Wednesday 28 September 2022

#bookreview: Stranger Back Home | EL Haines

Stranger Back HomeStranger Back Home by E.L. Haines

I honestly don't know what to think of Stranger Back Home.

If Sparrow were a real person, he'd be the type of person that I'd actively start avoiding within an hour of meeting him: an arrogant, insufferable, know-it-all. But since he's a fictional character and there were many positive reviews, I figured I'd give him a chance and read his story in small doses.


Sparrow receives a text message from his half-brother, who lives in the magical world of Telleron which is populated by elves, gnomes, halflings, dragons, kobolds, and all sorts of other magical beings/races. He leaves America and goes back home to DragonsMouth to sort out his father's will and his inheritance. Between fighting off bandits and tax auditors, causing general mayhem, and attempting to solve the inheritance problem, Sparrow transplants American racial sensitivities based on skin colour into his interactions with Telleron society, confusing everyone, ignoring actual racial tensions between species, and making himself out to be a complete racist arse, when "really, he's not!"

Spoiler: really, he is. But oh hey, maybe he experienced character growth, or maybe it was all a con! Who knows?

On the whole, the story was quite entertaining, though the main narrative kept segueing into backstory narratives, infodumps, and side comments which is not something I'm particularly fond of, not to mention the use of footnotes which were in some ways rather Pratchett-esque.

Based on Haines' *wink wink nudge nudge* comments, it feels like he's trying to point out how some people can be oversensitive towards issues of race and the language surrounding it. Some of these still feel relevant, including using the terms "boy" and "Master", but others are over-the-top non-issues like the very general terms "black market" and "blacksmith" that Sparrow, for some obscure reason, completely misunderstood. And obviously, because Sparrow cannot read a room to save his life despite being a storyteller, he makes issues of things that no one else but him cares about, including assuming that the economic & power disparities in Telleron are the same as in America (i.e. based on skin colour instead of species).

A key to the plot also involves the use of blackface, where Sparrow has to confront the fact that while blackface is incredibly offensive in modern America, it's a cultural, normal way of life to a subgroup of gnomes in Telleron. And that maybe him donning a kobold disguise to gain information and the way he interacts with them may be more racist than he initially thought.

I suppose you can read Stranger Back Home as an allegory to how issues around race, skin colour, and culture vary around the world - and therefore cannot just be assumed without knowing the true history and tensions of that specific society. What offends some may not offend others. This holds true in real life as well. It does well in unmasking Sparrow's actual unwitting racism towards the other races in Telleron and makes him face up to the realities of hate based on your race (or in this case, species) and the way that he treats the kobolds.

Yet, at the same time, it also glosses over the complexity, breadth, and width of race relations (including disparate impact based on various factors) in real-world societies by "proving" how untrue it is in this fictional one. This undermines the realities of unconscious biases and systemic problems that people are still experiencing and trying to correct by implying that it's only racism if there is "real harm", which I suppose refers to physical and/or actual economic harm, as opposed to "perceived harm".

I can only conclude that as a white person, Haines has never experienced microaggressions and does not understand what it means and how it affects a person. Or he has a really thick skin and embodies the adage "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." He further disparages such "perceived harm" by having Colburn, the dark-skinned coach driver, deliver a long monologue about being "flattered that someone like [Sparrow] would want to imitate me" and how "everyone should share cultures" (no one is saying we shouldn't) and to not let people "who can't see beyond their petty insults and imaginary offenses dictate your life".

It really gives me the feel of "the lady doth protest too much, methinks".

As I said at the start, this is a confusing one. YMMV.

Note: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Friday 23 September 2022

Dear Malaysian churches, here's how to pretend to be more creative than you really are

Look, the easiest way to be creative (when really, you're not), is to hire a creative. There are many hidden creatives in your church, most of them not doing anything because you do not ask them to. 

Ask them. Better still, pay them.

Whether you pay them or not, most Christian creatives will usually feel, uh, led enough to offer their time to you for free or at a severely discounted rate because, church, you know?

When that isn't an option for whatever vague reasons you tell yourselves, remind yourself that stealing is a sin. So, whatever you do, DO NOT STEAL. Even if your intention is to give credit and skate along on the safe side of the applicable laws.

However, as they say, "Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

What? But you just said don't steal! Go read the article. I'll wait.


You back? Well, okay. Here is a super handy-dandy cheat sheet on how YOU as a Malaysian church can ultimately pretend to be OH SO CREATIVE by being inspired by Christian shows from America. Because honestly, one come-to-Jesus youth summer camp romance is pretty much the same as another, and as the author of Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun.

There IS nothing new under the sun. 

The idea itself (falling in love at summer camp and also finding Jesus) is not copyrighted, but the execution of it is. First of all, here are a few DO NOTS you should adhere to.

