Saturday, April 12, 2014

News: Obits, Awards, and Derpless In Gawker Media

Several writers left us early April, including Sue Townsend, creator of Adrian Mole and Clarissa Tan, "journalist, gopher, reviewer of TV" at the Spectator in the UK.

The late Clarissa Tan at Readings @ Seksan's, 28 June 2008

I can't remember if this is the same Clarissa Tan who appeared at Readings sometime in 2008, but from a picture I took, she was holding a copy of what looks like the Spectator, so I guess she was. Some of her writings in the magazine can be found here, including the piece she read at Readings, which won her the Shiva Naipaul Prize from the Spectator.

...Right, now for some happy news. First, congratulations to Tan Twan Eng for making the shortlist for the 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, which features an interesting line-up. Looks like Tan's not done reaping accolades yet. Will there be more sour-grape munching, I wonder?

And because of its relatively swift rise as a brand, cutting-edge local pulp fiction publisher Fixi won The Bookseller International Adult Trade Publisher Award. Juga kerana berkat rajin hulur tisu, agaknya.


  • "Authors on rock star-style tours, animations of famous fictional characters, merchandise based on children's stories – all these are now in the armoury of Britain's biggest publisher as it fights back against the decline of the high-street bookseller." In the wired age, Penguin Random House hits the road to bring books to the public.

  • From Jason Kottke: A study that says "foraging harvester ants act like TCP/IP packets". Anyone who's a fan of Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld series might recognise a device that does use an "anternet" of sorts: Unseen University's computer, Hex

  • "Life is too short to read a bad book". Too right. So my editing job might be jeopardising my reading, too.

  • The new editor of "slangy Internet site" (Gawker) apparently wants it to sound less like a slangy Internet site. Good luck.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What's Cooking Next

Here's a sample of what's cooking in the hell's kitchen that is my workplace (and do keep in mind that they are drafts; final versions may differ):

Yes, we're doing quite a few cookbooks, besides ... other stuff. Admittedly, these are pretty good-looking projects. Hope I didn't spoil some surprises.

More to come when these are ready.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Murky Depths

Not too long after I received this book, my contact at the distributors' side left the company, and production started picking up after that. I haven't been back at the warehouse, rooting through the book pile for stuff to review.

Not that I have the urge to - yet.

After months being bogged down by work, life and poor health, it feels strange to be published again.

I kind of miss it.

Yes, it's also kind of funny that this came out at a time when we wish we have running water 24/7. Here's hoping the current turbulence in our lives eventually goes away.

Murky depths
A novel with deep, dark secrets

first published in The Star, 08 April 2014

Is Wally Lamb's We Are Water the definitive post-racial, post-9/11 American novel?

Its premise sounds simple enough: Annie Oh, artist and divorced mother of three, is about to marry Viveca, the woman who helped further her career as an artist.

‘We Are Water’ by Wally Lamb
Her decision shakes up her family a bit, not least because Annie was already seeing Viveca while her marriage was on the rocks and her son, a born-again Christian and army nurse, objects to his mother's same-sex marriage.

Not to worry, we will get more than just Annie's family trying to adjust to their mother's new direction in life and getting along with the new (mum?)in-law.

Besides Annie, her children and her ex-husband Orion (what's with that name?), the numerous narrators in the novel include an elderly art curator and several other characters from Annie and Orion's pasts.

A seemingly unrelated interview with said curator and his tale of the mysterious death of a black artist – the type whose genius only surfaces decades later – leads to Annie's introduction and the art she produces.

As the story progresses, we get hints of something terrible that happened during Annie's childhood that might have fuelled her "angry art" and have repercussions for her family and the day of the marriage.

We get an idea that Annie's is not a typical American family. Originally a red-headed lass with Irish roots, she'd married Orion who is of Italian-Chinese descent. By the time she meets the Greek lady Viveca, her children are already grown up. Besides her army-nurse son, Annie has two daughters: one's an earth-mother type and the other is young, hip and dreams of Hollywood stardom.

But this portrait of the new post-racial American family is not quite all hunky-dory, either. Under the glittering surface of the Ohs' fa├žade lie murky depths where secrets lurk. All of them have something to hide from the world and each other, but perhaps nothing as dark as what Annie had tucked away in her memories.

One complaint is that the pace at which the long story of this family (over 500 pages) unfolds is painfully slow. While much of the backstory is meant to give the characters more depth and character, I found a lot of it as enlightening as white noise.

The again, I generally follow the news and goings-on in the United States more than of what goes on at home, so a lot of it sounds all too familiar.

