Sunday, 24 April 2016

Fixi Novo Gets Kinokuniya Heated Up, Fleshed Out And Trashed

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to London..."

Ouch. Hope the folks at Kinokuniya KLCC weren't offended.

So began the Kuala Lumpur launch of Heat, Flesh and Trash, a trio (triptych, maybe?) of "Southeast Asian urban anthologies" by Malaysian publisher Fixi Novo, last Friday evening at Kinokuniya. The titles were taken from the "Paul Morrissey Trilogy" produced by Andy Warhol.

Urban Southeast Asian anthologies Heat, Flesh and Trash, now
available at all major bookstores, including Kinokuniya KLCC.

And it looks like Fixi boss Amir Muhammad hasn't quite left the 2016 London Book Fair yet.

Seems that, from the time Amir saw the trilogy, he wondered if he could produce something that used the three words. These books were the result. Also, the key word was "fun". I suppose that makes sense, keeps things interesting and probably explains the popularity and relative longevity of the brand(s).

(And the good news keep coming. You guys know that Fixi, through its latest offshoot Grafixi, managed to obtain the rights to translate the back catalogue of DC Comics into Malay?)

Fixi boss Amir Muhammad emceed the event and handed out giveaways
for the contributors to the anthologies.

These three anthologies, along with another volume called Little Basket, premiered at the LBF in what was Malaysia's first official appearance. Though the stories are set in urban Southeast Asia, the contributors and editors came from all over the globe.

Of course, glitches couldn't be avoided. Amir reported that in spite of the guidelines, the editorial team received stories set in Japan (Far East) and India (South Asia). Lots of India-centric submissions, apparently. "So we sent them rejections, along with a link on Wikipedia about Southeast Asia," Amir said in his usual fashion. Some of us might have hoped he did.

To represent this corner of the world, only the durian would do. Artist moribayu was commissioned for the cover images, depicting the king of fruits in "stages of undress". Despite not knowing Amir very well, Mori submitted his work anyway. "He's trusting, prompt and quite good, so if you want some art done, call him."

Right, the contributors.

Amir, with Zed Adam Idris.

Strangely, none of the editors showed up. Some of them were from abroad and one contributor, Terence Toh, was in London, apparently. Those who were present (only a few) got up to answer a few questions and receive either copies of books their stories were in, or RM75 (each book is priced at about RM25) to spend on something else. Amir handed the money on stage: "As you can see we're transparent about our money."

I don't remember much about the first guy, Zed Adam Idris, only that his "semi-autobiographical" story, "Method" (in Heat), is set in KL, about a guy who reminisces about his past during binges of drugs and sex.

Next was- oh, dear, Catalina, haven't you recovered from that stress-related thing you mention on that other book launch? "Yes," she said, "but something else followed." Hard-working to a fault, that one.

With Catalina Rembuyan.

Catalina Rembuyan is no stranger to the writing scene, but her participation in this project (and Little Basket) surprised me a little. Her story in Heat, "Reservoir Park", was about voyeurism.

She said this park is in her hometown of Kuching, and back in the day parents prohibited their kids from going there, perhaps for fear they would be up to no good behind bushes and stuff. The title was also a play on the word "voyeur", as in "rese-voyeur".

Ted Mahsun, meanwhile, has made a name for himself as one of those spearheading the development of Malaysian sci-fi writing. Don't take my word for it, Amir suggested that, too. I think his story, "And The Heavens Your Canopy" was about ... window cleaners?

Part of the audience at the launch that evening. The guy in glasses and
dark blue shirt is the artist @moribayu (not sure if that's how it's
spelled), who drew the durians on the covers.

Zedeck Siew had the distinction of appearing in two books: "The Lordly Dragon" in Heat, and "Mrs. Chandra's War Against Dust" in Trash. I'm relying on Smashwords (thank you!) to fill some gaps.

Too bad I couldn't remember most of Amir's jokes. Fixi's boss has impeccable comic timing, and you should've been there. Fortunately, Fixi launches quite a few books each year, so you'll have a chance to see him in action.

Well, my memory was really shit by the time Flesh was introduced. This volume got the most submissions, more than double for the other two. Unfortunately, many involved Thai prostitutes - which says a lot about some people's perceptions about Southeast Asia. And I doubt Jimmy Kimmel eating a durian at Jessica Chastain's insistence helps.

With Eeleen Lee, who also gave some writing advice during the
brief Q&A session.

