On “Malaysian Indies Writing” and someone’s “Writers Need to Follow MY Rules on Writing”

Forgive me again for the lack of updates on this blog but I got my own PC now but I’m still nursing aftermath of a fever to do anything except procrastinating online. I also spend a week on twitter managing two account; my own where I constantly looking through the timeline for news on MH370 and now learning to ignore the ongoing political and international media backlash on MAS, and also the twt_buku account, which I realized that it was a bad time to talk about anything except the incident (Thankfully, no one found any wreckage and so, there’s some probability that the plane was hijacked and the passengers are alive. Keep on hoping.)

Don’t ask me again about my curatorship. Normally, I would say I had fun with the curatorship but I realized that I was too high and miserable by the smog to remember most of what I tweeted daily (I had drafted some larger topic but I don’t remember what I write mostly) and I dread reading through the amount I contributed so let’s just say, short term memory lost.

I do remember being in an argument about this article after a follower requested that I commented about this issue. So I did. If you can’t understand it, feel free to google translate it because I think her venomous words could still be as toxic as a badly translated script.

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I tried to extract some of her words to make a point but it escalated a bit when another follower insist that what she wrote was true and that we all must take note of the issues she bring but I beg to differ. Even at that time I was busy coughing and sneezing, it wasn’t that bad as the thought that there are readers who think that she was the voice of correct and righteousness because she do social commentaries on movies and celebrities and thus give a voice of reason to the Malaysian publishing trend we have now.

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She thinks, “Indie” in book is just another term for the trend inspired from the music and film industry. To her, “Indie” means a freedom of expression that reject all the mainstream values in every form, content or thoughts.

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To her, EVERYONE who associate themselves with this ‘scene’ to be different than the mainstream literature, an expression that they’re not restricted within the social system or culture.

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Indie promotes bad culture, pornography, and language abuse.

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Indie writers aren’t worthy to be called as writers because they’re new to the industry and nothing she says can change it.

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She also used another author’s examples by saying that Indie authors are like those living in the forest and the ‘mainstream’ readers are those living in the civilization where everyone was civilized and while writing they don’t think they’re correct all the time. I don’t know what was the concept of “correctness” she was after but there’s more to that.

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There’s also a lot of sex, pornography, curse words and language errors in the ten books she read. It was meant to be to made it “Indie”. And again, she use the Kelantanese author’s words about differentiating Indie authors as those who eat lizards and monkeys and warning them from spreading their uncivilized ways into endangering the legit Malaysian author’s coffers.

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Also, she recommend that the publishing house shouldn’t receive additional stipends on publishing because by providing them the funds, they will continue spreading these cultures.

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She also require that all Malaysian writers to write books that within the conformity of the religious, cultural and local social values.

This is a certainty for me, as a writer and scientist who thrive on the ability and mental capacity that God had given to me to write fiction and non-fiction alike…. Siti Jarum, you’re toxic to every Malaysian fiction authors and writers. And her kind was the reason why our publishing industry are doomed to begin with.

While at the same time you judge these authors and their success in their niche, you’re judging the readers for preferring them.

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I don’t make it an issue but apparently it is an issue during my curatorship. I write a lot in English and I don’t read a lot of published Malaysian works myself although I am actively trying to write Malaysian fiction this year. That said, around 90% of the thousands of books I’ve read aren’t by Malaysian authors despite me living in this soil. Facts is, I still read more books written by those outside the country that I am considered to be a legit international reviewer than just a Malaysian reviewer. Well, I don’t have a trust fund and I have my own worried parents to deal with and so the only way for me to reach out and understand the world was through internet and in reading itself.

I read in English primarily to be proficient at the language since it wasn’t my native tongue. The ability to communicate to the rest of the world outside than this Malay ecosystem had done wonders to me as a writer, a scientist and also as a person. I gain more by reaching out to the extensiveness of English-language literature, not because I’m betraying my race (I am half Javanese btw who aren’t being taught to learn that side of heritage) by reading something other than Malay literature but because I gain more knowledge of the outside world that I don’t need translators to do it for me.

I am not being indiscriminate to Malay literature by preferring to do so because fact is, Malay Malaysian publishing have exist in a conformity as does the film industry. While music industry finally breach these restrictions, as the industry began to show its flexibility in handling genres, but one of the apparent problem Malaysian industry faced was being too afraid of reaching out to be different.

By being different as a writer, you’re classified as “barbaric” or a monkey who eat lizards rather than these group of civilized people who call themselves Malaysian authors. So with this sort of elite mentality, how does that ingenious self-proclaimed merit and titles fare within the reading population who always are prepared to walk away for more alternatives.

I’ve gone through all that paths as a reader. I don’t always read certain things, I devour many other form of literature outside than the genre I like. Mostly because I’m constantly on a waiting list for my favourite authors to release their books so I’m always open to reading more than just my comfort zone.

I don’t differentiate which one was “Independent” writing or “Mainstream” writing especially in literature. As long as you told a story that was enjoyable enough for me, that was enough. I have badly reviewed books by known Big-Six-Now-Five publishers (Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Macmillan, The Penguin Group, and Hachette) and also reviewed self-published authors and vanity published books critically. Was Malaysian publishing houses even reach to that scale for them to be comfortable with their ‘mainstream’ values? Because reality was, they aren’t. Most of the well-known ‘mainstream’ houses are often funded by the government in a way to control the flow of the local literary medium market. The Malaysian term “Indie” is just centered around smaller publishers with loose guideline submissions and varied quality of editing. It doesn’t mean a writing movement. The act of writing is already a freedom of expression and apparently we still celebrate hate speech in opinion pieces too.

