Hello 2022 & My Top 5s for 2021

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Happy new year! As is often the case, there is a feeling of expectation for a new year even if the passage of time is constant. We mark time and moments to achieve a sense of order, and if viewed through the right lens, we can appreciate the time given to us. I hope that 2022 brings each of you a sense of fulfilment in whatever shape that may take. Remember deep breaths and enjoy the ride.

A review of 2021 marked the re-boot of my blog, and I hope to continue with my reviews while having the opportunity to share some of my original work and manuscripts that I have in the pipeline. As a writer, the challenge of balancing my blog, manuscripts, day job, and parenthood is an ongoing juggling act. I look forward to continue this writing journey and diving into this slice of life we have on our little blue dot.

For now, I would like to share my top 5s for 2021 in each category I blogged about. Please keep in mind this is based on my published reviews for 2021 (NOT the top 5 of all time in each category).


  1. The Wife and the Widow by Christian White – atmospheric mystery story that had me reeling in its cleverness and filled me with envy that White could write in this way.
  2. Thunderhead (Book 2 of Arc of a Scythe Series) by Neal Shusterman – very rarely do second books in a trilogy exceed the first or final books in the series. Shusterman does just that with Thunderhead.
  3. The Promise Seed by Cass Moriarty – a gem of a novel that captures youth and age. The two main characters develop a bond even though their differences (on the surface) seem to be many.
  4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – magic is real! The night circus actually feels a part of you by the time you turn the last page.
  5. The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth – the only non-fiction book that made my top 5 for 2021, Forsyth is a master of breaking down the effectiveness of English rhetoric in what could have been a dry topic, but he makes fascinating and funny. A must for any writer’s toolkit.


  1. Free Guy – this was the surprise flick for 2021 for me. Ryan Reynolds has long been typecast and it is no different really in Free Guy, but the concept and story combined with awesome CGI had me laughing and feeling inspired in equal measure. Deserves repeat viewing.
  2. Wolfwalkers – ecstatic that I stumbled on this movie on Apple+ TV. An animated film that captures Irish folklore and imagery with such colour and beauty that every frame has been crafted with love and care.
  3. The Half of It – the relationship triangle depicted in this film is a wonderful coming-of-age comedy drama that surprised me with how emotionally effecting it was.
  4. Nobody – the ending went a bit silly but the build up, and the scene on the bus were beyond brilliant. That alone was worth the price of admission.
  5. Cruella – Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are so good that you could remove every other character in this film and still be riveted.

(honourable mention: The Last Duel – I almost put this in the top 5 over Cruella. Clever story telling, action sequences are brutal and real, and the characters are flawed and interesting)


  1. Cowboy Bebop – the ultimate sci-fi soap opera that has stood the test of time with the best killer jazz/blues soundtrack ever.
  2. Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai – ending goes a bit overboard on the emo, but the tale of a group of childhood friends and how they drift apart (due to an incident) but come back together is both uplifting and heart wrenching.
  3. Tonari no Totoro – Miyazaki masterpiece **microphone dropped**
  4. Haikyuu!! Season 1 – this anime series will inspire you to play volleyball, or at least inspire you to follow your passions.
  5. Usagi Drop – slice of life gem of an anime where the child teaches the adult as much as the adult teaches the child about what it means to live life.

(honourable mentions: I could have listed other Miyazaki movies that I published reviews on – Princess Mononoke, Porco Rosso, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa: Castle in the Sky – but that would have been a very boring list)

2021 Happy Holidays & Thank You

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In a year that has seen the COVID pandemic carry over, 2021 has been another roller coaster.

For yours truly, there have been many highs and lows. By far the most overwhelming moment was the death of my father, who passed away in March this year due to cancer. In my journey to live a meaningful life and write stories that inspire, he led a life that demonstrated his passions and what was important to him. His family, his friends, and his never-ending love for his homeland Taiwan were demonstrated in his every action and piece of writing. As a professor in political science, my father wrote articles and books (in both English and Mandarin) that created a body of work that is staggering. He encouraged and inspired me to follow my own writing even if it was as far removed from politics as can be (i.e. fantasy/sci-fi and drama fiction). I miss him every day.

