Monday, December 17

My Life as a Photographer

Many people have asked me about my photography projects and how it all started. So, I've decided to blog about it,

To many who know me, I've always been a photographer. In fact, before I was a photographer before I became an editor. When I was in college eons ago, one of my roommates had this old camera he was about to throw away. It was a 1950's film camera, all manual without any need for batteries. According to my roommate, it was broken. Curious, I asked for it so I could play with it.

I remember spending the entire night taking the camera apart and fixing it, polishing it, and cleaning out the dust and the mirror inside. When all was done, I noticed that the camera, though old, was not out of order; it was in perfect condition. The only problem was no one knew how to use it. So, I decided to learn.

Fast forward to a week later, I was snapping pictures of people, friends, and family. I did not have a flash component, so I used a lot of ISO, aperture, and speed compensation. Using a film camera required loads of skills, because there was no way of previewing my images before I snapped them. I had to really understand how photography worked, knowing exactly how my images would look before I even took them. I had to be in control. Before long, I was taking model portfolios for model friends and exploring the world of fashion/editorial photography. At one point, I sought the mentorship of Stan Malinowski, a renowned fashion photographer in the '80s. With his help and advice, I perfected my photography skills and started taking wedding and engagement pictures as side projects. Photography was how I supported my family while pursuing my graduate degree.

Today, as executive editor for a publishing house, I spend most of my time reading manuscripts and doing editorial work. But I always find the time to work on side photography projects. Once in a while, I'll get a call for a shoot I can't resist. Nothing excites me more than to be on set with a camera in hand, framing some of the most beautiful faces in the world.

So, without much ado, I'm going to take you through some of my latest projects:

The two B/W portraits above were part of a senior picture shoot I did of a friend. We did the shoot in my garage studio with a FujiFilm point-and-shoot camera and a single continuous light. Since I was using a point-and-shoot camera, continuous light was the best way to go to give the camera sensor the longest light exposure. Using an ISO 800 and an aperture of f/4.5, I was able to achieve a Banana Republic look for my subject. 

This fashion shoot above was one of my favorites. This time, I was using a DSLR camera. The sun was setting behind, giving the subject a natural warm ambient light. With the sun as backlight, I had to make sure the aperture and exposure was correct. I used a fill flash and an aperture of f/4.5, speed of 1/125, and ISO 100 to take this shot.

Shooting in the open is not always the easiest. You have to deal with whatever you have. In the case above, I positioned the model in a shaded area and had one of my assistants block additional light from above with a reflector to prevent unwanted shadows on the face. Bear in mind, this is a fashion shoot, and the face and clothing must be perfect. Prior to the shoot, we applied a simple makeup on the model's face with bronzer on the jawline and nose bridge to accentuate his face. We also applied a bronze shimmer cream on his eyelids as well. For men, the lip color should always be magenta-ish. No reds, no pinks. I used a reflector to light his face and a fill flash to give him some highlights and catchlight in his eyes. The result is quite impressive, I must say.

The shot above was taken in one of the ugliest places in Smithfield, Utah. It was cold and the color was drab. In such conditions, the model's skin will be covered with goosebumps. So, we had the model smother herself with vaseline and lotion. Luckily, the sky was a little on the dramatic side, and I was able to use it as a background, creating a dramatic scene for the shot. For this shot, I did not use any flash, just a reflector to capture minimum highlights on the model's skin. I wanted the model to look like an African warrior queen, but on the fashion side of things. 

Again, this shot was taken at a not-so-interesting location. But by juxtaposing the dramatic skies with the dry weeds, I was able to get a very earthy feel for this shot and make it work. Using only a reflector, I made sure I had enough light to give her dress a sheen, but not enough to give her the punch. I refrained from using a fill flash on this shot because that will take away the natural feel of the frame. 

So there. Those are just a few of my latest projects. I'll have more to showcase in the next few weeks. Please feel free to comment below and tell me what you think of my images. I usually only reserve no more than two photography projects in a month, so if you are interested in booking me, let me know early. 

Thanks for stopping by. Until next time, smile big. You never know who's holding the camera :)

Thursday, December 6

The Christmas Tree

So, I'm starting to blog again after a few weeks of hiatus, more like a few months. I have my reasons. As executive editor in a young—and thriving—house, my responsibilities are high and nigh. Everything seems to be piling up and needing immediate attention. Not like I've never been through this before—and not like I am complaining either—but it's been crazy. Awesome crazy. But hey, I love, love, love my job, and I couldn't wish for anything more.

That said, let's move on to the topic at hand: how do we survive the holidays when we can't afford much else? I was thinking about this quite a bit lately after hearing about my acquaintances and friends who weren't doing so well this holiday season. Between being laid off and struggling with limited finance, life can be hard. So, I decide to take you back to the days when I started out as a newly married man with less than fifty bucks in my bank and a part-time job, trying to raise my young family—my wife was pregnant—and brave Christmas at the same time. And hopefully I make sense at all.

This was, oh, many years back, but I can still remember those days. It was poverty at its best. My wife and I rented a small basement of an old mortuary, paid a small rent, and lived our days believing that life could get better; we had each other, and for the most part, life was simple and good. We shopped at thrift stores, baked pies to raise funds for our utility bills, and dreamed big. Although we did not have much, we were happy. (Only recently did I actually tell my wife that the basement we lived in used to be the exact place where bodies were embalmed and prepped for viewing. As expected, she was glad I did not mention it to her then.)

One particular night, about a week before Christmas, I remember sitting in our low-ceiling living room, wondering how Christmas was going to be. We had no gifts, no lights, no Christmas tree. We did not even dare to mention Christmas to anyone lest we were asked to attend a Christmas party for which we could not afford any white elephant gifts. We invited no one to our little basement apartment, and decided to spend the holidays watching TV and putting together a one-thousand-piece-jigsaw puzzle we received as a gift the year before; that should keep us busy. And with the baby coming in a few months, we were determined to save some extra cash for baby clothes and diapers. Since our parents were not available at that time, we had to plan how to do everything when the baby arrived—from our schedules to finances to milk powder, and such. Yes, life turned a little hectic and complex suddenly, especially in my head.

But no one should feel that gloomy when there was so much to hope for. I thought of my unborn son and all the fun things we were going to do together. I thought of baking him birthday cakes and going out on picnics together. Suddenly, everything felt okay. Things would turn out well. I'd graduate, get a job, and work toward something big for my family. And that was when I ran out to my car and drove straight to Walmart with twenty dollars in my wallet.

When my wife returned from her part-time job, our apartment was dark—I had switched off all the lights in the house . . . except for the one source of light I had anticipated for her to see. Right at the end of the living room on a small table in a corner was a miniature Christmas tree only ten inches tall; it stood there humbly covered with about twenty small lights and a star on its top. My wife's face lit up, and she cried. It was a beautiful surprise, indeed. Right at that moment, she felt a soft kick in her womb, and we both knew life, with all of its challenges, was worth everything we went through. It was not the Christmas tree that taught us that, but the fact that we had each other to share it with.

Today, that miniature tree had grown into a ten-foot high tree with ornaments we've accumulated through the years; every one of them reminded us of every year we celebrated Christmas together, each year better than the one before.

To everyone out there who is going through difficult times, you're not alone. And to those of you who are able, reach out your hand and give. It's not the money we ask; oftentimes, it's a smile and the kind and honest words of a friend that will take us through the darker moments of our lives.

