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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?

Monday, 13 November 2017

An Under-Served Niche in Fantasy

As November progresses and I count down the days when I'd have to go back to an army camp to bumble like I always do, I have been concentrating more on consuming the media. While it is half about trying to just enjoy myself before the muddy inevitable, I see it as research as well, for what I will eventually have to do.

This month, I have been looking back at the films of my childhood, in the categories that I am writing now or intending to write. Horror, as well as fantasy and sci-fi.

One of those films is one that I barely remember at all. I have no real idea how I've come back to it after so many years. All I had were breadcrumbs to go on. I saw snippets of it and hear bits of it from the internet and YouTube, and from there I did my research, beckoned by echoes of my past.

I remember a scene used in Jon & Al Kaplan's musical about Liam Neeson and went from there. I searched about the moving fortress, about science fantasies. It took me weeks of curious twitch-searches and purposeless ventures, but eventually I happened upon it:

It's better than it looks...

Krull is a science-fantasy sword-and-sorcery movie from the early 80's, in theaters six years before I was born. By the time I watched it, it would have been 16 years old, maybe. That would be like watching The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring this year. Both films made an impression on me.

The synopsis is this: An alien overmind and its minions land on a planet from outer space using a mountain-like spacecraft and begins conquering the medieval population there. Lucky for them, the planet is ruled by two superpower kingdoms who decided to join in a permanent alliance via marriage. The marriage ceremony is interrupted by an alien assault, the princess is taken and the prince goes after her post-haste, with the help of an old sage and anyone he picks up along the way.

It's a film amazing for its time, and the special effects hold up pretty well (for the most part) even now. So in this film, we have laser alongside swords, aliens alongside cyclops, and a weird-looking starship alongside castles - though for the last part, the suspension of disbelief isn't too threatened by the fact that said starship looks like an evil mountain base.

Immediately, my imagination took over. The soldiers of the Princess Lyssa's kingdom look like their armour might have been inspired by futuristic designs. The castles are not as crude as true medieval constructions. The fact that the starship looks like a mountain is weird, but then again I won't be surprised if it isn't intentional as a way to disguise the base.

Then there's the aliens, who uses a single-shot laser staff (or rifle) that doubles as a spear. When they die, they will fall to the ground and some worm-like creature would bust out of their helmet to burrow into the ground. It's frightening yet amazing at the same time. It raises a lot of questions:

1) Why on Earth would invading high-tech aliens use single-shot laser staffs and not automatic laser rifles or something?

2) Why are the aliens so slow on foot?

3) What the hell is that worm-like thing in their head?

Here's my interpretation of what's going on:

1) It's possible that the aliens aren't military originally. They had to improvise designs. It could be that they are a rogue faction that decides to go on a forbidden conquest to rule over primitive races.

2) This ties in with the below question...

3) The worm-like things are the actual aliens, and the humanoid bodies are just machines that they pilot, albeit pretty fragile machines that could be destroyed with swords and multi-pronged javelins. Hence, it explains why they are sluggish, though they augment this with horses, probably sourced locally.

This brings me to my next point. As amazing as an idea Krull presents, it was a critical and commercial failure in its time. Despite this, it still managed to gain a cult following and make some tiny impacts on popular culture. It even managed to gain its own novelisation and comic book adaptation (by Marvel). But like any other new ideas, it has to fall flat first before it succeeds. A lot of plane designs were utter failures - until they weren't. Krull, I feel, has truly taken off from the storyboards - just that it didn't soar very far.

Krull can be described as a science fantasy, mashing together elements of both sci-fi and fantasy. It's rare in every media, and for good reason, if Krull is any indication. However, I believe that this special genre will have its time.

It's what I have decided that my fantasy books, if I ever get around to them, will be like. Science Fantasy is like a lost world that needs to be explored, and I want to be one of them who do. I want to be able to get it right, to be able to please both science fiction and fantasy readers. It will be hard, and greater people than me have failed, but I've gotta try. My passion compels me!

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Halloween is Upon Us

Hey guys, exciting times! With the Chinese 7th Month not far behind us and the western Halloween mere days away, there's a lot of ghosts, zombies and various spectres running around lately. As it just so happens, I've decided to let my freaks out of the their cages as well. You see...

The hell gates are open at almost no cost! Now that'd get them running loose...

Hope the reception for this bookception is exceptional awesome...

Remember this guy? He's now yours at the price of... NOTHING! Yep, this fella is now on a free promotion, so if you really don't feel like sleeping, you can go ahead and download him for FREE. The offer stays up until the midnight of the 31st of October. Here's the Link:

Keep your flashlight handy for this one...

And then there's this guy. Do yourself a favour. Get it! If not for me, then for the 19 other authors who decided to take me into their pack. It's an anthology filled with a great variety of stories, made only possible by the number of horror writers coming together in a ritual of pain and torture and fear to summon our Great Lord into our midst.

Descent Into Darkness is available at the price of NEXT TO NOTHING! At $0.99!

Also, the paperback is available in case you want it in the room with you... While you sleep...


Anyway, with that out of the way and the clown behind me dead, I'd like to take the opportunity to announce that I am about 50,000 words into my the first novella of a series of Pulau Purba novellas. I believe it'd be another 10,000 to 15,000 words before I'm done with it, although I'm always underestimating my word count, so take that to mean slightly more.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, 23 October 2017

My New Writing Hangout

Hi guys,

Never fear, I've been busy!

Last week, I had a thought that'd been intensifying throughout the days. As the end of the year draws near, I grew more tired day by day. That, and I could only keep up a routine only for so long. I would like to think that I'm a patient man, and two years of the same thing is long enough. Anyway, my productivity's down, and I have been frequently missing my quota, only hitting it sometimes, while at other times, I was writing at around 500 words each day before passing out. On some days, I'd even skip out on it.

That was when I'd decided. It's time to change up the routine! Introduce something new!

I've died and gone to heaven.

I'd decided to spice up my writing sessions, at least once a week. Previously, all my writing was done at home, sometimes in one long marathon, usually in two 500-word sessions per day. It was all nothing but the writing - no distractions except classical music on my other computer.

The alternative:

Yum... Always love myself some meat off a poor victim... (Of course it's not human!)

I didn't think it would work. See, there's a Korean BBQ restaurant in the local shopping centre, and lunch there is at a very reasonable price. About $17.50 per pax after GST and service. I get to barbeque my own meals there, so the result is a slow meal with time in between, so I thought I could squeeze in some time in between.

Of course, there were many reasons as to why such an idea would fail. First, my meal would require constant attention, attention which will be pulled away from my writing. Secondly, with that barbeque tray in the middle, it gets a little crowded. Third, any restaurant's noisy.

I managed to pull it off and more. The problems I encountered weren't much to begin with. I was able to multi-task, I was given a large table because it's office hours and there weren't as many customers, and noise means little when you're in the zone.

I was able to write 1,500 words in one seating that day. I haven't done such a thing even during my Batam writing retreat, where about 1,000 words in one seating is the norm.

I've done this again today, and I managed to pull off 1,300 words, even with company.

While I'm still trying to understand how on Earth such a place could accommodate writing so well, I have a few ideas:

- I have to wait for my meat to cook. It gives me time to write.

- The cosy, campfire-like ambience is good for self-reflecting and internal dialogues and struggles while writing.

- Each meal lasts several hours with my writing thrown in, as opposed to 30 minutes tops.

- The barbeque and the meal justifies sitting in one place for several hours, whereas just sitting down in my room for the express purpose of writing is intensive and thus exhausting and taxing on my nerves.

It's incredible. I guess I have another weapon in my arsenal for good writing. You guys should try it! And it doesn't have to be human meat!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

A Night During the Descent Into Darkness

Hi guys, sorry for the late post!

Anyway, Descent Into Darkness has been out for two days now, and it's soaring in the charts!
We've just walked into the bar where H. P. Lovecraft's been conversing with Stephen King. We call it... The Night Club :D

Anyway, here's four more fellow writers who are with me in the anthology...

