progress from here on out will be slow. I guess if you don't pay with money, you pay with time. It may not be a bad thing, as professionals aren't always guaranteed to deliver, even when they're paid. They're still people, after all. The most recent example would be the professional artist I selected for the book cover.

Let's just say he delivered two failed book cover concepts in one month, and it's due to him not reading my brief!

27 Days to the launch of my e-book!

(At least that's according to the schedule)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Writing Report #14: Final Authorial Edit Completion Imminent!

This writing report is for Thursday (15/09/2016)

Plans have changed, so I have allowed myself to relax a little. Basically, the original schedule was to pack everything off to a professional editor for proofreading the moment I was done with my own final edits - That would mean going back to the first 15 or so chapters and redoing the edits I have lost when Nimble Writer decided to kick me in the groin.

The revised schedule is to just ship it off to my editor, sans my personal changes in the beginning. I will complete my personal edits along with implementing the recommendations made by the editor. It won't be that hard, I believe. It's barely multi-tasking. I will be making changes all the same to the manuscript.

So now, I just have 2 chapters right at the end of my would-be novel to edit. It's essentially the epilogue now.

I can't wait to write more stories.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Writing Report #13: On Schedule

This writing report is for the dates from last Friday (9/9/2016) to Wednesday (14/9/2016)

Holy shit, am I way behind in my writing reports! But basically, I have some good news: I've been largely on schedule since my leave started yesterday - well, technically last Saturday. I have all but 8 chapters to the end remaining, which will take 2 days to complete, and that first 14 chapters in the beginning that I lost.

My discipline had ceased to be a limiting factor ever since I pledged, on the first post of this blog, to turn things around in my writing. Now, the only things stopping me from getting published are matters of professional editing, cover art and formatting.

I have been wrestling with those issues right from the beginning - These are arguably the toughest parts of self-publishing, as all I do is write. There's the question of whether I should spend money on them. Right now, I have decided to let members of my extended family have a go at helping me out, but their professionalism is questionable - Considering that we are family, it is not a wonder that they'd put that aside.

What is perhaps even more questionable is their experience. While the cover artist has done plenty of work before, she has never done a book cover. While my editor (mostly a proofreader) is a graduate, she's a graduate in ENGINEERING - Only thing I know about her that could help is that she's very academically-inclined, so her English should be up to par, and she reads a lot.

These are dark and murky times indeed...

Sunday, 11 September 2016

An Introduction to Pulau Purba, Chapter 6: The Smart Alec

In the previous chapter to my introduction to Pulau Purba, I talked about the setting.

Today, we'll bring in a certain someone from door number #1, and that person will be... Ding ding ding! None other than Alex Kee, the main protagonist of The Keeper of Pulau Purba!

So, we have a horror story set on an island with some of the creatures resembling zombies (long story, but not as cheesy). What's the kind of hero you'd be thinking of?

Officer Friendly's the one you want. Right? Right, guys?

Or how about...

Oh God, what have I done? My blog's contaminated now...


Just no.

Right from the beginning, I'd decided that if I was going to write a straight horror novel, I won't be putting a seasoned veteran zombie hunter who's armed to the teeth and packing a minigun and the whole nation's armoury. No, how scary would that be? Bet you're already laughing, aren't you?

An important part of horror is the lack of control and vulnerability. The problem is that a lot of horror novels/films/TV series/plays seem to have forgotten that. The result is a mutant of the horror genre. You'd either get a deconstructed horror, or comedy-horror, or you get a cheap flick B-grade horror movie, big budget or not.

So, I've decided on the idea of a normal person getting thrown into an extraordinary situation. In this case, one of the most ill-equipped guy to handle a horror story (well, almost).

Yes, I decided on a writer. Partly because I am a writer. Since this is a debut novel, I decided to go with basing a character off me, and then making him a unique fellow off me. And no, I don't reproduce by budding. Please don't call in the Men in Black.

But he can't be completely helpless, can he? He'd just die within 5 pages of the shit hitting the fan. This is where reality becomes useful for once.

See, every Singaporean son is obliged to serve in the military as a conscript for 2 years, before serving on-and-off National Guards style (for you Americans) for the next 10 years. I know, I've done it, and it sucks. This means my protagonist has at least some fighting chance, even if it is slim.

