Monday, 22 July 2019

#guestpost: Why Writing Poetry is Valuable | Matt Nagin (@mnagin)

When I was 16, I wrote tons of poems. I must have filled up fifty notebooks with random scribblings. One day, completely entranced by my new hobby, I told my mother I wanted to be a writer. She was less than pleased. She goes, ‘Oh Matthew! Become a doctor and you can write prescriptions!’

I still write poems today, at 42 years old. Some say I have a bit of a Peter Pan Complex. I still live in a bachelor pad, I’m unmarried, no kids, still have many of the same habits I developed as a teen. This may be accurate. Not sure. But what I do know is that all these years of writing poetry have been valuable.


Poetry taught me to write better. To trust my voice. To listen. To hear. Poetry made writing fun for me. It filled me with a sense of possibility. It also taught me that the most important rule is to be willing to break them all.

A good poet can write cover letters, novels, screenplays, resumes, grant applications, graduate admissions essays, blog articles, contracts, advertising copy, speeches, you name it. It is insanely valuable. Ok. It’s not being a doctor. But it can enrich your life and help you succeed in a wide range of careers.

Am I sometimes disappointed in book sales? Definitely. But just because my newest book, ‘Feast of Sapphires,’ isn’t a best-seller, doesn’t mean I’m not glad I wrote it.

I’m an actor too. Many of the parts I’ve played, on television for example, have reached millions of homes. Still, if only a handful of people read my poems, it’s more rewarding to me. Because this is something I feel intrinsically connected to, something that feels necessary. I wouldn’t be happy without it.

So, no, you can’t trade poetry on the NYSE (Symbol: PTRY). Venture capitalists aren’t squabbling over every last stanza. Nor is Netflix paying billions to have poets read their work at The Beacon Theater. Still, poetry is insanely valuable. It can save your life. In certain ways, at least, it saved mine.

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Matt Nagin is a writer, educator, filmmaker, and standup comedian. His poetry has been published in Antigonish Review, Oxford Magazine and The East Bay Review. Kirkus Reviews deemed his first poetry collection, ‘Butterflies Lost Within The Crooked Moonlight,’ ‘powerful verse from a writer of real talent.’ His second collection, ‘Feast of Sapphires,’ reached #12 on the Amazon Best Seller List. Matt has performed standup in seven countries, and acted in numerous film and tv productions. His first short film, Inside Job, won acting and directing awards on the festival circuit. More at mattnagin.com

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

#bookreview: Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes | Carla Hoch

Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight ScenesFight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes by Carla Hoch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I once attended Carla Hoch's session in a Realm Maker's Conference, where she demonstrated various fighting techniques for a bunch of writers. This is kinda like that, in book form.

Fight Write is a great writing resource. It doesn't just give you basic information about various fighting styles and weapons, but it also directs you to think about how to write a fight scene, and what sort of stuff you should think about when writing it. (Tip: it's not so much about the technicalities that most readers won't know, but about how it feels).

Hoch is hilarious, both in person and in text, so this doesn't turn into a dry and boring textbook. It also goes a little into the psychology of fighting and how and why people react in different ways, gender differences, scene and environment... and how you can "test" fight scenes and scenarios without getting yourself actually beaten up. (Eg.: Never been punched in the eye? Think about how you reacted when you poked your eye; same reaction, just worse injury)

*bonus: there is a chapter on Fighting Aliens and Stuff if you're writing SFF. ;)

Biggest takeaway: When writing a fight scene, it's not just about the fight. It's about the people involved and their motivations.

I mostly read this because I've been struggling with some fight scenes in my WIP and I've bookmarked like a lot of things to re-read as I fix the WIP, so I can safely say this is a very useful book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Writer's Digest Books via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Purchase a copy here!

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

#bookreview: Native Tongue | Suzette Haden Elgin

Native Tongue (Native Tongue, #1)Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a future world where Linguists have cornered the market on the translation of Alien languages, the 19th amendment has been repealed in 1991 (okay, so this book is dated) and replaced with one deeming females as minors all their lives, with no rights. In this bizarre US society (it's generally implied that it's worldwide? But other than a few mentions of a few European countries, the rest of the world is quite non-existent), women are apparently smart enough to learn languages and be translators/linguists but not intelligent enough to have control of their lives. Wives are very much just well-trained pets.

Yet in a hard-kept secret and brilliant subterfuge, the Linguist women of the Barren Houses are creating a whole new women's language which will be the key to their freedom.

It's a story of misogynist society taken to an extreme and a really chilling read. Because some of the things said are views that I've seen online recently. So it's not a thing of the past, but something that's still going on. Men like this exist--and they shouldn't be in power.

