Wednesday, July 22

On Fangs, Feathers and Newt's Tail

For as long as I can remember, I've been obsessed with these fantasy-based elements: vampires, witchcraft, and winged creatures. Especially winged creatures. You know, like Pegasus and angels. Even from my earliest sketches -- scribbles and scrawls, more like -- wings dominated the pages. I used to look forward to Halloween. Not that I celebrate it, but horror movies would be aired around that time. Back then it was either RTM 2 or TV3 for an English movie fix. For that matter, I loved Christmas too, for the hope-filled, family-themed movies. Diwali for the day off from school; I'm not a big Hindi fan. Mom is, though. Movies I loved in particular were those with witchcraft and magic. One of the earliest I could recall is Teen Witch (1989), which was shown on RTM 2. It's about a high school girl discovering that she's always been a witch in her past lives. And what else teenage girls want? Popularity and that hot quarterback. I recently downloaded the movie. Yes, they have it in digital format! Then there is The Craft (1996), dark and enticing. The moment I saw the movie was when I fell in love with witchcraft. Not enough to actually try practicing it, but reading about it, keeping an eye out for shows about it. The Covenant (2006) is also high on my list. Anything witchcraft, anything magic. I grew up reading fantasy, and playing fantasy computer games. My particular class of choice is magician/sorcerer. Magic. Even the idea of it brings a smile on my face. Unfortunately, it doesn't translate well on-screen. Not yet, at any rate. But witchcraft, the spells, the powers unleashed. As i said, enticing. So, naturally, I followed Charmed like it was a new religion. Wait...I'm not that religious, so it's a wrong analogy. More like my going out at night to eat McDonald's every time I'm on-call. I just couldn't go without it. Ah, Charmed. Major props for having Alyssa Milano as well. Hmm...(wipes drool dripping off chin). Then there are the sexy vamps. Imagine my glee at the sheer amount of vampire movies and TV series. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) was too artsy for me, but I'm talking about Interview With the Vampire (1994), Queen of the Damned (2002), Underworld series, Blade trilogy, and yes, even Twilight (2008). And speaking of series, it was a sad day if I missed watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I had the longest crush on Sarah Michelle Gellar (still do, come to think of it). And not to forget, Eliza Dushku. OK. Teenage crushes aside, other latest vampire series include True Blood (don't dig how they portray vamps -- uncouth and uncivilized, except for Bill. And what kind of vampire is named Bill, anywho?), Midnight (ran for one season only. Pity.), Blood Ties (Canadian, based on Tanya Huff's books, also for one season), and the up and coming Vampire Diaries (based on RL Stine's books). Vampire overload, and I don't mind draining myself watching these (pun intended). There is something about vampires, how they are usually portrayed, mysterious, well-kempt, civilized when compared with their werewolves counterpart, and beautiful, unearthly. Eternal life, eternal damnation. Romantic. Wings. Don't get me started with them. My greatest obsession. A preeminent symbol in my life. I love angels for the wings on their backs. I have a bigass Masterclass Zero Wing Custom Gundam model my best friend Reza bought for me for my birthday. White robot with serious angel wings, for the uninitiated. I have drawings of seraphs. I prefer playing the White deck in Magic: The Gathering because of the angelic host. I can't wait to play the MMORPG Aion: The Tower of Eternity when it's scheduled to be released end of this year. You get the picture. So what does the symbol mean? A later time for that, perhaps. Anyway. Wings and angels. Movies and TV series don't portray them that well. Most of them are in the lines of Touched by an Angel (Hallmark TV series). But movies like Dogma (1999) and the miniseries Fallen (2007 -- a must-watch) show warrior angels, badasses, fallen angels, the works. Animes like Escaflowne. Now that's what I'm talking about. So now I come to talking about books. A sub-genre of Fantasy, in particular. Urban Fantasy. It's far from the Traditional Fantasy of wizards and dragons and elves. Well, there can be elves in Urban Fantasies. Wizards too. Maybe throw in a dragon or two. Confused? Don't be. Traditional Fantasy is set in different worlds and realms, like Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons, and Earthsea. Urban Fantasy is usually set in a contemporary background, the real-life modern world. Something like the movies and TV series I mentioned. Books like Spellbinder by Melanie Rawn (not the Australian TV series, although that was good too), the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong, American Gods and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (major must-reads), City of Bones and City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare, and other witchcraft/demons/vampires/werewolves books I have lying about at home. And recently I had an epiphany, thanks to John Ling. We actually started off debating on Sharon Bakar's blog about racism issues. Hot one, at that. But later on, once things cooled down, he told me that he could see my first love has always been fantasy. Yes, I dabble in the six-spoons-of-sugar-in-a-cup-of-tea jiwangness (jiwang = sappy), but fantasy is my greatest romance. (Don't worry. Even I am confused with the latter half of that statement). Back when I was in high school, I asked my Ustaz whether it would be wrong for me to write stories with different systems of belief, with multiple deities. Yes, I harbored dreams of becoming a writer even then. So he gave me this patient but with a dollop of amusement look mothers always give you when you say something really stupid. Then he told me (not verbatim), "Why write stories -- something that deviates from our faith, at that -- when you can do other things more noble in God's name?" I felt like this giant door before me cracking into a million pieces before crumbling, blocking my path. Being the block-headed bloke that I am, I wrote stories with the encouragement of my English teachers. But I steered clear from writing Fantasy, other than three completed short stories: one about mythical wolves, one reminiscent of Dragonlance series, and one about a vampire (falling in love with a human, and in doing so effectively destroyed his clan. Isn't that what all vampires do?). And since I love people watching, and observing relationships, I started writing stories about that. Don't know if any of them are convincing and believable, but what the hey. So. That epiphany I talked about? I still love Fantasy. And Urban Fantasy seems a good outlet for me (I only recently discovered the existence of this sub-genre). So why the Hell not (quite literally, I might add, since I've got myself a first-class ticket headed there, at the rate I'm going with my life anyway). John Ling said (not verbatim), "Write Fantasy, since you love it. You may find it hard to publish it in Malaysia (publishers here prefer literary fiction. Genre fiction is still given a wide berth). But the Internet has opened opportunities. You can get published before turning 30. Definitely." So I started bugging Tita in the middle of the night, asking her to read rough 3-pagers. She gave me the thumbs-up with a giant green light above her head. And she doesn't even like Fantasy. So. Why the Hell not?