Treasuring moments and focusing on what is important to me has never been clearer. Through the miasma of fear and division that our tiny blue dot is suffering from, whether that be due to the pandemic, climate change, or the political and social hatreds that humanity suffers from, I continue to search and discover hope and inspiration in many forms. This is never more obvious to me than through art. Whether that art is in the form of stories/poetry, or music/song, or paintings/sculptures/crafts, or film/tv, each of us has the ability to tap into the creative and that creation expresses emotions that inspire and lift us above the storm clouds of racism, sexism, classism, ageism (and any other prejudicial “-ism” you can think of).

Getting my blog off the ground and exploring the spark generated through books, anime and film that I read and watch has inspired me to continue working on my own manuscripts. I will take a break for the rest of 2021 and spend time with my other sources of inspiration being my wife, kids, family and friends and will return to releasing new blogs in the new year. I hope you have enjoyed the book, anime and movie reviews that I have released these past few months. Rest assured I will continue releasing reviews come 2022, and I will also look to share some WIP (work-in-progress) of stories I’m writing and would welcome feedback.

Before signing off, I wanted to share one last bit of inspiration. In October of this year, one of the greatest songs of all time was released 50 years ago. To celebrate, the artist announced that he will be doing a concert tour starting in Honolulu in January 2022 and will perform throughout the US, UK and Europe culminating in his final concert in November 2022 in Austria. In total he will be performing 69 concerts!

The artist I’m referring to is Don McLean and his song “American Pie” was selected in 2017 for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.

To celebrate this iconic song, I found this A Cappella version by Anne Reburn (and her clones). I hope it inspires you to follow whatever dreams you are striving to make a reality. Enjoy!

Wishing you all a joyous and safe break as we wind down to the end of 2021. May it be filled with joy, laughter and good food. Peace to you all and thank you for taking the time to read my blog

The Birth of Freyja*

* or How I came about writing about the Norse goddess and publishing my first book


I have several writing projects in the pipeline. The first is a fantasy trilogy involving a world that I have created from scratch. The first book has been drafted and placed into the metaphorical drawer, collecting metaphorical dust on my hard drive. That story was my first foray into writing seriously, but the first draft is so rough, it’ll take more than sandpaper (more like a grinder) before it is in any fit state to be read.

By contrast, the seed that is “Freyja and the Brisingamen Necklace” came about in an unexpected way. While social platforms have both pros and cons, in this scenario it turned out to be a blessing.

It started with Instagram. Back in 2015, I opened an account. At that time, my goal was purely to use it as a form of expression. I would post short stories and poems/quotes that came into my head. Anyone who liked what I had written was a person I connected with (even if it was that brief second of them casting their eyes over my words and pressing the ‘like’ button); my job was done.

At the same time, I searched for those things that inspire me – other writers, artists, poets, and creative souls sharing their work

Through this platform, I met Elizabeth McKenzie and we began following each other. She was complimentary of my quotes and stories, and I adored her art, which contained a life, a colour, a joy that was unique, and I had not seen before anywhere else. What also astounded me was the sheer volume of her work. Liz generates art at a pace that I am in awe of.

After a time, I asked Liz if I could use some of her work and write a short story based on the artwork and post it on my Instagram feed. She was happy for me to do so, and you will find in my earlier 2015 postings stories such as “Chances” and “The Dance“.

But it was a post by Liz titled “Frida” that sparked a desire inside me to write a full story. The seed was planted.

In Scandinavian countries, this name is derived from the Old Norse name Fríða, which can also be pronounced Freyja.

Being a fantasy writer, I love all forms of mythology and Norse mythology is rich in material. But like most myths, Norse included, the tales were almost always about gods and goddesses who were adults.

I began imagining what they were before their deification was realised. I asked myself, “What was Freyja like before she became a Norse goddess of Asgard? What was Freyja like as a child?”