Now, how is Alex Kee actually like as a person? I've decided to make him quite the opposite of me. He's actually a much better writer than me, as he'd already launched a number of novels over the years, while I've released zilch so far, with The Keeper of Pulau Purba being my debut (with him in it!). He's also a slightly better soldier and sergeant than me, having to at least survive pretty okay through the ordeal of conscription.

Sounding like a Marty Stu so far? Yeah, I thought of that too. Which is why I made him a bit of a weakling and a tad too emotional. All those time spent on writing was certainly taken from elsewhere. Where I believe I'd be fine, dear Alex falters. He can't take a hit, and he can't take a setback. He needs a helping hand once in a while - Which is an opportunity for relationships to form, change and mutate, and for character development to happen.

He's going to hurt. A lot. Hue hue hue...

Well, at least he writes really well.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Writing Report #12: Getting Warmer..!

This writing report is for Wednesday (7/9/2016) and Thursday (8/9/2016).

Wednesday was another slow day. I believe I was only able to work on something like half a chapter. But I made up for it on Thursday. 2.5 Chapters. So now I'm on Chapter 38 of 60 (61, if counting 'Chapter 0', which is my way of saying prologue).

What really concerned me, however, is that I'm starting to do most of my work in the office. That shouldn't be how it should be. Granted, I have too much free time on my hands compared to the average office worker, but it's just unbecoming of a writer. The office is not the ideal environment. I had to get used to being bombarded by a thousand distractions. I don't know for sure if it has resulted in a poorer quality of work so far. I don't like to take chances with my novel.

As a writer, it is my responsibility to safeguard my work no matter what, and my life is rapidly becoming centred around writing and writing alone. Everything that happened, happens for the sake of my writing.

Furthermore, what's going to happen to me if my workload suddenly spikes for a long time? It means another round of adaptation and adjustment once more, which usually results in productivity lost.

Maybe my long leave from work next week will set things right again. The main reason why I'm shuttling work into my office hours is because I can't handle being a night owl anymore. I just kept falling asleep, what with my day job, my exercise regime and need to keep my creativity sharp (i.e: Entertainment, play games and read books).

Still, my progress is not something I regret. I have 22 more chapters to go. Today will be the last day I edit a mere 2 chapters. From tomorrow until the Sunday the week after, I will be working on 4 chapters a day, if not more. That means reaching the epilogue by next Wednesday (14/9/2016), and hopefully redoing my lost edits by Saturday the week after.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Writing Report #11: Argh!

This writing report is for Monday (5/9/2016) and Tuesday (6/9/2016).

I'm way behind schedule. Basically, I completed a chapter and a half of editing on Monday, and on Tuesday, I was too busy dealing with my book cover matters. Basically, my chosen cover artist hasn't reported in, so I was forced to assume that he lost interest. I went into Fiverr to look for another, and I was spoilt for choice.

I hadn't settled on an artist yet, and by the time I got to my editing, I was dead tired. I fell asleep after completing Monday's quota. In other words, I'd practically done nothing to my novel for Tuesday.

Cue my original book cover artist coming back to tell me he'd had personal matters to attend to, and so couldn't reply to my email... So all my talent scouting efforts went to waste. I'd broken a lot of hearts, I bet. Shit.

Well, at least he brightened my day with a concept sketch of what he had in mind. It's completely opposite of what I want went it comes to the angle and perspective, but nice try. I'm gonna talk to him about whether I can show it off to you guys on this blog.

Anyway, I guess I'll have to do what I can today. Will probably need to squirrel more working hours into my book. I don't recommend doing such a thing though. Only reason I allow myself to do other work in the office is because I'm simply not occupied all the time.

I really need to find my way back to Nirvana. It feels like as though I'm experiencing a 'dark age' all this while, for the entire year, in fact. *Le Sigh*

An Introduction to Pulau Purba, Chapter 5: To The Island

EDIT: Well darn, my pinkie promise was thrown out the window. Oh wait- Nope, I'm fine. Pinkie's still there. Anyway, I'll try to post something else later today as well. Things just got crazy-busy yesterday.

EDIT 2: Added something about subverting expectations with setting.

