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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 December 2016

Let's Talk Writing: Masochism

Well, fie. Me being a horror writer (exclusively for now), I'm bound to stumble on topics like that. Regardless, nothing is sacred in writing.

I have always extolled a certain kind of attitude when it comes to writing. And that attitude is to enjoy it, to write only an amount you're comfortable with, and to write whatever you're comfortable with. That's how I settled on a daily 1,000-words-a-day writing routine, and how sometimes I'll fall a little short when something happens, like Christmas celebrations. That's how I ended up with a horror novel for a debut book, and why I've been writing horror short stories as my second project.

But that doesn't always work, if my falling short of my 1,000-words-a-day goal occasionally is any indication. And it doesn't quite explain away the 100% of how I do things either.

There's this other side of me, a dark side if you will. And I believe it's a dark side that every writer possesses, that hell, most people have. It's more common than you think.

It's the will to step out of your comfort zone, and improve yourself, try new things.

It's how I managed to get through 1,000 words a day to begin with. Just look at my first few posts on this blog:

A New Beginning - An Introduction

Writing Report #1: Exhaustion

Writing Report #2: The Return

So, I went from being barely able to scrape out 300-500 words a day and a wee bit of edits to churning out 1,000 words a day, or 2 chapters (4,000-8,000 words) of edits a day.

But what if I take it one step further?

What if I were to join the dark side and be masochistic? I'm already halfway there, making sacrifices for the delayed pleasure of achieving something. Even in my real life, I used to run half-marathons, and I can tell you that it's gruelling - all for the sake of staying fit and... achieving something. And when I stopped running myself into the ground on a tri-weekly basis, I started recently eating less with a fruitarian bend (but enough) to stop gaining weight - even if it means going to bed hungry sometimes.

Sometimes, I talk about achieving a state of Writing Nirvana, wherein I bring out inhuman results at little cost to myself. For this entire year, I haven't been able to get there at all. And now I think I know why.

The path to Nirvana is supposed to be fraught with pain and suffering. I wrote 4,000 to 5,000 words a day once because of the pressure of meeting a deadline. At first, I was filled with anxiety and dread, but at the end of the day, I was pleased with myself.

Perhaps I should re-enact that on a daily basis? But to be masochistic is to be more than that.

It's to enjoy the whole thing, all the way. Writing as a masochistic demon can't turn out to be a job. It must be something I embody, something that I must gain pleasure from even if my fingers and head aches. It must be to the point of near-sexual or drug-fuelled ecstasy. That's going to require conditioning. Major conditioning.

Huh. Funny how I tend to describe Writing as my Wife and my Book as my Daughter. Tee hee.

Anyway, I'll have a month to figure it out. On the extreme, if this 'Masochism' project works out, I could be looking at anywhere between 90,000 words written at least to, say, 120,000 to 150,000 words. More than enough to finish my short stories collection with room to edit or work on a third book.

Good thing I've been playing around with the concept of a demon character amongst other possible things to write about. She'd serve as something of a shrine to this idea.

Well, time to take out the knives, flogs and clamps! I'll have to draw a pentagram and lie down on it too! Fun times!

Hehe, just kidding! Or am I? 😈

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Writing Report S2 #29: Christmas Slow-Down & Fervour

This writing report is for the days from Last Wednesday to this Tuesday (21 December 2016 - 27 December 2016)

On Wednesday, I remember that I was only able to write about 600 words for Faceless Angel, my first Dark Science Fantasy Horror pet project (whew! What a mouthful!). I remember making up for it the next day with 1,000 words, though I didn't quite make up for the loss the previous day.

Then I stopped. My debut novel, The Keeper of Pulau Purba, was put on promotion starting Wednesday, and I began to feel the need to revise my novel further, because the last 20% chapters hadn't had their editor's suggestions implemented yet.

Thus, I returned to the 2-chapters-a-day editing plan. I remember working on my debut novel everyday except for Sunday. Thus, on Thursday, I cleared 2 chapters, and I did the same on Friday and Saturday. I remember clearing 3 chapters on Monday simply because I felt guilty for Sunday - going out with my friends to an all-day church Christmas celebration cum party doesn't excuse it.

Yesterday, which is a Tuesday, I cleared almost 2 chapters. The last chapter I edited was twice the length of the average chapter, and I had to edit while I'm outside.

But I'm very close to concluding the edit for my debut novel. I've reached the final climax of TKoPP. I have about 4 chapters left to edit, just in time before I set sail for Batam on a Writer's Retreat. Once I've fully edited The Keeper of Pulau Purba this time, any further edits would be for an official 2nd Edition, which I believe will be far away.

