Published: Off Duty, in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore

Good news! In October, one of my fiction stories was published in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, an online space that captures the literary heartbeat of Singapore. Featuring talented local writers like Lee Wei Fen and Alfian Sa’at, I am honored to be published alongside them.

As a born and bred local myself, I am happy to be able to contribute to Singapore’s literary scene. I love writing about my country. It is a tiny dot of a city where many people across the world have mistaken it for being a part of Malaysia or China. It is neither. Instead, Singapore is an independent country that is more than its squeaky clean image. It is a city, with one of the world’s most hardworking people, that had progressed from a third world nation to a first world nation in a few short decades. Our land pulses with the energy of our people carrying big dreams and even bolder personalities. Over the years, we have attained world-class standards in education, science & medicine, tourism, engineering, etc. But these successes came with a price. We may be one of the richest countries in the world, but we, as with other capitalistic countries, cannot avoid the widening income disparity and the social impact of the increasing influx of foreigners/foreign talent. As a result, a sizable group of Singaporeans, despite their contributions to the nation, are finding themselves less and less represented, their voices fading into silence.

My story, Off Duty, was inspired by these oft-forgotten citizens that had worked hard to make Singapore what it is today, but are not reaping the same rewards as the younger generation. I hope to portray more slices of everyday Singaporean life in my future stories. For now, here’s the link to Off Dutyhttp://www.qlrs.com/story.asp?id=1129

Enjoy reading!

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Reading at The Last Bookstore + Final Call For Submissions

Reading my short story at The Last Bookstore.

Reading my short story at The Last Bookstore.

Last week, I had the opportunity to read one of my short stories at The Last Bookstore at downtown Los Angeles with four friends and winner of the Academy of American Poets Prize Caley O’Dwyer (whose poems, by the way, are quirky, witty and playful). Even though I was a bundle of nerves before the event, hardly able to swallow down my dinner, the reading turned out great and I had a fabulous time!

Thanks to everyone who came!

Thanks for coming!

As you can see from the pictures, The Last Bookstore, with its wacky decor and eclectic furniture, is quite a work of art. They have a great selection of books, including second hand ones that are out of print. My husband found a book that he’d been looking for for a buck, while a friend bought the first edition of an old book for five dollars. You should definitely check this place out if you are around the area!

Anyway, I can’t believe it’s almost the end of November! Time just zipped by, especially the last couple of months. It’s been hectic but fruitful, and the good news is, I’ve finally finished the first draft of my novel. Hooray! I’m still fine-tuning it before sending it to a couple of people to read for feedback, but the feeling of typing the words “The End” at the end of the manuscript is amazing. I’m going to take a break during winter (more like catch up on my reading and edit my short stories), then get back on the second draft next year.

As the semester draws to a close, just wanna give a final shout out to those who would like to submit their work to The Southern California Review. Guidelines can be found here. The deadline’s on 1st December 2013, so you still have a couple more days to send in your stories/essays/comics/screenplay. We’d love to read them!

First Thoughts on the New Semester

I’ve been wanting to post this since, well, the start of the semester, but seeing that I am already four weeks in, it can only mean either of these two things: there is nothing good to say so far, or that I have been so short of time with all the writing that I haven’t been able to blog a decent post.

Thankfully, it’s the latter.

This semester, I am studying under Richard Rayner (author of The Blue Suit: A Memoir of Crime, and others) and Janet Fitch (author of White Oleander and Paint It Black). Richard has one of the sharpest editing eye I know and it’s been incredible learning his nifty techniques. Janet has been engaging our senses by making us do seemingly strange but highly effective assignments like smelling dirt and eating fuzzy peaches. I love White Oleander and have been wanting to take her class since a year ago (there is a wait list!) and I finally got in, yay! Both classes have been really great so far and I’m looking forward to see how the rest of the semester will pan out.

I must say, it’s been such a joy reading the stories sent to The Southern California Review! There are so many compelling and thought provoking fiction, essays, poems, screenplay and comics out there so if you have a story to tell, do send it to us! We want to read it! Submission guidelines can be found here.