So, how do we survive the holidays when we can't afford much else? By being that miniature Christmas tree. By being that light.

Wednesday, October 31

My Halloween Birthday

Okay, I've got to be frank, I was born ___ years ago this day to quite an abnormal circumstance. I was a Halloween baby found in a dumpster by my earth parent. My mom told me once that she'd heard me crying in a back lane somewhere in Asia covered in cabbage and old newspaper. Out of pity and compassion, she immediately picked me up without a second thought, lifted me up, and with a victorious voice, cried, "You are now my son, and your name will be Mos—I mean, Christopher Loke!" Now, don't ask me why my mom was in a back lane somewhere in Asia, or how I came about, but know that this story has never swayed.

My mom only spewed out things about my past when she was mad at me. "Christopher Yolanda Cornelius Loke the Sixteenth," she'd scream, "clean up your pigsty of a room right now or I swear to all that is good and holy I will make you wish you were never born!" And always, without missing a beat, she'd continue, "But,"—a long sigh—"upon second thought, you were never born like all the other babies, anyway. Have I ever told you how I picked you up from a dumpster?" With that, she'd start telling me the story of how I was "found" for the umpteenth time.

And then when I was fifteen, my mom came into my room one evening wanting to engage me in a somber conversation. "It's time we have the talk," she said.

"You mean the birds and the bees?"

"No, silly. It's about your origin."

"My origin?" I exclaimed. Is this really happening? I thought. As if I was from a galaxy far, far away, right?

"Yes, it's about time I tell you the truth," my mom continued, mouth pursed. "You were not found in a dumpster. There, I said it!"

Phew, what a relief. For the longest time, I'd been having nightmares about my birth parents being mutated slugs scavenging the backstreets of the city for garbage as food, and I was a by product of their . . . ugh, never mind.

So, I sat there staring at the walls and then back at my mom before giving her the most courteous smile I'd ever given. "Mom, I'm so happy you cleared that up."

She contemplated for a while before saying, "I am your real mom, and I gave birth to you." With that, she stood and exited the room along with her customary winks and smiles and lots of teeth. I've always thought my mom to be a little on the weird side, but never paid too much attention to it. But today, something clicked.

My mom had left a subtle imprint on my bed—a light greenish slime I'd never noticed before—and I couldn't help but wonder what all this meant. Suddenly, as if I had struck Eureka, memories of things flashed before my mind—I could smell the cabbage and the sour milk. And I loved it. My childhood resurfaced, and I remembered everything, all the way to the day I was born.

The first day of my life was spent writhing in compost in a back alley somewhere in Asia. I was in heaven—there was so much to eat. I looked up and saw my parents, two very distinct shapes staring down at me with round protruding eyes, wet, green, and smiling.

I shuddered at my own memory and looked down to see a trail of green slime leading to where I sat. I am not in Kansas anymore, I thought. My nightmare is real after all . . .

Anyway, I digress. And for whatever that's worth, Happy Halloween. Boo!

(Yes, my name is actually Christopher Y. C. Loke, if you should wonder.)

Thursday, October 25

Hawaiian Author Makes a Splash in the Literary Scene

First of all, let me just say, Brrr! What a week. First, it was the hail, then came the sleet, and now a snowstorm. Great! But I love it. As a lover of spooky stuff, I am enjoying this gloomy weather. And if you are hating this cold and depressing weather, don't fret, for I'm bringing you sunshine all the way from Hawaii!

Yes, I'd like to welcome the fabulous Lehua Parker, whose debut middle-grade novel, ONE BOY, NO WATER, was released last month to awesome reviews. So, how about a round of applause for Ms. Parker!

Aloha, Chris! Thanks for letting me drop by to answer a few of your questions about my MG/YA novel One Boy, No Water, book one in the Niuhi Shark Saga. It’s available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon in hardback, trade paperback, and ebook.

Briefly, tell us about your debut novel, One Boy, No Water.

One Boy, No Water is the first book in the Niuhi Shark Saga, a five book series for MG/YA readers set in modern Hawaii. It tells the story of Zader, a boy who was found abandoned as an infant and adopted by a local family. On the surface One Boy, No Water is about Zader growing up and learning that he can’t run away from trouble; like a series of ocean waves, he has to face his problems head on, problems like staying connected with his surf crazed brother, getting into an elite private school, and dealing with a couple of bullies who’ve painted a target on his back.

While these kinds of problems are ordinary, Zader himself is not. He has unusual allergies to things like water, rare meat, and seafood. He also dreams about a girl and the fantastic adventures they have together, and also about a scary man with too many teeth who seems to stalk them. Underneath the surface is another world that Zader has to navigate—and survive—as he discovers who he really is, how he defines family, and ultimately decides how he will live his life.

In a few sentences, tell us about your journey as a debut author so far.

As I write this, the whole process from roughly plotting the series, selling the concept, writing the first book, working with an illustrator, going through editorial review, ARC distribution, building a marketing campaign, and publication has taken ten months. That’s not typical, I know, particularly for a debut author. Ten months sounds like a whirlwind, but the reality was punctuated bursts of activity surrounding the book followed by long periods of waiting, during which I started building a social media platform and developing a website chock-full of supporting material for fans to discover after publication. The amount of time I’ve spent social networking and on the website easily eclipses the time spent on the book itself by a factor of 10:1. Now that One Boy, No Water has officially published, I’m doing bookstore signings, a blog tour, and gearing up for school visits in late winter/spring. I’m also finishing book two, One Shark, No Swim, for release in August 2013.

One Boy, No Water  is quite an unconventional novel with a huge part of the narrative written in modified Hawaiian pidgin. How do you successfully market such a unique book to mainstream readers in America? And what are the reactions so far among Hawaiian readers?

You have to start with a compelling story, one that captures and engages readers unfamiliar with Hawaiian Pidgin or island culture to the point where they’re willing to work a little harder to read it. It’s important to provide a context for unfamiliar words, so even if the reader doesn’t exactly know what something means, the gist is pretty clear. Kids do this naturally; it’s how they learn new vocabulary and extend their reading skills. For those who really want to know the definition of a word, I wrote a glossary for the back of the book.

Beyond providing context and a glossary, it can be challenging to market something so Hawaiian-style to a mainstream audience. Here too, I think the quality of the story has to carry the day. Being a fish out of water, creating your own definition of family, and eventually choosing the kind of life you want to live are universal young adult themes. I trust my audience to recognize the underpinnings of the story and simply try to tell it in the most genuine way possible, consciously choosing details that I think will either resonate with familiarity or jar the reader into making new connections.

From reviews, readers who are familiar with island culture find it authentic, funny, compelling, and obviously get more of the inside jokes and foreshadowing than those who have never lived in Hawaii. I say lived, because vacation Hawaii and everyday Hawaii might as well be on different planets for all they really have in common. Thankfully, reviews from mainstream readers have also been very positive, some even going so far as to say they feel like they’ve been to Hawaii for the first time.

What are your expectations and goals for One Boy, No Water and how do you plan to achieve them?