As with any seed planted, I began to water, nurture and give plenty of sunlight to this question and the story that grew inside my mind.

I wrote to Liz and said that I so loved her Frida illustration that I proposed (half-seriously) that I could write a novel based on that image and perhaps, she could illustrate each chapter.

Little did I know the fire that burned so brightly in Liz would take to my idea like a flame to dry wood! She was all for it, and thus our journey as writer and artist began.

The fruits of three years working together on “Freyja and the Brisingamen Necklace” is now in the Amazon shops, and to be frank, I can hardly believe it’s actually there.

As a writer and story teller, you can only hope that people who read your words will garner some inspiration from it. I know that Liz feels the same way with her art. And as with any creative work, it won’t be to everyone’s liking and that’s okay. But if it inspires one child to read, to write, to pick up a paintbrush then that, to me, is mission accomplished.

To Liz, I wish to say, that it has been a wonderful experience. Even through the challenges and frustrations of going through the publishing process and ensuring every page has the correct margins and every illustration has the right colour, I can say without any doubt that it has all been rewarding. It is the trials that make completing this first book all the more meaningful, and I am filled with a sense of serenity that I was able to do this with you.

It also demonstrates to me that sharing art in this way bridges so many gaps. Liz and I are two people that have never met face to face (she lives in America, I live in Australia). But together we have created something close to our hearts.

Regardless of our cultural background, our race, our colour, our religious and political beliefs, we have made a meaningful connection. It is concrete evidence that creativity, whether that be through stories, art, music or some other creative pursuit, can bridge so many gaps that is ailing our tiny blue dot.

And if young Freyja can make the world a little bit brighter, what more could I ask for?

The Fear

2018-03-01 The Fear v1.0

The Fear

I suffer from acrophobia, the fear of heights. I can be on the top floor of a skyscraper surrounded by concrete walls (and more importantly standing on a floor) thicker than the crust of the earth, and still not go anywhere near a window. Don’t get me started about what it was like standing on the middle tier of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. That open-air monstrosity with its grill flooring caused me to be frozen next to the elevator desperately waiting for it to take me back to ground level.

I don’t know why I have this fear. I don’t recall ever having a traumatic experience from say, falling out of a tree, or tripping on a ledge and tumble-weeding down the side of a hill. According to Wikipedia, researchers have argued that this fear could be inborn, and that a fear of heights is an instinct found in many mammals. Thus not technically a phobia, but a natural instinct for self-preservation.

Regardless, it made me think how much we compete with our own minds.

“Watch out! You’re twenty stories up, one misstep and you will be hot sauce all over the pavement,” says my brain.

“But I’m surrounded by walls that weren’t made by the first little pig, and these reinforced, double-glazed windows look thick enough to stop bullets. I’m pretty sure the third little pig would approve,” I say to my brain logically.

“Look down. See those tiny specks that look like ants? See how far you can fall? Do you really believe that this building couldn’t collapse by some design flaw, or material weakness at any moment? It’ll be the house of straw all over again,” says my brain illogically.

“The odds are incredibly unlikely,” I counter feebly.

“But not impossible.”

My legs turn to jelly. “Yeah, you’re right! Let’s get out of here! Where’s the nearest exit?”

“That way and take the fire stairs! Do I need to remind you of the risk of elevators?”

This is the type of exchange, usually minus any reference to the three little pigs (I added that in a lame attempt for comic effect), leads me to a state of unease that can quickly turn into genuine fear and ruining any chance of me enjoying high-rise views.

I remember watching Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol starring Tom Cruise, and the scene where he scales up the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building at the time of this blog at a ridiculous 829.8 meters) in Dubai actually had my palms sweaty and my heart pumping uncontrollably. All the while a tiny voice was saying to me, “It’s a movie moron, you’re not actually climbing the Burj Khalifa with faulty electronic suction cups.”

As a person who is passionate about writing, I have encountered others who desire to tell a story but are afraid to write. I ask them why, and their response ranges from thinking they can’t write to not wanting to be judged on what they write.

