All posts by Tina

BOOK REVIEW: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Review by Tina Isaacs

[Honest review in exchange for a review copy by Times Reads​]

Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton, May 2019) is a portrayal of the interconnected lives of twelve protagonists, predominantly women of colour, in modern day Britain. The novel presents a compelling narrative which spans generations, presenting the loves and tribulations of an array of characters: from first generation immigrant matriarchs to disillusioned youth, women traumatised by betrayal to feminist activists.

This is my first encounter with Bernardine Evaristo and I am now most assuredly a fan. Like sharp nails digging into my brown skin, the novel’s depiction of the struggle of “Otherness” in Britain resonated deeply with my experience as a teen of colour in the English education system during the 80s. The dialogue and characters’ reflections on their seemingly bleak lot in life were delivered with insightful aplomb and humour. I still can’t shake off the image of the old lady whose “face gone slack except for a mouth that holds all her misery like a drawstring tightened around a pouch”, or the people “wearing outfits so tight you can see their hearts beating”. Then there’s the precocious child who “was never told off for speaking her mind, although she was told off for swearing because she needed to develop her vocabulary”. When I wasn’t enraptured by the protagonists’ pain and courage, I was nodding and laughing away.

Evaristo’s experimental style throws writing rules out the window – more “telling than showing” and prose in stanza format. The fast-paced plot is delivered without linear chronology but never loses the reader’s engagement. As I delved deeper into the novel, I found myself on tether-hooks to find out how the different lives intersected. As it neared its conclusion, I was already planning a reread.

In the seeming dearth of literature portraying women of colour, Evaristo’s book stands out as a heartfelt contemplation of their experiences in modern times, generations after the abolishment of slavery, apartheid, and the advent of feminism. In my humble opinion, this 2019 Booker Prize Shortlister* is undoubtedly a necessary testimony to their voices.

For me, Girl, Woman, Other earns a perfect 5/5 Star score and I am pleased to recommend it to those fond of literary realism or fiction which focus on the existential and philosophical reflections, with a twist of humour.

*EDIT: This book was subsequently named joint winner of the Booker Prize 2019, with Margaret Atwood’s The Testament.

On Reading Submission Guidelines

A Guest Post by Jaymee Goh

http://jaymeegoh.com; https://ko-fi.com/jaymeegoh

Originally posted on 1 Aug 2019 as a Comment in the Malaysian Writers Community

Earlier yesterday, there was a post from a member inviting folks to participate in an anthology project. Several members responded with interest, which led to other members asking the original poster some questions about the publication and publishing model. From the answers, it became clear that this was a self-publishing venture, which required buy-in from everyone participating.

I was pretty flippant in my comment towards people who responded in the affirmative, but to be fair, it was not clear to me whether folks said “yes” because they misread the USD50 as a submission fee, or as payment.

If you mis-read it as payment, you’re not at fault!!! The post was not very clearly written. The rest of this post is for you.

If you read it properly, and were interested, also legit!!!! Participating in a self-publishing project is often very attractive for the writer who has no intention of making money from their writing, really just wants to see their writing in print, and is willing to pay money for that to happen. The rest of this post probably does not apply to you.


That said, what goes into a submission call? Here are some notes from the short story submission trenches:


PROJECT DESCRIPTION:

What is this project about? From the description you should be able to tell the medium (poetry? non-fiction?) and genre (memoir?), the wordcount, the prompts for submissions, and possibly examples of work they’re looking for.


FORMATTING AND COMMUNICATION:

Depending on the volume of a market/venue, publishers and editors will have list of how they prefer to receive their submissions. Things like font (Courier, Times New Roman are standard), file types (.docx, .rtf), spacing–most of these are in place to make your submission easier to read. What it also implies is…. whether or not you have actually read the submission guidelines and can follow instructions. If you decide to use a hard-to-read font because you think it’s ~fancier, it tells the editor that you don’t understand instructions and won’t take directions for revisions/edits well, so unless your writing is stellar af, you come off as difficult to work with. If there is an e-mail for you to send submissions to, which is not the editor’s personal/office e-mail, use the submissions e-mail! Do not send it to the editor, nor even CC them. It doesn’t make your submission stand out, unless you want to look annoying and arrogant.