Also, I’ll be reading one of my short stories at The Last Bookstore at downtown LA in November so that’s always nerve-racking  exciting. More details as the date draws near.

So yep! I guess this is a sort of quick hi after my little hiatus. Though I’ll be writing like crazy, I will still update this blog so stay tuned!

I Am Writing A Novel.

So yes, I am writing a novel.

The very declaration still rocks my nerves a little and for a while, I thought that if I didn’t tell anyone about it, it might save me some embarrassment if the pages never see the light of day. Also, I didn’t want people to have the impression that since I am working on a story now, it means that I will have the published book in my hands by the time I graduate — this is the kind of unrealistic expectation that paralyzes more than motivates.

But I realized that there is no shame in attempting something new and working on it, regardless of its success. As Edmund Burke once said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” I love that quote. Writing a novel was way more difficult than I had expected, and while the journey had its low points and I had to scrape draft after draft and correct mistake after mistake, it also has countless high points where the deep sense of satisfaction that accompany a page of good writing makes the tough times worth it. Writing can be a pretty isolated activity, and I am really thankful for the support and feedback I’ve been getting from my fellow writers and lecturers in school. The literary world is as tough as it is so it’s awesome when writers band together to cheer each other on.

My novel, based on a family living in contemporary Singapore, is still in its early stages and is bound to change so I shall not delve into it. But I will continue to post updates on this blog so stay tuned!

On Cataloging the Past

Me, circa 1990.

Me, circa 1987.

Back in the 1960s, my grandmother would push her small wooden cart down the streets of Singapore, calling out to passers-by to try her laska – fat yellow noodles coated in rich spicy coconut milk. My father said that his mother’s laska was one of the best he had ever tasted. Yet, despite how delicious it was, each bowl only earned my grandmother a few cents and she had struggled to make ends meet.

Given how poor my grandparents were and the conditions my parents grew up in, it is not surprising that my parents were not great fans of the arts. Painting, writing and singing were thought to be a pursuit of the rich and my parents discouraged me from taking them seriously. It didn’t help that at that time, the government had largely emphasized on commerce and sciences as key drivers of the economy. Doctors, lawyers, bankers and engineers were the occupations that would secure your future. Writers, designers and musicians were not.

In secondary school, my parents wanted me to study science. I wanted to study literature. We compromised and I did both subjects. When I graduated, they saw that I had zero affinity with Chemistry and Physics and urged me to do business. I wanted to write stories. Again, we compromised and I graduated with a degree in journalism — a career that came with at least a paycheck.

This disinclination toward the arts, however, was not to say that the older generation were devoid of creativity. My mother often reminisced how supple and juicy her late mother’s handmade fish balls were. My grandmother would meticulously debone the fish, smack the meat incessantly with her hands and then painstakingly roll each thumb-sized flesh into a ball and cook them in soup. Sometimes, she would form them into rectangular shapes and fry them as fish cakes. I only eat fish balls because they are easy to get in any supermarket. To make them from scratch is simply too much work. I couldn’t understand why she would spend effort doing that. Isn’t it much simpler to just steam the fish whole? When questioned, my mother paused for a while before simply replying, “She did it so that we won’t be bored eating the same thing every day.”

When I heard that, I had newfound respect for my grandmother. This was a woman who had to go to the market before the crack of dawn, help her husband sell fish, return home, clean the house and look after over ten children. Yet she found the time and interest to roll fish meat into bouncy balls! She was definitely an artist in her own right. I wondered where her passions could have taken her if only she had the resources to pursue them.

In that sense, I consider myself lucky to be born after my parents, at a time when my country is finally taking a broader step in cultivating the arts. More schools and companies have been set up to shape artists, playwrights and athletes in the last ten years compared to my parents’ generation. I find that comforting because this means that the younger generation will have more opportunities and outlets to express themselves. But more importantly, this also means that there is now more ways to catalog our past. As a writer, I am fascinated with the details of my family and often find myself referring to the ways my grandparents and parents had led their lives in my stories; details on how they had made the most of what little they had. It is such anecdotes that define my culture and I find it difficult to separate them from my writing, and count it a privilege to be able to recuperate some of this history back into my work.