Cindy Carroll: She's been to many places alright...

Amazon Author Profile: Cindy Carroll

Cindy Carroll looks to be a highly versatile author, jumping from world to world - genre to genre, medium to medium. She has participated in many anthologies, so leaving your mind in her experienced hands shouldn't leave you with much doubts. Don't worry about waking up to find that decades have passed though, you'll probably only give hours if not mere days of your life to her writing... Well, let's hope so, or not :D

Scifi, horror, crime fiction - I wonder what's next? My bet's on fantasy. What's yours?

Max Lockwood: You can't see it in the picture, but he's wearing a belt full of revolvers and bullets. Lock & loaded!

Amazon Author Profile: Max Lockwood

Another seasoned writer, he has found his niche in post-apocalyptic fiction, and he doesn't just imagine it. He lived it in his life. Wanna survive a nuclear fallout? He's the guy you want to hook up with. If there's any writer who's going to survive the hell that is professional writing, it's him - so follow him, and your reading habit will last for decades to come. That is... If you can survive the horrors that will claw at you from his book.

He's covered two ways for the world to go Mad Max so far. Haven't read his story in our anthology yet, but I'd imagine a third one in there.

(Picture Unavailable: Just imagine someone cool and awesome here)
Delia Rai: Just entered the scene, but then again, so did literally every other writer at some point.

Amazon Author Profile: Delia Rai

I don't know much about Delia Rai, and neither does the great and mighty Amazon, but her story premise holds much promise: 'An unknown writer catapults into fame after he moves into a mysterious house with a locked door. An ambitious young journalist is sent to interview the writer, in the hope that she can find out if the rumors are true. Did the writer’s wife leave him or has something sinister happened to her? And why hasn’t the writer left the house in years? But the house is not about to reveal its dark secret without a price. Will she be willing to pay it?'

A strange writer and a missing spouse, and someone investigating him? I can already imagine a hundred ways things will head straight to the climax! The presence of three characters in the synopsis guarantees a story that isn't self-absorbed and there's much mystery that could be glimpsed in it. I say, give her your full attention?

Every writer, new and old, are like universes just waiting to be explored.

(Picture Unavailable: Just imagine someone with half his face torn off here)
E. E. Isherwood: He looks to be lurching around for a looooooong time...

Amazon Author Search: E. E. Isherwood

Now there's a zombie worth giving your brains to! This guy writes post-apocalyptic zombie fiction, and his zombie series has been searching for unwitting preys for a very long time... While I have my reservations about zombie media - you know how it is, as long as you do it right. Just look at The Walking Dead, and we don't have to look far to see the various zombie medias that had done well for themselves. Some of my favourite horror films are filled with zombies I had to wade through. Some pieces of horror media that has nothing to do with zombies will still have elements of it - if you know the symbolisms and analogies zombies are associated with.

We'll always need our zombies. Besides, it's not the only thing he's writing...

Monday, 9 October 2017

A Night Before the Descent Into Darkness

Descent Into Darkness, the anthology I've participated with, will be out on the 10th of October. As a participating author of the anthology, it would be an understatement to say that I am thrilled and can't wait to see it happen.

But before that, on the night before it does (at least, according to Singapore time), I'm going to do my due duty and sit in an hour's vigil while the machinery of the great Amazon grinds and pushes the book ever forwards to the new release market.

Doing what, you asked? Well, as you know, it's an anthology featuring 19 other authors, other than me...


So what I'm going to do is to go through every single one of the authors in that book and introduce them to you. Full disclosure though: I am not exactly a socialite or something, so I hardly know them beyond a few nuggets of information. So in a way, this is also a way for me to atone for this grave sin, and to get to know my fellow anthology-mates a little better before the book's send-off to the million-headed judge that is the internet.

Now, let's begin with the man who started it all...

Tony Urban, probably while on the way to visiting the site of Cthulu's manifestation

Amazon Author Profile: Tony Urban

He's one major proof that author's don't just sit behind a desk and type on a keyboard all day long. We actually go out and do stuff, like, whenever. Hell, I certainly know that I don't, if only because I have a day job and friends to keep in contact with. With him though, he leans more towards the Indiana Jones type, it seems.

Who knows what dark secret of the Earth he has uncovered in his travels?

But other than that, he writes zombie fiction, and really ass-kicking ones at that.

Patrick Logan, staring off into the distance - Who knows what dark memory he was recalling...

Amazon Author Profile: Patrick Logan

He's done things that would certainly warrant a few horror novels or a hundred. Makes sense, considering that 'for more than a decade he spent his days chopping up body parts during his Master's and PhD degrees in pathology.' Now that explains that stare he's got in that picture.

I wonder what has he uncovered in those mountains of flesh in his pursuit of the ultimate truth?

He's also a writer of books putting a dark spin on every family member you could possibly have - it's only a matter of time before he moves on to Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, Grandmas and what not. Judging from his success, I'd love to see it happen!

(No Picture Available - Imagine an appropriate creature capable of summoning the dark to take its place)
Shayne Rutherford - A new author like me (Psst... Support us! Pwetty Pwease? *Waves coin bucket*)

Amazon Author Profile: Shayne Rutherford

There's nothing much I can pull from his presence in Amazon, but he does have one book out. But if that one book is any indication, the portal he's building to the netherworld is promising... So very promising... *convulses*

*Ahem* Anyway, it's a short story about a man spending the night at a haunted house on a dare. Halloween's fast approaching, so that's perfect, heh.

G. M. Sherwin, back in the 19th century when- I mean 21st century. Darn, I've given away his secret.

Amazon Author Profile: G. M. Sherwin

Another new author around the block who's in my league, he's taken a slightly different path from mine in that he's delving into both horror and science fiction at the same time, while I went along with horror and military at the same time.

So if you like a unique blend of sci-fi and horror, check out his stuff! He seems to be aiming to do everything at least once, if you look at his catalogue.

---
Well, that's all for now. The witching hour's fast approaching, and I've got my own demons to summon. Can't afford to fall behind on my demon quota, can I?

I'll introduce you guys to more of my fellow anthology-mates tomorrow :)

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

My Most Outlandish Ideas for Books

Hey guys, sorry I haven't posted much at all these past few weeks. I've been busy preparing my students for their final exams, and of course, writing - unless I'm having some R&R to recuperate.

But that's going to change now. As in right now.

Let's talk book ideas. For the past couple of years, I'm all Pulau Purba this, Pulau Purba that. I've been putting up horror show after horror show, most recently with 'Through the Abyssal Gates' and soon, with His Model Son and in the immediate future (maybe months away), Project Shadolure (working title).

But as you guys may have guessed from my offering in 'Through the Abyssal Gates', I'm not all horror-y, well, maybe 90% anyway, or 91%. I do have a clear goal with that in mind - I want to be able to expand far beyond my current horizons, explore beyond known space, to see what's on the other side. It can't be all chaos Gods and shape-shifting aliens, can it?

Okay, better not answer that...

Anyway, I do have plans to go into science fiction and fantasy, even contemporary fiction.

In 'Through the Abyssal Gates', I've achieved the sci-fi bit with Agoraphobe, a story set in an incredibly, really, very crowded Singapore - centred around a waitress' day in the 2nd century megapolis. Let's just say it's not a bright and hopeful future I depicted.

Then with fantasy (with a lot of sci-fi elements smuggled in), I've tried it out with 'Faceless'. Set in a world that isn't ours, a boy has to return to a forest his father was lost in for a few days, and find out what had made him terminally ill in other to find a cure, or at least the truth. It's more of a horror science fantasy heh... A three-way genre combination.

But I plan to go even further beyond that. Expect any of these, and likely a good number of these, to come out in the next five years:

- LitRPG as a genre has been gaining prominence lately. I cannot discount the fact that horror games have just as much impact on me as horror novels/books either. Therefore, I'm thinking of writing a Horror LitRPG... A love letter to all those horror games I've been playing, and which helped shaped the psyche that had given birth, with much blood and gore spewed forth, to my writings.