Over time and with more experience, my expectations and goals for the series have changed. Right now, newly published as a debut author, I’m happy if a book signing earns more than I spent on other books while in the store, a far cry from my original hope of paying the kids’ college tuition or for a nifty family vacation. I’ve learned that professional marketing campaigns and leveraged distribution channels are paramount for significant sales, no matter how well something is written. Without them, there’s always the promise of word of mouth, social media marketing, a book award, a positive review by a prestigious industry powerhouse, a serendipitous something that happens which raises awareness and drives sales, but these are long, slow processes, and unlike The Hunger Games, the odds are never in your favor. While I will continue to do whatever I can to make the Niuhi Shark Saga successful, I’ve found I’ve had to refocus on enjoying the journey and less on measures of financial or literary success.

Thank you so much, Lehua, for dropping by. It's always great to hear from authors who are actually doing it. 

ONE BOY, NO WATER is available through all major online booksellers and eBook readers. You can always order it from your nearest bookstores if they don't already carry it. For more information about ONE BOY, NO WATER, please visit the official site at 

A Little About Lehua Parker
Lehua Parker is originally from Hawaii and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools and Brigham Young University. So far she has been a live television director, a school teacher, a courseware manager, an instructional designer, a sports coach, a theater critic, a SCUBA instructor, a poet, a web designer, a mother, and a wife. Her debut novel, One Boy, No Water is the first book in her MG/YA series the Niuhi Shark Saga. Book 2: One Shark, No Swim will be available in August 2013. She currently lives in Utah with her husband, two children, three cats, two dogs, six horses, and assorted chickens. During the snowy Utah winters she dreams about the beach.

Facebook author page:
Twitter: @LehuaParker
Goodreads: Lehua Parker

Tuesday, October 16

Write the Story That Matters

So, I've been busy lately among other things, but when I was approached to guest blog for The Mormon Letters, I was delighted. I'd always wanted to write about the LDS writers dilemma, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity.

So, without much ado, here's the link. Read and comment. Thank you!

Monday, September 17

I Heart Authors

As you already know, I just spent the weekend at Park City, Utah, attending the LUW Annual Roundup, and let me tell ya, I loved it. I got to meet with amazing authors who love what they do. I was impressed with their energy and passion. The entire roundup reminded me of an international airport where people have a clear idea of where they are going, and they are about ready to hop on the next available flight, eager and excited.

But the most amazing thing is that both traditionally and self-published authors were there to present, mingle, and network with each other without prejudice. They were there to support each other in honing their craft and in becoming successful authors, which was what I admired most. After all, when all of these labels are stripped from us, we are all equally the same--authors of books. And that's what's most important.

During my pitch sessions at the event, I'd had the opportunity to meet with some of the most passionate, persistent, and talented craftsmen in the writers community. And after visiting with them, I return to my office here in Provo with a greater sense of appreciation for my job. So, to writers all over the world, I salute you; you inspire me.

You've made my job a spectacular one, and I thank you for it.

Thursday, August 30

The True Meaning of Happiness

Lately, I made a conscious effort to pay attention to the people around me in order for me to understand what made them happy or sad. I was particularly interested in their facial expressions, their topics of conversation, and their overall mood--was there a smile, a droop of the brow, or a reminiscing gaze. Those were but a few of the things I looked for in everyone I talked to and saw.

My finding, though inconclusive (since I was not performing a professional research), suggested to me that happiness had much to do with the material possession of the individual. In other words, our happiness could very well be directly correlated with how much money we earn or have.

People who smiled more often were those who had little or no financial worries. Those who furrowed were mostly from people who were trying their best to make ends meet. Occasionally they would feign a smile for their children or at church, but the truth was, behind closed doors, they were pulling their hair trying to figure out how to pay the next bill and feed the kids.

But that was mere observation, nothing more. So, I decided to look into my past. I flipped open my photo albums and studied every one of my pictures. I wanted to see my own facial expressions during the course of my life. Here's what I found:

  1. During my college years when I was poorest, I looked skinny and malnutrition. I smiled but my eyes seemed to wander elsewhere. I appeared to be hollow, figuratively. 
  2. Then I got married, things went well because my wife became my anchor. My smiles turned into laughter, open-mouthed, teeth glaring. I looked a little healthier, my hair was full and my eyes bright. 
  3. But the financial problems did not go away. The honeymoon period was over, we spent all of our wedding gifts (monetary ones), and reality sank in. My photos now showed a more tired version of me, always holding a baby or a feeding bottle. My eyes wondered a little more now--off camera somewhere my little boy was probably trying to destroy the kitchen or the Christmas tree. The late nights of thesis-writing and a full-time job with minimum wage were quite apparent in my expression. The bags under the eyes seemed a little more obvious, even under the bright flashlight.
  4. Then I graduated and got a job in the publishing industry. Life took a new turn, and we were able to pay more of our bills and move to a better apartment--the previous one being the basement of a funeral house. My pictures were now usually at dinner settings around food or some kind of celebration. The smiles were brighter and the eyes had a glint of shimmer. I also noticed that there were more friends in my photos, some I could not even remember their names. But friends nonetheless. I was also spotting more colors in my attire.
  5. Then I got promoted to a better position, which meant more pay. Oh, talk about the backdrop of my photos. Now they were either taken in Vegas or somewhere in California where roller coasters and big Mickey Mouse signs appeared in neon and glitter. My arms were now more fluid in movement, oftentimes frozen amid some kind of action. My mouth appeared to be talking more, and there was a sure sense of confidence and glow in my expressions--although many close to me might argue that the glow was actually from my greasy forehead. But no matter, the change in expression and colors and settings was obvious enough.
  6. I can proudly conclude that financial stability influences, one way or another, the way we think, talk, and live. Our wealth--or the lack of it--has a huge bearing on our mood and emotion. 
For all that I know, I am happiest when I have money--the extra cash to take the family out for a movie, to buy a few good friends dinner, and to sleep soundly at night without having to worry about the next bill. Some may regard their religion or spirituality as the main source of their happiness; I do not contest that. To each its own.

But to me, it is definitely money. With money, I can take care of the people I love--my family and close friends; I can reach out to the poor and buy a bum a drink. With money, I can pay for my son's piano and swimming lessons and eventually his college tuition, I can buy pretty clothes for my wife and take everyone on an awesome road trip. I can afford to turn on my A/C or my heater a bit longer, I can make sure the next meal isn't a hit-and-miss. With money I can breathe a little better and smile a little broader.

But the most important thing about money is that it has the power to put a genuine smile on someone's face--whether it is a smile of relief or of contentment--and more often than not, those smiles are all I need to be happy.

Friday, August 24

Guest Blogger Jennifer Griffith Dissects the Comedic Elements in Her Latest Novel in One Serving

Okay, I have to admit, I was half-kidding when I told Griffith what I'd like her to blog about. Though the mere idea of it was lengthy, it was something I'd always wanted to read or write about when I was in graduate school, but didn't. 

So, acting on sheer whim, I pulled this dissertation title off the top of my head when her publicist asked if she could guest-blog on my site, half-elated that I'd finally found a great author to write on the subjectGriffith's latest novel BIG IN JAPAN is one of the funniest and most heart-warming books I've read so far, and I was thinking to myself, who's more fit to write on the subject than her. But at the same time, I fear that she might pass out upon learning about her topic. Thank goodness she didn't. On the contrary, she braved it so well that I was very impressed. 