Amir also took time to talk about submissions by Filipinos, which impressed him. "They're very professionally formatted," he said. "They also include their names, addresses, word counts, and so on. So they've done this a lot. Filipinos have many stories to tell and they want to share them."

I'd suggest getting Malaysians to submit like Filipinos, but getting them to tell stories good like Filipinos is already an uphill task. One thing at a time.

Of course, expect subtle digs at the situation at home. When introducing Julie Koh, an Australian born to Chinese Malaysians, Amir was all, "See, all the good ones migrate to Australia. Look at the bunch we have to put up with."

Before Julie began talking, he pointed out, "Pay attention to her Australian accent." So that's why I can't recall what she said or what her story in Heat, "The Procession", was about, other than the fact that it was funny and satirical.

With Zedeck Siew. Zedeck's work appeared in two books, Heat and Trash.

And: "If you guys want to migrate to Australia, look for Julie."


At some point Zedeck returned to the "stage" to talk about his other story, "Mrs Chandra's War". Air noted that he had disagreements with him and several other writers about a few potentially problematic sentences.

One of those were, "He closed his eyes and recited the yassin." Or something like that. These and other to-and-fros went on up till the last minute, complicated by the fact that the contributors were everywhere.

Amir, however, noted that the Malaysian Indian dialogue in "Mrs. Chandra's War" was almost pitch perfect. "Did you have to listen to actual Malaysian Indians talk to get it right?" he asked Zedeck, who replied, "I try." No clues as to who his muses were, though.

But is Zedeck's stuff good? Well, an acquaintance who bought Trash that evening loved his and Ted Mahsun's stories. Of course, I knew she'd buy Trash, and I told her so. "Because there's treasure in trash," she said. Mic drop.

With Julie Koh. Her parents migrated to Australia, so I guess she's as
Australian as Aussie lawmaker Penny Wong.

Besides some background in her story, "The Forsakers" in Heat (okay, pairing certain story titles with the book title might not be a good idea all the time), Eeleen Lee gave some advice to aspiring writers who want to be published. She made that distinction because she knows someone who writes and writes but prefers to "sit on them".

For those who want to be published, she said, "First, you gotta hustle. Keep an eye out for calls for submissions and submit." And pay attention to the guidelines. Otherwise, I think, you'll get URLs to more Wikipedia articles in your rejections.

With sci-fi specialist Ted Mahsun. I believe he blogs at Pena Saifai.

"Second," Lee said, "Don't write shit." Nobody can emphasise this enough, it seems. "Don't wallow in, 'Oh, they don't like what I write', etc. Sit yourself down with a dictionary and a group of beta readers and fix your stuff."

I think Lee also recommended a thick skin. "Don't be upset with what people write about your stuff in The Star," she added. She recalled something another publisher said about her writing, without naming names.

"So, what did ***** say?" Amir helpfully chipped in, drawing laughter and several groans of dread from the audience. He's done this before and, no, I've helped you out enough already.

With Tilon Sagulu.

Tilon Sagulu also contributed to Trash. His is "Bleeding Trash". For the same volume, Dr M. SHANmughalingam wrote "Flowers for KK", a story about two sisters and ... some kind of sweet.

Also present was Foo Sek Han, whose stories did not appear in the books being launched. I just felt the need to point out that he was there. Foo couldn't be present at the launch of PJ Confidential but, through an intermediary, said that his contribution is great.

So Heat, Flesh and Trash are on sale everywhere now, including at Daunt Books in London. The bookstore chain begun yonks ago, specialising in travel books, before it was bought over by former banker James Daunt and became Daunt Books in 1990.

Daunt's is now a bookstore chain and publishes as well. Books in the stores are arranged by country, regardless of genre.

With Dr M. SHANMughalingam.

Like in that other book launch, I can't recall much of this one, probably because I'm older now, and before leaving, I had a conversation about how gadget manufacturers enforce obsolescence in their products, and how powerful smartphone cameras are these days.

Among other things, I was told that the new Samsung S7 can take crisp pictures in "one-candle" levels of low light. And not to buy cheap laptops (uh-oh), because I balked at RM3,000-plus smartphones. Many of these things are expensive for a reason.

After-event group photo. Partially obscured (from left to right) are
Ted Mahsun, Zed Adam Idris and Zedeck Siew. And that's @moribayu
standing between Tilon Sagulu and Julie Koh.

On forced obsolescence: is it true that the cellphone networks are being upgraded to at least 3G, which means older phones like my old Nokia 3310 can't even call out?

The things you learn at book launches.


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