Singapore Writers Festival 2020!!!

Hi folks, it has been a while : )

First up: a big thank-you to the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) team for giving me a complimentary Digital Festival Pass!

This year, the festival will be FULLY ONLINE for the first time ever, making it accessible to book-lovers and wordsmiths worldwide!

I’ll be covering a few events from SWF 2020 on this blog in a week-long feature from 30 Oct to 8 Nov, as I experience the excitement from the comforts of home post-wisdom tooth extraction (my dental appointment is tomorrow, ouch).

Some of my favorite authors will be speaking!!! Would like to highlight a few names in SWF’s amazing, star-studded lineup from around the globe, which includes Liu Cixin, Magaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Teju Cole (from Harvard!), Tracy K. Smith, and more…

Click here to learn how to access SWF 2020!
(‎The Digital Festival Pass gives you access to more than 100 programmes, including all of the above author talks, and more. Students get a 40% discount.)

30 Oct, Fri 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM SGT
Zadie Smith: Intimations (event link)

Zadie Smith discusses her new collection of essays written in the early days of lock down. How can we think ourselves through this historical moment? What does it mean to submit to a new reality or resist it? What is the relationship between time and work? In our isolation, what do other people mean to us?

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31 Oct, Sat 12:00 PM – 01:00 PM SGT
Liu Cixin: The Possibilities of Science and Imagination 刘慈欣: 科学与幻想的无限可能 (event link)

面对人类世潜在的现实状况,我们应否能转向科幻世界推测人类的未来?以长篇科幻小说《三体》三部曲而名扬国际的中国科幻小说家刘慈欣分享自己的作品与创作心得,听他谈谈自己如何透过科学与幻想的视角看世界。

As we grapple with the potential realities of the Anthropocene, should we (and can we) look to science fiction to speculate the future of humanity? Best known for his trilogy, The Three-Body Problem, Chinese author Liu Cixin speaks on his works, and the extent to which he views the world through the lens of science and imagination.

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1 Nov, Sun 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM SGT
Cassandra Clare: A Night In Pandemonium (event link)

From The Mortal Instruments to The Last Hours series, best-selling YA author Cassandra Clare has built a mega world of mundanes, shadowhunters and parabatais that many of us have grown to know and love. In this meet-the-author session, join Cassandra as she speaks about her literary inspirations, writing ventures, and how one can never run out of stories to tell.

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3 Nov, Tue 9:00 PM – 10:30 PM SGT
In Conversation With: Margaret Atwood (event link)

From women’s rights to climate disasters, Margaret Atwood’s genre-defying works bear an eerie resonance to present-day realities. When fiction becomes fact, where do we go from there? Margaret Atwood speaks with novelist Balli Kaur Jaswal about the power of a writer engaging with critical conversations, and the ways in which fiction can witness, resist and inspire regardless of where we are in history.

… And so many more!

Visit www.singaporewritersfestival.com for the full line-up of more than 200 events inspired by the theme of ‘Intimacy.’ ❤

And stay tuned as i report from the virtual frontlines! 🔥🔥🔥

Lots of love (I’M SO EXCITED),

[Writing] Snippets from old drafts

中秋快乐~ Happy Mid-Autumn, my loves! 🌕🥮🎑

中秋快乐2020

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Ok, now some writing ramblings:

My current novel draft is titled V6. The word count clocks in at slightly over 52,000.

Idol V6 word count

Today, I went back to read V2 and V3—it kind of shocked me how they present a drastically different novel altogether from my current draft (where are the genetic similarities?!) and they will probably never see the light of day. They will float in the Google cloud, untethered, the DNA lineage from which the current baby descends. 🧬👶🏻

So here are some random excerpts from these GDoc relics, for your amusement (and my own haha). 

[V2] SoulCycle in augmented reality? 🚴‍♀️

“One kilometer left, questors!”

A drop of sweat fall into January’s left eye. Her smartlenses watered, the wasteland blurring.

“Eight hundred!” 

Her thigh muscles ached. She was cycling uphill in a Mad Max-like wasteland. The group was in the last stretch of the high-speed chase. The sun overhead was blindingly white, but there was no heat. As her feet pumped the pedals, the vehicle surged forward on a yellow, dusty road that disappeared into the horizon where the silhouette of a fortress awaited. All around her stretched an endless blanket of sand. 