Griffith is one of the most brilliant and funny writers of our decade. Her narrative is simply clever, humorous, and filled with l'amour. It's definitely one book worth talking about. Women will love it, girls will swoon, and men will learn a thing or two about love.

So, without much ado, let's give our very talented Ms. Jennifer Griffith a big round of applause. Take it away, Jennifer!

Thanks so much for letting me guest-write on this great blog, Christopher. It’s an honor.

First, I have to say that when Chris asked me to blog, he gave me the following topic: “Juxtaposing Dramatic Sequences with Comedic Narrative Appropriately through Effective Pacing and Character Mapping.”

No, really.

It scared me too, and at first I thought it was a joke, like someone assumed I had somehow morphed into a different person and was being given an assignment in the graduate level courses in the English Department.

But he wasn’t kidding.

So, I’ve been trying to pick away at this for about a month, break it down in my mind.

Unfortunately, my mind keeps wandering to its lowest common denominator, the place it always seems to go when things get too complex: food.

As it floats through my mind, this topic seems to always trigger … The Sizzler. Of all things! You know, that steak restaurant with the salad bar bigger than my living room by a factor of five. And you’d think I might be making some kind of analogy here between making a great plot just like piling on the fixings for a perfect salad. But that would be for someone who eats healthy food.

Not me.

I’m all about the Malibu Chicken. If you haven’t tried it, turn on your Smartie Phone and locate the Sizzler nearest you and get your hungry gut down there and order it. It’s a breaded chicken patty with a slice of ham and a slice of Swiss cheese melted on top. And as delicious as it is on its own, hot and juicy with the saltiness of the ham and the melting tang of the aged Swiss, the thing that makes it the ultimate delicious treat is the dipping sauce, some kind of mustardy creamy frothy heaven that comes in a 2-tablespoon cup on the side and makes me wish it came in a one-cup bowl, and keep that cheesy Texas toast coming. (Because it serves as a great dip for the toast, too.)

The great thing about this meal is the alternating flavors in the mouth. There’s the crisp chicken, the meat of the meal, with great other meat added atop it.

Ready for the analogy? That’s the PLOT and the strong SUBPLOTS that give the reader the satisfaction only a protein-strong meal can give.

The next flavor is the tangy cheese. That’d be the CONFLICTS. They give depth to the plot, a contrast and bring out the best of the PLOT.

Then there’s that frothy, cool sauce on the side. It’s the joy of the meal. That’d be the humor that keeps the whole thing delightful.

In my new release, BIG IN JAPAN, I tried to make the perfect Malibu Chicken. (Although in Japanese it might be pronounced mah-ree-boo chik-ken.)

The big chicken patty is Buck Cooper, a 400-plus pound Texan good-guy with a lame job and a lame life and no girl, who goes to Japan and accidentally falls into a new life in the sumo arena. The changes he undergoes, from the beginning where he’s floundering and totally invisible in his cocoon of fat to the end of the story—this is the character-mapping part, btw—are the crispy, filling chicken in the Malibu Chicken.

The slice of ham would be the subplot—Buck’s inexorable attraction to a girl who is waaaaaay out of his league. Romance isn’t the main bulk of the menu, but it adds such good flavor. (Ham is a close cousin to bacon, and bacon makes everything better.) I tried to craft the romantic elements so they coincide with Buck’s character growth, and bring the strengths of the heroine out little by little.

Now, for the cheese. That’s the conflict in the story. It goes together with the chicken and forms “dramatic sequences.” For Buck, it’s his size at first. Being the elephant in the room that nobody notices has always been his handicap. But in Japan, everything changes. He’s got conflicts like he never faced before—and they pile up—higher than his 6’6” sumo topknot on the crown of his head. It’s the tanginess and the bite that gives it the flavor of something beyond a Chicken McNugget. Sumo has a darker side (most pro sports do, I’d imagine), and Buck must battle his way through—for his very life depends on it.

Now, for my favorite thing: the frothy sauce of happiness on the side. I have the sauce on every single bite of the Malibu. And on the toast. And sometimes I ask for an extra container because it’s just so fabulous.

The sauce is the funny stuff, the light and cool part of the book, the thing that makes the story joyful, a delight to read. Of course, as an author I plunked in stories I thought were funny for Buck’s experience in Japan—like going up to the vending machines and not finding candy bars, but all manner of other things. Not everyone is going to find the same things super funny, but I figured if I threw them in really often (as though I tried to put them on every bite), eventually it would entertain some reader somewhere.

For me, it was important to liberally lace the story with “funny,” since my own experience in Japan had so many humorous things I wanted to fictionalize and share with readers someday—er, now, I guess, since BIG IN JAPAN is now, at LONG LAST!!!, in print, thanks to the incredible support and enthusiasm of the good folks over at Jolly Fish Press (bless their hearts!)

I have to say, it’s been great getting feedback on the story since it’s been in my head and my computer for so long. Reaction has been so fun to see—some readers saying it’s an action story, others resonating with the romance, others with the characters, others with the culture or the exotic sport, and still others with the humor. Now that I’ve broken down Chris’s assignment SO academically (thanks to those gourmet chefs at the local Sizzler!), I can see he’s right—that there’s got to be a juxtaposition of the dramatic sequences and funny stuff. And don’t forget the romance! Otherwise you’ve just got cheesy chicken.

So there you have it, Griffith's clever dissertation written alongside her favorite dish! BIG IN JAPAN is now available where books and ebooks are sold. 

Griffith is currently touring and promoting her latest book. For more information on her events and where to buy her book, please visit her official book site at

Monday, August 6

The Power of Failure

Failure. It's a word that I am quite familiar with. As much as I want to think I've done wonderful things, I'm still forced to face its shadows every day. Naturally, as human, I fear the moment I lose everything I have, falling back to square one. Failing. I've failed before--a million times--and yet, no matter how bad the situation was, no matter how I thought I'd never succeed again or climb out of the hole I was in, I am still here doing everything I love doing. In retrospect, failing has made me stronger, not just because I learn and move on, but because I know it is an inevitable process, and as part of the natural order of the universe, I am made to be resilient and survive. It's evolution at its best. It's the survival of the fittest. And every time I fall, I learn yet another way to rise, each time higher than the past.

So, if failing is something we can conquer and overcome as humans, why do we fear it so much? Why do we not trust in ourselves that we will succeed? Because we live in a society where every part of us is measured against something else. And because when everyone starts measuring, we tend to look at the differences between us instead of our similarities. Only by identifying ourselves with each other through everything that connects us as humans instead of focusing on everything that divides us can we experience the miracles of life. When we know we are not alone, the journey becomes more palatable, more meaningful, and we become more determined to reach our destination no matter the difficulty. Because there is hope.

I've always hated roller coasters. I'm afraid of heights. I'm afraid of the uncertainty of death. I fear the unexpected. Whenever I stand in front of a roller coaster ride, I tremble; my first reaction is to run no matter what, even if the ride is free and the carriage is made of gold. But when a group of friends who've ridden the ride many times before is there, I feel much better. The fear is still there, but it is not as elevated. Because my friends have been on those rides, and they've all survived, and they are willing to ride with me, to give me the assurance that everything will be fine. Because of that, I am more daring to take the first step. I scream as the roller coaster plummets and rises, but as I turn around to see my friends's faces all alit with the same thrill, I smile. The fact that they are next to me going through everything I am going through makes the ride a magical, unforgettable one.

