Friday, 18 August 2017

#fridayflash: Nan on Walker

Look. The thing with Walker is. Is. Well, I don’t know.

He came back and… and I was angry. He was supposed to meet me at the airport—he didn’t, of course. What did you expect—and then he was rambling on and on and we were going to be late and…

And then he hugged me and everything was alright for a while because he was alive. He was there. He was real. It was just like the old days. The ones we grew out of. Or I grew out of at any rate. I don’t know whether Walker every grew up or grew out of anything.

The place—Ned and Theo’s place—it… Do you suppose their ghosts… but well, that’s the sort of fanciful thing Walker might believe in. When I first stepped in—all I wanted to do was leave. It was dank. Musty. Draped. Walker might say it’s a place where life has stopped abruptly. Only in more poetic words. Like a graveyard. Of dreams.

I didn’t want to sit. I didn’t want to stay. It’s the sort of thing I’d rather leave behind. But he was going on and on… rather like Lina, really. Like Lina, only old. So fervent. So alive. So… ridiculously alive.

Which I suppose is better than the alternative.

Maybe.

---

The thing with secrets is… they’re supposed to remain secret. What’s the point of dredging up all this mess? What’s the point of talking about all of this? Some things are better off not said, you know?

Only Walker never realises that. He wants to talk. He wants to fill the world with his words and with his… and Pip can’t…

Walker can’t leave the past. He must dig at it, he must prod, trying to find out the truth—but only the truth he decides he can accept. I don’t think he—we—either of us can handle the truth anyway. Whatever that may be. Not that we’ll know now. It’s… he wants to know and I don’t.

I… don’t.

---

Note: character work on Nan Janeway; Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

#bookreview: Asp of Ascension | BR Myers

ASP of Ascension (Nefertari Hughes Mystery, #1)ASP of Ascension by B.R. Myers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The new school year doesn't seem promising. Terry's still dealing with the grief of losing her mother, struggling to get used to her crippled leg, plus trying to deal with fitting in at a new school in a new continent. It only gets worse when her father falls into a coma and his creepy colleague insists that she's the only one who can break the curse... by solving the mystery of the ancient Egyptian asp that went missing from the museum 50 years ago.

On the surface, ASP of Ascension is typical teenage girl fodder. There's the outcast girl--well, girls--who are awesomely kickass, the handsome basketball star who is paying attention to them, the jealous girlfriend who'll stop at nothing, and a real honest-to-goodness Prince (even if he's Egyptian). There's flirting and awkwardness and new love and...

...there's the mystery. The new Egyptian display includes what's rumoured to be Cleopatra's sarcophagus--the very same one Terry's mother died trying to find. Here's where Myers shows her twisty depths. Nothing is what it seems, and not everyone is who they're supposed to be. Everyone has secrets--but which ones are dangerous?

Overall, the novel is a fun read--light enough to keep you entertained, mysterious enough to keep you hooked, and with just the amount of teenage silliness to keep you charmed.

Note: I received a digital review copy of this book via NetGalley.

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Monday, 14 August 2017

#musicmonday: Here Now



Your ways are higher
Your thoughts are wilder
Love came like madness
Poured out in blood - wash romance
It makes no sense but this is grace
And I know You're with me in this place

Here now
All I know is I know that You are
Here now
Still my heart
Let Your voice be all I hear now
Spirit breathe
Like the wind come have Your way

Cause I know that You are here now
Heart and soul
God I know that You are here now
Fix my eyes
On the things that I can't see now
And all I see
Is the glory of Your Name

Sunday, 13 August 2017

#RealmMakers2017: Issues

Another thing that came out a few times over the course of Realm Makers was the cry for Christian writers to actually write about issues. Instead of circling around them. Instead of pretending they don't exist. Or that people don't need to read about them. (Oh, we need to keep our fiction clean, you know, so we don't offend God... or our readers.)

There's issue fiction (stories written specifically to deal with an issue) and there's fiction with issues (it's not specifically written to address an issue, but issues are brought up in them). You can write either. But as Mary Weber pointed out, the important thing is to write what's on your heart.