So, now that we got the history of The Keeper of Pulau Purba out of the way, let's talk about the story itself. Here's a little blurb I thought up on the spot:

Alex Kee is a writer struggling with his magnum opus when he is forced to serve out his military reservist obligations. Worse still, he has been transferred to a new base on an island far south of Singapore, Pulau Purba.

He could never feel at home in the Singapore Marine Corps, but at least he gets to retain his old army friends. Closest among them is Aidah, his junior and protege back in his young National Service days, and now former professional soldier, his superior.

Personal issues aside, strange things are happening. The soldiers of Pulau Purba are tense and meaningless violence is commonplace. Alex is hunted in his sleep by an enigmatic creature, and it seems to be hunting others. It all points to something big looming in the horizon... Something that will threaten everything Alex holds dear, and the whole of South-East Asia.

Yep, so there you go. I've deliberately chosen Pulau Purba as the setting, then in the writing phase an unknown island near the Singapore-Indonesian border. Now, an island named Pulau Purba, which translates to Ancient Island or Island of the Ancients. It is a Malay name, which I deliberately chose to cast some mystery on what the island is. Pretty much 6.8 billion people on Earth don't speak the language, so I'd like to think I've succeeded somewhat.

The reason why I think an island setting works is due in part to the isolation it provides. Had it been on 'mainland' Singapore (which itself is a large island), it would have been easy for the government to send like a hundred thousand troops to aid the protagonist. It wouldn't help much, but it would make for messy, all-over-the-place writing. An island cuts away all of the world's civilisation, except for maybe just over a thousand, two thousand people.

Isolation is a staple of horror. I would be foolish not to use it. Where other horror pieces of all media (that aren't all bad) struggle to make isolation plausible and believable, such as by killing any help sent the way of the characters or making them late, I believe I've done well enough with an island:

The geography of Singapore, a tiny nation, is composed of over two hundred islands, Southeast Asia even more. Small, undeveloped islands are accessible only by slow-moving ferries. And did I mention most of them are undeveloped? Even inhabited Indonesian islands? Help would take time to be organised and arrive, and Singapore has a limited navy and coast guard, surprisingly. Not that geography alone would stop them (Let's just say the Keeper has something to say about trespassing).

There is a very good rationale (I believe) on why a new base would be set up there. In-universe, the government is setting up a whole new branch of the military, the Singapore Marine Corps, that is supposed to solve its limited navy and coast guard problem. They needed their own base that is somewhere accessible to both large and small ships, and allows them to patrol the waters of Singapore.

At the same time, I was hoping to play against expectations, in some ways. I mean, in a military camp, you're surrounded by soldiers and guns, and in Pulau Purba, we even have amphibious transports, a corvette or frigate (I didn't quite nail that bit down - It's not important), let's see... APCs, light strike vehicles, 5-tonner military transports... Hmm, should I have put a few tanks in there? Anyhoo, you're meant to feel safe in such a place, but oh nooooo, I'm not gonna let you breathe easily. Hyuck hyuck...

But at its most basic level, there's something to be said about being trapped on an island, no? And not just that, you're stuck there, and you're forced to partake in duties in the army that you hate. And then, some supernatural shit decides to go down.

I'm basically trying to create multiple layers or levels of fear, that I hope will enthral most people. If being trapped on a small, forested island doesn't do it for you, then maybe getting press-ganged into the military might (hell, I was scared to hell when it was my turn), and finally, the supernatural, cosmic horrors and bio-horrors at the bottom layer, forming the biggest part of the horror fruitcake.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Let's Talk Writing: Character Conception

Note: This was supposed to be about character creation, but the first step of it, character conception, grew like a shapeshifting alien with cancer. Guess we'll be talking about writing a lot more!

Hi guys! I just thought I might talk about something a little differently this time. Besides, I am a writer, and it bores me to just keep doing the same thing every day. Hell, I'll even make it a double-post day whenever I do this, so those of you who wants to read my Writing Report and Introduction to Pulau Purba series can still do it every day (almost). Pinkie swear!

So some of you are wondering, how do we create rich, timeless characters in our stories? Before we go on and on about backstories and looks and traits, and all the rest, we'll start with the first step. Never get ahead of yourselves.