At the same time, they still have stories that they would love to put down on paper. Just like how I still love admiring fantastic landscapes from on high, but the fear prevents them as it does for me with heights.

This led me to discover that there is a phobia associated with writing called scriptophobia.  This phobia is the extreme fear of writing in public and is tied to the fear of rejection, criticism, ridicule, or embarrassment.

I understand this, but there is an interesting nuance here. It’s tied to the fear of judgement, and that judgement not being positive in some form.

So how do I overcome this creative struggle? The writer’s doubt? For me, I remind myself of three steps.

Step 1 – I write for myself. Not others.

I write what I’m interested in, not what I think others will be interested in. If I write for myself then I can judge my own work.

Step 2 – There is an audience for everyone.

It’s then overcoming the fear of your work being judged by others. There’s no magical formula for this. Regardless, if you self-publish or publish through a publishing company, your work will be judged by others. If you want to share your story, but you fear the potential rejection or criticism then remember this, the world is estimated to be at 7.6 billion people at the beginning of this year, the odds are that a percentage of that population will enjoy your story. Even if it’s only 0.01% of the entire population that enjoys your story, that’s still 760,000 people. To me that’s an accomplishment to be positive about.

It should be noted that if you fear that your book won’t win a Pulitzer, embraced by the masses, turned into a movie, and a flood of royalties come to your doorstep then we’re no longer talking about scriptophobia but a social anxiety that is on a different scale.

And remember that not every book out there is “To Kill A Mockingbird” or “War and Peace”. There’s plenty of literature that critics despise but they still sell.

Step 3. Failing does not make you a failure.

Learn from mistakes, hone your craft, and embrace the grind. If your passion is writing then like any passion, you work at it.

Michael Jordan didn’t fear failure. He embraced failure and he spent countless hours practising shooting a ball in a basket. Prior to winning his first championship, he was criticised as being a selfish player not a team player, criticised for not playing defence, and criticised for being too hard on his teammates. Did he let this criticism turn into a fear that froze him? Did it transform into the fear monster causing him to give up the sport? No, he worked and became defensive player of the year, trusted his teammates (even with game winning shots) and eventually won six championships.

Ed Sheerhan isn’t selling out concerts and packing stadiums because he feared rejection or criticism. He also wasn’t born a gifted musician. He busked on streets, played in pubs, practised countless hours over more than a decade before achieving success.

They started with step 1 above in order to overcome their fear. They did it for themselves. Michael Jordan played basketball because he loved the game, Ed Sheerhan played the guitar because he loves music, and I write because I love writing. You start there, you embrace the grind, you work at mistakes in increments, you get better, and before long that monster that we call fear is nothing but a figment of your imagination.

Achieving Sexy

2017-02-03 Achieving Sexy v1.0

Achieving Sexy

No, this isn’t some vanity piece about fashion, or a fitness article on what exercises will give you the perfect abs. I would be surprised if you reached this blog with that in mind, but who knows what links will present themselves when you do a search on the internet.

This is a writer’s blog. A blog about writing.

Yes, it doesn’t make sense, does it? What has achieving sexy have anything to do with writing? This isn’t some weird sales pitch, I promise you. This is about all of us having a story or stories, and a desire to share them. Many of us have this treasure trove inside of us. This collection of experiences and dreams that makes us want to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard to create something that will evoke emotions, imagination, and thought in another person.

For some of us, it’s about a serious desire to make a profession out of it. To turn our story telling into a career. As soon as that decision has been made, any aspiring author will enter a world that is far more than just putting words to paper, or words to a computer screen as it were.

The business world of publishing is enormous and being able to navigate the other side of book writing will require a sturdy constitution. But regardless of the steps and missteps taken to get a book on the shelf. There is no sense in looking that far ahead without getting the book written in the first place.

So, it all comes back to that treasure trove inside of us.

There are some who say that the first step is the hardest. Forming that idea, and simply having the courage to start writing can be a challenge in itself. I’ve blogged previously about how it’s a trap to wait for the perfect circumstances before you start writing.