I guess that's all for now. My writing reports will probably be spicier once I'm in Batam. See you guys!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Thoughts on the Brink of Christmas

Before I move on with my little opinion piece, I'd like to inform you guys, my dear readers, that my book is on a Christmas sale...
$0.99 after 75% discount!!!

Now, onto business.

Basically, this is coming from a little online chat I have with some acquaintances regarding Christmas. In short, one of my new friends and his family/relatives don't really celebrate it, and they believe that the spirit of Christmas should be spread throughout the year, and then magnified some. In other words, be a good person both in and out of Christmas.

In short, I agree. Since I hail from Singapore and am of Chinese and Agnostic background, Christmas doesn't quite come naturally to me. It is more of a cerebral thing to me, a representation of certain values that we must and should embody: kindness, generosity, charity, empathy. Christmas is thus a celebration of virtues for me, and not quite of the Judeo-Christian meanings it originally encompass.

But that's no reason not to celebrate Christmas. Being a writer, chances are, I'm certainly no prude. Just yesterday, an old childhood friend of mine pretty much calls me the YOLO-man when we met for a little catching up. He notes that I'm exceptionally liberal and risk-taking, and all for human rights and all that is fun and good. While I tend to be very disciplined in some ways, I guess he's mostly right. He knows me well, anyway.

Back to Christmas. It's still on the table even if it's not a native custom and something I don't 'get in the programme' fully and 100%. It's great as a reminder, and besides, it's a good time to catch-up with friends (if my earlier story is any indication) and just let loose a little. Sometimes, we need a little time-out.


Personally though, this Christmas hasn't been kind to me. Let's see...

1) Owing to my lousy job with poor benefits and poor pay, I have little opportunity to enjoy. Celebration is an occasion for the good times. The economy sure did lend a hand to this.

2) So my family's overseas in Malaysia while I'm stuck here. This one's a blessing in disguise though. There's an uncle there that I really dislike for his abysmal social skills that partially stems from an ageist-related superiority complex.

3) I attended a party where I don't quite fit in. Basically, everyone's friends with each other there, and I'm the third wheel. It's also no coincidence that it's a party in a publishing house I used to intern in, and everyone there is of a trade publishing affiliation while I am the only indie author there (and indeed, probably one of few in Singapore). But it's mostly because I haven't quite made an impression of myself. My internship lasted only 2 months, I didn't do much in that time, and I haven't contributed much at all on a voluntary basis, haven't worked with them much on a professional level. I am not published with them either, but I tried.

4) Let's just say that my Christmas promotional campaign hasn't been going as planned... (psst... You can fix that by buying my book! /shameless plug)


But Christmas is more than a celebration of virtues. It is a time for miracles. While I don't believe in miracles, only in human agency and action resulting in some interesting results, coincidences and consequences, I'm no less grateful for whatever goodness has counteracted the bad things:

1) I get to meet an old friend. We've been so busy.

2) I will be meeting another, and we'll probably be discussing our literary pursuits as well.

3) I'm getting out of this chicken-shit outfit. (I've resigned from my job. I'm FWEEEEEE!)

4) I've made arrangements for a writing retreat in Batam, and it will be for a month. Y'all will hear from me soon enough from that country.

Yeah, I would much rather stay positive, even if I have to drag myself to it. For whatever darkness there is in the world, even if it's in the northern or southern pole, there will always be light somewhere, sometime.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Writing Report S2 #28: Epiphany

This Writing Report is for Monday and Tuesday (19 December 2016 - 20 December 2016).

Things have been going great so far. On Monday, I worked up 1,000 words, and on Tuesday, 1,100 words I believe. I'm back in business, yee-ha! And I didn't have to torture myself that much this time!

Basically, I think my stab at the Science Fantasy genre seems to be working. I'm enjoying myself with the writing, and the story is unwrapping by itself too - It's character driven, so I feel more like a chronicler rather than an author this time. My job is just to render what I see in my head with as much clarity as possible, appealing to my six senses.

I believe it's going to be my longest short story yet, in the tradition of fantasy works being longer than their other-genre counterparts. 3,500 words in, and my main character hasn't even left his village to go on his quest yet. My projection for now is 15,000 words. It could explode to 20,000, but I'll try to make that number the maximum blast radius.

If I haven't talked about the plot yet, it's this: A young man's father returns from being lost in a forest for 4 days, packing a seemingly terminal disease. No one could cure him. Young man decides to find out what happened and see if there's a cure from where his father came from.