So, the next time we know of someone who is falling, let us each be that person to reach out and say, "I've been through the same thing. You're not alone in this. I'll show you." We may not all fall together, but we can surely all rise together.

Such is the beauty of life.

Tuesday, July 31

The Power of Persuasion

If you already have a book published, you might have already asked this question: How do I get people to buy my books? The answer is simple: Word of mouth!

It really does't matter if you are self-published or otherwise, the process of selling a book is still the same--you need to talk about your book in order for people to start buying it. That's why getting reviews from professional reviewers is one very important step before your book is released. Traditional houses invest a lot of money in the publicity and marketing efforts of any single title they acquire. They print posters, design awesome covers, schedule events, and hire a group of people to tweet and talk about your book online. On top of that, these publishers have a list of reviewers--from Publishers Weekly to New York Times--to whom they send advance reading copies (ARCs) three to six months prior to the book's publication date. All these efforts are set in place for one specific reason: to generate lots of buzz and talk about the book. Because the pundits know what makes a book a bestseller: the power of persuasion.

No matter how you see it, when readers discuss your book, talk about it, rave about it, love it, hate it, blog about it, etc., they are actually indirectly persuading people to agree with their points of view and stand on their side. This, in turn, draws attention to your book, and when people are curious, they usually want a copy for themselves. The process of persuading people to check out your book doesn't have to be argumentative or remotely persuasive. All you need to do is the following:

Creating a buzz is not just announcing your book. It's creating a discussion between you and your readers regarding the issues in your book. If you are writing about dragons and warlords, then you may want to talk about how dragons are actually mythical creatures based on real animals, and how man's need for deity and legends define the dragons we know of today. Of course, I am just giving one example of the many topics you can discuss. Touch on social issues. It is always a good idea to tie the themes of your book to contemporary issues and subjects. Once you spark a conversation, the crowd will come. 

One other way to have people talk about your book is to thank everyone who's read your book and encourage them to share it with others. When you have a good number of followers, you'd be surprised how words can spread. The Hunger Games actually sat on the shelf for about a year before things started to warm up. And it didn't really pick up until a small group of fans started talking about it. No, they didn't just talk about it, they were persuading their classmates and families that it was the best book in the world. And that was how the book went on to becoming a NYT bestselling sensation.

The shameless self-promoter (that all writers should be), must not only talk about his book, but also himself. Switch subjects once in a while and start a conversation about how you fell into the drain while texting the other day. Get people to love you for who you are. Be personable and don't build a wall of hoity-toity superficiality just because you are an author. Yes, be professional, but at the same time, be you. Readers love to connect, and they love to be connected. And once you find that connection, you'd be surprised how many people will go out and buy your book just because they love you first. 

One thing every author needs to know when it comes to the power of persuasion is this: it is not you who holds court, but your readers. The power of persuasion does not come from you, but from the people who've read and participated in your discussions. They are the ones who will ultimately be your salesmen. All you need to do is to write an awesome book and start a dialogue. And if you do it right, your book will be selling like hotcakes!

Sunday, July 29

Why Should Writers Read?

This week, I guest blogged on author Jenniffer Wardell's humorous and witty blog about the importance of reading for all writers big and small. Without much ado, I'm going to direct traffic over to her blog so you may comment on my article. Click here for the link.

I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, July 24

Concerning Blog Design and Aesthetics

I know, I know. You're probably wondering why I am writing about design. Because though we may be writers, we still need to appeal to the public audience. A book needs a great cover to attract its readers, so does a blog. Yes, I want to touch on the subject of designing your blog platform.

First of all, we must understand the purpose of a blog. You probably already know the answer: Your blog is a publicity platform for you. It's free. It gives you infinite exposure on the world wide web. It is where you start "spreading the word." But before all that, there must first be "the word." That's right, you must first start writing about things that matter. I'll reserve the topic of what to blog about for next time, but today, I want to particularly talk about the look and feel of your blog. Yes, today I am all about superficiality. What your blog looks like is as important as the things you blog about.

Like a book, your blog needs to be easy to read. After all, the main purpose of a blog is to be read. If you stifle that purpose, you will have failed in providing your reader with the utmost experience in blog-reading. Though this may seem a little trifle to some, I think it is worth the discussion.

The first things we see when we open our eyes as babies are colors. Our vision is blurry, our cognitive senses muffled. But one thing we can recognize is color. We may not know what it is, but we see it--the blurry bleed of colors all across our eyes. And as we grow older, we start to make use of the colors we learn to love. We start to match our clothes according to colors. We love coloring books, we plan our weddings based on colors. Yes, colors are very important. So, when you design your blog, let the first thing you do be color-matching.

Like color matching your clothes, you must know what works and what doesn't. While color-matching is essentially a subjective matter, you must now see things from your readers's perspectives. After all, they are your audience, without which your blog will have no purpose, unless you write solitarily for yourself.

Unlike printed matter on which the color and saturation of a certain color is determined by the amount of ink used and brightness of the paper, the way your blog looks depends heavily on computer screens. And since we all know very well that not all computer screens are created the same--some are dimmer, other way too bright--depending on user preference, it is important that you pick colors that read well across all screens and all levels of brightness. While all the elements around your blog post can be complimentary in color, the actual part where the text is must have a certain level of contrast. This is where the golden rule of color contrast comes in.

The rule of color contrast is simple: only use font colors that will produce a mid-level contrast against dark colored backgrounds instead of a stark color contrast. Example: If you have a black or dark background (mostly fantasy blogs and such), never use a white or a bright colored font. Believe it or not, it hurts the eyes just after the first sentence. Just know this: if your background is very dark, then you must avoid font colors like white, red, yellow, and anything primary and bright. Instead, you will want to use light gray and pastels as your font colors. But my advice is to keep it simple, like a book. Keep it light or warm gray. Your readers will thank you for it.

Now the rule is a little different when it comes to light or bright backgrounds. This is the time to use a higher-level of contrast. A white background goes very well with a black font. However, a dark gray works better. Whatever color you choose for the font, make sure you don't bring the contrast all the way to the max. Bring it down a few notches until it is comfortable for your eyes. And if it passes your comfort reading level, then it should be sufficient for your readers. White colored backgrounds are always easier to work with than dark colored ones.

Let's talk about layout for a second. While there is no fixed rule, my advice is to keep it simple, yet elegant. Don't use a busy layout with moving GIFs and images that go everywhere on your blog. While it is important to advertise your book cover, it is also as important to not over clutter. Use only elements from your cover art that help connect a universal theme for your blog instead of using every element there is. Make sure the elements don't distract from the post itself. And make sure all of the navigation fonts on your blog is clear and readable. For me, simplicity is the best policy.


One thing I really love about Blogger is that it allows readers to subscribe via email. Make sure you add that to your blog (if you use Blogger, that is) by adding the gadget on your layout settings. Once that is done, place it on the top of your blog. I've subscribed to a few blogs via that method, and I must say, it is such a pleasure to have my favorite blogs sent to my inbox every week. It is also easy to read and convenient. I often read on my smart phone, so it works extremely well for me.

Comments are important on your blog. Whether they are good or bad, they do spark discussions about your blog posts. And when people are talking about them, you have done a good job. Of course, it is always advisable to only write blogs that will encourage a healthy discussion, so as not to sabotage your reputation online.