- 'Faceless' is just a testing ground for a fantasy world I have in mind. A blend of sci-fi fantasy, of technology and magic inseparable. I'm thinking of starting a series on this. This is going to mean a lot, a lot of world-building, so it might even dwarf my debut project.

- Believe it or not, I'm actually also considering writing a fairy tale for adults and children alike, set in the same world as 'Faceless'. I mean, that's how The Lord of the Rings started, right? With The Hobbit? I don't mind going down the same path as Tolkien if that's what it takes for me to ease into the fantasy (+ sci-fi elements) genre. An idea that's holding much sway with me for now is to create an entirely new race of creatures, in addition to mankind, for a story that's just as much about telling a good tale (hopefully I'm up to it though) as much as doing what fairy tales do best - including certain messages in, and some of those messages might be socio-political critiques. Gotta give back to society, right? Chip in for the human race directly for once, eh?

- As for science fiction, I have a metric tonne of ideas, ranging from subjects like colonisation and space travel to aliens and their effects on humanity, to inter-dimensional travel... The scary thing is that I think many of these ideas I have are worthy of not just short stories, but also novellas and full novels. That's a lot of stuff to write about!

- Lastly, I've been collecting shipping containers' worth of story ideas... There are dozens of them by now, bits and bobs of story possibilities that I haven't shared yet.

My brain is expanding everyday, overfilling with ideas... I think my skull's cracking... Soon, my brain's going to implode from the pressure and there will be a glorious shower of blood and grey matter!

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Another Little Finger I Cut Off of 'Project Shadolure'

So just the other day, I showed you guys an except focusing on one of the protagonists of my latest project. Long story short, he's a weedy guy who decided to dedicate his life to science, though what's a little different about him compared to characters of that stereotype is that he's inspired to do this by people and social interaction, not the opposite. Cue conscription throwing a spanner at his lab work...

Today, I've decided to carve out another piece of my story to put it in here. The second protagonist can be considered the 'jock' stereotype of western culture, except with much different traits, and of course, genre-defying background:

"“It’s a constant torture that’s been driving me mad through my desire for knowledge,” Xavier reflected as he watched raindrops from the sky streaking past the beam of his flashlight, reminding him of his ocean. They had reached the foot of the knoll they had conquered and left in the dust. A small stream had followed them, stopped at the base just like them. It was another reminder to Xavier of his intellectual stagnation.
“But it’s not just that, isn’t it?” Ziv said. Xavier nodded and concurred with his assessment. It was the beginning of true understanding where previously they had to be content knowing but the surface of each other.
“I understand, I mean, we all have what we want, right?” Ziv continued, “I just happened to be at the right place.”
“But let me tell you, at least you get to do everything you want, no pressure,” the more buff of the two went on. “I may be where I want, but they’re always a message or phonecall away. Or a room away when I’m at home. They want me to rise through the ranks, become a general or admiral or the commissioner of police one day. I’m happy anywhere, really, and happier still if I get to do things with the men. I’d be very happy even if the highest rung of the ladder I ever get to touch is the Colonel seat.”
“Who are ‘they’, anyway?” Xavier asked, his curiosity aroused. They may not be diving in an ocean, but the straits would do just fine.
They were on the half-way mark of their patrol route. Ziv did not answer immediately, but tried to radio in their progress despite the radio’s non-functionality, hoping that Xavier was right about the speaker.
“Not just my parents. The entire clan. That’s how it is when you’re part of a rich Peranakan family,” Ziv finally fed Xavier a morsel to satisfy his info-hunger. The latter security trooper could feel that there was more from where it came from. Ziv wasn’t answering merely for his sake, but his own. “My ambition isn’t my own, and neither is my love. Have you ever fallen in love with a girl, Xav?”
Something clenched inside Xavier’s guts, between stomach and intestines or gullet and stomach. He couldn’t tell, and uncertainty unsettled him. What he knew was that he hated talking about love.
“Yyes. I guess. Yeah,” Xavier blurted out. He had wanted to lie about it, but knew in the end that it was truth that will set one free.
“Is that right?” Ziv questioned not just the person, but also his reply, incredulous. The thought of Xavier with a girl, if nothing else, had put a smile on his face. He was always used to the idea of Xavier the Hermit, the scientist who was madly in love with his books and test tubes and projects. Not that he thought there was anything wrong with that, of course. “How was it like?”
“Well, I urm, it was, urm,” Xavier tried to start, his mind tunnelling back into the past, but he had regressed to bashfulness as a side effect. “There was this girl, Nina, in secondary school. I kinda liked her. Told her as much on Valentine’s Day in secondary four. I think I was a little too honest and open about it. It didn’t work out.”
“Did you see her again after secondary school?” Ziv interjected, impatience seeping in. Ziv thought the cold and wet environment was getting to him, if the monster of earlier didn’t.
“Yes. Yes, I did. I saw her again in class reunion a year ago. We were at the chalet, and we went outside to sit. And talk. And look at the night sky.”
“Romantic,” Ziv commented in between Xavier’s words.
“No, not at all. For all my knowledge of the sciences and the universe, I was still stupid with my mouth. I couldn’t shut up about the age of the universe and the stars and the probability of earth-like planets, and I’m not even an astronomer,” Xavier lamented with clenched teeth. Ziv thought that, at the very least, the conversation was distracting them from the grip of shadows and fear. “She gave me a peck on the cheek and told me that I’m the kind of guy girls are looking for. Then she got up and left. That was it.”
“Lucky you,” Ziv said. Xavier turned abruptly at him.
“How is that lucky?” Xavier said with disbelief riddled in his eyes and voice.
“Like I said, my love isn’t my own. There were girls I love, not just one, but out of all of them, there was only one I thought I could live with forever, have kids with, that kind of stuff. She’s not the one my family wants me to marry,” Ziv explained, his eyes turned down in reflection as he did, even as they were walking over rough terrain. His auto-piloting instincts were doing a fair job as his mind was burdened with an old chain. “Too poor, too independent. That was just before NS, too.”
“Arranged marriage?” Xavier ventured to guess. Ziv nodded gingerly.
“Yeah, impossible to believe, right? Right here in the twenty-first century,” Ziv spat, anger creeping into his voice, though it wasn’t quite his own. He had been angry for a long time, and he was done being angry about it a few months ago. Now, it was just sadness and grim acceptance, or at least that was what he was supposed to feel. Something was making him mad again.
“I suppose it’s been done for a long time, so there’s bound to be some of it still left in the twenty-first century,” Xavier theorised, though he couldn’t say he knew about human culture confidently. “There’s still such a thing in China, right? And amongst the Malay?”"

Okay, it shows a little more about Xavier as well, and not enough on Ziv. Other parts of the story is supposed to shed light on Ziv's background. You get bits and pieces along the way... But long story short, Ziv is supposed to be a rich dude who's athletic and wants to do something that's military or police-related. A jock, but he's not going to be brainless and all muscles. In terms of intellectual pursuits, he's good when it comes to language. Furthermore, he's not a womaniser, but someone who's forced to give up true love for a girl his family chose. Yep, he's an Asian spin on the jock who's mired in family politics. He's a Peranakan high-born.

Friday, 15 September 2017

A Little Something from My Latest Project, 'Shadolure'

So I've been busy... Working on this latest project set in the world of Pulau Purba. Other than that, I've been working on a screenplay as well, for a friend of a friend. But enough about that. I'd like to show you guys a little of what I've done.

Let's just say the story is going to intersect with the original debut novel, 'The Keeper of Pulau Purba' a little... But I'll keep that as a bit of a surprise and focus on the duo who are the protagonists instead...

Today, let's look at Xavier...