PAYMENT AND RIGHTS:

Payment will usually either be listed as a flat fee or per word. Sometimes markets will list whether the payment will be upon acceptance, or upon publication.


PROJECT DESCRIPTION:

What is this project about? From the description you should be able to tell the medium (poetry? non-fiction?) and genre (memoir?), the wordcount, the prompts for submissions, and possibly examples of work they’re looking for.


FORMATTING AND COMMUNICATION:

Depending on the volume of a market/venue, publishers and editors will have list of how they prefer to receive their submissions. Things like font (Courier, Times New Roman are standard), file types (.docx, .rtf), spacing–most of these are in place to make your submission easier to read.

What it also implies is…. whether or not you have actually read the submission guidelines and can follow instructions. If you decide to use a hard-to-read font because you think it’s ~fancier, it tells the editor that you don’t understand instructions and won’t take directions for revisions/edits well, so unless your writing is stellar af, you come off as difficult to work with.

If there is an e-mail for you to send submissions to, which is not the editor’s personal/office e-mail, use the submissions e-mail! Do not send it to the editor, nor even CC them. It doesn’t make your submission stand out, unless you want to look annoying and arrogant.


PAYMENT AND RIGHTS:

Payment will usually either be listed as a flat fee or per word. Sometimes markets will list whether the payment will be upon acceptance, or upon publication.

Upon Acceptance means that as soon as the contract is signed, they’ll send you the money.

Upon Publication means that you have to wait until the piece is published, before they send you money, which may involve some rounds of editing.

(Neither is worse than the other. It’s just a matter of how publishers do their workflow.)

You may see, particularly for book anthology projects, payments by royalty, i.e. a % of sales. Payments by royalty is as good as selling your story for free. Anthologies very rarely make enough money for the publisher to justify the effort of calculating out royalty, and if you do receive payment, it will probably be like, a couple of dollars, if even that. And most publishers do not pay out unless it’s more than $10.

If there is no payment listed, that’s also something to take note of. Maybe you don’t need to get paid and that is cool! If you have a story of the heart that is best placed in this market, then submit as you wish.

Rights are what they are buying from you–what publishers usually want is to be the first to publish your work, and to be the only venue showcasing your work for a certain amount of time.In many SFF markets, this is usually a year, after which you are free to submit your work elsewhere as a reprint.

There are business reasons for this! Most magazines/outlets rely on providing original work to their subscribers. If your work appears in two different places, one of these publications has already lost the claim to say that they are publishing original fiction. (Even if they are providing the fiction for free, it still looks janky, like they couldn’t find anything new. This is particularly the case for specific markets with a targeted audience.) (With reprint anthologies, the publishers are relying on the taste and reputation of the editor to sell the book.)

Because of this, some may also specify whether they allow simultaneous submissions. That means whether they are okay with your piece being under consideration elsewhere. For example, if one ghost story anthology gets you writing one, and then another ghost story anthology comes up, with similar deadlines, to simultaneously submit is to send to both of them at the same time. Because of the reading schedule of editors varying, you could hear back from one sooner than the other, and the second one may want the story, and are gonna be unhappy if they hear you have it accepted elsewhere, which means they can no longer acquire it. Some places don’t mind this, but do ask that you let them know if your piece has been accepted elsewhere, so they know to remove it from consideration.


ON SUBMISSION FEES:

Depending on the venue you may or may not see a submission fee! Many popular genres do not have a submission fee, and in fact actively fight against them because submission fees mean only a certain number of people get to submit. This limits the pool, and prevents a lot of writers who are otherwise awesomely talented from submitting.WHY does this practice persist? The reasons boil down to:

snobbery: the market may be prestigious, and to separate the perceived wheat from the perceived chaff, they put in a fee, so only people who really want to be read will submit;

business model: the market does not have enough of a readership to make money off their subscriptions. Since there are probably more submitters than there are subscribers, they recuperate costs by charging submission fees. This is generally the case with many literary journals.

You may also see this called a “reading fee,” especially for writing contests. This is because however much money they are offering isn’t enough to pay the judges who are doing the reading, so the submission fees off-set that cost. While there is a general trend of pushing back against submission fees, you may still choose to submit to a venue that charges them, and that is your prerogative and your privilege.


WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU THINK ABOUT?

Permanent website link: Most publishers will have their own websites where they will post their calls for submissions. Otherwise, an editor may post the call for submissions on their own website/blog. This gives you a chance to check out the oeuvre of the editor/publisher.

Lately, with the popularity of crowdfunding, the submission guidelines may themselves on on a Kickstarter page. But they are usually also replicated elsewhere.


Publisher website and catalog: Is this the publisher’s first shot at the anthology rodeo? There isn’t anything wrong if it is, but you should be aware of this going in! If not, look at their previous anthologies. What is their usual target market? Or are you familiar with these works in your genre? Are these books you feel you should be reading?

Often, this is also where you get a sense of their publishing model as well. Where do they usually sell, as mostly ebooks on Amazon, print books? No one’s gonna tell you their print run in guidelines because that’s not usually the author’s business, but knowing where the books are gonna sell is pretty helpful.


Hope this all is all informative, even if these are questions you never asked!!!

Crowdsourced Storytelling: Twas an Unfortunate Night

Members of the #MYWriters Facebook group* participated in a crowdsourced storytelling exercise where each person takes turns to contribute two words to complete a story.

We have 1,215 members to date, and about 50 members participated in the online exercise within an 8 hour time span, so you can imagine the awesome and creative havoc caused!

Here is our combined story:

 

TWAS AN UNFORTUNATE NIGHT…

It was an unfortunate evening, when little Brandon ventured out to see of Devil’s Wearing Prada red stilettos. Brandon thought he died of drinking. When suddenly, Xenovia flew past the green dragon with no strings attached. Then she drank bourbon while spit dribbled off her pointed chin, (in) drunken stupor, reflecting despair.

The dragon wept fire.

Wine bottles and cheese start molding into gold. Brandon was elatedly pungent. But then, alive again. A wizard picked up their hat together with musty mold. A robot belted out My Heart with gusto. The Catalonian openly bleeding all over the face of diarrhea. But now – not now. Then when? One day. When the sun turned green. Or the moon moons. Moon turns into sushi.

Sun down.

Glittery vampire sucked oranges and vomiting green dragons. And plenty of them. Of slimy bloody oranges. A witch juicily smiles, rubbing her sides with her Sharpie marker that’s shaped to fit his nose so rotund and photogenic, yet probing.

Branded decided and dreamt about his again, against the wall. Fatalistic fate woohoo, danced the night and go to sleep. In Neverland, Salak Selatan.

Samir now and dream. He wasn’t. What happened?

Not again!

Will I? No siree. He refused to abide to unrealistic electric dreams. Too weird.

He wanted to kentut all over, but then could not vanish completely in putrid. And then, somewhat awkwardly, stumbled on reciting poems.

Suddenly, lightning. Brightened the mystic night and split into mountains.

Meanwhile, the postman said, “Flying mushroom,” when he cart-wheeled continuously and entered while munching Mr. Potatoes. Blue Cheese was not fully aware that everyone are psychotic like me.

But then, my cow gone crazy over the KL tower despite (the) gruesome green warts.

“Look up!” said none of the idiotic fools.

Who usually sleep naked and play sadistic Monopoly? Soap bubbles, when will I see soap bubbles floating on lucid dreams in my secret territory, silly imagination, like dancing runs wild?

Hates chatting, standing erect suspense is.

The murder that still tickles me. The murderer got caught just as she undressed. The moment only to whip out an itsy ice cream coated cake.

But, alas…

Sugary cocaine, my friend.

“No!!!” yelled Yilda Runeguts.

Brandon glanced up at the cataclysmic being who seemed lost but found pieces of tuna-filled pitas laid out on brown Sunshine bread. So he tembak kaukau until his exposed heart bled profusely.

THE END

 

Well done, everyone!

We’ve just proven that writing can be fun too!