In order for us to encourage open discussions, remove all securities on the comment settings of your blog. This means no Captcha Phrases, no mandatory sign-ins, and no pre-existing accounts required. This way, you open doors to more comments and possible discussions. Yes, once in a while you will still receive some spamming, but Blogger or Wordpress should be able to catch it for you. If not, just go and delete them. After all, you should be monitoring all of the comments on your blog anyway.

This is important as writers: Do not ever delete readers comments unless they threaten the national security of your country. And in that case, you should be reporting it to the police or FBI. Hopefully, things don't go that way. And if it does, consider that as something to add to your future book's plot line.

Never retaliate or go on the defense when you have negative comments. Always be courteous and thankful, no matter how much you hate that comment, or don't agree with it, never, ever, ever start an argument, or worse, an online fight-a-thon. Just express your thanks and act fairly as a good moderator should. You'd be surprised to see how many people will come to your defense if that ever happens.

Well, that's it, folks. I hope this post helps you in your blog design and interface. And if I've missed anything, please feel free to add. I'd love to hear your comments and how you make your blog work in terms of esthetics and functionality. Do share. Until next time, have a blast of a week!

Wednesday, July 18

The Miracle of Forgiveness

The act of forgiveness, believe it or not, is a two-way process--in order to obtain complete forgiveness, we must first do the most difficult of all things: forgive ourselves. While many books have been written on this subject, they all spell out the same conclusion--forgiveness can open doors to a whole new universe of prospects and wonders. It opens our eyes to see the things that we've never seen before, though they may have always been there in front of us.

But forgiveness is so much more than just an act; it's about closure and giving ourselves the permission and freedom to move forward.

In Chris Bohjalian's Midwives, the protagonist faces her past and the guilt that it brings everyday. The consequences of her decision to perform a cesarean section on a woman whom she thought was dead in order to deliver the baby haunt her like a plague. And while she fights for her innocence, she must free herself from the guilt that she harbors for years. Ultimately, she must forgive herself before anyone can.

This journey of forgiveness, as simple as it sounds, is anything but simple. It is a long and tedious process, on which we must inevitably embark at least once in our lives. It is salvation in the most subtle manner. Imagine being burdened by a bad decision that you wish never existed; it can potentially pull us down to a very dark place. We may smile and attempt to live a normal life, but that black seed in us will fester. It will eventually be the end of us and our happiness, the long pursuit of all men.

Traveling to that dark place in our lives and confronting our guilt so that we may forgive ourselves and ultimately move forward becomes the main underlying subject for Kim Edward's The Memory Keeper's Daughter. When a doctor gives up his newborn daughter because of Down Syndrome, lying to his wife that the baby was stillborn, his life suddenly changes for the worse. That dark moment in his life that he is trying so hard to hide eventually surfaces, and it is now much larger than anything he is prepared to face. Again, Edwards show that while it is easy for people to forgive each other, it is never the same when it comes to forgiving ourselves. We may have to go through the fires of hell and back, and even that may not always be sufficient.

In The Housekeeper's Son, Eleanor Rose, my protagonist, goes through life like a ghost, not really existing, but merely there. A shadow of her past looms above her at all times--one decision she made many years ago sits heavily on her conscience. And when she is faced with the opportunity to redeem herself, she takes it, even if she has to give up everything she has, including her freedom to live. But even with such a sacrifice, her guilt does not go away until she makes one ultimate decision--forgiving herself.

The tales of these protagonists in their amazing journey of forgiveness are worth telling because forgiveness is a process everyone has to muster through. And oftentimes, it becomes one of our best kept secrets. The beauty of such stories does not only lie in the way they are written, it lies in the way they shape our lives, giving us a glimpse of hope in everything that is bleak. Because sometimes, a glimpse is all we need to conquer our fear. And when all is said and done, that dark place inside us will also be the place where most lights are born.

People say, forgive and forget. But as authors, we know very well that we never forget.

If you haven't had a chance to read The Housekeeper's Son, get yourself a copy by visiting my website (click here). You may also download an ebook version on your Kindle, Nook, and iBook.

Comment below and share with me about one book that takes you on a journey of forgiveness.

Sunday, July 15

Explaining Cultures

As part of my virtual book tour, I was asked to write about the best way to explain a foreign culture to my readers. To read the entire article, simply click the link below:

And my book site is up. Check it out!

Until next time, keep writing!

Thursday, July 5

Currently Buest Globbing!

I've been so busy guest blogging that I've really no reason to blog here--at least for these few weeks. So, I'm going to direct everyone to my first blog post as a guest, all for the sake of promoting my book and such. And when all the buest globbing is done, I'll start talking about important things again, like how to effectively eat a hamburger or trap a fairy in your own garden (fantasy fans will be elated).

So, without much ado, let's move on to business. This week, I guest blogged for one of my favorite authors, the amazing Ms. Jennifer Griffith, whose debut novel, Big in Japan, comes out September 28. (She's going to write something spiffy for me here one of these days, she promised.)

Basically, click the link below and go read what I have to say about apples and bananas:

Have fun reading, and if you like it, leave her a comment!

Friday, June 22

Dragon's Blood

The first time I saw a ghost I was at my grandmother's house. I was walking up the stairs toward the attic, a dark and musty place, out of boredom and childhood curiosity. People had warned me about not going up the back stairs because it was dangerous. The stairs were steep and there was only one yellow lightbulb to light the way. It flickered incessantly, but I did not mind. I wasn't brave, but I was determined.

It was a summer afternoon in a small village a few hours north of my hometown in Malaysia. The tropical breeze was warm, sticky. The coconut trees swayed as if they would tumble at any time. The birds chirped, the leaves rustled, and my grandmother was napping. I was alone, ready to explore the old house.

When I reached the top, all I could see was the cone of light from the attic window, an square opening about three feet wide. It was left open, the shutters rattling against the wall when a light wind blew. The attic was roomy, dusty, and old. The floorboards creaked as I walked. My heart was beating--I was excited. An adventure, finally, I thought. And that was when I saw her--the lady in white.
She was standing by the back door beside the bannister, close to the window away from the light. Her face was calm, and she was wearing a traditional Chinese blouse that reminded me of the servants of old. Her hair was tightly pulled back in a bun secured by a hair pin with a jade ornament on the side. Her earrings dangled on her earlobes, light but regal. The bottom part of her body was in the shadows.

There I stood, motionless, unable to talk or think of anything else. I knew she wasn't someone I knew or recognized. I also knew she did not belong in my grandmother's house. But somehow, I knew she knew who I was. Her eyes were quiet, concentrating on me. Her lips curved up, and I thought I saw a smile. I wasn't scared--I was more surprised than scared. And then I heard her speak, a whisper, a breath, "Welcome home, my child. You are the master of this house, the long-awaited heir to a line of dragon's blood." I took a step back, almost tripping down the stairs. But I held on to the bannister in time and balanced myself. I stared at this lady and wondered who she was.

"You will know who I am once you find out who you are." With that she slowly turned into darkness, shadows that sank deep into the crevices of the wooden walls. I blinked and she was no more.

As the years passed, I slowly forgot about that day in my grandmother's attic. Life took over, and I was soon buried in the hustle and bustle of work and school. It wasn't until my grandmother's passing that I finally learned about myself and the lady in white.