Simple plot, really, but it's expanding in terms of narrative and content. The antagonist, I feel, is going to be quite unique for a science fantasy-ish setting. They won't be straight-up villains - I don't like doing straight-up villains. Even the titular Keeper of Pulau Purba may not be a villain-villain, if you read the book closely enough.

Anyway, I'll end off here. Good days! Perfect for leading up to my Batam Writing Retreat, where I'll kick into high gear and try to write 1,500 - 2,000 words a day. Maybe aim to achieve a state of Writing Nirvana.

Alright, see you guys!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Writing Report S2 #27: Disruptions

This writing report is for the dates from Wednesday to Sunday (14 December 2016 - 18 December 2016)

This has been a slow week because of the adjustments I have to make based on the stories I write. I guess I've pretty much found out the downside to writing a slew of short stories, and that is the adjustment period. Now, I'm sure not all authors suffer this, so I'm chalking it down to my inexperience with the short form.

It is also at this period that I started wondering where I should be going. To be blunt, I'm not sure what I ought to be writing next. It took me a while to figure it out and remember that I want to put my main universe in this collection somewhere. So I did.

On Wednesday, I completed about 800 words of a flash fiction piece set in the world of The Keeper of Pulau Purba. I was still adjusting to it, as I haven't immersed myself in that world for a while.

On Thursday, I wrote 400 words. This is where I got worried about my performance. My explanation here, though, is that I was worried that this flash fic might turn out to be a short story after all.

Friday. I wrote 300 words. I figured out a way to make it short. But still, the ToPP flash fic came up to almost 1,500 words long, which makes it a stretch to call it a flash fiction piece. That's like 6 pages long on a standard 250 words per page average. Still, I think the terminology is sound - It's still extremely short, short enough to be a flash fic, just that it's right at the edge.

Saturday. I had to figure out what to write next. I eventually settled on a short story with a science fantasy setting, but still intended to be horror. This is a huge change from what I'm used to writing - I've always written horror set in the contemporary and urban world, with at most a sub-genre or secondary genre to spice things up.

Faceless Angel, as I am tentatively calling it, seems to be science fantasy first and horror second. Either that, or I'm falling for my own slow-reveal story structure.

On Sunday, my belief in my writing is still shaky, so I only managed to eke out about 520 words.

Yep, I officially really need another personal writer's residence. Good thing I've set aside a month in Batam for that purpose. No distractions - Just me and my writing. And a new environment. A new neighbourhood to explore. Great food to try. Yeah, it's going to be fine, just like the last time.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Brian Reviews #2: From a Buick 8 by Stephen King

Disclaimer: There's going to be a whole glut of spoilers. You have been warned!

It's a Stephen King book, so of course the car's gonna eat cha!

Rating: 3.5 / 5.0

The first time I heard about this book wasn't quite of an auditory nature at all. I found it nestling deep in Stephen King's bibliography. For many years, it lingered, despite my near-ignorance to its contents. See, I saw the synopsis, and thought it was great - a Stephen King book, that of course, would never fail to impress.

It'd been something like 5 years before I finally got around to purchasing it through a homegrown online mega-bookstore, opentrolley.com.sg. It'd been one of my Stephen King moments. I bought three books in a bundle, and this is the first book of the three that I read, owing to its history with me.

Needless to say, I am slightly disappointed. But it isn't an entirely wasted effort. The potential is there, and I believe Stephen King did his best with it. Only problem is, he couldn't quite see it through to the end.

The specific book cover I had received, which is exactly like the one above, tells me everything I need to know. It's about a car, and in retrospect, it's about a young man who'd lost his father to the Buick (notice it behind the shadowy figure?). But scratch that bit about losing the father to the Buick though, because that's not quite what happened, but that's the impression.

So the packaging is good, now let's move on the to meaty bits of this guy. Let's dissect him, shall we!?

The novel starts with the death of Curtis Wilcox (nice name, by the way, he's the kind of state trooper who will comply, I bet), and his son visiting the barracks of a Pennsylvanian State Trooper unit as a way to grieve his loss. That's how it begins. I think the initial chapters hooked me well and good, I continued reading with no difficulty from there.

And from thereon, the novel sure took a ride to the top of the bell curve (with the Buick, hee-hee). The overall frame structure of the novel is amazing. With a frame story set in the present, encapsulating a series of accounts from members of the State Troopers, the form of the story never fails to satisfy. It shakes things up with different personalities and backstory each time as the story shifts perspectives.

That said, the characters, as is usual of Stephen King, who have been said to be the Charles Dickens of the 21st century, are very, very well defined. They are life-like, larger than life even. But they are written to be human, very believable.

