Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Muse Waits for No One

~ Laini Taylor

You know how you're in the middle of charging through a scene and you don't really want to stop for any interruption in case the Muse decides to go play with someone else?

^ Current situation as I make the leap from act 2 to act 3 of Before I Remember You.

So I'm just sharing this inspiring TED talk by Lisa Bu before I bounce back to the manuscript. Enjoy!

"I have come to believe that coming true is not the only purpose of a dream; its most important purpose is to get us in touch with where dreams come from, where passion comes from, where happiness comes from. Even a shattered dream can do that for you."

This is incredibly important. Don't give up on your dreams no matter how shattered or bruised they may be! They are what make you stronger and more resilient. Find a way to fix that dream, and protect it with all your heart.

Joyce ♥

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Cold War 2 Gala Premier from a Fangirl's POV

Cold War 2_Poster
I've been busy all week preparing for this major event at work. Encore Films invited us to cover the gala premier of Cold War 2, which stars Taiwanese-Canadian hottie Eddie Peng (whom I've gushed about here, here, and here), veteran actor Tony Leung, the legendary Chow Yun Fat, and Aaron Kwok, one of the four "Heavenly Kings" of Hong Kong.
With a star-studded cast and high-octane scenes, Cold War 2, the sequel to the 2012 box-office hit, is set to be this season's blockbuster movie. The highly anticipated police action-thriller picks up where Cold War left off, and is certainly not shy about pulling out all the stops in terms of cinematography, production, and scripting.
Everyone was perfectly cast, and the script is intelligent and well-paced, with lots of room for dramatic tension. The actors also interpreted their characters well, and delivered very nuanced impressions that gave the story more depth so that it was more than just a movie with cars and explosions (and exploding cars) and corrupt policemen.
I didn't catch Cold War back in 2012, but knew that there was a lot of buzz surrounding it. It was the highest grossing Hong Kong film in 2012, and raked in US$50 million worldwide. It also swept away nine awards at the 2012 Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Film, Best Director (Longman Leung, Sunny Luk), Best Actor (Tony Leung), Best New Performer (Alex Tsui), and Best Screenplay.


I was STOKED to be invited to the press conference, not just because Eddie was going to be there (but yes, OMG TO BE IN THE SAME ROOM AS HIM, TO HAVE HIM RIGHT BEFORE ME IN THE FLESH), but also because I really wanted to experience being in a press conference! It's good research material too, for a book I'm working on. *hint, hint*

So on 5 July at Marina Bay Sands, I sat in on a super-fun and lighthearted press conference, where Chow, Aaron, and Eddie shared hilarious behind-the-scenes anecdotes, answered questions from reporters and took countless selfies with us.
Chow: "Eddie Peng is representative of the next generation of superstars."
Looking at Peng, Chow lauded the next generation of actors as promising. "They are exceptionally talented, full of energy, and good-looking. I think they're ready to be the next batch of successors."
*insert proud beam here*

Eddie, who at 34 boasts a whole list of accolades with award-winning films like To the Fore (2015), Rise of the Legend (2014), and A Wedding Invitation (2013), in turn said that working with Chow was a dream come true.

He reprises his role in Cold War 2 as a high-IQ villain who works with a mysterious kingpin to foil Aaron's character.
If you thought Eddie's acting was impressive, his performance in this movie will BLOW YOU AWAY. Every gaze, every gesture, every intonation is solidly in character. He made the character of Joe so compelling, he practically stole every scene!
Eddie said he studied the movie A Clockwork Orange, Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Night, Anthony Hopkins’ in Silence Of The Lambs and Edward Norton’s in Primal Fear in preparation for his role. And evidently his efforts paid off.
Eddie 1508Eddie 1509eddie peng cold war 2eddie cold war 2

Eddie is a long-time fan of Chow Yun Fat!
Eddie also shared a particularly poignant childhood memory about his grandmother bringing him to watch Chow's movies at the cinema across the street from his old house. Like, how cute is that! UGH.
When asked what he learned from Chow, Eddie replied, "There's so much to learn. You guys can see how easy-going he is. More than anything, I learned from him how to get along with everyone by always being polite and humble."