Character Conception

I get my ideas from all over the place. I guess I'll get started with an idea closest to me.


Yeah, that's right- Wait, wait! Don't stab me in the guts just yet! I'm definitely not advocating inserting yourself in the story. That's a breeding ground for Mary Sues and Marty Stus. Real icky stuff.

What you do is, you use yourself as a template. By the time you're done transforming yourself, your new character will only share some similarities with you. For this, I recommend keeping some of your own personal personality inside. Why? It helps you to empathise with the character, makes it easier.

Whoa, whoa! Keep that knife in your sheathe! The way I see it, we all share similarities with one another, no matter how different we are. The only reason why people seem so distant from one another is mainly out of genuine or wilful ignorance. We all know love, like that lucky husband of 20 years sitting over there. We all know what it means to be bullied - We're either the victims, witnesses or perpetrators. We all know what it means to be obsessed like Norman Bates, just that we know better how to control it.

Pic 4: I don't know why you keep popping up, Bates. No, just please don't.

Other than using your lonesome for a character, you can then move on with...

Your Peers... Hyuck hyuck...

Yeah, that's right. It's okay to play the villain hat and start sucking your friends and family into your simulated reality.

But really, anyone and everyone around you are like ready-made templates for you to use in your book. From your other half to acquaintances and strangers, they've already brainstormed everything you need by just being. Would be a shame to let them go to waste.

So if you've met any interesting characters, you might just be staring at someone from your book. But like working with yourself as a template, it has to fit the story. Throwing in your sleazy, hairy singlet-wearing nose-picking brother in as the protagonist in a straight-romance novel might not work... Unless you give him some redeeming characteristics, something like a gateway for him to improve himself when he sees a girl he really likes.

Who knows? Maybe another girl in the past really got him down so hard, he never recovered? Maybe he's really just honest to a fault, and humble that he doesn't really care what people thinks? Except now he does...

I don't write romance or erotic fiction, by the way. P-put that sword away.

Anyway, if using yourself or other people doesn't appeal to you, you can always start with...

An Abstract Idea.

Say you need someone who's gonna be a foil to your protagonist. Your protagonist is intelligent, courteous, a moral centre of his group. That means you need someone who really sucks at how he treats people. There you have it, a foil-egg that will hatch into a foil-chick and then a full-fledged adult foil! That's, of course, provided that you feed it anything it needs to develop into the character you want. Throw in the appearances, quirks, personality and history into the bubbling cauldron, you'll need it!

Or you can just start with one abstract idea. Maybe someone all characters gravitate to when they're in need of a shoulder to cry on, or just some advice. Goodness. Kindness. How would a person like that be like? In a fantasy, we'd have an angel-like being, probably of a fantasy race of Seraphims or some such. He or she ( I believe both men and women have their ways to do this kind of good) will probably be old, highly experienced, and bakes cakes and cookies in the morning. Hah.

Otherwise, the Seraphim would be radiating with goodness and kindness. But... Scarred. You can't be good without knowing what evil is. Maybe she'd been in a war before, and got her principles muddied by some questionable act. Or maybe she'd been imprisoned and tortured before. Stuff like that.

That's a good starting point, agree? No, I don't write fantasy either (yet), but just writing like that made me want to.

And then... We can always go the opposite way. You can base a character on...

An Object (or Animal).

We humans have a tendency to anthropomorphise things. We think we're empathising with animals, but in reality, we're projecting ourselves on them. We do the same with objects. Got a storm coming? You curse the weather like you're cursing a local politician who's really done it again.

There's a darker side to this. We objectify people sometimes. It would take years for some and decades for others to unlearn this habit. For the few, probably never. But this can be turned around for good in writing fiction.

I believe we need to both anthropomorphise and objectify to come up with a good character in this method.

Basically, we grow characters, by say, planting a telephone, in the ground. Wait a few days, and it'd grow into a telephone tree. Water it with all the goodness of character creation in the meantime. You'll also get free metaphorical references to the character too, if you can use them. For that last bit, you can always choose to plant more general things, like, say, a machine. A robot. I wonder how would a robot-tree look like.

However, if all else fails, you can always go for the low blow that is...

Pre-Existing Characters.