It’s a genuine concern for any writer starting out, but it doesn’t end there.

Starting is one thing. Finishing is another.

And finishing is where all manner of obstacles can appear. My last blog talked of the juggling act that we constantly do that is life, and this can easily take away from finishing our manuscript. I’ve attempted in the past to approach my writing with an attitude of squeezing it in when I can. This usually resulted, more often than not, with snippets of time where if I was lucky I could write a few paragraphs. If I happened to be particularly busy with life’s other responsibilities, which would lead into lengthy breaks between writing, I discovered I would spend a lot of time re-reading what I’ve written in order to refresh my memory. This approach is hardly ideal.

There is only one solution. If you genuinely wish to pursue creative writing as a profession then you need to develop a routine.

To hone your craft, to develop your skills, to get better at anything not just writing, requires implementing a routine. As the audience, we often see only the end product. Those that achieve success, regardless of their field of expertise, have done so through going through the grind. The discipline to stick to a routine in order to better themselves, in order to achieve. And if you’re a writer, it’s that routine that will help you finish off that manuscript.

When you have that dedicated time, the sense of purpose is focused. You can delve into that treasure trove and bring forth those jewels. That seemingly mundane act of sticking to that grind will polish your efforts, and you’ll end up with that story with stirring drama, or thrill-seeking mystery, or that sci-fi world in another universe.

Sexy isn’t only about physicality, it’s defined as being exciting or appealing. And through that routine you’ll finish a manuscript that will have an audience somewhere who will be moved by your words and will experience feelings and emotions that will stir their soul.

And that is how you achieve sexy.

When a Hiatus is not a Hiatus

2017-01-02 when a hiatus is not a hiatus v1.0
Juggling jobs like Spidey is a never ending task

When a Hiatus is not a Hiatus

Spidey (a.k.a. Peter Parker) juggles a multitude of responsibilities. Taking care of his Aunt May, trying to earn a buck through his photography for the Daily Bugle, doing his science studies at university, and affording time for his partner, Mary Jane. Throw in crime fighting, and you would want some sort of super power to keep all those balls in the air.

For myself, supporting my wife, raising three young kids, having a full time day job, and pursuing my passion for writing is enough to make me want to get bitten by a radioactive spider so I can get my own super powers (avoiding the morning rush hour traffic by web slinging into work would be worth getting bitten alone).

Alas, the reality is that everything takes time, and sadly, I don’t have any super powers.

So it has been that for the past two years (since I last posted a blog), in order for me to juggle my responsibilities and pursue writing, something had to give. In this regard, it was to put pause on the time given toward my social networking platforms.

The good news is I have written two fully developed manuscripts – one an adult drama novel, the other a junior fiction fantasy novel. I am hoping to publish both this year. How this happens, we will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I am writing a sci-fi novel, and a couple more fantasy works, while still performing a day job that will pay the bills, and feeding & supporting the family. It has been a rewarding experience so far, but I realise I need to come back and dedicate time to my social networking platforms.

With 2018 now here, I will seek to be more disciplined in my undertakings. My first step will be to post a new blog at least once a month, and share with you my writing journey.

But for now, I will keep it simple and wish you all a happy and safe new year. May 2018 be a joyful one for us all. Peace.


Perfect Circumstances

2015-11-11 Perfect Circumstances v1.0
Creative perfection doesn’t exist

Perfect Circumstances

I am not a professional or student of the medical sciences. I am a person who is fascinated by the human capacity for creativity and as a writer, creativity can come from many different sources. A moment, an event, a sensation, a conversation, past experience, a fleeting thought, another person’s creativity are all some examples of where creativity comes from. With all of these sources though there is one common element, or in this case organ, which feeds into our ability to create and that is the brain.