And indeed, despite achieving superstar status with Hollywood movies like Anna and the King (1999) and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007), Chow remains incredibly down-to-earth and good-natured.
He even lived up to his recent title of "King of Selfies" by demonstrating his selfie-taking skills with the 50 or so reporters present.
In fact, he declared that he could take a selfie with everyone in the room in three minutes before proceeding to leap off the stage. Even the moderator was left flummoxed!
Selfie with the King!
Aaron and Eddie automatically rushed to take a selfie with Chow as soon as the latter had his camera up!

cold war eddie peng villain
As one of Asia's fastest-rising stars (to quote someone I overheard, he's "hot stuff these days with all the high-profile movies and endorsements"), Eddie said he is grateful for his role in the series as he got to learn from several of the biggest Asian actors in the world. He particularly embraces the challenge of playing a smart, manipulative villain.
"Playing a villain, I get to do (illegal) things regular people won't do," he said earnestly. "A villain can be charismatic and human, and when played well he can evoke empathy in the audience."
And he wants to keep his audience guessing.
"It’s like a boxing game. You want to throw a jab, you want to throw a hook, to surprise the audience. You don’t want people to know what’s your next move. The only pressure being in this role is making sure I don't become invisible next to so many great actors."
You? Invisible?! I don't think so, honey.

Up-close and personal with Eddie Peng
After the press con, we had a more intimate interview with Eddie, who was rushed from room to room to be interviewed by various reporters in the hour and a half space between the press con and the gala premier.
He looked worn out by the time he got to us. Despite that, he was unfailingly polite and professional, friendly and candid. He toggled fluently between English and Mandarin as he answered questions about his upcoming movies and awkward fan encounters!

WHY did I not dare to go closer? He was already leaning in!!! It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to snuggle close!!!
But everyone was in a mad rush (because the press conference ended late, which delayed the rest of the subsequent interview) to make it in time for the gala premier, and I was too shy to ask to retake the photo. And just like that, Eddie was whisked away from me by his bodyguards. 
Eddie 1512 - Copy
Good game, Joyce. *cries a river*
Still, that aside, I was really honoured to have been given the chance to meet with this inspiring actor. He is a really introspective guy with big dreams and a humble heart. Here is someone who is really passionate about what he does, who goes the extra mile to perfect his role and deliver his best performance every single time. Here is someone who keeps his head down and works his ass off, pays his dues and persists in his dream even when the going gets tough. 

5 to 6 thousand people showed up for the red carpet event that evening!
cold war red carpet
cold war red carpet 2
eddie peng fans
The afternoon press conference was followed by the gala premier in the evening. Scores of fans who hail from all around the world (including a girl from California - see her face-splitting grin?) flew in specially to see their idols! Members of the audience got to take photos with the stars onstage, and some contest winners even walked away with prizes including a Longines watch and Cold War 2 paraphernalia!
Can you blame those security girls for being so starstruck!
So, yes. I've been busy fangirling working all week. Now it's back to reality, and the manuscripts! Need to catch up on all the emails and word count.

One last article before I go. Have a good weekend!  :0)