  1. DO NOT under any circumstances copy all the dialogue and present yourself as the scriptwriter. NO. That is copying, that is stealing, and that is LYING. 
  2. DO NOT use all the same songs (or 90% of the same songs) from the show because that is being really, really blatant. 
  3. DO NOT use the same names la. Even if you change the surname, it's pretty obvious ok. Can don't be so obvious or not?

Why? Really simple. Because if there are sufficient similarities, even if you credit the original inspiration, people are going to be like, "eh, copy only. So same wan." Very not creative!

But you have an edge here, okay? Because once you localise the show, and I mean seriously localise it, not just change a few words, you have the best opportunity to pretend to be WAH SO CREATIVE HOW YOU THINK OF THIS?!

Remember: the idea of it is not copyrighted, the execution of it is. So take the overall idea and run with it. 

Ok ok, but how? Here are some very simple pointers:

Change the main character backgrounds

The Boy is in his last-chance foster home? Foster system WHAT foster system. It kind of exists in name la, but in practice??? In Malaysia, the Boy is more likely to go to an orphanage or group home, or even, say CPS. Even where places mention "fostering programme" it's more towards child sponsorship (like World Vision-style) and not USA-style where the child goes to stay with another family. Also, the government portal talks about "Probation Hostel/Asrama Akhlak" not "juvie" and they seem to jump directly from shelter homes to adoption (though foster child is mentioned once or twice). Also, the Boy is in trouble for stealing a cop car. Do people steal police cars? IDK maybe they do. But that is a very recognisable plot point. So change it. Make him a Mat Rempit or something. 

Then the Girl is the daughter of the campsite owner? Look, no one in Malaysia owns a summer camp, ok. We all just rent a hotel or maybe a campsite owned by some big church or NGO. So "owner of the campsite and daughter" doesn't make sense. Change it to the youth pastor and his daughter. Wah tension already. You want more tension? Try senior pastor's daughter. Bwahahaha.

The rest are teens, everyone's in school, not much is said about them so it's fine to just not mention it.

Just changing these two key background stories would actually already make your story different enough that it's not immediately recognisable.

Localise the jokes & language

Look, the reason it was ridiculous/funny that the Boy lied that they were "cousins" was because the Boy is White and the Friend & Camp Mom are Black. It's an obvious LIE. Your casting has two Chinese guys, cousin ma cousin lor, your church is 90% Chinese, what's the big deal? Find another joke that makes it obvious they're not actually related. Or think of another joke altogether. 

Your localisation must be thorough. John Hughes who? If it doesn't make sense to you because it's too American or too old, find something else that people watch which has the same "makeover" impact. The Chinese-Ed/English-Ed divide is also big enough a barrier - and probably more relevant in a local context. If the final connection point between Friend and his Love Interest is a quote from some super obscure show from the USA that no one here knows, find some super obscure show from Malaysia (or Singapore) that they can be crazy about and quote from. (I like horrible, terrible, vegetable as an inside joke, but that's just me.)

Malaysia is very multilingual. We tend to call things by their original names, whether they're in BM or in Chinese or whatever. USE THOSE TERMS. Lean into stupid bilingual puns. It's what your audience is used to anyway.

You have your own version of church camps, each has its weird points and competitive aspects. At my youth camp, we used to have marks for how tidy our rooms were, so there was a guy who SLEPT ON THE FLOOR so he wouldn't have to make his bed the next morning. What dumb things have your own friends done in camp? Draw from your own experiences.

You can also draw inspiration from scouts/guides camps and their chants! 100% relatable because I was never a girl guide but I've heard them in school and from friends anyway. 

Choose new songs

Keeping one or two key songs might work, but if most of the songs are the same, there's no running from the fact that you're drawing very heavily from the original. You probably don't have time to write your own songs because duh, otherwise you'd have written your own script, but you can find songs with similar themes that may even fit your revised script better! Plus, if you consider local songs as well, you have a wider range to pull from. Or, well, yeah BTS will work. 

You have to pay for the music license anyway, no matter what songs you end up choosing.

Actually adapt it for stage

A screenplay and a stage play are very different things. There are many things you can do on screen that you can't do on stage, and vice versa. So the act of just adapting the script for stage will already change key scenes and how they play out, maybe even the sequence of events. You need to figure out entrances and exits because you can't tell people to only look at one part of the stage. You can't have a quick montage of days passing or camp games that involve the beach and diving, but you can't just remove the scenes either because then the heavy lifting of character development and establishing relationships would then disappear with those scenes. You'll have to find another way to do it on stage. 

The Boy has a fear of heights but brags about the Blob (a high dive) because he doesn't know what it is? That's not something you can do on stage. Find something else that he could possibly be afraid of but brags about anyway because the Camp calls it something else. I dunno, some food he just can't stomach? 