This led me to ponder the challenges I face when it comes to writing. The times when I am unable to draw on the right word or image to put down on paper. The times when the plot of my story encounters stagnation or a path that leads to a dead end. As a writer, I have read and listened to a lot of different approaches people take to get words down on paper. Coffee, keeping a notebook wherever I go to jot down ideas, going for a jog, developing a routine, changing up the routine, dedicating a set amount of time toward writing, drinking orange juice, doing a storyboard, plan out the story arcs… there is much that has been said and written about how to get yourself writing and I imagine these same approaches are recommended for other creative pursuits whether you be an architect, inventor or artist.

However, at the end of the day, I have concluded that whatever the approach, however you draw on inspiration, it all requires the use of arguably the most important organ in your entire body – the brain.

I find it interesting that the medical world, from what I can tell, considers the brain an organ and not a muscle. Regardless of the definition, I have no doubt that the brain needs to exercise and like any exercise, to really improve, to get better at it, to evolve, you have to do it even when you don’t feel like it.

When I went through high school, two of the most distinct groups I identified were those kids into sports and those kids into studies. Jocks, geeks, sportsperson, scholar, athlete, nerd – whatever the terms used (rightly or wrongly), these were assigned to differentiate kids while I was growing up. More importantly, I subconsciously looked at the two groups as one that focused on building and honing muscles (sportsperson) and one that focused on learning and storing information in the brain organ (scholar).

It is only now, many years later, that I realise the two are NOT mutually exclusive. This is clearly backed up by medical research and the ever increasing number of “brain games/exercises” available online and on mobile phones. Anatomically the brain is an organ but research has shown that mental stimulation helps the brain grow stronger thus reducing the risk of cognitive decline. In this way, many see the brain as a muscle and like a basketballer seeking to improve their jump shot, you need to exercise and practice.

As a writer, it is easy to want to wait for the perfect set of circumstances to write your story. The “right” time of day, the “right” amount of light in the room, the “right” feeling/mood to write, the “right” amount of inspiration to start putting words down on paper etc. I can guarantee you that this approach will only result in a lot of wasted time. You will end up procrastinating indefinitely for the perfect circumstances to arise and believe me it will never come. There will always be something that isn’t quite “right” and you’ll convince yourself to put off writing. Don’t listen to that voice.

To write when you don’t want to write is exactly like a marathon runner going for a run when they don’t feel like running. To exercise, to train, to push yourself through the barrier is what will make you stronger and if you happen to be one seeking to create then that type of exercising, that type of training starts with your brain.

As an example, I’ll give you one of my own personal experiences. As a father of three little kids, all of whom at the time of writing this blog have not even reached their high schools years, they challenge me every day NOT to write. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, I want to nurture, encourage and play with them, help them with their homework, take them bike riding, to the park, to the beach but to balance that with my passion and desire for writing requires I put in the brain exercise even when I don’t want to. My youngest daughter is three years old and she often finds unique ways of disturbing me while I write. Asking for a cup of water, crawling up onto my chair and draping herself over my back and seeking my assistance to go to the toilet are just some of the ways she demands my attention. But like a soccer player dribbling the ball for one more lap, I’ll write through the distractions. Even if what I write turns out to be rubbish or needs rework, I’ll get it down. I set aside a minimum amount of time every day to write, even if the circumstances are far from ideal.

And the best thing (and this is often what people lose sight of) is that when I push myself through it at the end I feel incredible. It might just be a draft, a paragraph that needs serious editing, a page that is filled with random ideas but the effort put in yields rewards. It’s the same with physical exercise, you go for a jog even when you don’t feel like it but afterwards you feel better for it.

The brain is an organ? Okay. But it is also the muscle of thinking, the muscle of creativity. If you’re seeking a creative pursuit, keep this in mind the next time you’re waiting for the perfect circumstances to arise before exercising your brain.

Dream Weaver Reality

The dream on the horizon
The dream on the horizon

There has been much said about dreamers. We are after all in the same boat in this regard. If we didn’t dream, there would never be a desire to do anything more. We wouldn’t seek to create, to make a difference, to achieve something possibly greater than ourselves.

