& occasionally about other things, too...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Terroryaki by Jennifer K. Chung wins 33rd 3-Day Novel contest

Jennifer K. Chung

First prize: Jennifer K. Chung of Bellevue, Washington, for Terroryaki!

About the Book: It’s three months until the wedding, and Samantha’s Taiwanese parents won’t warm up to her hopelessly white fiancĂ©. Meanwhile, Sam’s food-obsessed sister, Daisy, is on the hunt for an otherworldly take-out truck whose dishes are to die for. Terroryaki! is a quirky tale of love, family, redemption and the best—if slightly cursed—dish of chicken teriyaki to be found in this realm of existence.

About the Author: Jennifer K. Chung is a Taiwanese-American writer, pianist and software engineer. She grew up in Southern California and studied computer science at MIT in Cambridge, MA. In her spare time, Jennifer plays keyboard in a goth metal band and studies the Japanese martial art of Naginata. She lives near Seattle.

Second prize: Gwendolyn Bird of Kasilof, Alaska

For The Island of Broken Toys, the haunting tale of a community of mysterious children who seek out the truth behind their exile

Third prize: Tate Young of Toronto, Ontario

For The Ridgeback, a witty thriller about a bloody murder, a very large diamond and a dogwalker on the run.

Honourable mentions
  • Jon Billman of Stillwater, Oklahoma, for Bicycle Tramps
  • Alan James Blair of Stillwater, Oklahoma, for The Mermaid’s Brother
  • Jenni Bomford of Prince George, B.C., for Spiritual
  • Keith Chittleborough of Glen Waverley, Australia, for Near Dreg Experience
  • Paul Colley & Laura Colley of Pickering, Ontario, for Clockwork
  • Logan Evans of Pullman, Washington, for The Boundary Nebula
  • Gayleen Froese of Edmonton, Alberta, for What the Cat Dragged In
  • B. Gordon of Victoria, B.C., for Archipelago
  • Diana Holdsworth of Amherst, Massachusetts, for The Golden Tooth
  • Jimmm Kelly of Vancouver, B.C., for The Little Man
  • Ashok Mathur of Vancouver, B.C., for The First White Black Man
  • Iulia Park of Toronto, Ontario, for Canadian Experience
  • Rudy Thauberger of Vancouver, B.C., for Evil Beach Dance Party
  • Jake Wallis Simons of Winchester, United Kingdom, for 24/3
  • Jenny D. Williams of Brooklyn, New York, for The Widow and the Twin

This year’s youngest entrants, three-time contest veterans Natasha Carr-Harris, Abby Adams and Sean Vipond, as well as the latest under-10 entrant, Albrightine Ngusurun Orsar.

{from 3-Day novel contest website: http://www.3daynovel.com/2011/01/25/the-winners-of-the-33rd-annual-international-3-day-novel-contest/

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Writing is not easy...

I used to think that writing was, well, if not easy, not difficult either.

That was a long time ago. Then, a couple of years ago, I embarked upon a foolhardy mission to write a novel.

Euripides was right. Those whom Gods wish to destroy, they make them mad first.

I shall skip a reiteration of how my short story turned into a novel, and all the momentous events that sort of gave a new direction to life, and a fresh impetus to my enthusiasm.

They seem important only to me.

After two years of writing, I am about to complete the first draft of a novel – a modest 60,000 words or so.

I should be happy, if not overjoyed. I am not.

I’m unsure and wary, and realise that I need to do a million things more with the draft, before I can say that the novel is worthy of being read by others who are not my friends and well-wishers.  

During these two years, I have had tremendous support from published writers, both established ones and the about-to-be established ones.

They empathise with me – a newbie on the block. They cheer me on as I struggle, much as a newcomer to Canada from the tropics does, learning to walk on the snow, wearing nine layers of warm clothes and heavy snow boots.

It is the 'been there, done it' syndrome, I guess. 

They tell me that my modest achievement, which seems so great to me, is in reality the easy part. From next month, I embark upon the harder task of re-writing. And I have no idea when that process will end, if ever.

In the past, I have enjoyed reading good writing, especially good prose writing both fiction and non-fiction, in a general sort of a way.

Over the last two years, writing has helped me evolve as a reader. I pay attention to what I read, to the way in which a writer captures an emotion, a feeling, and the felicitous use of an expression, a turn of phrase, to convey precisely a mere nuance.

Let me illustrate this by an example from MG Vassanji’s The In-Between World of Vikram Lall

The train from Kisumu had come in late, and so we left at a little before dawn from Nakuru, which was as well because we could see more, though the Kisumu passengers were irate for having to wake up from their rocking slumbers. We reached Naivasha as dawn was breaking beyond the mountains.

How can I describe that feeling of looking out the sliding window above the little washbasin, as the small second-class cabin jostled and bumped along the rails, and taking in deep breaths of that cool, clean air and, simply, with wide hungry eyes absorbing my world. It was to become aware of one’s world, physically, for the first time, in a manner I had never done before, whose universe had encompassed our housing estate and my school, the shop and my friends, the tree-lined street outside that brought people in and out of our neighbourhood.