Monday, June 20, 2016

On Working and Over-Working

Today, just this:
writer at work
Well, not quite. I've been encouraged to blog about this. This being what's been going on lately on the writing front.
I woke up last Thursday morning experiencing the strangest jitters and shakes. I was tremble-y and weak all over. My body was warm, but my insides cold. It turned out to be a result of stress. I know, who would have thought I'd be stressed out, right? I mean, I may seem antsy and highly-strung most of the time and have no patience for the waiting game, but I also do things to help de-stress, like swim or listen to Joe Hisaishi and Nell, or play a musical instrument. I promise I'm chill! (Except it's usually the neurotic ones who proclaim that.)
But no, apparently I was having an allergic reaction to work. Not just work-work, but the other work I do after office hours. In short, my writing. I was stressing myself out because of the thing I love most.
Accomplished writers always tell us aspiring writers that in order to make it, we need to treat our writing as our second job, one of equal importance as our official one that pays the bills.
20130114 Laini Taylor writing advice
I don't dispute that - writing requires discipline and effort. The only way through is to devote the time and energy necessary to creating the best possible story you can pull out of yourself. So after the nine-to-five (so to speak), I dive straight into my manuscript the minute I get home. No time for dinner. Just munch on some fruits as I pound out the words. Keep going until my eyes can't stay open anymore. Next morning, wake up at the crack of dawn to swim before going to work.
 photo madlywriting_zps55a755b3.gif
This routine seemed to work just fine for a while. I mean, I was hitting word count, getting shit done, living and breathing my story, doing what was required of me at work, and staying healthy. Right?
But it seems I might have been going about this the wrong way, if the recent bout of adverse physical reaction is any indication. Insufficient sleep, for one thing. And an all-consuming obsession to squeeze that story out and hating myself whenever I couldn't get it going.
write all the words
This led to general frustration and resentment and other unpleasant emotions that, needless to say, made the problem worse. The stories stalled, and ideas spluttered to a halt. I kept trying to crank up the engine, but it just groaned and refused to cooperate. I made note-cards, drew three-act structures, tore down each manuscript to its bare bones, rewrote synopses, trying to get to the root of the problem and understand where I went wrong so I can pick up from there again.
When I wasn't writing, I felt restless and guilty. (Even right now, as I'm writing this blog post, there's this voice in the back of my head nagging at me to stop procrastinating and return to the manuscript!) But when I was writing, I felt stuck. Nothing was working.
  photo nick writing i got nothing_zpscn3tbkwm.gif
My dad remarked the other day that my modus operandi is unusual and not very efficient. "You work in sprints, two-hour bouts of manic energy and then you crash," he said. "Regular people work at a consistent pace so that they can last longer. A slow-burning flame will keep you going further."
This is in line with what I overheard a swimming instructor tell his student the other day in the pool: "No one is pressuring you; only you are pressuring yourself. You just need to try. Trying and failing is how you learn." The kid he was coaching tried and failed gloriously, but managed a perfect length of backstroke by the end of the session.
I didn't realise that I was creating my own problem until that moment. I was burning myself out because I was too impatient to get what I want. No one is pressuring me; I'm just hurrying myself to get the next book published. And the thing about publishing is that it takes a loooong period of time - years - from conception to publication. If there's ever one job you need patience for, it's writing.
We think that, because we're in our twenties, we need to make shit happen already. It's been almost four years since I graduated. Why haven't I achieved something yet? (Okay, yes I published a book, but what about the next one? And the next? And the one after that?) When am I actually going to start living the life I always dreamed of?
But maybe our twenties is the time we lay all the groundwork for the career - and the life - we want in our thirties and forties and beyond. Maybe we need to work at our craft now with consistency and devotion, and focus on putting one foot before the other instead of staring off into the distance and wishing we were at the finish line at this moment. (Where is the finish line anyway? Don't we just keep setting new goals for ourselves?)
Because like Rilke said,
have patience rilke quote
And like Hermann Hesse preached:
hermann hesse seek too much
And when all else fails, like Elizabeth Gilbert said at her TED talk, maybe all we really need to do is simply return to the one thing we love more than ourselves, "put our heads down and perform with diligence and devotion and respect and reverence whatever the task is that love is calling forth from us next".

For all the dream-chasers out there, are you sprinting towards your goals or running a slow and steady marathon? Do you occasionally feel burned out? How do you restore equilibrium in your life? I'd love to hear about your writing journey!

Monday, May 30, 2016

How Wanting Makes Us Want More

You know how sometimes you feel like you have a million and one things you want to do, so many things you want to learn and experience and do and write about, but you just don't have the time or freedom or capacity to? Is it just a millenial thing? Does this only plague twenty-somethings from First World countries?

Right now, there seems to be so much else I can and should be doing, things I should be pursuing that, for some reason or other, I'm not. And as a result, I'm stuck where I am.