The biggest problem with this book is its letdown of an ending. The story builds but seems to go nowhere. Nazareth, a brilliant linguist with the ability to see what needs to be done, is finally brought into the secret, things are moving, and Laadan exceeds their expectations... And then it fizzles out and I'm left going, "that's it?" All this trouble and the men just... I mean, it's entirely plausible. The way it's set out makes it a possible solution. It's just not very satisfying, fiction-wise.

Or maybe I just think that the ideal the women were striving for was quite lame.
There are apparently 2 more books in this series, but I'm not sure I'll read them.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from The Feminist Press at CUNY via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Why Your England So Bad? World Englishes and the way forward for Malaysian writers

So. In the light of all the nasty debates over proper grammar and How English Standards Are Going Down The Drain in Malaysia, I figured I should post this online.

Now, to clarify, I used to be quite pedantic about my English and how perfect it has to be. It took reading a lot more local stuff that worked instead of the super-stilted Proper English Written by Malaysians (grammatically correct, but ugh) for me to figure out that no, actually...there is a rhythm and a beauty to the way we speak that actually makes sense. Malaysian English isn't quite standardised across races/states to be a proper creole, but there ARE rules to how we phrase things, which sometimes deviates a little depending on whether you're more influenced by Chinese, Malay, Tamil, or dll. Even pure bananas like me pick it up second-hand. And I don't speak any Chinese and my Malay is abysmal. haha.

It took me coming to study Creative Writing in London to figure this out. Who knew World Englishes is a Thing? They don't talk about it back home. BUT THEY SHOULD.

Anyway, I performed this at the The Decolonial Earth event in Goldsmiths, talking about my linguistic heritage. It starts with the monologue, titled 'Banana', and then continues with the rest of the essay.

DOWNLOAD MONOLOGUE

When I first started writing ‘Banana’, I had no idea what I wanted to say. It was something of a mishmash of thoughts and frustrations interspersed with some sort of a story. In a way, this monologue is a showcase of my ongoing confusion over who I’m supposed to be.

Technically, I know who I’m supposed to be. I’m ethnically Chinese, of Malaysian nationality. But it’s not quite that simple.

Like Karen, I often describe myself as a 100% Banana. Like, you would probably never find a less Chinese-speaking Chinese in Malaysia. And it’s a question I’ve been asked all through my life.

“Why don’t you speak Chinese?” 


I blame my father’s side of the family. (My dad is the one on the left.) My grandfather lost his parents to the Japanese occupation in Johor as a teen and my grandmother came to Malaysia alone also as a teen. Without family and community, both of them fell out of touch with their cultural heritage. They spoke Cantonese at home whilst living in Ipoh, but my dad 'forgot' how to speak Cantonese when he moved to Penang as a teen.

So, I grew up in an English-speaking Christian household (which means you don’t practice Chinese customs which are inherently Buddhist or Taoist) and attended a Sekolah Kebangsaan, or national school—but it was a Methodist school, which counted as “English-Ed”.



I lived in a very white-presenting bubble. Technically, we had all races—Malay, Chinese, Indian—but we spoke English to each other. And of course, enjoyed our banana leaf rice.

It wasn’t until I was in the US for a work thing that two things became very clear. For all I’m immersed in White culture, I’m too Asian to be White. Fair enough. And then I visited a Chinese-speaking church in San Jose and realised how un-Chinese I was, even though I was actually from and based in Asia.


Now, this is the hard thing—at least for me. If you are diaspora who grew up in Britain, or in Australia, or in North America, it’s easier to reconcile some of that dissonance. You’ve chosen the cultural affiliations associated with the country you or your parents migrated to.

I am very firmly rooted in Malaysia. What excuse do I have?

“Why don’t you speak Malay?”

This is where the bubble comes in—for all that the Chinese diaspora is so thoroughly Malaysian (and quite proud of it), it’s usually the food and celebrations that are highlighted. Not the language. Instead of Bahasa Malaysia being the common ground, we often just revert to English, especially in church bubbles.


I mean, technically, I’m bilingual. I learnt Malay for eleven years in school. I read the language better than I speak it. Yet for all practical purposes, I’m monolingual.



As a writer—and even before I started writing—language has formed a very core part of my identity. I count myself as a native speaker, English as my mother tongue, even though it won’t be officially recognised anywhere. Without it, I don’t know who I am. It’s a poor excuse, I know.

But honestly, I’m afraid. I’m one of those terribly timid people who won’t do a thing because of fear of embarrassment. And besides change, language is my biggest fear.

I only have one trick: my words, in English.

I’ve been reading books by people of colour recently—written in English, not translations—and I’ve come to realise this. English, as written by the whites, has become quite sterile. It’s dead, rooted in Shakespeare and the Bible, even if they’re not quite aware of it.