That scene outside the train window I can conjure up at any time of the day or night; I would see, feel, and experience it in similar ways so frequently in my life; in some essential way it defines me. This was my country – how could it not be?

I keep the book down and sigh. Will I achieve such depth, ever?  

Writing is not easy. In fact, it is a struggle. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Song of India

“People don’t go to India to experience India; they go to experience themselves in India,” says Mariellen Ward in her Song of India, a collection of travelogues. 

Her blog breathedreamgo features interesting India-themed stories, and has a huge following.

Mariellen first visited India in 2005, after a series of tragedies, but India transformed her. She discovered a new purpose in life. 

“My life revolved around sharing what I discovered there – the beauty of India, the transformative power of travel and the magic of mystery.”

She is a consummate travel writer, combining a keen sense of observation, lucid description, interviewing the right people, extracting the right information or opinion from them, providing a perspective, and writing with empathy. 

Perhaps more important in the Indian context, she’s unafraid of the heat, dust, dirt, smells, chaos, too many people – features about India that intimidate Indians returning to India after a long stay in North America.  

This slim collection has essays about her travel to Delhi, Varanasi, Dharamsala, Rishikesh, Bengaluru (yes, she doesn't call it Bangalore), Jaisalmer. 

During her several visits to India, Mariellen lives in ashrams, practices yoga (which she learnt in Toronto many years before her India visit), takes a boat ride across the Ganga to see the awesome Ganaga arti at the Dasaswamedh Ghat, meets the Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, visits the Maha Kumbh and discovers herself.

In my humble opinion, the most poignant piece in the collection is her essay On the bus. On her third trip to India, and a combined stay of over nine months, Mariellen finally muster enough courage to take a bus ride. The short ride brings her face to face with the Indian reality – grinding poverty.

Here’s a passage from that essay:

“The women kept smiling and talking to me in a language I didn’t understand, the girl kept trying to get as close as possible and the bus kept getting hotter under the noonday sun (she’s on a bus from Pushkar to Roopanghar) and it was all very interesting for about the first hour. Eventually, I was starting to feel suffocated, and wondering if the last hour of the trip was going to be an endurance test, when the young girl handed me a candy.

These were poor people; people who didn’t have very much, nor much hope of ever having very much. I was moved by her generosity and as I took the candy I felt the bittersweet tug of genuine humility. A little while later, she gave me another.

Rooting around in my purse, I found a little beaded bag I bought in Rishikesh and handed it to her. She dutifully handed it to her mother and grandmother, who looked it over and approved. Then they smiled at me with real warmth and the little girl hugged me, and I noticed how beautiful she was. She had huge eyes and delicate features and long fawn-like limbs.

I turned away to look out of the window at the dry desert landscape, baking under the scorching sun, and dotted with mud huts and women walking with huge bundles of twigs and branches on their heads, or almost as equally large jugs of water. My eyes filled with tears as I realized the real reason I had avoided taking the bus.”

Sunday, January 02, 2011

How to Be a Canadian

How to Be a CanadianIn my efforts to become a Canadian, I've been serious, earnest, dedicated, studious and acquired a whole lot of other qualities that I didn't really think were of any use to me.

In addition, I did a whole lot of things that would turn me into a Canadian.

After two years and more of being at it, I was fairly certain that I was well on my way to being a Canadian.

Then, my son gently broke the sad news that I’m nowhere near being a Canadian. According to him, I’ll never be a Canadian because I speak English like
Russell Peters’ father – with a pronounced Indian accent. And he mimicked Peters' famous, "hodog" line.

So, I finally decided to call off my efforts at becoming Canadian because I was pretty much sure I could never succeed.

Just then, I got hold of Brothers Ferguson’s How to Be a Canadian. The brothers – Will and Ian – have written a book that is serious education. In one week, I now know everything that I need to know to become a Canadian.

Of course, the book doesn’t teach me the accent, but short of that, it’s indeed a ready guide to all things Canadian – How to talk like a Canadian, How to watch TV like a Canadian, How to eat like a Canadian, so on and so forth.

While reading the guide, I got this feeling that everything had been written in a sort of larger than life, hyperbolic style. 

Having lived in Toronto since 2008 and being constantly engaged in trying to learn yet another way to become a Canadian, I have become extremely serious and I realise I've  lost my sense of humour, somewhat.

I’m not alone. The constant need to be politically correct in a multicultural society deprives most Canadians of a sense of humour and the ability to laugh, a stray Russell Peters notwithstanding.

It was towards the end of the guide, when I came across the following passage that I was really confused and asked my son. He took one look at the cover and said, it a funny book, father. You're supposed to read it to enjoy and laugh.

Well, I'll be damned. Anyways, Here's passage. And, now that I realise the book is humourous, I'll read it again.

Chart: Clip ‘n’ Save

A Handy Chart for Aspiring Novelists (Or, How to Get a Cozy Review)

Plot: No

Cryptic dialogue:

Cryptic dialogue hinting at a dark past betrayal:

Was it incest?

Female character as empowered victim:

Yes, but only at the end.



Characters who spend most of their time remembering things that happened to them before the book actually started:

Isn’t the concept of an “empowered victim” an oxymoron?