The following is an except from 'Project Shadolure':

"It wasn’t an immediate change, but there was this once when Xavier had decided that he should be walking down the path, the path of knowledge, wisdom and science.
It had only been a few years ago, and the Xavier of present day would have been amazed at how much change had happened to him in so short a time, as if time dilation had expanded his mind beyond the usual flow of time.
The conclusion of his stint in secondary school had given him much to think about. Sitting behind his desk, which doubled as his altar as he was surrounded by charts depicting animals and the tree of life and anatomy, with books and an iPad filled with endless morsels on the various schools of biological facts, he had been ruminating for hours, going back in time to observe the past, then snapping back to the present.
He looked out the window, and above, he saw a clear azure sky, hardly clothed in clouds at all. The sun shone openly above, half an hour or two from its highest point. Xavier admired the sun where others abhorred it for its radiance and warmth, though he looked upon it only briefly. Even that was enough to leave its imprint upon his vision. He knew it for what it was, a great big ball of practically endless burning fuel, a natural power plant on the extreme end of cosmic scales.
He had just returned from receiving his ‘O’ level certificate. He was still in school uniform, the last time he would be wearing the ugly off-white shirt and dark blue pants.
School, his second home where much of his previous ten years were spent, had been a wild ride. It wasn’t in his studies where much of his adventures were had  he saw the various disciplines of science that engaged him to be more of a journey, a cruise through the stars. No, instead, the very human drama exploding all around him was responsible for much of his misadventures.
Girls who behaved in extraordinarily air-headed ways, boys who revel in violence and mistakes simply because they didn’t know any better. Girls who were spoilt rotten, gifted everything they could ever want and weren’t expected to give back. Boys who, fancying themselves reincarnations of chivalrous knights of old, entertain such girls. Girls who teased Xavier with fake flirting he fell for (at first). Boys who beat him up to prove to their urban tribe how manly and warrior-worthy they were. Xavier had no idea what kind of bravery there was to be found in boys who ganged up on him three to one, all bigger than he was. It was just a fact of nature he had come to accept and deal with
But there were also girls who took pity on him, boys who became his closest friends and advisers. Girls who saw him for who he truly was, felt for him. Boys who understood what he was going for when he studied beyond the syllabus on science.
Reflecting on what he’d been through, the thick and thin he’d slogged through with his closest friends and without, he realised that people were infinitely complex. There were as many permutations of physical appearance and behaviour and psychological make-up as there were people, where previously he’d imagined that they were all the same.
Pulling a drawer open, Xavier pulled out an old lecture pad. It was an object of worship to him, it being a souvenir he had received from the National University of Singapore. NUS was said to be the best institution of learning in a country where the standard of education was one of the best in the world, enough to drive some to suicide off a building via academic overexposure. He had been there once on a school excursion a few months before the ‘O’ level examinations. It was an idea of the principal, who wanted to put a goal in sight of his students.
It’d worked for Xavier.
Placing the NUS lecture pad gently on his desk, he took a pen from the stationery basket. On the top line, he wrote a title: What I Will Do for the Rest of My Existence  By Xavier Wee. He had even concocted a subtitle for what would be the most important composition of his entire life: A Treatise on The Experiment of Life.
It was a start. The first two lines of the document was all that was sufficient to change his outlook in life. As words trickled in like raindrops down a hill, it would all coalesce into a stream, then a river, a rapid that would evolve him to what he was by the time he was in Pulau Purba.
Where previously he was just a boy getting by, who happened to be good at the sciences, he had become a man on a mission, a voyage through his heart and mind to explore the complexities of life.
It had taken him a few days to finish the treatise. It had become his ocean, and he would spend the years ahead diving into it, discovering how deep he could go.
When he was done, he framed it, hung it on the wall at the foot of his head where he could see it every time he woke up. So that he could remind himself of his mission every single day, to take a dive into that ocean to see how much water there was.
It’d turned out to be pretty deep, and he’d estimated that it would be deeper than the Mariana Trench. He hadn’t just gone to biology, but also the life sciences and medical studies. He would go off the beaten track sometimes to ponder on other topics, topics related to what made people tick. Sociology. Human Geography. Philosophy. Junior college was just a distraction to him.
And so was the army when the time came that he would be conscripted for National Service.
The army: where his two-years stint in junior college would at least provide him with more instruments to probe his ocean at the best of times, the army had torn him away from his beautiful waters and dragged him inland.
Where the ocean was easy to sink into, the land was hard to dig into. Too much time spent making trenches during outfield exercises in both BMT and vocational training. Too much time being force-fed SOPs and procedures to be used outside the lab. By the end of each day in the army, he would be too exhausted and mentally drained to take his daily dive into his ocean. His books would lay nearly unused in his locker day after day.
He had since given up even trying, as trying to study under the conditions a security trooper had to endure would be a mockery of the true pursuit of knowledge. A constant torture that would drive him mad through his desire for knowledge."

He's a lot like Alex Kee, but of the scientist type, rather than the writer type... But there are other differences as well. His pal, Ziv, would have a very different personality.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Brian Reviews #5: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

More than a week ago, I reviewed a movie. That movie was based on The Gunslinger by Stephen King. It was good enough, I'd like to say again, and so I feel that it would be poor form for me to neglect reviewing the source material of the movie, especially when it's from one of my favourite writers of all time.

Now, the way I've started reading the series is strange. I started with The Wind Through the Keyhole, before moving on to The Gunslinger. I just happened to see it in the bookshop, and knowing that I wanted to start on the series, and that the book was sold as one that's accessible to both first-time readers and veterans, I snapped it up immediately.

The Wind Through the Keyhole didn't disappoint, and neither did The Gunslinger.

Spoiler: The cover is a lie. The Gunslinger did not get to that tower in one book.

Rating:
4.5/5.0

Another spoiler warning: There will be spoilers o'plenty. You have been warned!

It has been months since I read the book, but large tracts of the story are still with me, clear as day. Roland Deschain, the protagonist of the story, having a rough childhood while training as a gunslinger years before the events of the story. The town of Tull, before and after the man in black (and Roland) turns it into a ghost town. When Roland meets Jake Chambers, and sacrifices him in the mines to get to the man in black (didn't expect that one, did you?). That weird vision scene that Roland spent ten years in, learning about how insignificant his quest is compared to the scale of the universe.

As you can see, it's quite a bit of a handful. Where do I even start? I guess I'll go with the characters first. Surprisingly, I'm inclined to talk about the villain. The man in black. He's a breath of fresh air despite being written more than three decades ago. He doesn't need an army, doesn't even need brute force to achieve what he sets out to do. His magic isn't even the focal point of the story. It is how he would lay traps for the Gunslinger to fall into. It is how he truly is evil, in every sense of the word, without coming off as corny or cartoonish. True evil does what it wants and hurting people despite knowing well and full of the consequences. True evil relishes in the consequences, in fact, and Stephen King nailed it pretty well.

As for the hero (who's more of an anti-hero), is complex in his strengths and flaws. From his backstory as a boy all the way to when he sails to the next book, he never fails to impress me with how he could put aside his feelings to pursue his target: the man in black. This, in itself, is also his flaw - sacrificing friends to his cause without much pause. To be fair to him though, there usually aren't many choices for him to take - the man in black ensured that for at least one of those instances. He isn't just a gunslinger by any means, not in the tradition of westerns (based on how little I know on that subject). He is far more specialised than that. Part knight, part gunslinger, part wizard even, based on his ability to hypnotise, use technology and manipulate the more mystical part of the world. It's unheard of.

Personally, though, my only complaint is that the action sequences aren't as fleshed out as it could be. But they aren't bad, or even consistent in its mediocrity at all. I remember enjoying the scene where Roland fought his own mentor in a coming-of-age ceremony, and winning quite unexpectedly. The one-sided fight in Tull where he killed all 58 members of the town did the job, actually, just that I had expected more. Some parts were glossed over or skimmed over, with little more than a nod on how the gunslinger's target are shot, if even that.