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*This writer is founder and moderator/administrator of the Malaysian Writers Facebook group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/malaysianwriters/ which is described as “A platform and community for writers of fiction, non-fiction or poetry of Malaysian citizenship/permanent residence or non-Malaysians who write and work in/from Malaysia; who are published or aspiring; writing in any genre, via any medium and in ANY language (includes short story writers, columnists, journalists, bloggers, editors, copywriters, scriptwriters and literary translators).

#BookNerdProblems

In a Book Appreciation Club I belong to, members started discussing all the Book Nerd Problems that we faced. Some were downright hilarious, all utterly Malaysian, and absolutely true!

So I thought it might be fun to share it with all of you.

 

Here you go:

#BookNerdProblems

  • Finding something to eat for lunch that won’t splash and spray all over my book.

  • Wanting to read on a long road trip…. but gets nauseated 

  • Hoping the movie adaptation will be as good as the book and getting disappointed every single time. frown emoticon
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  • no time to read.. but have to work to get money to buy more books to read

  • Definitely ‘Too many books, so little time”.

  • My daughter, an only child, says she has many frens. I asked “Where??”, she replied ” All my books, they are my best friends, and I guess I hv thousands of them..”

  • I can never sell my daughter’s books without permission, for I think book nerd loves reading same book repeatedly.

  • I hv to smack my girl sometimes bcos she reads inordinately, sometimes oblivious of danger, sleeping time and meal times. And I am really mad when she leaves her school work to the last minute.
  • Reading my book while stuck in a traffic jam, while waiting for the lift
  • Staying up late to read till the early hours of the morning . …on a working day. Yikes! ‪
  • Worrying abt which bag i have to use bcos it must be able to fit the current book I’m reading.
  • ‪Going on a trip n worrying whether I brought enough reading material. What happens if i run out halfway?
  • Going to KLCC n worrying abt not hvg enough time in Kino bcos I’m always rushing.
  • Finally – having to use 2 hands to eat laksa and also hold a book open at the same time!
  • My daughter reads during meal time, even stands to read during the meal
  • Reading during Hari Raya! (the Muslim equivalent to Christmas Day)
  • Can’t eat without a book, a habit since I was a kid. Makes my food taste better.
  • I brush my teeth with the book propped up on the shelf in the bathroom. I guess my mom should have smacked me then!
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  • 
‪Now is eating time, and still my girl must hide books, shun me, and sneak to kitchen. I was rather mad, firstly, bcoz it isn’t good for digestion, second, it takes her almost 1½ hours to finish, third, that makes her oblivious of importance of real timing in life
  • My most pro move is being able to read while stirring the pot, while watering plants and while vacuuming. The last very unsuccessfully, unfortunately
  • Finding a hairdresser who will let me read my book during the haircut, rather than engaging in meaningless conversation!! Any recommendations??
  • Talking too much and excitedly about a book only then to realize I talked TOO MUCH and being socially weird. Hahaha

  • I need that kind of hairdresser too but they always insist to remove my specs which render me blind – how to read? I need to go for LASIK — need permanent solution
  • Searching for a book nerd’s group for children between age 9-10, let them meet and chat over the same books, over and over…

  • Exam week is coming but I’ve got to start with a new book ahhh… all the time

  • Misplaced/lost my books more that twice, when asked everyone in the house they told me, no one steals your book, saying that books aren’t worth stealing. Gahh that hurts!!! my books are *in smeagol’s voice* my precious

  • Getting neck ache from sleeping on your book after reading in bed
  • My middle girl sometimes reads upside down. Seated on the plush single-seater sofa, feet up against the sofaback, torso against the seat, and head jutting out below with the book suspended between her thin hands… *Haih*
  • Agonizing over which book to get because you can’t remember which of that author’s books you already own…

  • My elder girl will go inside the book…. Call out to her 10 times also cannot hear wan…must rampas the book…lol..then she will be like “ah.. Wat mummy, I nvr hear u calling.”… Ahyoo wat to do…
  • ‪When I was a kid…I will read under my blanket w torch light… And my mom will always catch me….lol…and now I do it too w my book light under my comforter…… Can’t sleep without reading..
  • When reading on my mini ipad in bed at night, I fall asleep and the ipad slaps me on the mouth, causing a lump/bruise to emerge around my lips where it fell. Next morning, my office mates give me a look as if I’m a victim of domestic abuse 

  • Books including hardcovers n phones n tablets falling on my face too. Lol. Oh, i do tht pose on the bed n sofa too…book nerd ‘yoga’. Keeps the blood flowing to me ‘ead!