[…]

“You’ve crossed the Wasteland, questors! The quest never ends! See you all next session!”

The wasteland receded. Confetti showered on her, the flakes disappearing before they touched her sweaty skin. Words began floating before her. 

Our arable lands are becoming deserts. Every dollar you spent at True Quest is matched by ByteCent to reforest our lost greenery.

As the electronic music prelude to the True Quest theme song began, January tapped her left cuff to switch off the AR filters and the room reverted to its clean lines and simple furnishings: a bunch of stationary bicycles in a darkly-lit studio, with glow-in-the-dark bonsai trees. Other questors—all slim, panting, and of various skin tones—were now stretching, gulping their customized Soulwaters, or softly gossiping in circles.

January grabbed her Soulwater from the cup holder. Today’s flavor tasted saccharinely sweet. Usually, she would have hated it, but the water matched her mood. January looked around the dim studio, thronging with sleek shadows—all the women with their ready-wearables and athleisure couture from the New York Fashion Week’s S/S collections, sweat-resistant au naturel makeup, and the modest discreetness of their minimalist aesthetic. On the outside, January melted into these shadows, but her thoughts couldn’t lie. The appearance was easy: sneaker-heels, photosynthetic GgG (Gucci goes Green) shirts, and a flash of Tiffany silver or Cartier gold to coyly convey sustainable luxury and ethical living. How long had it taken for her to get here? To this lifestyle of ‘enlightened entitlement,’ where wellness was a status symbol, productivity was a precept, and everything was done mindfully—shopping, eating, sleeping, parenting, learning, working, and working out.

[V2] Girl meets boy for the first time after he gets into car accident. (There’s no longer a car accident in V6, phew.) 🥺

He was pale-faced, half of his face bandaged, engulfed in blankets, his shoulders still straight. A wisp of glamor still lingered—barely there, like dust that glints when the angle is right—on the upward tilt of his left eye, in the pinkish-red of the rims, on the feather tip of those heavy lashes. 

She had prepared herself for scrawny or scrunched up, skeletal or sickly, but instead, he looked sober. Somehow, the spare setting purged every trace of boyishness from his face.

Under the fluorescent lighting, motionless on the hospital bed, he didn’t look quite human—a half-mummified mannequin, or an uncanny sculpture, or a new-age Frankensteinian invention just off the surgical table, not yet ready to be unravelled.

I’m like a cold-eyed observer, she thought, gazing upon a painting. 

[V3] In this version, everything becomes first-person. A world with holographic apps. 🌟

Download GEMINI UNIVERSE? The window prompted.

Staring at the “Play trailer” option, my index finger tapped the air. 

Full Immersive or Augmented? The window asked. I doubled tapped the former. 

G—and it could only be him—appeared, three feet away from me. Loose white t-shirt and black jeans. No shoes. 

“Hello,” the hologram said, eyes crinkling, “welcome to my world.”

My reading capsule was still bright, for optimal reading, but his hologram had an otherworldly quality, standing under a spotlight as though on a dark stage. Suddenly: a couple beats of crashing drums. A pulsing bass. The light around him rippled. 

“Come on over,” he said, beckoning with a raise of his brows. The VR effects kicked in and the capsule faded away. I was now in a dome, surrounded by galaxies of light sticks. At the heart of the planetarium stood G, now in an all-black ensemble with a jacket that flashed trending profile avatars of fans. He was softly crooning in a vertiginous ring of light. The tune was melancholic, but his voice was surprisingly good, almost familiar. I had probably heard it somewhere, on one of my friends’ livestreams or 360-statuses.  

“Experience my concerts wherever, whenever.” 

The scene rippled and now we were in a bedroom. Oh! I was in someone else’s body, looking at the world through his eyes. G’s! He/I was waking up, brushing his teeth, walking into a—I’ll never forget this moment—jaw-droppingly expansive closet that was bigger than my bedroom. I could only catch a glimpse because the shots were spliced rapidly. The next moment, I saw him picking a recipe from his food printer and tapping a spoon against the marble countertop. And then it was him on a plane, waving to screaming fans at arrival, ducking into a vehicle. His hand comes up towards his face and blocks the lenses. Blackness.

“Experience how I live,” said his voice. 

“And have me in your universe.”

A few functional scenes dissolved in and out. Easy purchase or bookmarking of any outfit or look by tapping on G and adding the item to the cart or mirror. Augmented meals. Exclusive concert sets in the living room. Giving my smart assistant the Aural x G premium update. 