But this slight oversight is more than made up for by the rich world of Mid-World, where technology is fading away, somehow replaced by fantasy-esque creatures, some of which I have no idea how they migrate from a fantasy world to Stephen King's multiverse. But they don't seem out-of-place, and instead adds to the mystery of it all, just like the man-in-black on his wagon, like a travelling magician... Who puts up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a show for the town of Tull.

There's been a lot of reviews, and even a confession from Stephen King that the writing in this book is too fancy and bears less resemblance to his works during his later years, but I honestly found it all to be just fine. I consider it just a drift in style, and I like both the new and the old King all the same.

Read it. You'll never be disappointed. Now I'm just going to devour the rest of the series like I did with Harry Potter.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Brian Reviews #4: The Dark Tower

I'm a big Stephen King fan. I've been a Stephen King fan for as long as I can remember, and I can't remember when I started reading his books. That's a sign that it's a long, long time.

So naturally, when they talked about The Dark Tower as a movie, I was stoked. I remember that I hadn't read The Dark Tower series, and I was massively guilty that I didn't. It took me seeing that the premiere date wasn't far for me to finally get around to it, because I was reading some other Stephen King novel. I had finished 'UR' on the kindle I think (not his best work) and I was half-done with 'The Tommyknockers', had to rest from it, and so I picked up 'The Gunslinger'.

Let's just say that the book and the movie are very different:

It's an hour and a half long, that's one difference...

Rating:
4.0/5.0

Yes, you see that right. I gave it 4 out of 5, despite the abysmally low reviews The Dark Tower has accrued on Rotten Tomatoes or any other sites. While many people have numerous complaints about it, I see the issue they have with the movie as petty - more on that below.

There will be spoilers by the way, because this is a movie and I feel like it.

So, the basic premise is the following: the bad guy, called the man in black (not those Men in Black) portrayed by Matthew McConaughey, wants to destroy the titular dark tower with the screams of children and let in all manners of demons into the multiverse The Dark Tower is set in (somehow, the mind of children can do that). Roland, played by Idris Elba, is just looking to put a bullet between his eyes because the man in black destroyed Gilead and his father before the plot of the movie. A boy, Jake Chambers (played by Tom Taylor) became the centre of this as he wields the power to fully topple the Dark Tower. It's Roland's job to prevent that from happening.

The story and plot is noticeably different from the first book, or from what I've heard, any of the books of The Dark Tower book series. It can be a hit or miss thing. Some fans feel that it's a let down because the movie detracted from the books, or that there's a lot of missing potential. Non-fans, on hearing this, or who read the first book on hearing about the movie, cry about the same thing. Personally, I feel that there's nothing wrong. A brief scene from the movie hinted that this is all after the events of the series and - !SECOND SPOILER ALERT! - since Roland is spirited right back to the start of his journey when he reached the titular dark tower, and has done so many times.

Yep, there you have it. There could be 20 sequels to the first movie and all of them won't actually be parting ways from the novel series at all.

I guess my only complaint, like everyone else's, is that the movie's way too short, like they've butchered it or something. I guess that alone is responsible for sniping out that one star. There's so much more that they can do - fleshing out Roland and Jake's changing relationship, putting Roland in Jake's world for a longer time (since it was so entertaining), and perhaps exploring Roland's world a little longer. For now, what I've seen of Roland's world is only a fraction of what even the first book offers, not to mention the entire series. I've read The Wind Through the Keyhole too - that one short (by Stephen King standards) book has far more material than this movie, multiplied by ten.

But since it's my only complaint, you know what it means... Everything else is done well enough. I like the whole multiverse idea for the backstory, I like the rivalry between the man in black and Roland, I like how Roland and Jake's relationship evolved (though I wish it didn't evolve so quickly like a Pokemon).

Now, moving on... The cinematography is awesome. I like the colour palettes, I like the action. Another darned thing the fans say they hate is that the books never really focused on Roland's skill as a gunslinger, and that the movies did. While some of it defies belief, I believe there's nothing wrong with us getting some action from Roland showing his chops. I think it's a matter of a transition from one medium to another. I don't see anyone complaining about Mad Max when the next movie in the franchise is always one-upping the previous one. The action sequences of The Dark Tower movie is even more justifiable here. In the books, we access the story with words. In the movie, we access it with visuals. Of course we're going to see him in action!

Other than that, I love the costumes, I love the CGI, the effects, the sets. Acting's awesome. Nothing wrong there.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie. It wasn't quite enough to distract me entirely from my food and drinks though (the best movies would always cause me to forget my bottle of Coke Zero), but it did keep me chomping clumsily and eagerly on my popcorn. I can't wait for the TV series and the sequels.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Project Shadolure

Hi guys,

I would like to just take some time to put my thoughts on this cyber page for a minute. Things have been going well for a while... With everything, actually - so much so that I'm a little suspicious of what life has in store for me. See, things had never gone this well for me for a very long time. Whenever something good happened in the past, there's always a catch. But now, it seems that life is just good - My job as a tutor has reached maturity, and I could be pulling in $2,400  by next month. This is accomplished with not even half the amount of time I'm putting into my previous job.

Anyway, let's talk about Project Shadolure. It's the very next thing I'm working on. It's an interquel to The Keeper of Pulau Purba, one that will join an ever-expanding shelf full of it: Parade Day in Through the Abyssal Gates and His Model Son (formerly A Model Son).

I haven't even named the new novella yet. Project Shadolure is just a working title. The plan though is that it's going to be offered as the loss-leader of the franchise. It will be available for free on Amazon.

However, this is where I stumble. Admittedly, I'm unsure if the story I've planned is good enough. This time, the story concerns a pair of Full-Time National Servicemen, conscripts who are made security troopers and transferred to Pulau Purba after they graduated from their vocational course.

The story begins on the night just before the ill-fated parade when the nightmare begins proper, and half of it will be told in flashbacks before they have their own run-in with the darkness that plagues the titular island.

So far, the only concrete thing I've worked out are the co-protagonists. One of them is a brainy, if frail, academically-inclined young man who just wants to get out of the army to take his place in a university, while the other is more into the martial pursuits, have a rich family background stretching back hundreds of years, and is deciding between a career between the army and police.

I will be avoiding stereotypes though - the former may be brainy, but that doesn't mean he's going to be a push-over. It's very hard to be a push-over when your life's on the line and you have so much to live for. Similarly, the latter fellow isn't going to be stupid just because he's strong and athletic and wants to be a soldier or police officer. He's actually going to be streetwise in his own way, complex in personality and motivations, and his patriotism does have limits.

My hope is that this dynamic between them, plus a slightly more ambitious story structure (it won't be so linear this time) that's developed on top of the lore I have already developed for the universe, will carry the day this time.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

DIY Book Covers

Recently, I've been dabbling with creating my own book covers. The transition from relying on dedicated graphic artists specialising in book covers to doing them up myself is a little tough. Just like how it is with writing and managing my own books, the uneasy feeling of uncertainty descended upon me at every step of the way. This is what I came up with so far. These are just concepts though - there are watermarks in there because I haven't purchased the images yet:
Argh... Far from finished.

Neither is this anywhere near done, despite this guy here being version 2 of the concept.

As you can see, I'm still working on it. There's a lot of things wrong with the covers - and if I can tell, then something major is wrong with the covers. But that's also a good thing, because if my sensibilities exceed the merits of my design, it means I can improve on my work.

I've been seeking out feedback from my fellow authors, and they told me as much about how to improve the designs. A unified author font, for example. But personally, I think the book title for My Model Son looks home-made. With cookies and cream, that's a good thing. But here, not so much. Something about My Model Son's centre piece feels really odd as well. I'll have to explore my options, and I have one month to do it and polish it off.

Oh, and I believe I've just given away a hint of what's to come after my anthology short story (Tentatively named My Model Son). 😏

If I can pull my book covers off, it's going to save me a fortune! At the cheapest price, one book cover could cost me US$50, so if I can produce book covers adequately for my current and next batch of books, it's going to save me something around the region of US$250. Now, if I want to guarantee the quality of my book covers, I would have to shell out US$100 - US$200 for the average horror cover, which would set me back by US$500 - US$1,000! For a little perspective, the ceiling of that is above my entire expenditure of my current books!