This post isn't supposed to be all doom and gloom though. It's not a bad problem to have - who's complaining about having too much inspiration for stories, right? I should be happy the ideas are flowing copiously, and I can experience enough to know what I want to pursue / devote myself to.

But wanting makes us impatient and desperate and miserable. Wanting makes us want even more. It makes us realise how much we should be doing but aren't. How much we could have but don't because we're not doing what we should be doing. All the opportunities and experiences we're missing out on because of what we don't have.

Wanting makes us even greedier, hungrier. Not for money, but for the life we have always dreamed for ourselves.

Right now, I'm writing this as I:
- work on the first draft of Before I Remember You (YA magical realism),
- story-board - and essentially rewrite - Blood Promise (yep, I'm going back to this YA fantasy manuscript I wrote three years ago, purely because I still see the - ahem - promise in it and believe I can get it published ... okay, the very kind and positive feedback from literary agents helped too)
- write a short story for Before I Remember You (sort of a prequel that serves as groundwork for me when I write the novel)
- plan out Land of Sand and Song (YA fantasy), and
- send out query letters to agents for No Room in Neverland (YA contemporary)

That's not including my day job and other pursuits like reading, practicising my musical instrument, blogging, attending writers conferences, spending quality time with friends and family, etc.

(Who has time for a boyfriend? My single ladies and I were talking about this the other day - how everyone seems to think we're inadequate in some way because we're still single in our mid-twenties. Maybe there are other things worthy of our time and energy that we CAN control and actively pursue, other things that make us equally happy, if not more so, because right now we're still just finding and building ourselves into the people we want to become. My philosophy has always been: if it happens, it happens. Not shutting the door on this, just leaving it open while I focus on the work I need to do in order to achieve my dreams. Okay, single girl rant over.)

If only humans didn't need seven to nine hours of sleep daily. Think of how much more we could all do if only we had the full 24 hours!

A day away from the day job is hardly enough, but it's all I can afford now if I don't want the work to pile up.

A writing friend of mine shared an essay by Steven Pressfield recently, about how writers typically have a shadow career, which is basically a substitute for their true calling, your actual job. A shadow career is the B story in your life that feeds into the A story, which is to a writer is writing.

I guess what I'm trying to say after all this rambling is that wanting has made me more focused but also tired, purpose-driven but also ravenous. No one said this would be easy, and I don't expect it to be easy. Anything worth having should be too easily attained, after all. But what if all this wanting only sets you up for endless disappointment?

Do you think it's better not to want and expect so much in life so we can spare ourselves the torment of not having, or do you think we should hold on to our dreams and emerge battered but stronger after the entire experience? How do you know when you need to let something go? I've always believed that if you want something badly enough, you should do everything you can to acquire it. But what if what you want was never meant for you and your stubbornness is what's keeping your happiness (and sanity) at bay?

Wow, okay that turned mopey. I'm not whining, I promise. I appreciate the struggle ... sometimes. I just want to know if I'm alone in worrying about all this and hear your take on this, dear readers!

Special thanks to readers and lurkers who have left encouraging comments - be it via social media or this blog or a private email - as I forge my way through this writing journey! Your words have gotten me through the darkest moments of self-doubt, uncertainty, and defeat. I am immensely grateful to each and every one of you who took the time and effort to reach out with a kind message of support and love.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

YA Book Review: Rebel of the Sands

I've finally gotten a chance to sit down and properly gush over exalt this book.

And oh heavens, this book. In a nutshell, it's about this girl named Amani, who comes from a dead-end little town in the middle of the desert called Dustwalk, which is where you go to die in obscurity. Amani wants out. She wants to find her next of kin in the city. Along the way, she steals a magical desert horse called a buraqi, meets Jin, a mysterious foreigner with a past he's unwilling to talk about, falls for Jin, and finds out what she really is. (In that order.)