Each character, even the minor ones, have a detailed backstory of their own, and most of the time, the story doesn't use an info-dump to flesh them out. That's some premium writing right there - good writing isn't just about putting intricate descriptions on a page, as much as physically and literately possible, it's also about engaging the reader's imagination, and getting them to fill in the blanks frequently. Even the local janitor, gas pump attendant and punk-girl, minor characters all, are better defined than some main characters I've seen elsewere. They are amazingly described right down to their personal twitches and secrets - good stuff. A lesson to all writers, no doubt.

Then there's the main antagonist itself, the titular Buick 8, and the creatures that emerge from it. Despite being a car (at least as it appears to the characters) and sitting around in a garage most of the time, its presence is felt, and the threat it presents is constant. The frequent descent into the uncanny valley that both the Buick and the creatures, from the 'man' who apparently drives it into our world to even the leaves, 'bird' and finally, the three-handed 'alien', are quite effective, putting me on the edge of my seat.

But it is from the near-mid-point of the novel that this book starts slipping off the bell curve, said creatures notwithstanding. It's where the novel's strength turns into its weakness. Basically, it's as if he's missing a few tools in his literary toolbox, and he kept using the same ones over and over. When first used, his tropes of an unknown horror from a neighbouring dimension works, but then he kept doing it over and over. Even as he fleshes it out, and made the consequences of inter-dimensional visitation felt, it eventually got old. This is only revitalised slightly at the end of the novel, when something more substantial came through the Buick, and we get a glimpse of the other side.

That said, there's a sense of 'antagonistic threat elitism' going on in the novel. Only the Buick itself was dangerous. Sure, the King threw a bat-thing and some leaves at us to scare us with the potential of great hazard for our beloved Troopers, but he didn't quite follow it up with any real danger. The final (barely) humanoid being that came through the Buick-portal device is supposed to be it, but it is emphasised that it is just as afraid of people as the people are afraid of it, maybe more so since it is outnumbered. It tried to run, and killed a dog by accident. I know what Stephen King is trying to do here, but it doesn't quite work out in terms of the horror part of the book, in the terms of the cosmic horror he's trying to evoke.

That said, remember when I say that Stephen King is regarded as this century's Charles Dickens? Yeah, I think that part of his writing kind of overshadowed the darker half of the novel, and when two parts of a novel clashes to gain the attention of the reader, the result isn't quite pretty. This time, as it usually happens, there's only one victor, and I think it's the Charles Dickenesque portrayal of the Pennsylvanian State Troopers that won out. It feels as if the horror aspect was just thrown in there to shake things up. And when it's done so blatantly, it loses much of its effect after the shock.

All in all, it's still enjoyable for what it is. Just that the horror in this book has been shooed off by the ghost of Charles Dickens.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Writing Report S2 #26: Pre- & Post-Military

This Writing Report is for the first week of December (1st Dec 2016 - 4th Dec 2016) and this week, Sunday to Tuesday (11th Dec 2016 - 13th Dec 2016).

By now, my statistics for the first week of December is a bit blurry. Makes me wish that I have an advanced writing software that records my exact statistics day by day. But I can roughly reconstruct what happened from my emails to myself and more recent statistics.

Basically, I finished up the short story, 'Agoraphobe' by the end of November, and I started 'The Hatch' on the first day of December, that much I remember.

According to my email with 'The Hatch' attached, I wrote 489 words on Thursday, 1st December 2016.

On Friday, I wrote about 800+ words in my office, bringing the word count up to 1,300+, and between that time and Sunday night last week, I wrote about 3,000 words. 1,000 of that can be attributed to Sunday, so I must have written 2,000 words from Friday night to Sunday (2nd Dec 2016 - 4th Dec 2016).

Knowing myself, I probably did 1,000 total on Friday and Saturday each, and spent Sunday demoralised and despairing over my impending military service.

Before I go ahead and write on about my writing exploits for the past 3 days, I'll state on record that I have done nothing for 6 days last week due to my return to military service.

Anyway, the days after the conclusion of my momentary service in the Singapore Armed Forces have been very fruitful.

On Sunday, I clocked in 1,000 words. A good start.

On Monday, I overclocked at 1,100+ words. I was really into the story, which is about a mechanic who found a weird rectangular hole in the last stall of a deserted restroom.

And I finished it up on Tuesday, which is yesterday, Nearly 500 words. I wrote nothing else that day, because I promised a friend to hear a a friend's friend's business proposal (a mouthful, I know). But the reason why I stopped at that number is because 'The Hatch', as the story is titled, was concluded yesterday. I am still deciding what to write next.

