Friday, September 24

The One That Jumpstarted My Journey

I think I've mentioned much earlier that I started writing (and publishing) in 1997, back when I was in Form 4. 'A Mother's Love' -- that's the name of the story published in Garudamas, my school magazine. A Fantasy, about a family of wolves. I still wince whenever I read the story; I can't believe I was so proud of it! Stopped writing after Form 5, and restarted in 2001. Back then I had plenty to express, and writing short stories had been an outlet for all my frustrations and wants. Some of the stories were dark, but most were filled with a longing to belong. Long story, one I'd rather not delve into. I stopped writing again, and restarted in 2004. Didn't produce as much, and I have to admit, they were still amateurish. Not that my stories are any professional now, but still. After I started working, I lost touch with this facet of myself. I was happy, I was busy, I didn't have that many things to vent. Then, late 2008, Tita found me on Friendster (yes, I still have the account, though I've not accessed it for over a year now). She was the one who pushed me to rediscover writing. She also pushed me to enter the MPH-Alliance Short Story Competition, whose deadline was end March 2009. I contemplated on it, but I knew I had to hone my skill first. I don't have formal training, so my earlier writings were all intuition and no knowledge whatsoever of the rules. I started buying books on writing, one after another, sometimes 2 to 3 at a time. And I have to be honest; they don't come cheap. Prices range from RM60 to over RM120. Before buying these books, I had been buying books and magazines on photography, a passion my siblings and I share. So that kind of prompted me to buy books on writing. I thought, "Hey, if I can learn photography through these books, why not writing?" Why not, indeed. The more I read the books, the more I discovered how ignorant I was about this craft. It wasn't until early 2009 before I was ready to actually start writing something for the competition. Now that it's far behind me, I think I'm ready to admit the reasons I wanted so badly to win. The laptop interested me more than the first place additional prize money. Sure, I could use an extra RM5000, but the laptop enticed me. Could I afford one? Sure, more or less. However, I own a custom-made PC, and most of my money go to periodically upgrading my ware. Buying a laptop meant I would be using the money I could have spent on upgrades (I'm a geek that way). Well, I own an Alienware laptop now (can't actually use the term laptop or notebook -- the freakin' thing's heavy!). So I guess the not winning the prize didn't matter much. One thing mattered, though. More than the prize, I was aiming for recognition. I wanted to establish a platform from which I could launch my writing 'career'. In Malaysia (and maybe in everywhere else), you're nothing until and/or unless you're a somebody (or knows a Somebody). The first story I wrote is something very personal to me. Working in Neurosurgery, I see a lot of lives shattered, countless potentials squandered, from road traffic accidents (we call them motor vehicle accidents here). I always worry about Faiz because he drives more recklessly than I do, and he does it half-asleep more often than not. So I wrote a story about two brothers who love and respect each other in their own way. When the younger brother meets with an accident and becomes comatose, life as they knew it ended. Though the recurring theme of A Long Sigh Goodnight is about death, the actual premise is how disasters and deaths affect the loved ones left behind, how they pick up the pieces. I've written about deaths before -- in fact, I have more stories with a character's death than those with 'happily ever after' endings -- but nothing this up close and personal. The other story, The Last Anniversary, is a love story. I'm not sure what to say about this one. Do I love it? I do. Do I have as much conviction with this one as I do with A Long Sigh Goodnight? I've stopped attempting to place the story after a couple of tries, so that may say it all. I may submit the story to a non-paying market, or even self-publish it as an ebook for USD0.99. That's a thought, actually. Needless to say, I didn't make the cut. Judging from Sharon Bakar's relpy after receiving a copy of both stories once the competition had ended, my stories didn't even make the long list, which means the staff at MPH had rejected my stories in their first pass, so the professional judges did not get to read them. However, I didn't go into another self-imposed Writer's Block as I had expected earlier. I knew then, as I know now, that the stories, especially A Long Sigh Goodnight, are good; publishable, even. From the knowledge I gained from all those books about writing, I joined an online writing community, Writing Dot Com. I entered a daily contest for flash fiction (stories under 1000 words), and I won more than 75% of the time. I joined a smaller group within the community, one that is focused on publication. I posted my two stories, along with the newer ones I wrote, to be torn apart and analyzed by fellow writers, to be criticized with blunt honesty. Somehow I didn't submit A Long Sigh Goodnight to another market. It didn't feel right, to attempt publication at non-paying or small press markets. I made first internationally recognized fiction market with "Mother", a story I wrote for the daily flash competition. Thanks to Sarah, of course, who recommended that I submit it to QLRS. Then I made USD30 for a horror story I wrote for my writing group's challenge. I collected further acceptances among heaps of rejections, but still I didn't send out A Long Sigh Goodnight. Until, of course, I came across Sharon Bakar's blog about a call for submission for a Malaysian anthology, edited by Dr. Emma Dawson of Worldlits (CCC Press), based in UK. I knew then it was the perfect market for my special story. I submitted as quickly as I could. That was back in February this year. Dr. Dawson periodically updated those who submitted. Life went on for me, and I wrote and published more stories. Sometime last month, a Singaporean writer received an acceptance letter for a Singaporean anthology by the same editor. There was a contractual clause she was concerned about, where the publisher reserves the right to abridge accepted stories, and retain publication rights until they decide to stop publication runs for the anthology. Also, there's something about other publishers having to pay them should they decide to publish a reprint. Since I haven't seen a copy of the contract, I opined that she publish it anyway. After all, writers, like other artists, have the capacity to write more, better pieces, in fact. Of course, I got thrashed for it. A commenter accused me of condoning exploitation, and that for me, the end justifies the means. Well, that brought about my post. If you know what your rights are, if you know what you're getting into, and you willingly agree with the contract, it's not exploitation. So, in the middle of the night last Tuesday (was on-call), I received this mail:
Dear Fadzlishah Johanabas bin Rosli, I am pleased to inform you that your story 'A Long Sigh Goodnight' has been accepted for CCC Press's forthcoming anthology of short stories from Malaysia, to be published in 2011. Your story will be published subject to contract and conditional upon your agreeing editorial changes which may be discussed between you and the editor, Dr Emma Dawson. A contract will be issued to you in due course by CCC Press and if necessary you should discuss contractual (rather than editorial) matters with CCC Press once the contract has been issued. Note that Dr Dawson is not involved in contractual matters.
I will be a part of a Malaysian anthology! A piece that didn't even make the competition's long list will be published by an established international publisher. Granted, only 30 or so submitted for this one (we could submit 2 stories each, I think), but I saw names of established authors and journalists along with mind, during the correspondences. Granted, some of them may have pulled their pieces out after the debacle about publishing rights and 'exploitation' (there were some immature comments, coming from professional grown-ups). Still, an acceptance is an acceptance, and I'm more than happy my story has found a home, accessible by the whole world. Should the anthology come out, I'll be part of the images of Malaysia visualized by people who have never seen our shores. If by this the end justify the means for me, if by this I'm selling out a story dear to my heart, if by this I'm ruining a chance for future inclusion in an anthology of my own, I think the sacrifice is worth it. For I am a step closer toward my ultimate goal: to walk into a bookstore and see a book with my name on the spine.