The whole story is so vivid and enchanting and fast-paced it leaves you breathless and utterly spellbound and calls to mind images like these:

It's been a while since I read something so beautifully crafted yet packed with tight action scenes and a plot that moves relentlessly forward. SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo was fantastic and all (seriously, read it if you haven't already), but Alwyn Hamilton's debut novel reminds me a lot of Laini Taylor's DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy (hands-down THE BEST YA fantasy series I've read in my life - Laini is in a league of her own). Not in terms of plot, of course, but pacing and prose. The writing is lyrical yet concise - you don't get the sense that the writer is getting carried away with la-di-da imagery and descriptions, but there is still poetry in her prose. Every sentence is perfectly crafted and carries the story forward.

Plot-wise, I mean the premise alone is enough to hook you. A mythical beast. A girl chasing her dreams. A mysterious foreigner. A rebel prince leading an uprising against the sultan. A rebel army made up of magical outcasts. SQUEEEE!

So many twists and turns. So many revelations. Such immense fun! I kept having to re-read sentences to savour them, and take down notes on how she crafted the scenes as well as outline the plot. Which explains why I took a month to read it. Also, I was trying to delay the inevitable end. When is the sequel going to be out already?!

Okay, I'm going to let the writing do the talking now.

Favourite quotes from the book:

The world makes things for each place. Fish for the sea, Rocs for the mountain skies, and girls with sun in their skin and perfect aim for a desert that doesn't let weakness live.

See why I can't stop spazzing over this book?!?!

In short, REBEL OF THE SANDS is PERFECT. SO PERFECTLY CRAFTED I WANTED TO WEEP. So perfect it deserves all the 5-star reviews it has received. Because there are some books you read (as a writer) and realise that you will never - NEVER - be able to top because they are just that good. This is a book that deserves to be published and featured on the bestsellers list. Ms Hamilton, I take my hat off to you.

Excuse me while I go curl up in a corner now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

5 Writing Lessons from Sound of the Desert

You know me. After watching a good show, I can't resist analysing it deeper to find out what worked so well for it so I can apply that to my own stories. (That fangirl-y post I wrote previously doesn't count as an analysis!) So here are some lessons about writing a swoon-worthy story Sound of the Desert has taught me:

1. Backstory give your characters depth

... and makes your readers/audience more empathetic to your characters.

All the main characters in the show - particularly Xin Yue and Wei Wuji - have fully fleshed out backstory that isn't served to the audience in huge doses (the equivalent of rambling expository passages in a novel).

Xin Yue herself is a very compelling protagonist. Her past is complicated - when we first meet her, she is living among wolves. Her adoptive father was killed, and she's roaming the desert, lonely and lost. It is only when she decides to travel to Jian An, of which her father had always told her wondrous stories, that she is filled with purpose.

You immediately want to root for this brave, free-spirited girl from the desert.

Wei Wuji, too, is an illegitimate child who rose quickly among the ranks of the military to become a general at a young age and win every battle he ever fought. As the emperor's favourite, he has to contend with gossip and people waiting for him to fail.

In a way, those two are similar in that they are outcasts, underdogs. They don't quite fit in where they are. Xin Yue neither fully belongs in the desert (she was roaming freely but aimlessly with her wolf pack), nor in the city with all its social hierarchy and rules and palace politics. Wuji distances himself from everyone because he doesn't know whom to trust, and focuses on winning every battle because that's the only way he can shut up the naysayers.

When two lonely souls meet, you know that's a love story waiting to blossom.

2. Everyone has a flaw

... and how they regard that flaw determines who they are and who they will become.

Xin Yue's most notable flaw is that she chooses to stubbornly turn a blind eye to Wuji's love, instead choosing to chase Jiu Ye and demean herself to the extent of begging him to love her and getting herself drunk when she is rejected over and over.

Many times, I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her. Get over it, you idiot! But I'm sure we all know what it's like to to be in a one-sided relationship. Moving on is easier said than done, but we are SO MUCH happier once we decide and manage to - as Xin Yue is when she finally accepts Wuji and lets go of Jiu Ye.