These books aren’t.

My reviews can be found under this tag: https://blog.annatsp.com/search/label/WNDB

They’re unapologetic about the words they use, about the cultural ideas they represent, and the languages they slip in. (Take notes! Read These Books!)

There is a level of acceptance of dialect and slang in literature, a sort of hierarchy of languages. As long as it’s a White dialect (Yorkshire, Irish, Midwest, Shakespearean) or Euro-centric (Latin, French, Italian)—maybe a little Spanish, but not too much—it’s okay. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is allowed his quaint sayings. Huckleberry Finn is “natural”.

But add in some Tamil or Malay or Chinese and it’s like oh my God, why do you have all these weird foreign words? It’s so unrelatable.

But diversity is what people are looking for now. People of colour are looking to see themselves represented in fiction—and it can’t just be the colour of their skin. Not just being the token brown guy. It has to also be the way they speak, the way they mix languages, the thoughts and feelings that cannot be divorced from who they are.

We read to make sense of the world, to discover who we are. But even more, we write to discover who we are, who we are becoming. Even if it’s only to say that we’re leaving parts of our heritage behind. It happens.

Language has always evolved. English is one of the stupidest, most annoying languages to learn whether spoken or written because it has absorbed and Anglicised so many 'foreign' words that they’re not even aware of it. There are many native Englishes because it’s spoken all around the world thanks to colonisation.

What we should be working towards now is to recognise the beauty of these variants and use them in fiction—to create works of art instead of upholding this so-called hierarchy of languages.

Stolen from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Englishes
Malaysia is part of the Outer Circle.

There’s a difference between a heart language and one that you’re using solely for communication. We need to allow the diaspora—they need to allow themselves—to write in their heart language, the one that comes out of them in their comfort zone, even if it’s a creole that only their community gets. To be empowered to tell their stories in their languages—even if it isn’t “proper” English!

When I think about a decolonial future, I think about these voices in Malaysia who switch from English to Malay to Chinese to Tamil with ease, who bask in bilingual puns, and poke fun at their own cultures, yet are united because of their security in their national identity, no matter what language they speak.


Oh yeah, and that one token white guy because we can.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

#bookreview: The End of the Line | Gray Williams

The End of the LineThe End of the Line by Gray Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been sitting on this review a little because I wanted to separate the book and my personal reaction to the themes. Because I started off the book with "ooooh MAGICAL LONDON! So exciting!" descended into "Ugh what is this creepy Exorcist stuff", nearly stopped reading it, and then pushed on with an overall "eh, not bad, not bad at all!"

(Let's say an average 3.5 stars? Excluding my squick moments.)

So content warning: There's demon summoning & possession in this book, which might be a bit too dark/scary/real for some readers. Then again I don't read horror for a reason, so maybe I'm just easily scared. If I could liken the paranormal stuff to something else, it reminded me of the Catholic exorcism novel I couldn't finish reading in my teens because it was too freaky. This isn't as freaky, but parts of it came close. Do not read alone in the dark.

At heart, The End of the Line is a high-stakes thriller/horror crossover with magical elements. Instead of a heist or a political coup, Williams gives you a criminal crew who manages to summon a demon for monetary gain, only to lose control of it with devastating consequences. Amanda Coleman hates Abras and magic with a passion--mainly because of what her Abra father did to her as a child--but she is the only one who can solve this, especially when her last remaining child's life is on the line. The body count is very high in this one.

The initial start is a little rough going. Williams throws you right in the action, jumping back and forth to the past as the narrative progresses. It's a little frustrating until you reach a certain point of understanding because there are a million niggling details that annoy you until you reach the bit where something is revealed and it hits you OH THAT'S WHY. ISH YOU COULD HAVE TOLD US EARLIER. But that's suspense for you, and if suspense is your thing, this book has oodles of it.

Coleman comes across as cold and evil at times, her extreme hard-headedness and prejudice when it comes to magic a difficult thing to understand. But as events unfold and backstories are revealed, you also feel some sympathy for her and the choices she makes. Some, I say, because whilst I feel that the motivations and stakes are high enough for Coleman to react the way she does, I'm expecting it will garner a lot of "unsympathetic character" comments just because she is female. (Men are allowed to make hard decisions that end up in blood, women not so much. Go figure.) And since the story depends so much on Coleman, this is one of those books where if you don't like the main protagonist, you're just going to end up not liking the book.

All in all, Williams tells a great, if scary, story. There are layers upon layers, slowly unfolding as you travel with Coleman, Caleb, Skeebs, Steph and Reeves to Russia. Blink and you might miss them.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Canelo via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

The End of the Line releases on Monday, 8 July! Preorder now.