“See you there.”

The darkness lifted gradually and I was back in my capsule. 

I was still reeling from the quick final scene—essentially, my smart assistant could take on his hologram likeness and speak in his voice. What would having G so close be like? Could I even name him something else? Or was the whole point to have him—singularly, authentically—in my world?

The trailer was not entirely the life story I was expecting. It was invasively intimate, thrillingly voyeuristic, more about tying my world with his. I could already envision how gruelling it was going to be, wading through all the information on his life when every brush of the teeth was documented.

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Dear reader, always happy to hear your thoughts and ideas on the future of entertainment, love, and inequality!!! x

Onwards with V6 in October!!! 💪💪💪

但愿人长久,千里共婵娟 🙏💛

祝合家圆圆满满,一生花好月圆~

Have many yummy mooncakes,

July things

July is…

  • staying indoors all month (except for the momentous excursion outdoors to the polling station on July 10). My hermit life continues with my mom — neither of us have taken a step out of the house for months. Life meanders: the whole morning wrapped in blankets, my mom’s home-cooked lunch right after light breakfast, reading while eating fruits and chocolates, and writing after the sky turns dark in the hum of evening bustle, the breezy night, the shadowy hills, and my favorite sort of quiet — the feverishness of midnight when I seem to be the only human alive.
  • uninstalling social media apps. Forgive my excruciatingly slow replies, my digital antenna is sluggish. I am a texting turtle. 🐢
  • trotting out of the house with my dad on July 10. We queued for thirty minutes, went through rounds of hand sanitization, deliberated for a millisecond before stamping on a polling card, slotted it into a box, and trotted back home. With that, I finally exercised my right as a citizen.
  • absent-mindedly reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (reminds me of Elizabeth Taylor and naturally the time I watched her five-hour-long Cleopatra on the flight from Boston back to Singapore) and All The Light We Cannot See (the writing is exquisite but somehow I can’t get into it).
  • listening to Taylor’s folklore. ❤
  • writing IDOL. This month, I wrote a total of 20,001 words.
  • ending with the last revolutions of the clock. For the final moments of July, here’s a haiku by Kobayashi Issa (posting both translations here because they move me in different ways — or, in Walter Benjamin’s words, each liberates the language imprisoned in a work in its re-creation of that work):

This world of dew
is a world of dew,
and yet, and yet.

我知这世界,本如露水般短暂。
然而,然而。

With love,

[Writing Updates] June 六月

整个六月都在室内度过,三点一线的生活:床,餐桌,还有皮沙发。我倚着餐桌打瞌睡,在床上看小说,在皮沙发上码字和偷吃零食。窗外有烈阳,有蓬勃生长的仙人掌,依山(很矮的武吉知马山)傍水(游泳池嘻嘻)。

这个月至少读了十本小说。我流着汗,也流着眼泪,滴答在屏幕上,流成故事。

📚

The whole of June happens at home, facing rolling green hills. A defence camp hidden somewhere inside.

Every day, I write (though you can easily spot some bad days 😓). In June, I’ve written a total of 20,498 words.

I conceived the idea for IDOL last summer in New York and started thumbing it out in the iPhone Notes app before sleep. After the summer ended, I had mostly character sketches. In the fall of 2019, I enrolled in Claire Messud’s Advanced Fiction workshop. Over the course of a semester, I completely redrafted the first two chapters with drastic changes to both plot and character, and it became IDOL V2.

Early this year, however, after weeks of traveling over winter break, I was stuck in a rut. Everything I wrote tasted insipid. My main character, G, kept floating out of reach. A silhouette in a mist. The closer I got to him the hazier he was. Over and over again, I asked myself, What’s the point of this story? I wasn’t in love with my characters and didn’t know how they were going to grow as the plot developed.

Around the end of February, one morning, I sat up in bed feeling like I had just woken up from another life. A dream that stuck to the skin but was receding with each passing moment. Frantically, I typed out whatever I could remember. Version 3 was born in first person. I started afresh on a blank GDoc. I had crossed over the rut to the other side of the bank.

13,683 words and two months later, I felt good about the story.