We Are Water
Wally Lamb
HarperCollinsPublishers (2013)
561 pages
ISBN: 978-0-00-753284-1

Buy from:
•  Amazon
•  Kinokuniya

2.5 out of 5
With regards to the Ohs' first-person narration: the tone is mostly ranty and whining. We have details that add meat to the characters, their ways of thinking, and motivations, fears and hopes, but half the time they just seem to be venting. It's like reading a blog by a dysfunctional family.

At some point, their troubles and secrets no longer matter, as this reader, bogged down by fatigue, started skimming in haste towards the ending – which, I suppose, bears the promise that, no matter how difficult the past and present, there's always light at the end of the tunnel. And family will always be family.

I'm not particularly impressed by this novel; reading it was like a rough tumble in a white-water raft. However, those with a penchant for novels that plumb deep, dark family secrets will find Lamb's turbulent, turbid waters a satisfactory, if challenging, dip.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Weird World Of Make-Believe Playmates

When I proofed the manuscript for this book, I thought the stories were kind of clever, albeit niche.

It reminded me of another similar collection by a more famous author, where I felt some of the stories were more ... cryptic. No such confusion in this collection, however.

Okay, makes a nice collectible, I thought, or a Christmas or birthday gift. A colleague, however, was more enthusiastic about it.

Turns out he's not alone - and the niche was larger than I'd thought.

First published as an e-book, Imaginary Friends: 26 Fables for the Kid in Us reached e-book platform Kobo’s list of top fifteen titles under several categories, including Short Stories and Humour.

And, apparently, it has also been picked up by various online vendors from around the world, including those in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary and Singapore.

Now, this best-selling e-book of witty, original fables targeted at teens and adults, is getting a print edition, with illustrations by Arif Rafhan.

Written by Singapore-based freelance writer Melanie Lee and published by MPH Digital (a subsidiary of MPH Group Publishing) in October 2013, Imaginary Friends may look like a typical children’s book at first glance.

But its sophisticated wit and references to modern society and pop culture make it an enjoyable read for those in the new market segment known as New Adult fiction. With Arif's artistic touches (that reminds one of the murals in Publika, Solaris Dutamas), it looks even more collectable.

Imaginary Friends
26 Fables for the Kid in Us

Melanie Lee
MPH Group Publishing (March 2014)
83 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-189-8

RM19.90 | Buy from
In this collection of fables for grown-ups and grown-up minds, lessons about life, love, and the universe are imparted through vignettes in the lives of twenty-six zany characters (a few of which are tragically short), including an overachieving octopus, a yodelling yak, a vicious Vespa, a sleepy salmon and an upbeat umbrella.

Witness the downside of democracy in a tale of a jar of jelly beans; learn why being a sour grape doesn't pay; and see the power of memories held by an old quilt blanket, among other things.

Imaginary Friends is a departure for Lee, whose previous book was a non-fiction, spiritual title. "Many of the life lessons at the end of each story in Imaginary Friends are things I’d wished older folks had told me about when I was in my late teens and early twenties," says Lee.

Melanie Lee is a Singaporean freelance writer who specialises in travel and heritage, but dabbles in fiction in the wee hours. Her favourite imaginary friend was Janet, a pink water bottle she had when she was eight.

Arif Rafhan is a Malaysian creative director of a web design agency who loves to draw on anything – from dead-tree media to his computer monitor and his son’s bedroom wall. After all, goes his motto: “Why buy when you can create it yourself?” He is also the illustrator for the upcoming graphic novel, Adventures of a KL-ite in Afghanistan, written by Zan Azlee.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Masterclass In Session: Hosting With Azura

The past few titles in the MPH Masterclass series pretty much lays it out: behind the glitz and glamour in things like fashion, photography and modelling is a lot of hard work, discipline and behind-the-scenes preparation. Many big names really climbed their way to the top. This next author is no exception.

(... wow ... what's with the hair?)

Radio deejay and TV host Azura Zainal is perhaps best known for her work with Walt Disney TV Asia and, later, Red FM and local TV travel and adventure shows such as Xplorasi. Now, she's written this book to help aspiring hosts understand what goes on behind the scenes and what it takes to get into and succeed in the hosting business.

Azura is blunt about certain things. For one, a host needs to have a unique, attractive personality. "Not everyone is cut out to be a great presenter," she writes. "A good host is judged based on two things: attributes and skills. Attributes are traits that you're born with—either you have it or you don't. Skills, on the other hand, can be learnt and picked up with time, effort and experience." She's not being mean.