At the funeral, everyone was submerged in deep thoughts. My father came down from the attic with a box. Inside were letters, keepsakes, and pictures my grandmother had kept since she was a girl. As we sat--the entire Loke clan--going through every piece of history in that box, we came across a black-and-white photograph of my grandmother when she was still a little girl, no more than three years old. She was being carried by an older man whom we understood was her father. My great grandmother and a few other ladies were also in the picture, some sitting, some standing, all looking at us in complete seriousness. They wore traditional Chinese costumes, showing their high status in stiff collars and pressed silk.

And that was when I saw her--the lady in white--standing behind my great grandmother, smiling, a young woman then with playful eyes and a handkerchief in one hand. I recognized her and I shook.

"Who is she?" I asked.

"Your grandmother's governess," my aunt answered. "She'd come from China with your grandmother when your grandmother was still a baby."

"What happened to her?" I grimaced.

"Why do you ask?" my father said, picking up another photograph of my grandmother when she was a teenager, the lady in white standing next to her, holding hands.

"Just curious," I lied.

"She died of pneumonia after jumping into the water to save your grandmother in a drowning accident. She was your grandmother's best friend, and she'd sacrificed her life so that your grandmother could live. And because of her,"--my father removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose--"because of her, we are all here."

"Look," cousin Clara pointed to another photograph, teared and frayed at the corners. "Those people look funny." The photograph showed a man and a woman sitting side by side on what looked like thrones. They wore Chinese imperial headdresses, their expression austere, their hands on their laps.

"Let me see," my father inspected the photograph a little closer. "Ah, they are your ancestors, the Princess ZhiJun and the Duke of Nanjing. This was taken in the mid-nineteenth century in the Forbidden City."

My eyes opened wide. "You mean we were royalty?"

"We still are, my son," my father smiled. "You have the dragon's blood in you, my first born and heir to the Loke dynasty."

As I looked around my grandmother's house, I saw my relatives mingling, laughing, crying, revisiting childhood days in pure delight. My grandmother's house wasn't grand; it was a wooden building built in the early nineteen hundreds, wearing down in a few areas. But as simple as it was, the house was--at that moment-- also the place where dragons convene, the few remaining descendants of the Ching Dynasty of China, the last dynasty to rule the Middle Kingdom. And I smiled at the thought.

Friday, May 18

The Importance of Being Gay

As The Housekeeper's Son will be released on the morrow (May 19, 2012), I'm inspired to write a little about one of the subtle subplots in my book--the importance of being gay. The subject homosexuality is a sensitive one to many, so I shall try to tread lightly on fragile areas, yet clear in my intent.

Last week, President Obama announced his support for gay marriage, which caused an uproar among conservatives and Christian groups alike. (Notice that I don't use the term "religious groups." It's because Christian sects contribute to the majority of the protests against homosexuality.) I don't negate their love for traditional marriage and their need to uphold the standards of morality according to the dictates of their religion. I, too, belong to a conservative religion that does not tolerate the act of homosexuality--I understand where these protestors are coming from--so, of all people, I should know better. (Now, again, I am careful with my words. We don't condemn the sinner. Just the sin, right?) But the looming question remains: Is homosexuality even a sin?

In The Housekeeper's Son, I have created a world of conservatism with conservative, religious players. And then I throw in my main character, who is anything but conservative. After all, she'd killed a couple of little people. But the one character that I want to talk about is Edmund, the only seemingly gay character in my book, although the truth of it is still debatable, because much of the observation comes from Eleanor, the housekeeper and protagonist. And if you know her as well as I do, she can be a little confused upstairs. However, the idea of a gay kid growing up in a Mormon family is interesting to me, which I explore in the book.

Edmund's story is never about being gay at all. Like many gay people I know, being gay is never the issue. But being accepted and treated equally is. Being gay is like being black, white, red, or yellow. It is like having a limp. It is like being a little slow in learning. It is like losing a father, a mother, a sibling. It's like being poor. Or being old. Being gay is no different from being you or being me. It's about being different. And if being different is a sin, then being gay should also be. There should be no exceptions. No double standards. Now, wait a minute. That doesn't seem so right, does it?

In our world today, perception rules our actions. What we see is often what we believe. By writing The Housekeeper's Son, I hope to help people understand that not all ugly things are ugly. Not all beautiful things are beautiful, either. There is good in everything, if only we take the effort to explore, to discover.

So, back to our subject at hand: Why is it important to be gay? Because it reminds us of the battles we fought, collectively and individually, for our worth as humans. We have fought for our children to go to the same school regardless of race and color. We have fought for our daughters to be able to vote and earn a fair salary. We have fought for our right to belong. And now, we are fighting again--this old war--to be able to love and live honestly, without lies and without fear.

And here's the truth, as Edmund painfully learns: the enemy is never out there. It's in us.

The Housekeeper's Son will be released worldwide May 19, 2012. You are all invited to the launch party. For details, click here.

Tuesday, May 8

What the Heck Have I Written?

So, the official launch of my book is about ten days away; my heart is pounding and I can barely concentrate. I've got a lot of things in my head--big and bigger things. But of all the fast-moving objects that convolute my simple thought-process, one question remains in the foreground, huge and looming: What the heck have I written and why would anyone want to read it?

So, without much ado, I present to you a conversation with myself in my attempt to answer the epic question posed above.