Where do you need to see God move?
This question wasn't really related to the impassioned talks about issues (it came up during the part about the heart of the story), but I really think it's the perfect question to use when you talk about issues. Because our issues are the issues our readers face. The things we've overcome (or are struggling to overcome) are the things our readers are struggling through. And having it out there in fiction, in tangible words and intangible feelings, can help them process. It lets them know that they're not alone. They're not strange. Other people are facing the same problems they are. 

There's a difference between clean and safe. We can write clean--even if your character is a gangster who has a foul mouth, there are several creative ways to characterise that without actually using swear words (you're a creative writer, aren't you?)--but we shouldn't necessarily write safe. Talking about issues isn't safe. Talking about rape and depression and harassment and racism and equality isn't safe, but they need to be talked about. They need to be addressed. And sometimes your fiction, while it isn't safe or necessarily clean, may be able to provide a safe space for traumatised people to start dealing with or processing these issues and their impact on their lives. 

And maybe, when you address the issue in a way that is honouring to God, they can come to realise that there is another option. There is a way out. They don't need to succumb to what the world is pressuring them to do or be. 

Trust that the Holy Spirit is active and speaking in your writing process.
The question is sometimes this: when is it too much? Where do you cross the line between "being real" and "being offensive"? 

I don't know. I can't tell you. I highly doubt any of the speakers at the conference will be able to give you an exact answer. There are many factors involved: the audience you're targeting, the publishers you work with, your own conscience. But one thing that came out pretty loud and clear was the fact that if you are writing this with God, the Holy Spirit will guide you. 

I wrote this down (it's either Mary or Jim who said it, I don't remember who; it's probably paraphrased anyway):
TALK ABOUT ISSUES. Don't shy away.
Ask yourself: What crosses the line for your spirit? How far does the Spirit want you to go with it?
Then go with it. 
Ted Dekker fielded a question about writing about issues (I think) and his answer was this: agenda-driven fiction only addresses the choir. It never converts anyone. Write to discover. Write to see. Be authentic.

And when you are authentic, genuine, about the realities of life, that's when you really speak into the lives of others, whether you meant to or not.

--- 

As a tag-on note, we've just finished the workshops for Voices 2017 and I am truly, truly deeply honoured to have been able to sit there and listen to the stories these 15 women have had to tell. 

The stories were deeply personal, unapologetically raw and extremely powerful, covering topics such as depression, body image, self-esteem, death, sexual assault, harassment, mental illness, marriage, love, abuse, and faith--all the things that women go through in their lives (there's probably more that my brain refuses to remember right now). There's no sugar-coating, no shying away, just honesty and vulnerability; a voice speaking up from and in the darkness. 

There's power in that honest sharing of lives, made possible by the agreement to create that safe space. And that's what I'd like to believe our fiction can create. 

A safe space for the weakest voices to be heard. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

#bookreview: The Circle Series by @TedDekker

Circle Series 4-in-1Circle Series 4-in-1 by Ted Dekker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SO. I finally got through this 1.6K-page tome that weighs a tonne. And it only took me 4 months!
In terms of actual reading time, I read Black over the course of April/May (I think, or whenever I posted the update) and then I read Red, White, and half of Green in the span of 2 days, while travelling from Malaysia to America. And then I was at a conference, and then I finished up the last half of Green over an afternoon or two, in between vacationing. So it's not really 4 months... but I probably did it an injustice by spreading out my reading over such a long time frame. Details get lost, and all that.

---

Honestly, if I had just bought Black: The Birth of Evil on its own, I probably wouldn't have continued to read the rest of the series. Maybe it had been overhyped a little (ha, apparently my friends are Dekker fans) but Black was seriously only an okay read.
Thomas Hunter is chased by some unknown men. He falls asleep and wakes up in an alternate reality--a forest--with no idea how he got there, where it is, or even who exactly he's supposed to be. Which world is real? And which is the dream? All he knows is that whatever he's dreaming of in his original world has already happened in this dream/future world.
The flipping back and forth between the realities got a little tiring after a while, especially when nothing much seemed to be happening. I know all that back story and confusion and vagueness was necessary, but I've been becoming an impatient reader lately so I wasn't in the best of mindsets to slog through it. I'd probably have given it a 3-star, noted a "maybe I'll continue the rest of the series" and then forgotten about it. BUT since I had the entire series, AND Dekker was keynoting at a conference I was attending, obviously I had to read the whole thing, right?