On the third day day of this month, I was gripped by a scene in my head: a glittering product launch for a new tech, electrifying audiences like Steve Jobs’ legendary iPhone presentation. It blanketed every previous thread I was trying to sew into the story. I realized I had to sit down and rewrite, starting with this new scene that easily toppled the previous chapters as though they were a house of cards. Introducing, IDOL V4. The 13,683 words were now in the trash.

I carried on with V4 for the first three weeks. Then I collided into the inevitable. Where’s the story going? I knew the tech, the conceit, the style, the world but when it came to the plot, I rammed up against a cliff. I finally accepted the sad truth: Without a detailed chronological, chapter-by-chapter plot outline, IDOL was never going to go anywhere. Subconsciously, I had sought to delay it. Many writers write without a plot outline and, instead, allow the story to organically emerge. Me? Three discarded versions of IDOL accumulating to over 50,000 words are a testament to my inability to proceed beyond the first three chapters without a plot outline:

Plotting is arduous. It’s my major weakness and also what impairs every novel I have started but never finished over the past decade. In the hard-disk of my laptop, there are over at least thirty novel beginnings that were abandoned, virtual detritus accumulating dust.

In the past week and a half, as I plotted everything chronologically (a plot that stretches over twenty years), IDOL genetically mutated into a foreign creature. The bones are still there: future of entertainment, idol, ghostwriter. But the rest of the animal has gone wild. In July, my goal is to finish writing the plot outline in detail (by Week 1). Then, IDOL V5 shall begin.

Another 20,000 words for July — ready, set, go!

Stay safe, with love,

Confession: “I Was Born A Writer”

I’m not sure that Morocco or France are my countries… No, my country is language. My country is a library.

Have you ever felt utterly exhilarated just listening to someone talk?

I was in a conference room somewhere in the basement of the Center for European Studies. Leila Slimani was in conversation with my Advanced Fiction Professor Claire Messud.

Every single word that tumbled out of her mouth — matter-of-factly, resolutely, spontaneously — was setting off fireworks in my head. 

I was born a writer, she said. I always knew I was going to be a writer. 

When hard things happened in her life, even before she started writing her first novel, a part of her was always thinking, Now I’m getting closer to my destiny. Every moment, life was giving her material that could be digested and transformed into literature. So you’ve survived, now you can write. Everything is literature. 

When she said the word “destiny,” I was falling through time and space. When I was in first grade, the school project for the holidays was to fill out a 10-page activity sheet on our life ambitions. (Think: when I grow up, I want to be x.) In 2005, my dad was a computer scientist with entrepreneurial zeal and my mom was a homemaker armed with an engineering degree and childhood education diploma. I wonder how I knew even then the destiny of those letters as my seven-year-old self painstakingly penciled the word: w-r-i-t-e-r. My most primordial instinct, before socialization.

Then I lost that sense of destiny.

Sitting there, hearing Leila talk about how we reach the unreachable and the unspeakable with respect and tenderness in art, about the sheer freedom of writing (we can write about anyone from the inside with intimacy, even monsters or people we hate), about how writing is never to judge but simply to reveal how a person is like, gave me vertigo.

I don’t know if I have talent but all I know is that if I wasn’t a writer, I would have been a bitter, angry, jealous person, Leila said in response to my question. In writing, I accomplished myself.

She was the silhouette of a 37-year-old I hoped to grow into, what I had let fall in the march of years, and what I so desperately wanted to believe, believe, believe. And to remember.

I was born to be a writer. I am going to be a writer.

Even if some days I can’t write, even when I’ve never written anything close to a novel, life has an arc, a constellation of dots, a thrumming of strings ONLY IF WE CHOOSE TO SEE. This vision, undercut by my own doubts, has been postponed, danced around in conversations, swept aside and buried when it wasn’t achieved in 21 years of existence.

But these years should neither be proof of my inadequacies nor a tractor demolishing intuition. The life I’m living through and the inner life that’s ever-shifting within me are all pieces and strands that will eventually crystallize. Every moment I’m just a step closer. 

Thank you, Leila, for the sheer imprint of your burning-hot conviction. I’ve never met someone this serenely confident in the meaning of their existence. You’ve delivered my sense of destiny back to me.

Leila Slimani Harvard.jpeg

Here’s an article about Leila from The New Yorker: The Killer-Nanny Novel that Conquered France.

Here’s a short story by Leila, The Confession. Trigger warning: it’s from the perspective of a rapist.

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Lots of love on a revelatory day,

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