"How are you today?" he asks.
"Fine, thank you," I answer. "Never been better."
"So, your book is coming out in a little more than a week. What are your thoughts?"
"I just peed my pants," I snort. There is brief moment of awkward silence. "I'm just kidding. It's obviously a joke--"
"Just answer my previous question."
"Ah, yes," I say. "I feel nervous."
"Because I'm not so sure what people will be saying about the book. My first book."
"It seems like a normal thing. All authors have to face this kind of nervousness some day." The interviewer smiles.
"I know." I heave. "I'll get over it."
"Tell me about your book. What is it about?"
"It's about an old woman--" I pause. "She kills her son, goes to prison, gets released, works as a housekeeper, and kills again. This time it's her employer's daughter."
"Sounds interesting."
"Does it?"
"Of course. You have a protagonist who is also your antagonist. Your main character is also the villain. Now, isn't that genius." He claps, takes a deep breath, and continues. "Why does she kill? What is the reason for her to do so?"
I think for a while, gathering my thoughts. "She kills because she has to. She has no other choice. She is put in a position where she has to pick her battles. She has to choose between two evils."
"Now, that is a deep plot," he says, turning to read his notes. "According to some critics, the idea of killing children just may not sit so well with readers who are parents, or people who have a soft spot for little children."
"That's the point--to bring some danger and tension into people's lives. I never like playing it safe. I want to cause people to think."
"Think?" he looks puzzled. "Think of what? Killing children?"
"No. I want people to think about the act of killing children. It is an unfathomable sin. Yet, this old woman, my protagonist--a mother herself--is subject to that decision. Can you imagine the hell she has to go through to make that kind of decision?"
"So, it is a decision. She's not a psycho killer."
"That is what makes the book so amazing. She is not a murderer. It's a choice she is forced to make, and she chooses the lesser of the two evils--murder."
"That is very thought-provoking. So, what is the universal theme of your novel? Surely you must have one."
"In fact, I do. If not, I wouldn't have written it," I say. "The Housekeeper's Son is about choices. It's about how society labels everything. We tend to associate certain actions with either good or bad. For example, let's talk about lying."
"You mean the act of telling lies?" he asks.
"Yes. Not all lies are bad, right? Sometimes you lie to protect yourself. And you shouldn't be guilty about it either."
"But you're talking about murder here in your book."
"Yes, but it's all the same. Some people have to kill to survive."
"Your protagonist has to kill to survive?"
"Not in so many words, but yes," I nod.
A sound erupts.
"What is that?" he asks, pinching his nose.
I snigger.
"Did you just fart?" He stands and makes a face; he is clearly disgusted. "I can't believe you did that."
"I'm human. I make mistakes," I shrug.
"But in a professional interview?"
"I'm sorry, but farting's not even a crime and you're already so perturbed by it. You've suddenly labeled me by an insignificant action."
"Your point?"
"Sit down, please," I ask. He straightens his jacket and sits. "Amazing, isn't it? That people tend to get so fussed up about small little things they forget about the bigger things. Sometimes murder is the only way to save a child."
"Do you think people will love your book?"
"I sure hope so."
"You consider yourself a good writer?"
"I hope so. But I'm not without flaws. I'm not perfect. I am not a grammarian or a professor of the English language. I am merely a storyteller who can write better than most people." I smile. "So, is my book perfect? No, it's not. But is it worth reading? Absolutely!"
"Looks like your confidence is back. Nice to see you so excited about your first book. Will there be more?"
"You betcha."
"Can you tell me about the book you're working on?"
I sit back. "I'll have to get back to you on that. Take a rain check." I wink.
Another awkward silence follows.
"Okay, then," he says.
"Yeah, I think we are done?"
"Sure." He lets out a loud fart nonchalantly.
"What was that about?"
"What, the fact that I just passed gas? I thought you said never to judge. I'm just practicing what you preached."
"You disgust me."
"The feeling is mutual." He pats me lightly on my back, his eyes looking elsewhere. "Thanks for the interview. It's really crap. You've really outdone yourself this time. You've written a piece of epic crap."
"I know. And thanks for asking the most stupid questions in the whole wide world."
He turns to leave, muttering one last word under his breath: "Ugh, what a waste of time."
"But wait," I holler.
He stops and turns to look at me, raising an eyebrow.
"Are we going to talk about the ending of my book?" I ask.
"Not interested anymore."
"But it's a twist of an ending. You'll love it."
"You think so?" He approaches me.
"I know so."
"Will it blow my mind away?"
"My aunt Bertha read it, and her head literally exploded when she reached the ending. Does that count? She made quite a mess."
[Transcript ends]

There, you have it. My interview with myself. And it really helps clear up a few things in my mind. I am now ready to go out and face the world. Well, the truth is, my publicist will probably question this blog. But oh, well. Life is about living. And I often live it strangely in awkward circumstances. That's how I like it.

Until next time, I invite all of you to come support me. Attend my launch party and buy a book. A copy of the flyer can be downloaded here. See you all there. And remember to come tell me how good I am when you see me. I love compliments. (Who doesn't?)
Twitter: @ChristopherLoke

Wednesday, February 1

The Housekeeper's Son: The Making of a Novel

Since when I was a child, I've always been fascinated by the supernatural. I love ghost stories, horror movies, and gloomy weathers. I remember believing that I was Damien (after watching The Omen) in grade school, standing on the balcony of the second floor in my school, looking down at all the kids, feeling like I owned them. Creepy, right? Well, that explains how I garnered the title of "School Nightmare." I held it quite proudly, thinking that I was untouchable. The school bullies actually started to avoid me--and I thought my evil powers from the dark side had prevailed--because they knew something was not quite right with me upstairs. Whenever they approached me with their pulled up sleeves and their propped up collars (this was the 80's, mind you), I'd stare at them with pure intensity. In my mind, I was trying to control them; I feared no one. In their minds, I was quite the loony, and no one messed with the loony! Looking back, I wish none of that had ever happened.

Fast forward a few more years. Now, I was quite the teenager, with teenage angst and determination. But the dark side still lingered. Slasher movies started trending and I was caught right in the middle. I imagined myself solving crimes, puzzling together murder mysteries. I was intrigued by the news--the ones that involved deaths by the plenty. There was this incident that involved a man who'd chopped off his wife and children, put them in a pot, and made a nice pot of curry with them. He owned a restaurant, and that day, the food was particularly good. It was a sad piece of news, but an outstanding one. Imagine the headlines: "Man Made Curry Out of Wife and Children." Not in the food and dining section of the newspaper, but the front page. That was a thrill to me. And I pursued my interest in the red and gory.

Then I grew up, quite quickly, too. I learned of more important things--hard work, friendship, and the importance of academia. I fell in love with the English word. My fixation now was literature and mastering the language both in writing and speech. I joined the local Toasmasters organization, subscribed to Reader's Digest, and started reading every book written by Enid Blyton. And when the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series came out, I bought them all. I went to every book fair I could, pestered my parents into spending money on magazines, books, newspapers, and such. My obsession in books became my pastime and my only form of solace in difficult times. But still, I found myself perusing the shelves of bookstores for the ultimate ghost story. Real ones, dark ones, scary ones.

I wrote my first book at the age of 16. I didn't know what I was doing at that time, I just wrote. And my stories were more bleak than bright. It was like Angela's Ashes times a thousand. The difference was Frank McCourt wrote with a heart, and I wrote with  . . . well, an inexperienced mind and a novice's pen. Which wasn't any good. While I recognized my limitations, I never gave up writing. I never stopped. If anything, my passion to create and write my own stories propelled me to read much more than I thought I was able to. In college, the night before my Victorian Literature finals, I forsook my studies and picked up Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. I finished it in one night and went to face my finals the next morning feeling dazed, tired--I hadn't slept all night--but completely inspired. And that was when I knew what I was born to do--write. Because books made me happy.

As the years passed, I fell in love, got married, found a job, started my career, and became a father. And this was the time when I was most inspired to write. I started to revisit my years growing up, those stupid moments when innocence and ignorance took charge, and found something from every obsession in my life--the ghosts, the murders, the blood, the mystery, the darkness, the gloom--that I could use in my book. (Given my very bleak obsession, I am quite the happy one, really. My obsession is my interest, not my character.) But even with all those wonderful elements, I am still lacking some heart. There was no substance for a story about ghosts or dark things. There was no reason to read it, or love it.

And then came my wife, the mother of my child. As I saw her care for our son, nurture him, and how she held his hands and conversed with him, I was prompted to look at my own childhood when my mother did the same. I remembered the nights when I cuddled under the blankets with her--my brother and I would beg her for stories from her own childhood, which she was always so glad to share--the times when she dressed my wounds after I fell, the stormy nights when I sought her for comfort and protection, the days when we laughed together like friends of times past. There was no horror or darkness in these moments. The only hint of gloom was the vulnerability of a human life and my fear of loss and dying. One day, our loved ones will leave us, and the only things that remain will be the memories of a time long gone. Happier times. Good times. And that fear--that one day all that I had ever loved would be taken from me--was all it took for me to write The Housekeeper's Son. It begs the question: "How far would you go to love someone?"

The answer lies in The Housekeeper's Son.

The Housekeeper's Son, my debut novel, will be available where books are sold May 19, 2012.