Take a fictional character who's so realistic and dear to your heart and use him as a template. After all, if I can advocate using real people as templates, then why not them? It's how inspiration works. I'll stop calling it a low-blow if you'd put that chain-whip down.

Just make sure to make the character your own, or it won't be just a bad book you'd be worried about. Not much can be said about this - Use the same techniques as above. Make him your own. By the end, you should have a completely new character who's nothing like the original that inspired him. This method works very well when you're parodying or satirising other works, but it's not exclusively for that. Here's a few tonnes of examples for this:

So there you have it! Now I hope you're overflowing with character ideas! Now, just stop tying me to the stake. Pretty please?

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Writing Report #10: Another Boost

This writing report is for last Friday (2/9/2016), Saturday (3/9/2016) and Sunday (4/9/2016).

On Friday and Saturday, I was fast running out of steam. I taught tuition on both days, and it just so happens that I had to work a half day on Saturday. The only way I was able to cope is by doing some of my editing jobs at the office.

Things were so hectic that I've lost track of how far I've gone.

Sunday restored my morale, so to speak. I did 4 chapters that day, making up for the one or two chapters I'm behind at the end of the working week and Saturday.

I've reached the halfway mark. 30 chapters done. Well, not counting the edits I did for the 14 chapters at the front that Nimble Writer decided to spit out. That means another 30 chapters to go. On average, I can finish that up in 15 days.

The only problem is the 14 chapters I need to re-edit. It wouldn't be easy, and part of the problem is mental/emotional. I've lost a lot in them. Psychologically, I believe I can never get the same words back, and I'd have to fight it for 14 damn chapters.

In any case, I've got a good thing going from this Saturday (10/9/2016) onward. I'm free on Saturday and Sunday. Hari Raya Haji on Monday means no work, and I've applied leave successfully from Tuesday to Saturday. Yeah, I'll give myself until the Saturday after (17/9/2016) before I ship my manuscript off to a proofreader.

So, the plan is to do 2 chapters a day from 5/9/2016 to 9/9/2016, which will strike out 10 chapters if everything goes well.

If I can keep up with 4 chapters a day from 10/9/2016 onward, I'll be done with the epilogue chapter by the 14/9/2016. At this speed, the first 14 chapters will be done within 4 days... 18/9/2016... Unless I speed things up a little.

It's tight, but it might just work.

Makes me wish I'm a professional, full-time writer. See, that's the advantage they have over us. With all their time dedicated to writing, they can afford to write/edit more with better quality because they aren't so held down by a day job. I can't say they don't deserve it though.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Writing Report #9: Slump

This Writing Report is for Wednesday (31/08/2016) and Thursday (01/09/2016).

As the week came closer to the end, so did my stamina reserves. Sometimes, I don't know how some of the more prolific authors do it. Even Stephen King was just the tip of the iceberg. There were some that would put down 3,000 words, heck, 10,000 words a day. Assuming their quality is equal or better than mine... It would be like they are in a permanent state of Writing-Nirvana as I've taken to call it.

Maybe that's what I should be aiming towards, to somehow reach that point in the past, somewhere around July or August last year, that I could double, triple, or quadruple my output without sacrificing quality. Or even better, I believe the quality of my writing to be easily better when I'm in a state of Writing-Nirvana.

For now though... On Wednesday, I wasn't even able to completely edit a single chapter. Just most of it. To be fair, it was a 3,750 words long chapter, nearly 20 pages, but still... I've conquered twice that in one day before.

I had to make up for it on Thursday. I finished Wednesday's quota, but again, faltered - only one chapter for Thursday. And I didn't finish up that chapter either.

Only way I can explain it is that I've gone back to hitting the road with my running shoes. Military service, forever the blight to my creativity, got in the way. Maybe. My exercise goal is to run 2.4km followed by a 1.2km walk 3 times a week. And before this, I'd been walking 3.5km on most weekdays, until my new running regime forced me to cut that down to 2 days a week.

I'd always believed that a healthy body is necessary for a healthy mind, a healthy mind, good writing - Therefore exercises lead to good writing. It seems that... That philosophy has been threatened for once. But maybe I'm just in a state of transition? I sure hope so. I'm certainly not running solely because of military obligations. I've never liked National Service.