---

The meat of The Circle Series is really in the middle two books, Red and White. Which was why I finished them over the course of a 16-hour flight.

General Thomas of Hunter is now a renowned warrior, one of the leaders of the Forest People. They're the remnants who have remained clean, who still hold on to their belief in Elyon. Those who don't believe, the Horde, are infected with a skin disease and are followers of Teeleh and the Shataiki. In Bangkok, Thomas Hunter is still the unknown person who gains information from his dreams and is the only hope of saving the world from the Raison Strain.
It's here that Dekker's allegorical game becomes strong. It's the steadfast Christians against the rest of the world. It's the powers of darkness against the children of light. One of the major concepts of this world is that the hidden, spiritual battle in the 'past' world (i.e. our time) is now shown physically in this future world. Dekker plays with easily recognisable symbols: baptism/drowning, the Gospels/the History Books, sin/Scabs, and then, of course, the Jesus figure (I can't give you the parallel without it being a spoiler, but yes, there is one).

If the theme of Red: The Heroic Rescue was the redemption and salvation of the future earth, then White: The Great Pursuit focuses on the salvation of the past earth even whilst Elyon pursues his people in the future earth.
Past earth is still in dire straits: the antidote has yet to be found and time is running out. Oh, and nuclear weapons have been launched. Future earth seems to have it better--Elyon has revealed himself to them again and started them on a new path. Their healing is now permanent, not a temporary measure. But there's dissent brewing in the camp.
It feels a little like a commentary about theological disputes between churches, especially what it means to be in the world but not of the world. Do you continue to live in your little church/Christian bubbles? Or is it safe--or wise--to live amongst those who seek to kill you? (Well obviously in the real world, they wouldn't actually kill you, but as per the theme of the books, things the metaphysical of our world is physical/lived out in theirs.

---

And finally, you get to the controversial last book, Green: The Last Stand.
There's betrayal in this one, and desperate love. The believers, or albinos as they call themselves, are split. Most of the story is concentrated on the future earth--the main story arch for past earth has been completed in White, leaving only a few loose ends to be tied up (vaguely spoilerish? You decide).
The tension seems to drop a little here, but that could also be because I had to stop reading halfway and then was only able to take it up again a few days later, in a rather disjointed manner. Theme-wise, it's a story of the end-times, with the great deception, the antichrist, the mark of the beast, and the battle of Armegeddon.
BUT I will say this. Contrary to popular opinion (haha), the original ending for Green is probably the right one. It's not perfect. It's devastating, actually, tragic, but it's what really completes the circle. It what makes the beginning make sense.

It's like what I say about the end of The Hunger Games: I don't like what happened, but it is what it is. What it has to be.

(Well, the alternate ending is cool too, and you have closure, and feel happy. So there's that.)

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Here he is signing my book! :)

Sunday, 6 August 2017

#RealmMakers2017: Identity

Dear multiple people who've asked how this conference was for me, I'm sorry for giving you awkward answers because I don't really process well verbally on the spot. Ask me in person now and maybe I can give you more than an "it was really good." (Or maybe not. Just read the blog.)

---

One of the things that came up over and over again throughout the course of the conference was the issue of identity.

In David Farland's pre-conference workshop, he asked the question, "Who are you?" (What's your brand? Your territory? How do you define yourself as a writer?)

As part of the Q&A, he also mentioned Own Voices (all the rage, ha) and the need/demand for those authentic voices in the industry right now. (Cultural identity, gender identity, etc.)


Ted Dekker's keynote focused a lot on perception: how our perception of life defines the story we tell ourselves, how our identity needs to be tied up in Christ instead of our writing, our career, our dreams, or our goals.

That identity is one of completion; of fulfilment--to see who you are in Christ is to remember that it is finished. There is no battle. Or as my notes say: Learn to awaken to the reality where you can sleep through the storm because, in your perception, there is no storm. (Ref: Jesus sleeping in the boat during the storm whilst the disciples are freaking out)

Our writing is part of our journey to discovering that in full: to discover who we are, who our Father is, and to bring others along so that they too may know Christ in his fullness.