What was Indie writing to be exact?

Even normal published ‘mainstream’ authors wrote questionable views that deviate the perceived image of the culture, religion and society. Many more well-known modern classics authors started out with publishing short works and pulp works. Authors don’t need self-imposed writing rules just so they don’t offend the reader’s religious/cultural/society background. Because you don’t define your readers to fit specific background so why must an author continuously restrict themselves only to write the utopian qualities that ‘mainstream’ writers should write.

I’m a medical biologist. I’ve encountered sex-related topics all the time during my studies, research, assignments, community services etc. I lost my interest in the people aspect of it but I am still interested in studying more outside than what my degree have to offer. Must I self-censored myself against knowing reproductive system of both sexes or the act of sex itself because it didn’t fit into the ‘mainstream’ values. Wasn’t that being complete hypocrite in itself because life don’t exist as anything without a form of reproduction and that also includes sex. We human are ALL born from fertilized egg by the act of sex. There wasn’t any porn about that fact. We aren’t multicellular organism that thrive on asexual division to produce. Maybe I should write a story about asexual reproduction in a human society that think sexual reproductions as abhorrent. Wait, didn’t we have Herland and The Left Hand of God? We’re not asexual microbes, else, we’re just copies with resistances as ethno-variants.

I am amazed by these ideas that the only extreme side of freedom of expression in an author is done to so that it follow the publishing’s trend of being published by an out of normal publication. I am incessantly amazed that as a writer myself (as in the act of writing this article made the title deservingly more so for me), one must choose to be different or else I will consider myself as a plagiarist if I wasn’t.

As for the language variant itself, why couldn’t we celebrate the differences in our lingual system in fiction as we do in reality. You say a regression in Malay grammars was the main problem in indie works, is that so, so was the use of Malay within our daily lives. We don’t speak formal Malay as a norm. We have variants of languages among those in East Coast or North Malaysia or the East Malaysia. Standard accent-less Malay aren’t always the formal form of speech. We don’t have language police all the time especially in writing. If an author choose to preserve some realism to the story they wrote, why must this failure in writing upper-class elitist language be imposed on the writers who generally aren’t just within the caste. The Malay aristocracy is dead. It’s the 21st century, we don’t have caste class anymore. Stop acting like you’re too posh to accept and judge what others would rather want to read during their time instead of known male authors with literary merit attached to their names..

Why does this Siti Jarum afraid from this Indie trend? The rise of new authors trying to fill in the gaping whole within our book industry? As if we don’t have state-imposed censorship laws and more laws tightening up the noose around new publishers that all it does was suck the Malaysian book industry dry until all it does was to churn out pseudo-religious conspiracy theory, fluffy romance titles and barely there genre writings.

Stop having an ambition that we’re going to break through the dense international market if you can’t even help to support author’s expression in literature. As a reviewer and a Malaysian writer, I’ve been constantly amazed by the amount of those who choose to spend their spare time in November for NaNoWriMo Malaysia to write a 50k words draft within a month and some of them was just schoolkids. What do we do to support these young people when all you can think off was judging their writings before you can read all of them?

Despite some of my bad experience with Indie works, I still encourage them to write more. Why must must we end this burgeoning publishing trend that can help gaining more readers to the dying publishing industry? Malay literature is a small ecosystem with even smaller demographic of language users when compared to the 21st century’s lingua franca like Mandarin, English and Español. We can’t merge ourselves with Indonesian population because our language despite sharing the same roots, are still different.

Different is good. Variety is good. Why must we still retain this elitist point of view that nothing is better like the modern classic writers we have today. Also, I’m reading A Samad Said’s Salina right now and even he wrote sex in it. Even worst, we wrote an abusive relationship between a woman who sold her body just to support an unemployed man to live lavishly despite the community’s disapproval. The language itself, especially this English translation, can also make a language Nazi cry. You want to use “pelanggaran tatabahasa” argument to define how ‘mainstream’ quality differed like heavens and earth, but in reality it already was a weak statement in itself.

There was no such thing as “indie writing”. Everyone have different style and usage and if some authors have their own style of writing that you became all angry about, just read their works and be critical on just that work and on the specific author itself. Don’t generalize that all Indie and new Malaysian authors as uncivilized and still “kampungan” because it didn’t conform  to your own view on what Malaysian writing would be.

And there’s no such thing as being too “kampung” in writing. The only differences was whether the prose or story or techniques or the telling is good that it connect to the readers. Every kinds of writing, ‘mainstream’ or not, share all of these principles. Writers also tend to get better at their writing with the more writing they get. I do too. I’ve been writing fiction since I was 11. My writing differed when I’m 11, 15, 21 and 25. I experimented a lot in genres. I always try to find something new and challenge myself even when I barely publish all my writings to the world and some even left forgotten. But I still write and I read a lot.

Just because you’ve reached your golden age in publishing that you felt threatened about loss of readership, it doesn’t mean you can consider them as a territorial animal trying to steal your ways of income. In fact these hateful words tend to be mirrored to themselves and the shallowness underneath. If you can’t survive competition, then you can’t survive ever unless you change. And complaining because you receive some competition in the field is petty.

Also, since I don’t know the author she referenced to and ironically I found this :

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Hypocritical much? And dead creepy for someone older than my parents.

I know you should always “bersangka baik” but hey, calling out writers as animals for writing some erotica while indulging in graphic pornography is problematic okay.

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