Arguably the greatest example of this is the ultimate dream weaver Martin Luther King who shared before a nation his dream and proclaimed:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…”

MLK repeats the words “I have a dream” several times more sharing to the people, his desire for a world free from racism, injustice and oppression. Had MLK said, “I have a policy…” or “I have a proposal…” I doubt his speech would have had the same impact. We have dreams because it is what inspires us.

There’s a reason why we cheer for the underdog because they strive to achieve their dream.

Yet it is undeniable that we also have needs. Basic needs to survive on this world. Food, water, shelter, clothing etc. And as a result of these needs, we discover we live in a world of practicalities. A world that often says, “Yes, it’s great that you have a dream but you have to be practical. You need security, a job to earn a living and afford those things that you need.”

And here’s the rub…

We come to believe in this world of practicalities more than our dreams. We convince ourselves that the two are mutually exclusive. That the dream is just a dream and “real life” is what confronts you when you wake up. And when you wake up, there’s no room for your dream.

It took me a long time to understand why this was so. Why we’ve allowed others to beat us down and say, “That’s an impossible dream. You can’t do it. You have to be realistic.” I didn’t understand how this could be so because there are plenty of examples of dreamers who have accomplished their dreams, whether it be Nelson Mandela dismantling the legacy of apartheid, Agatha Christie writing her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Ludwig Von Beethoven composing his Ninth Symphony, Jonas Salk developing a polio vaccine, Michael Jordan winning his first NBA basketball championship or Marie Curie seeking scientific breakthroughs in chemistry and physics. The list goes on and on.

It then hits me why certain dreamers confront the world of practicalities and combine the dream with reality as opposed to treating them as mutually exclusive. There are two keys to unlocking the dream and it is evident in any of the great dream weavers that come to mind. The first is they all believed and the second is they were doers, go-getters, never-give-up individuals. And that’s where the big differences lie.

Belief + Doer = Dream weaver reality

You have a dream? You believe in it? Then you have to work at it until it becomes a reality AND IT’S NOT EASY.

Nelson Mandela was in prison for 20+ years. He never stopped believing and he turned his beliefs into actions (even in prison) leading to his election as president and his ceaseless work in ending apartheid. Agatha Christie received rejections from numerous publishing companies before getting her first novel published. Beethoven suffered severe tinnitus and was essentially deaf when he composed one of his greatest works in the Ninth Symphony. Jonas Salk devoted seven years of his life to develop a successful polio vaccine. Michael Jordan played six years before winning his first NBA championship and Marie Curie had to face poverty, male chauvinism and misogyny before developing the theory of radioactivity, discovering two new elements and becoming the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different sciences (Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911).

Everyone has a dream. It’s what makes the world so interesting. You just have to strive toward it and work at it and it will become a reality.

What’s your dream? How are you working to achieve it? Feel free to email or leave a comment and let me know.

Writer’s Spark

My dad and my daughter
My dad and my daughter

There is much that inspires me to write but if you were to ask me to narrow it down to a single genesis point where my spark comes from, I would have to say it was my father. However, I would also need to add a footnote that this came into my consciousness after three odd decades of being largely oblivious to it. You see my dad was the type of father who allowed me to find my own way and this included making a ton of mistakes (a lot of the time the same ones) over and over again. He would only ever provide advice if I asked for it otherwise I had free rein to stumble in the darkness and compound my pitfalls with deeper ones. In truth, it was a double edged sword. I sometimes wished that my dad had taken more of a hand in the direction I was taking (especially when the path would lead to some painful lessons indeed) but other times, I was thankful that he allowed me the freedom to discover who I was and what I wanted in life.

For as long as I can remember, my father has been first and foremost a scholar. He obtained his PhD in political science at the University of California, Riverside and has dedicated his life to achieving Taiwan independence through democracy. He is a fighter of human rights, a defender for the working class and most importantly listens (I mean really listens). He’ll respect your point of view even if he disagrees and is the first to admit that no political system is perfect.

Through my childhood, teenage and adult years, I have seen my father accomplish many things, more than what I can list here. He has published numerous books on Asian politics and been the advisor for the former Taiwanese President Chen Shui Bian.