Anyway, I've delayed the ending of this blog post for too long. Moral of the story? It's awesome to put the I and INDIE in indie authors and indie books. See ya'll!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Tutoring: The Ideal Life of a Writer?

Hi guys, as you know, I was out of my telco job on the 19th of June. Normally, that is where average Singaporeans start to panic. With no safety net, not even so much as a goody bag to weather the storm of unemployment, having zero income in an expensive city is about as dangerous as being stuck in the middle of the ocean.

Not for me. It seems that something's going my way for once. It's nearly the one-month anniversary of my exit from the corporate world. I've since turned my secondary income into my primary income, and I used to teach tuition for pocket money, working in an office or not. Within this month alone, my tuition income has shot up from $210/month to something around the region of $1,300/month, and it's still climbing. In other words, I've managed to secure my basic survival needs, even with my university debt factored in.

That's with 6 students, a 10.5 hours per week obligation (which doesn't feel like work at all as I'm happy to pave the way for the next generation) spread over 5 days. It wouldn't be much of an increase of workload if I double that to 12 students and a 21 hours work week, hopefully spread over a maximum of 6 days. That would mean out-earning my previous job even with CPF (social security) thrown in

Now, how is this related to writing? Well, this frees up a ton of time and energy on my end to work on my book. Yesterday, I was able to edit 6,000 words in 2 hours, and get a bunch of promotional admin work relating to my second book out of the way. That's more than 3 times the output I was able to muster while I was slaving away in a telco office. I was consistently editing 4,000 words a day, and only occasionally the usual 2,000 words a day.

I have no doubt that I'll be able to consistently write 2,000 words a day once I get my short story done for the anthology.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Through the Abyssal Gates Release Imminent

Time flies, and so did my book tunnel through time.

Hey peops,

Just to let you guys know, Through the Abyssal Gates' release is imminent! In 9 days, it will receive a soft launch, which is when the book will be available! In the meantime, it will be $0.99 (or equivalent in your Amazon region). There's no telling how long it will remain $0.99 after launch, so grab it while it's hot!

I know, I know. I said that it could release early in my previous post, but then again, there's never such a thing as too much polishing when it comes to editing.

Here's the link (US): STEP THROUGH A GATE

Enjoy!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Let's Talk Writing: A Quickie On Bad Reviews

So as some of you may know, my book has been getting a number of bad reviews. It's not all that bad, though I may be dulled to the effects of bad reviews, but even on Goodreads, where people tend to be more honest, the ratings seem to be quite balanced. My book's divisive though, that's confirmed - You either love it, sit on the fence or hate it. It's quite pronounced, especially considering that there are no 4-star reviews on Amazon where there are 3 5-stars.

Darn, even my book cover's crying because of it.

It's no doubt painful to get some bad reviews, but even those one and two-stars aren't all that bad (once you get past the depression and suicidal thoughts). Here are some reasons why:
  1. Some of them are actually constructive critiques. My book has improved in quality, I believe, after I edited it based on some of the feedbacks. The first act has been shortened by about 2,000 words - and even I, as the author, have a problem with a first act that's too long.
  2. They 'balance' out the ratings chart. You won't know what's a genuine good review until you've seen the bad. Lots of books out there have 90%-100% 5-stars. Would you believe that? Neither do I. Sure, while there are more bad reviews than I would like, at least it makes all the 5-star and even 3-star reviews all the more valuable and honest.
  3. It's basically a 'Welcome to the Club' letter. All authors get them. There were some authors who were downright hated in their time, or ignored, like Edgar Allan Poe, but eventually people got around to liking them. The world changes much faster these days due to technology, so I believe I'll start seeing fans before I die. I already have, I believe. Thanks guys!
  4. It inoculates me against bad decisions when it comes to marketing and writing. Sure, it hurts like a bitch, and it's okay to cry, groan and moan about it, but at the end of the day, it's going to bring you some insights on what to do when it comes to self-publishing. Now, I don't think my book's rubbish, but these bad reviews had given me these insights:
  • Heightened publicity brings naysayers. It's normal.
  • Bookbub brings naysayers. It's normal.
  • I haven't found my niche audience yet.
  • I've actually gone ahead and put my book where it could shine, like in World Literature > Asian and Literary on Amazon.
  • People won't take long books from newbies like me.
  • Crossing genres and mashing them together is best done after you've written more conventional books and gained enough fans.
  • Plus all of the above and things I might have momentarily forgotten about because I'm rushing to get this out before I leave for the gym.
So things are fine - I'm not going to die in my sleep over some bad reviews. In fact, I think my second book might be released sooner than I expected! Formatting's nearly done. I just have one or two stories left to add chapters to and format, the back matter and possibly re-arranging the stories but otherwise, it's good to go.

See ya'll and thanks for reading!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Taking a Different Path

Hi guys,

I realise that I haven't posted for quite a while, but it's for good reason. Work, some serious action related to my books, my friends and writing circle, etc.

But I would like to talk about something that's been on the back of my mind for a while, and it's that my plans for my career in writing has taken a slight tilt.

Originally, I envisoned myself working on a sequel straight after my short story collection. That was up to late last year, I think.

But a lot had happened, is still happening, and things have changed. Recently, my novel had gained much attention. It was featured on Bookbub, and so gained almost 20,000 free eyeballs, a substantial amount of eyeballs who paid for my book, and unfortunately, some bad reviews for one problem or another.

The last bit had disheartened me a little, but it reinforced something that's been clear to me for more than half a year - I'm not ready to write the sequel to The Keeper of Pulau Purba just yet.

My second book has a flash fiction set in the same world as TKoPP, and a TKoPP short story will be featured in an anthology. The next natural step, I believe, are novellas. A good number of them.

The reason why I feel that I'm not ready for The Keeper of Pulau Purba sequel is not just the anxiety to do better, but that my universe hasn't been fleshed out very well yet. By the end of The Keeper of Pulau Purba, here's only 3 major characters left, one of whom is the main character. A few minor characters might be lucky enough to survive on Pulau Purba by the skin of their teeth, but that's it.

The world before and after the events of TKoPP, and outside the titular island itself hasn't even been explored. A lot of things are up in the air. Therefore, here's my re-adjusted plan:

Short Story Collection: Through the Abyssal Gates (Launch Date: 15 July 2017)

A Model Son: A Pulau Purba Short Story (Launch Date: 31 October 2017)

Pulau Purba Prequel (So yes, I'll be working on a prequel to The Keeper of Pulau Purba, a novella that will centre around a pair of marine conscripts. It will be set just before everything turns dark. It will be permanently free, possibly on multiple platforms) (Est. Launch Date: 15 January 2018)

Pulau Purba Interquels x3 (This part is major. I will be writing a series of 3 novellas set during and directly after the events of the original novel. They will all be told from wildly different perspectives. One is already set in stone: it will be told from the angle of a prepubescent Christian girl, and her path will come really close to those of some of the characters in TKoPP. I'm still deciding on the other two) (Est. Launch Date: 4-5 months intervals, so something lik 15 May/June '18,  15 September/October '18  and 15 January/February '19 respectively.)

So there you have it! As you can see, the timeframe for the development of these novels is a far cry from the estimated 18 months cycle of my original novel! Exciting things are going to happen!

But then again, you never know how things will change. My productivity has been up recently, and it can only go up even further as I quit my job for a career in freelance tutoring. You might end up seeing the Prequel by December this year, and all of the Interquels long before 2018 is over...

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Through the Abyssal Gates Is Now on Pre-Order!

Hi guys,

I am proud to announce that my second book, a short story collection consisting of 8 short stories and 8 flash fictions, is now on Pre-Order.

It has been quite a journey, since I started writing it somewhere in September 2016. It is slated for launch on 15 July 2017. That makes about 11 months in development time, whew!