And as mentioned earlier, Wuji has trust issues because he feels that everyone around him in court is a fucking two-face. As such, he appears cold, arrogant, and aloof. But it is only when he's around Xin Yue that he can be entirely himself and reveal his warm, romantic, playful nature. Even so, at the beginning, he is wary of her and didn't give her his real name, which would eventually become his biggest regret because Xin Yue couldn't find him when she reached the city and he thus couldn't be there for her in her time of need (Jiu Ye found her instead).

Jiu Ye is indecisive as hell. Which makes him one of the most frustrating characters to watch in the show. Make up your mind, for crying out loud! Here's a girl confessing to you time and again, and if you're going to reject her harshly then make a clean break and stop leading her on. Also, the fact that he keeps her at a distance and doesn't tell her the truth about why he's unable to accept her love is a recipe for heartbreak down the road. So we can all safely conclude that his wretched ending was entirely his own fault.

3. Supporting characters bring out different facets of the protagonists

Where would Xin Yue be without her sister-from-another-mother, Hong Gu, who first took her in when she entered the city and had no job or connections? And how would she come to appreciate her father's parting words for her to always look forward with hope in her eyes instead of remaining stuck in hatred in the past had she not met Qin Xiang, who enters the palace just to exact revenge on the royal family?

And if it weren't for Jiu Ye, she would not have grown into a strong, confident woman whom Wuji regards as her equal. She blossoms under his love, and is free to be herself unapologetically.
That look of longing hits a brick wall.

With Jiu Ye, she always has to second-guess herself, and is uncertain of what he's thinking even though she tries to read the books he reads and bond with him over flute-playing. Jiu Ye was a necessary part of her life that let her figure out what she needed and wanted to be.

For Wuji, his uncle plays the father figure in his life (after his actual father deserted him and his mom married another man), so a large part of his upright, loyal and honourable personality, unsullied by greed for power or money, is because of his uncle's upbringing. Meanwhile, his uncle's son is a snivelling little weasel who plays underhanded tricks and serves as a stark contrast to Wuji's character.
That powerful gaze! Eddie gives life to the character.

4. Scenes need to vary in intensity and length

Pacing is everything. Or at least, one of the most crucial factors that can make or break a story. A well-told story balances long, introspective or intimate scenes with punchy, high-octane ones expertly.

Between Xin Yue and Wuji's cute banter and Jiu Ye's mopey staring out the snowy window and flute-blowing, other subplots unfold. Scheming court officials, battles with the fierce nomadic Xiongnu tribe (Jolecole explains the history a bit more here, and also lays high praise on Eddie), et cetera.

Subplots are a great way to break up the main narrative, which can grow tedious on its own. If woven skillfully in, they can and should also further the main plot and add more dimensions to it while teasing out more character dynamics.

5. Character growth is one of the most gratifying journey

Xin Yue had been adamant about having Jiu Ye right from the start. She only had eyes for him, and didn't give a shit about Wuji always being there to comfort her when she gets her heart trampled upon by Jiu Ye, to protect her from the people from her past she is hiding from, or just there when she needs a friend in a new, foreign city.
Xin Yue is touched when Wuji told her she's not alone in Jian An.

It was only after she decided to let go of her past - her hatred for the people who killed her father and her unrequited affection for Jiu Ye - that she manages to bravely move on to a new chapter in her life.

As the audience, we grow together with her. We empathise with her predicament, understand the struggles she goes through to make her final decisions, and experience the same catharsis when she chooses to embrace a new life with Wuji.

And lastly, this lesson isn't about writing, but love.

6. Love is about timing

As Dreaming Snowflake said,

(Sound of the Desert) has always been a story that tells us that love is about timing, however, also that love favours the brave and those who fight for it and never give up and Wei Wuji is the epitome of never-say-die attitude be in it love or in war.

Gotta love a man who would fight valiantly for what he wants.

So while appreciating a mighty fine specimen like Eddie Peng, these truths are what I gleaned. Writing lessons can be derived from anywhere and everywhere, especially in the stories that move you. And the best lessons come unexpectedly, like from a drama like Sound of the Desert that I never thought I would ever watch.

What did you derive from Sound of the Desert, or any other stories that moved you?