In the continuing session I attended (Heroes, Villians, & the Heart of Your Story), James L. Rubart and Mary Weber talked about how the theme (sermon) of our lives--the thing that is at our core--is really what's going to be the heart (heft) of our stories.

Repeated is the thought that the things that we struggle with, the perspective we hold, our journey of self-discovery, is what's going provide that heft and grounding to our stories.

Weber put it this way, "Your book will be as shallow as you allow it to be." If we don't work through our own issues, including where our identity is, we're just going to keep scratching the surface.

---

I think one of the reasons this resonates with me so much is because it's always been an ongoing struggle for me to fit in. And because of that, I don't really know how to define who I am except in negatives.

  • I'm the banana/"speaking one" (i.e. stupid Chinese kid who doesn't speak her mother tongue, how can you call yourself a Chinese? -- Well, I don't. I call myself a Malaysian)
  • I'm the PK (i.e. the one no one really wants to be friends with because ew, what if she tells her parents what we do? / "eh, LOOK ANNA DID THIS [insert stupid thing I did] MOM so it's okay" which generally leads to "how can the PK act this way? She should know better" -- Give me a break, okay?)
  • I'm the introvert (i.e. I'm going to stand here and stare at you awkwardly while my brain tries to come up with something to say -- Um, which is why I write. lol)
  • I'm the bookworm (i.e. she's boring, she doesn't want to play games -- Not to mention games gives me anxiety.)
  • I'm the single young adult in the Intergenerational Cell (i.e. married with kids group) because the young adult singles group is... just getting too young (i.e. college kids/fresh grads). 
  • I'm the Chinese-Malaysian girl who's not Chinese enough and not Malaysian enough, because I'm culturally too Western. But I'm also not Western enough because I'm culturally too Asian.
  • Here, I'm the person who travelled halfway across the world to put herself in an uncomfortable position and I'm panicking. Because I really want to connect, but I really don't know what to say, and everyone is loud and it's overwhelming and when you talk over me, I just shut down and shut in. (I like wallflowering. It's cool.) 

But this is not truth.

And I know it. In my head. Though not always necessarily in my heart.

So it's affirming. It's really affirming to remember that my identity is not in my writing, it's not in my failures, it's not in my struggles, it's not in my general awkwardness, but it's in Christ.

As Dekker kept emphasising, Christ is all, and in all.
So that's where my identity should be. And although I'm not there yet, at least I know what I'm striving towards.

---

Colossians 3:1-11

AMP:
11 - a renewal in which there is no [distinction between] Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, [nor between nations whether] [c]barbarian or [d]Scythian, [nor in status whether] slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all [so believers are equal in Christ, without distinction].

ALKITAB:
11 - Dengan demikian, lenyaplah perbezaan antara orang bukan Yahudi, dengan orang Yahudi, orang bersunat dengan orang yang tidak bersunat, orang asing dengan orang biadab, abdi dengan orang bebas. Kristuslah segala-galanya dan Dia bersatu dengan mereka semua.

---

Translation giggles: I would totally translate "orang asing" as "foreigners" and "orang biadab" as "rude people" - not exactly what barbarian or Scythian is supposed to mean?
Amplified puts the notes as such:
c - A derogatory term used to describe uneducated, uncultured people who were not fluent in the Greek language. [I guess foreigners works?]
d - The Scythians were savage equestrian herdsmen who were skilled archers and often worked as mercenaries and/or slave traders. The Scythian women were known to dress as warriors and fight alongside the men. [okay, so maybe biadap as in uncultured, not rude. But then again barbarian already means uncultured. lol]

Other note: the English translation puts it as "there is no distinction" which feels like it's already done. To me, the Malay phrase "Dengan demikian, lenyaplah perbezaan" gives the feel of "With that, we [need to] remove the difference/distinction"--There's an air of continuing and purposeful effort, as if we, the church, need to consciously remember and steadily work towards a world where there is no difference. Or actually, my brain is now saying "With that, the difference (perbezaan) disappears (lenyaplah)." Still, it has the tone of action, or at least being active