Azura also lays out what's required to break into radio, TV and live-event hosting and what to do (and what not to do) to keep the gig and get better at it. Even if it does seem like the host is the centre of the galaxy, the show is what matters the most and the host is but another member of the crew that drives it. Emphasis on teamwork is often stressed throughout the book, as well as professionalism.

Azura Zainal's Guide to Radio & TV Hosting
Azura Zainal
MPH Group Publishing (March 2014)
131 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-188-1

RM35.90 | Buy from
She also tells us what a host can expect to earn in TV, radio and live-events, and also what a host can go into when he or she wants to expand his or her horizons. There's quite a bit of planning involved for the latter, as well as a lot of face-time, work and perseverance. Azura has been in the business for fifteen years and counting and she's seen and done practically everything.

"I realise many people also wish to get into this line but don't even know where to start," Azura writes. "There are so many things to do and not to do that I had to learn about—the hard way. I wrote this book so that you can pick up best practices without having to stumble and fall too much along the way."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Masterclass In Session: Starting Businesses With Maresa

The company's been pushing quite a few books out in time for the authors' appearances at the 2014 Putrajaya International Book Fair (PIBF). So yes, we're up to our necks in editing and proofreading for the past month or so.

The actual book, copies of which arrived on 17 March, a few days
after this entry was posted

Among these is Maresa Ng's Guide to Starting a Business, the latest in the MPH Masterclass Series.

Formerly an investment banker, Ng ditched her job for a career helping aspiring entrepreneurs improve themselves and take their enterprises to the next level—a vocation that began as a favour for several friends who came to her for financial advice.

Today, she runs leading business coach firm ActionCOACH Spark Activators and SMETalent, a technology platform that helps SMEs in human capital management.

Ng does not believe that one should just take a leap of faith when it comes to starting businesses. She firmly believes in careful and detailed planning, knowing oneself and being clear on one's intentions to start a business—all born from years of running her own enterprise and teaching others how to do the same.

Her guidebook covers the early planning stages; how to craft that all-important business model, mission statement and sales engine that will drive the enterprise; and how to leverage on good people and good systems to expand and grow the business.

She clears up some misconceptions (sales and marketing are not the same, for instance) and introduces creative ways to get by or get ahead (like renting space in exchange for ads rather than cash). Ultimately, the business should run on autopilot and flourish, even when the owner's not constantly keeping an eye on things.

Maresa Ng's Guide to Starting a Business
Maresa Ng
MPH Group Publishing (March 2014)
131 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-194-2

RM35.90 | Buy from
"My experience has shown me that Malaysians are keen entrepreneurs," Ng writes. "But many simply don't have the know-how when it comes to actually running a successful business. They don't understand the fundamentals of how to grow a sustainable business model. While there are numerous books out there covering best practices in business, not even a handful are catered towards the local business scene.

"My aim with this book is to fill that gap. Having worked with a variety of different businesses, big and small, through business coaching, I've gained insight on dealing with a wide range of different situations. I share these, and more, in this book."

Friday, March 07, 2014


Before I went to bed yesterday, news came that the Malaysian government banned Ultraman.

I'm too tired for this right now.

It was also 11:45pm and I wasn't exactly lucid.

Things became clearer today. The ban, slapped on one comic book, came about thanks to some shoddy editing by the publisher of the Malay-language version of an Ultraman comic, which included a word that was recently prohibited to non-Muslims in the country.

But first: Ultraman was a familiar figure in my childhood. So the news is kind of shocking, but not surprising. Kids these days have other icons to look up to.

Since its debut, the franchise has introduced other Ultramen. Lore says there's a whole planet full of these silver-skinned giants, mutated thus by an artificial source of light they created to replace their dead sun. The Ultraman described as a "god" in the offending passage is Ultraman King, said to be the oldest and strongest member of that civilisation.

Later, I consulted the Google on the history of Ultraman King. From the looks of it, somebody pulled a Houellebecq.

Curious, I ran the web page through Google Translate. Though not exactly a word-for-word match, the results are, well...


Seems the publisher - a dodgy one, from the looks of it - is guilty of lazy translation and plagiarism.

And it seems the local media didn't pick that up soon enough or chose not to highlight it, to the chagrin of at least one Netizen.

The religious angle here is beside the point. If only the piece had been properly translated and reworded...

However, releasing eye-catching soundbites like "Ultraman banned due to public safety concerns" before following up with the real reason and more details later was probably not a good idea. To much of the civilised world, that statement - taken at face value - makes no freaking sense.

So, once again, we've given the world something else to talk about.