From the looks of things, I might be behind schedule by 1,000 words minimum, but it shouldn't be a disaster by the scale of my grand plan. To write professionally is all about the long game. The grand plan. I am not disconcerted by my setbacks, but I will definitely work to make up for them.

Until next time!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

On the Army & Writing

Some of you might have realised that there has been an awful lack of posts lately on my blog. Some of you might have hallucinated a choir of singing crickets when you viewed my blog for the umpteenth time only to see nothing.

Well, don't worry. I haven't sworn off blogging, I've just been busy with this:
If any of you need a boot camp in writing, lemme know :)

Basically, I'd been called up to return to military service for a week. It's a fucking tiring, soulless and thankless job. It's especially bad for me since I have additional responsibilities (just look at all those chevrons!) and none of the pride, way nor will to do it. But hey, at least I'd returned in one piece on Friday.

Some of you may know that I have a rather... dim view of the military. I'm always bashing on it quite a lot and for good reason. It pretty much clashes with my lifestyle of artistic ambitions. Every single day is a major struggle even when I'm not fully occupied in camp, and it'd be far worse when I am.

Despite my CO being kind and allowing my unit to return home each day, I was too tired each time to think about writing. All my time at home was instead used to maintain myself. Cleaning myself up after a filthy day, resting, preparing for the morrow as there's usually more gear to bring to camp, and sleeping early because I had to reach camp early.

But what I am going to say next is probably going to cause a Richter 10.0 Earthquake in Singapore (not that Singapore suffers from any form of natural disaster):

It's not entirely bad.

Yeah. It's not entirely bad. Well, in a masochistic sort of way. The army is a prominent topic to write about. Heck, I mean, my debut novel, The Keeper of Pulau Purba (available in Amazon now!), has the army as a major theme. In other words, I've spent a week walking in the shoes of my own characters. It's a good refresher on what it means to be in the army, willing or not. If it's good for a conversation in the coffee shop or a bar, it's good for a novel.

Then, I get to hang out with my wife:
I love the smell of gun smoke in the morning.

This time around, we get to brush up on our marksmanship. I get to shoot on the range. It's one of the few things I like about the army. So, the story goes that I get to team up with my storemen and drivers for the shoot. It's a team thing, which means all our scores are averaged out for the final decision as to whether we are marksmen or not.

We're driven to a simulation building the day before. It's the day I found out that there's a guy in my detail who couldn't shoot at all and he's in the twilight years of his tenure as a reservist. The final year, I might add. To tell you the truth, just like I told him, I couldn't be bothered with the marksmanship status and prize money that has been offered to us. I just wanted, then, to be done with the army and get out. The shooting bit was just an arcade sideshow for me. Therefore, my teammate's poor shooting didn't bother me in the slightest. The only problem was that everyone else were all thinking very differently.

I also found out that I was the second worst shooter. So I guess it pays to be humble (more on that later. Oh boy, a lot more, I tell you). Mainly, my excuses include the simulation screen, which was dark as hell, and my sports spectacles, which tends to fog up in the air-conditioned simulation room. Both problems were solved the next day, just in time for the big finale.

As if I'm in a novel myself (for all you know, we could all be figments of one person's imagination), the table was turned the next day. Everyone else started screwing up, and I became the team's best marksman.

By the second time we did a reshoot, I've only missed one or two shots out of 15... every time, except maybe the first time, when we had to do a night shoot, in which I forgot to reload when I'm out of bullets, and I did crossfires to hit the smaller targets to help my poor, retiring storeman, only to find out that it's not allowed. In the meantime, my guys continued to break the rules by cross-firing and hitting illegal targets (unwittingly, to their credit) or outright missing the target - Until they got it right the last time. I had to be on my toes all the while, performing at top capacity while they get their shit together. My hands were shaking by the end.

The story ended the next day for me, when we finally leave the camp and our uniforms behind, at least for another year, but with a cruel twist - The brass seemed to be impressed with me for some reason, and wants to make me a Company Sergeant Major. Oh, cruel fate! An idealistic writer who hates the army for a CSM. What the frickin'-!

Anyway, my point is that no matter how bad things get, there's always a silver lining. Here, it's that I get to mine this experience for writing and story material. Let's just say that the sequel to The Keeper of Pulau Purba is going to be even more awesome, the more I suffer. But don't worry, I'll happily bleed on the page for you guys! That's why we have blood donation drives, folks!

So for the rest of you who might be experiencing worse or something similar, when the going gets tough, and tears start dripping, remember that if you survive, you can look back and think to yourself, 'hey, now that's something I can use.' Whether be it to write a book, or just be all the wiser, it's something, even if it's evil.