If you've changed the location, you can't have that special garden anymore. But you can still have a special hangout spot, especially if they always return to the same campsite. It just won't be a garden she's tended for eleven years.  


Just changing these four things would lead to vastly different dialogue, which would lead to a very, very different execution of the idea, which is still Boy meets Girl at Camp and finds both Jesus and love. 

Is it a lot of work? Yes. Will it take a lot of time? Yes. Will it make you seem more creative than you really are? Probably, yes, depending on how much you actually end up changing.

Now, wouldn't it have been more worth it to write your own script in the first place?

Wednesday 21 September 2022

#bookreview: Invisible boy: A Memoir of Self-Discovery | Harrison Mooney

Invisible Boy: A Memoir of Self-DiscoveryInvisible Boy: A Memoir of Self-Discovery by Harrison Mooney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading Invisible Boy is like refreshing my memory about the weird pentecostal days I grew up in, even though I'm on a whole different continent with vastly different racial and religious tensions.

The book is Mooney's memoir about growing up black in white fundamentalist Christian churches & schools in Canada, but many of the same pervasive and, honestly, skewed messages that festered in white North American churches in the 90s also made its way over to Malaysia. The roots of what I've seen and experienced as echoes all the way over here are exposed in full technicolour in Mooney's experiences. It doesn't help that Malaysia still, on the whole, idealises and idolises whiteness and white proximity; and that Chinese Malaysians are often just as racist, especially with respect to Indians.

Mooney says in his author's note:
I acknowledge here that what is said is not the same as what is meant. It doesn't matter anyhow. Intent is not impact, and if we continue to prioritize the goodness of our thoughts above the violence of our actions, we will leave a trail of victims in our wake. Mine is a story of impact; I write for the millions impacted in similar ways.
I have seen this reflected elsewhere as well, with an acquaintance emphasising that when engaging, impact should be considered before intent. We live in tumultuous times and I think it's worth the wake up call for those who profess to be Christians to consider the unintentional harm the church has caused many communities in the name of Christ, even if the intentions were good.

After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Steerforth Press via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday 7 September 2022

#NetGalley #bookreview: Silver Under Nightfall | Rin Chupeco

Silver Under NightfallSilver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco

Okay, I'll mark this one down to "not knowing what I was getting into". I basically went, "vampires, meh; but Rin Chupeco, ok lah, why not?"

Um so, probably disclaimers upfront because, uhhhhh. There are a lot of sexy times in this book (and not the fade-to-black kind), so if that is not for you, this book is not for you. Like really, really not.


Remy Pendergast is your typical pitiful downtrodden outcast who is discriminated against because of his parentage - his foreign mother is rumoured to be a vampire, or at the least, a vampire's familiar - but is very good at what he does. Which is being a Reaper, aka vampire hunter. But Lord High Steward Astonbury, leader of the dræfendgemot, is his father's bitter rival and sees to it that Remy gets none of the credit or any acknowledgement, despite him taking up the bounties every other Reaper passes on. Remy's one mission in life, as dictated by his father, is to hunt down the Night Court - the very vampire court that took his mother's life.

Enter sweet Lady Song Xiaodan, heiress of the Fourth Court and dashingly brooding Lord Zidan Malekh, King of the Third Court and you get this hilarious Regency-type romp of this royal vampire couple pursuing a blushing, self-deprecating human who believes that no one could ever love him. (Honest, this is a big chunk of what the book is about.)

Back to the plot, Xiaodan and Zidan want to establish an alliance with the humans - an unheard-of proposal in Aluria, and one that is met with much suspicion and scepticism. There's also rumour of a new mutated kind of vampire, one that turns mindless and can keep respawning bigger and stronger than ever. And so Remy sets off on a mission to discover who is behind the Rot...

... and discovers there is more to life than murder. I hesitate to use "coming of age" for this one because that usually implies YA, and this is decidedly adult. But yes, it IS Remy's journey of discovery. In many ways.

Remy deals with quite a bit of trauma, as does Zidan - though Remy's pain is the more present and dealt with throughout the novel. Remy's father, Edgar Pendergast, a nasty piece of work. Pendergast is the sole reason Remy is so broken - from putting him in impossible situations, to effectively making him have sex with older women just to get information that is otherwise denied to him. And the worst part is that he mostly gaslights and victim-blames his son, with the excuse that everything he's done is for the good of Aluria and for Remy.

But if you're thinking this book is entirely fluff (there is a whole chapter that's just... fighting and sex), it does have its scientific moments, especially when they're actually investigating the virus behind the rot.

The ending feels like it's set up to have a sequel, though the main arc of the story is ended.

Overall, while I enjoyed the story - especially the banter and the dialogue - I don't find myself superhyped about it. Or maybe that's the prude in me cringing.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Update 2/4/24: Book 2, Court of Wanderers,  releases today. My review posts 3/4/24.