Anyway, here's how the cover looks like:
How about a little vacation?

Here's a little blurb to go along with the picture:
From the author of The Keeper of Pulau Purba, sixteen new dimensions of horror emerges.

You stand before a series of dark portals, each of which will take you to a reality worse than the next.

Step into the shoes of a modern day technician, who discovers a strange hatch in a rarely-used and secluded toilet.

Cower with a teenager who's all grown up, as a strange new neighbour moves in next to him, bringing along strange barrels of vinegar and mannerisms.

Join a woman and her boyfriend as they run an ultra-marathon, only to discover that something has been pursuing them.

Wake up to find yourself on an island city as overpopulated as it is futuristic, where a waitress clings on to her traditions even as everything is grasping to take it away.

Or enter a world rife with ancient artifacts and deadly creatures, where a young man must risk all to save his father.

Many more worlds await, and once you enter the abyssal gate, there is no turning back.

A collection of eight short stories and eight flash fictions, there's always a little something for everyone beyond the threshold.

Oh, and watch your head.

Those are just five of the sixteen worlds you will tour if you choose to take that journey with me. I will leave the rest of them as a surprise for when you do. In the meantime, here's a link to the store page: Through the Abyssal Gates

Oh, and by the way, to celebrate the pre-order of my second book, I've made my first book free for the next five days. Enjoy: The Keeper of Pulau Purba

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Let's Talk Writing: The Four Horsemen

As it is right now, I believe this period of time to be the most stressful for me where writing, publishing and my literary career is concerned. Every factor that could impede my progress seemed to have appeared, swarming me from all corners of the world.

I call them the Four Horsemen.

Not the kind of guests you'd want to bring home for dinner...

We all know the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Pestilence, War, Famine, Death. Those were pretty much the bane of human civilisation.

Now I assert that writers have their own Four Horsemen to fear, and they will usher in a dark age of no-writing if they succumb to them. These are what I am currently fighting against now, and my only weapon is my laptop, which lags sometimes when I play videos on Youtube or even open up LibreOffice:

The First Horseman: People

Astride a many-coloured horse with seven heads, People, the many-faced, many-limbed horseman of a writer's doom will watch you, follow you wherever you go, playing tricks on you rather than running you down outright.

While it might sound anti-social, yes, people do become a liability when it comes to writing sometimes, and it can get really bad if several of them decided to pile on top of you, knowingly or unknowingly. Bosses could hate you for the codes you live by, and berate you if you're not a robot but a human being who needs a break every now and then, and you happen to use it to put down a few sentences. Family and friends might discourage you from even attempting to write professionally. They might distract you, not recognising the writing space you need.

Then there's all that bullying and harassing and rapey and hurty and murdery things a select few of them loves to engage in. You certainly won't be penning down some words when you're stuck in some madman's dungeon.

You're not even safe from other writers. They will have their own agendas. Some might be over-competitive jerks who want to bring down the competition (read: YOU), while others will unknowingly destroy you with bad attitude when they thought they are helping when you wouldn't follow their prescribed path to success. In fact, writers are the worst of them if they choose to destroy you, as they will turn their mastery of the language against you, making sure that their words will cause maximum harm while the intention will be too well hidden from those not in the know.

Avoiding people entirely and becoming a monk on a mountain is not the answer, however. You'd have to use your discretion to avoid the People Horseman, while bringing those who are not affiliated with it into your circle.

The Second Horseman: Establishment

Clopping heavily to the forefront, man and horse completely encased in chain-mail and plates with crossbows and swords and lances at its disposal, Establishment looks on from a distance, waiting for you to wince or show any other signs of weakness. It will charge when you do.

It is a known fact that most governments, if not all, will never let anything that seeks to criticise it, or poke at it in any way, fly. But while the few hundred governmental bodies of the world are popular targets when it comes to accusations of censorship, they are by no means the only thing standing between the writer and his art.

Society itself has conventions, some right and there for a good reason. Others, well, not so much. And some of them don't like your kind snooping around their barns. The mere fact that your country may be inclined towards certain genres may be a problem enough, as it means you would have to write to that market or risk failure. But complementing these everyday folks, artistic conventions could easily limit writers just as much. Genres are as limiting as they are liberating - in my research, I see Christian Fiction as suffering the worst of it, but that's another story altogether, best exemplified by this article: 8 Problems in the Christian Fiction Genre (And How to Fix Them)

The point is, any establishment larger than any one person could spell trouble for the writer, especially when they are actively trying to stick their nose in your affairs when they know no better.

That said, an isolationist measure against the Establishment Horseman is not out of the question, and if you must write about the Establishment, the use of analogies, metaphors, ambiguous language, or being neutral are some of the best weapons you can have to stave off any attacks from them. Guerilla tactics in an asymmetrical theatre of war works for a good reason.

The Third Horseman: Poverty

Floating on impossibly thin legs, a starved horse came forward, bearing an equally skeletal-looking rider, gazing at you hungrily with eyes sunken deep and shriveled up, willing for you to join it. The ground moves forever towards it, and you have to fight to move away from it. Forever, and ever, and ever.

Poverty, or even the effort to avoid poverty, has never been buddies with writing, or anything resembling art and science for that matter. It's a story as old as humanity itself. When your stomach is rumbling and your mouth parched, all you'll be able to think about is food and water. When the day that you'll begin starving is just around the corner, you'll feel just as threatened. There's no denying it; this is how we're programmed, and we're animals first and humans second.

Heck, by the end of my tenure in my telco company, I'll probably have around $2,400 saved up. That's not a lot, not by a long shot, but it does allow me to survive for 4 months if I stretch the money a little.

In the modern world, this is complicated. For me, I've still got my educational debt to worry about. I've got the economy to worry about, and I have to keep hoping that it won't cut off my income stream from whatever day job I've chosen. In pursuing writing, I'm spending money too. I have to read and consume as much, if not more than anyone, and that costs money. Being a self-publisher, I have to spend hundreds, thousands in the long run, to have even the remotest chance of success.  And there are people worse off than me - the fact that they could write and self-publish despite suffering such colossal headaches is admirable.

It is still not enough to stave off the lingering, animal feeling of survival first, thinking later. Writers will have to fight this all the time, and avoid the temptation of giving it all up for a stable, if uncompromisingly anti-art job. And there are people worse off than me.

The best advice I can give is to identify the best job that will give you maximum salary for minimal participation in terms of time. This is not to say that you should slack - no, hard work and smart work is a must. For me, I will be embarking on a career in tutoring and freelancing in T-minus 3 weeks, which will reduce time spent on work by nearly twice, or at least 33% if counting in commuting time. I targeted tutoring because the hourly rate is high, and I seem to be good at it.

Financial management is an important tool too. Minimise your spending. Don't buy unnecessary things. Don't be one of those guys who would spend nearly all of his paycheck per month. On my side, my monthly expenditure is around $800 at most, against a monthly income of about $1800 after deducting social security. That leaves much for investing into my books, amongst other personal things.

The Fourth Horseman: Self

A sickeningly beautiful and dazzling steed meandered on a bend of the road towards you, carrying a person in silver armour. His face is obscured by a great helm that he wore, an ambiguous metal face halved by comedy and tragedy where his true face was. Riding right up to you, he dismounted, and lifted the mask, showing a face truly terrible.

Your own.

He pulled his sword out of its scabbard, but you are unwilling to draw yours.

In the end, your greatest enemy is yourself. It is a common saying, and I fancy that it is as old as dirt. Save for the gravest and terrible of dangers in the flesh, you will ultimately be responsible for some of the pits you fall into, and the biggest problem is... Well, you can't run away from yourself. You can cut off your limbs, shave off your skin and remove all your organs, but even if you're just a brain in a jar, you'll still be with yourself.

