223. Paper Skies

(the glitch worked. I put Terramorphous the Not-So-Invincible in its place. Twice, for good measure. All is right again with the world)

I cannot sit still. I’ve sent Noir Blues off for a producer’s consideration only 2 weeks ago, and the itch has returned. Yes, I write stories in prose, but there are just some stories that should be told in moving pictures.

So I’m working on yet another screenplay. This one is called Paper Skies, and has more Malaysian sensibilities than Noir Blues. It’s finally a story about Malaysian people doing Malaysian things, rather than a story that’s simply set in Malaysia.

The local literati should be proud of me.

I read this article yesterday: “Identity Politics and Malaysian Lit”, by Elizabeth Tai. A good read for all those invested in the Malaysian literature scene.

In her post, Ms. Tai argues that Malaysian literati (yes, I learned the word fro her) needs to take a chill pill about the input and output of literature in Malaysia. She argues that Malaysian writers need to write what they are passionately driven to write. That just because we’re Malaysian, it doesn’t mean we are made to write your goddamn pseudo-exotic stories about colonial life.

(profanity my own. Ms. Tai is too classy for that)

Hell, colonial life is as much fiction to me as it is to the average American.

It’s a stance which I agree wholeheartedly with. I, for one, am not naturally inclined to write Malaysian stories. I’m not driven to write American or European or Asian or Alien stories either. I used to tell people that I like to write stories about people and the things people do. Most of them just happen to be about people who speak proper English.

It’s a sentiment also expressed by the distinguished Calvin Wong (who is one of my favorite writers ever, Malaysian or otherwise), that the drive to “be Malaysian” is downright cancerous. But here’s the thing about being a Malaysian writer: 1) You don’t get paid well to write Malaysian stories. I’m not talking about comfortable living – I’m saying that you can barely afford to pay rent on writing alone. 2) You get shot down when you try to make a break for the fence and write, say, Noir or a Western. Then nothing sells, and you end up being broke anyway.

(Mr. Wong’s actual words on the drive to “be Malaysian” were “toxic and destructive”)

It’s a sad reality. It’s also one that I live in.

But I’m willing to bet that somewhere, in some film festival, there’s a place for Malaysians. Writing Malaysian stories or otherwise. Somewhere in the world, with the 7-going-on-8 billion people living in it, there has to be a market for people such as myself. And I’m determined to find it and break into it.

Noir Blues is out of my hands and my sphere of control now. So Paper Skies is my next break for the fence. It’s a love story set in Penang, about the irresistible transforming power of time, about the collision of the past and present, and about letting go.

Let’s hope this wins some awards. And more importantly, that it pays well.

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