  • Haha, book nerd yoga reminds me : after hours spent sitting around reading, I felt guilty for not doing any exercise so I started figuring out exercises that I could do while reading – planking is good, so is down-dog with leg lifts
  • When I’m reading while walking towards the office every morning after I had my breakfast. Nearly bump into the signage ehehhehe.
  • Always sneak a look at the book when the traffic turn red also
  • Having to wait to discuss a book with a friend when you’ve finished ina day but they’re not finished in a week!

 

Don’t Give Up Your Day Job!

by Tina Isaacs


An interesting discussion began amongst my local writing community today. One lady was making plans to write full time and posed the question in our group timeline inquiring on the kinds of jobs she could do if her writing career didn’t work out.

Having contemplated the same idea myself not so long ago, I shared with her an epiphany that came to me after interacting with many writers from around the globe. And so I thought I’d share it here, in case anyone else is facing similar crossroads in their writing careers.


Now, lemme give it to you straight:

Many, or I should say most, writers DO NOT make enough money to subsist on writing alone. Especially if you have other dependents too. There are even writers who have had NYT Bestsellers who cannot afford to give up their regular paying jobs, although they consider themselves ‘full time’ writers. 

The fact is, unless you have written a multi-million bestseller like JK Rowling, Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks, Harumi Murakami, EL James and Stephanie Meyer, or unless you have a millionaire husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/life partner who is willing to pay for everything while you write, write and do nothing but write, then hell, yeah, you have to juggle work and writing at the same time. 

Ask any of the prolific writers in your community whether they have given up their paying jobs to survive purely on book sales, and I can guarantee you find less than a handful who’d say yes (and not be lying to your face).

One established Malaysian writer told me: it’s great pocket money and that once-a-year-bonus to buy that little something extra for yourself, but it doesn’t pay the bills.  

So, as someone put it, DON’T GIVE UP YOUR DAY JOB! 


If you are one of those who must do something related to writing, then there are many jobs out there that actually assist you in furthering your writing career while you do it: 

  • get a Masters/PhD and become a college lecturer teaching English or creative writing, or with an English or Literature Degree so you can teach English or creative writing in schools/learning centers; 
  • become an editor, proofreader or copywriter for a periodical or publishing house [some of these positions require an English Degree too, although some allow you to advance based on experience];
  • freelance by writing and submitting articles or blogposts for periodicals which pay you. Many are constantly looking for well written pieces. Here are some useful links: http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/…/30-types-of…/ and http://thewritelife.com/find-freelance-writing-jobs/… and you can find more if you participate in your local writing community and follow their bulletin boards;
  • get a regular job writing blog or web-content, or book reviews;
  • become a news journalist, reporter or columnist for a print/online periodical;
  • if you are good at translations, try to get into literary translations;
  • many writing competitions have cash prizes too, so you can give those a try while you practice your writing.

There are thousands of options out there; you just have to know where to look. But, be warned, it’s also a highly competitive market, so you have to be tenacious, hard working and good at it before you can make any headway.


When I had reached those crossroads in my writing career, and after having gathered all the advise from fellow writers friends, I decided to write part-time while maintaining my day job to pay for monthly expenses. Surprisingly, after making that decision, it lightened a burden I hadn’t even realized I was carrying, worrying too much about which career path to take.

Oh, I haven’t given up on my dream to push for a successful writing career. It’s just that having come to that epiphany, I write with a managed expectation of what a writing career can bring me.

With clearer expectations in mind, I began figuring out ways to make all my professional experiences count in my fiction. This I did by weaving into it little anecdotes and observations during my lifetime as a litigation lawyer, because one always remember that a good writer aims to WRITE WHAT ONLY YOU CAN WRITE (in other words, ask yourself what makes you unique?); this is what translates into your individual writing voice. 

Also, I went on to capitalize on my legal experience by integrating it into my writing, starting with my two non-fiction side-projects – a guide to legal practice for newbies, and a book on Copyright & the Author.