See, there are so many things you can do to yourself that would hinder your writing. A moment of laziness at night while you're supposed to be writing could lull you to sleep. A moment of overconfidence could breed a whole slew of mistakes, and they will crawl all over your books like worms and flies and other unpleasant pests and parasites. Dismiss a mistake or a flaw, and it could snowball into a bad review, which would then snowball into poor sales, and then a failed book - which could end your career. A slippery slope, I know, but even a tiny chance of career ruin should have deterred you from any moments of weakness - except it just doesn't happen away sometimes, because we are flawed human beings.

People could let us down, countries could fail us, and the economy could crap on us, but when you give up because of one thing or the other, you'd have stuck the final nail in the coffin yourself.

Discipline, discipline, discpline. That's the main tool you've got against yourself. Be a bit masochistic. Hell, strip yourself naked in an air-conditioned room and write while you're standing if that's what it takes. Ernest Hemingway did that, and it works for him.

Develop a routine that's hard to break. Psyche yourself up everyday, remind yourself of what's at stake. At this, I've gone a bit too far, as I promised myself that I'd kill myself if I've run out of money and couldn't make anymore. That's a great motivation for writing, I guess. Yeah, maybe I'll go see a psychiatrist.

---

So there you have it - I've been running from four Horsemen who've been chasing me around everywhere I go, and it's been especially pronounced for these past few weeks.

I'll have some important news after a few days.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Brian Reviews #3: Alien: Covenant

Disclaimer: I'm going to spoil everything I can, and you can't stop me! Muah hahaha!

It was Vesak day when I finally decided to go to the movies. The last time I'd done that was when Life came out for a week or two. That was at least a couple months ago, I think. Why have I been depriving myself? Well, I guess that's how it is when you're a working adult with two jobs (three, if you count writing).

So, when I go to the movies, I wouldn't do so lightly. And as a man aspiring to master horror, it would definitely be to watch horror movies. Previously, it was Life. More recently, just three days ago, it's Alien: Covenant. Here's the trailer in case you missed the movie:


Couldn't get blogger to list the official trailer for some reason, so here's the second best thing.

Rating: 3.0 / 5.0

So the plot of the movie is simple: Crew is on a colonisation mission, they pick up a signal, changes course to a planet on the wayside, discovers odd things on said planet, encounters alien stuff, then actually encounters the titular Alien and things go bad. Sounds familiar? You bet it is.

Yep, the plot is very similar to the very first Alien movie back in 1979, in which... Crew is on a cargo mission, they pick up a signal, changes course to a planet on the wayside, discovers odd things on said planet, encounters alien stuff, then actually encounters the titular Alien and things go bad. Oh my!

But here's the surprise: I'm not bothered by this. The Alien franchise has been switching up its general plot structure every other movie, that I think it's time we go back to the original formula again, the formula that made Alien as big as it (still) is now.

In Aliens (1986), our intrepid space marines doesn't so much as 'stumble' upon the Aliens unprepared, quite the opposite. They go to LV-426 as prepared as they can be, in full knowledge that they are going to encounter something.

In Alien 3 (1992), Ripley is marooned on a prison planet with the Alien with only prisoners and guards for company.

In Alien Resurrection (1997), Ripley IS an Alien. LOL (Sorry, can't help it). But the rest of the plot has humanity trying to weaponise the Aliens and it all goes south. It bears elements of the previous two incarnations in that most of the characters are prepared for trouble when they come in, and Ripley is trapped in a location with Aliens.

Prometheus (2012) is like Aliens (1986) without the space marines nor the aliens.

I believe the plot is sound, and I was very much interested in it from the start to the end. I love how they bridged the gap between Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, and I love how there's this evolution subplot that concludes what is started in Prometheus, how the bioweapon evolves from little more than deadlier snakes to Neomorphs and finally, the Xenomorph.

What I dislike is the execution. First of all, there's this obsession with guns that recent filmmakers seem to have. Aliens (1986) have tonnes of it, which is fine, since it's a military horror sci-fi. It all started with Alien Resurrection, I guess, but Prometheus is where it gets out of hand. Apparently, people are expecting to shoot a lot of things when they explore an apparently lifeless universe. In Prometheus, we have a science mission while Alien: Covenant is a colonisation mission. Yet, people are bringing lots of guns into space!

I mean, sure, you might want something in case of the odd dangerous wildlife, but assault rifles? Seriously? This takes away most of the horror, I feel.

Your characters won't be as helpless. Me being a writer, I have the benefit of being experienced in this matter. At the very least, I have the decency to completely deprive my characters of ammo until the halfway point, leaving them with only rifle butts and bayonets, and even when they've been furnished with ammunition, they don't get a full magazine of rifle rounds and maybe two clips for their pistols - try going up against supernatural creatures that simply can't die with those, hah!

But besides that, there's this whole subplot with the androids. David wants to create, and destroy while Walter wants to protect to protect the crew. I think they've taken David a little too far - he's essentially a one-man civilisation machine! Apparently, he has no trouble doing everything every genius artist, engineer and scientist could achieve despite being one of the earliest model of androids in the Alien universe. The whole Skynet-will-destroy-us-all idea feels like it's been shoved in for no reason.

And then there's the idea of the Alien's origin. I don't quite like how it's done. First, there's the fact that it's merely been glossed over. It's basically just been explained that it was David who bred them in the first place. Second, there's what it meant. It means that we're back to the whole Frankenstein kind of plot, just slightly less direct this time. Man creates Androids and a particular Android creates Aliens. We've committed a hubris and we pay for it. Too much has been explained and as it turns out, humanity brought it on themselves.

I kind of liked the whole 'alien' aspect better, you know, like how the Alien is named? You crack open the door too wide on the monster, and soon enough, you'll notice the zipper running down its back. I prefer it when the origin of the Alien isn't explained too much.

But the whole zipper thing leads me to another point about the movie. The special effects. The Alien feels a bit wrong. There is a lot of shots where the Alien is in full view, lots of action action showing it off. And it is far too obvious that it's CGI. The Alien works better indoors and around tight corners - if you don't show too much of the creature, you won't see the zipper running down its back (it's a saying by Stephen King, by the way). That's how the first Alien movie became so convincing and thus scary.

Then there's something else that I feel is missing, and it began with Prometheus. The whole retro feel is gone. I like the whole 80s kind of feel, and I find that that's what helped define the Alien franchise. It's connected to the whole debacle about the guns. When everything is so shiny and convenient and ergonomic, you don't feel afraid, because it subtly hints that everything would be so convenient and ergonomic for the characters. There's no element of danger in the environment.

When everything is clunky and blasting off steam, you do get a sense of vulnerability, because it conveys a sense that things could just stop working at any moment, much to the advantage of the Alien. It's sad that it took a videogame to do this right after the original Alien (1979) movie. Yeah, I'm talking about Alien: Isolation. Check it out if you haven't.

There's still a lot of details that don't quite sit well with me. The plants from Earth aren't very well explained - how did they get there? No one knows. How on Earth do you bio-engineer Xenomorphs into being with little more than classical antiquity equipment? God knows! Why are there still Engineers running around in robes after millions of years, shouldn't they have ascended or evolved or something? I don't think even God knows. Apparently, they have no orbital defense systems nor control over their own airspace despite having a space station floating as if with anti-gravity just hundreds of metres from the centre of their city.

That said, there's still some redeeming factor to this movie, well, other than how I'm fine with the overall plot structure.

I absolutely love the ending, even if I could spot the twist from a click away. Good guys don't get to win all the time, and I'd say that the way the good guys lose this time is shocking to good effect and awesomeness - second to Life's ending. From here, I love to speculate how we can get to Alien (1979) with just one more movie. (My idea? Those colonists are material for the eggs somehow found on LV-426.)

I think the characters are pretty well done, even if I can't remember most of their names. They are human enough, and I can empathise with their situation and losses, their decisions and mistakes. That said, I still think that more could have been done - not all of them are memorable enough the way the crew of the Nostromo are.

All in all, I think this movie is watchable, and even enjoyable, but it's not going to be a classic or a hit. It's something I might rewatch once or twice, but never over and over throughout the next few decades.