But it was his office that I am remember most fondly. Walking into his humble sanctuary, “the place where he writes”, you were surrounded by shelves filled with books, newspapers and magazines. It was like entering a library filled with political knowledge, philosophies, histories and ideas. There in the middle was his large desk with jars full of writing instruments, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, textbooks and a couple of photo frames of the family and my father would be sitting in his leather chair reading, writing or contemplating. What he read and wrote was obvious even if it was all in Chinese (i.e. politics, governments and world affairs). However, what he contemplated I never really asked. As a kid, I observed him, one hand on his chest, the other hand waving through the air like a music conductor, writing invisible words, eyes sometimes closed, sometimes open, thinking, always thinking… I’m sure about politics… but also I wonder about other things. He has a collection of Asian paintings with Chinese poetry written on it. He read Confucius, Robert Frost, Percy Shelley and other creative thinkers, which I have no doubt helped shape his views on society and humanity. I’m sure he pondered about life and the world we live in, not just the politics that surround it.

Seeing all this, you would have thought I’d jump into writing as soon as I learned the alphabet but here is the irony. I’m not into politics. I don’t hate it, I just find its existence unfortunate but admittedly necessary in order for the world not to fall into anarchy (and ‘anarchy’ itself a political ideal is not necessarily bad if we could all get along with each other but the reality is we don’t). Perhaps seeing my father as a political avenger for human rights with pen (his metaphorical sword) in hand was enough of the ‘real world’ for the both of us, so I never considered writing as a career.

Nevertheless, I now know (three decades on) that I love writing and I read fiction and speculative fiction because I get enough of the ‘real world’ every day and I owe this genesis from my father.

What is your spark? Where do you believe the genesis of that spark came from? Feel free to email or leave a comment and let me know.

More than Maidens and Temple Bells (or “why I want to be an author”)

No one wants to be buried in something they don't enjoy...
No one wants to be buried in something they don’t enjoy…

Can you name five authors of speculative fiction within English literature? Given this broad genre encompasses fantasy, sci-fi and horror, I’m sure a large list of names come to mind. Fantasy authors that immediately pop into my head include Tolkien, Raymond E. Feist and David Eddings. For sci-fi, it’s Isaac Asimov and Stephen Donaldson (who also writes fantasy). There’s five authors right there and I haven’t even touched horror legends like Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

“What are you getting at Joel?” I hear you ask. “Make it a challenge at least.”

Okay, name five Asian authors of speculative fiction within English literature? Any luck? I’ll be honest, none come readily to my mind, which may be indicative that I need to read more or perhaps something a little more thought provoking.

Before I continue, let me say that the fantasy genre is alive and well in Asia. In China alone authors such as Jiang Nan, Mo Yan (2012 Nobel Prize in Literature winner) and Zheng Yuanjie have dominated China’s book sales with their non-English fantasy stories. So I’m not saying that Asian authors of speculative fiction aren’t out there. I just find it interesting that Asian authors of English speculative fiction are harder to come by. Given I enjoy writing in this genre and I am of Taiwanese descent born in Australia, I thought I’d investigate this a little further.

Anecdotal evidence (and that’s all I can go by, I’m not a researcher or statistician) from searching the internet produces results that you have to dig a little deeper to find anything of substance. I found a rather loose Wikipedia entry titled “Speculative fiction by writers of color” that lists only nine Asian-American speculative fiction writers of note. Digging deeper still, I managed to stumble upon a 2013 blog entry by Carrie Cuinn who lists 130+ Asian Speculative Fiction Authors (with links). It was an impressive list that I have no doubt required a lot of research to develop.

Just for the fun of it, I typed in “Asian Australian speculative fiction authors” into the search engine and received the Carrie Cuinn list as one of the top hits. Searching on her list, I found only one Asian Australian speculative fiction author by the name of Stephanie Lai. You can read more about this amazing author and her quirky outlook on life here.

Further hours spent clicking on links and hitting the back button on my browser, I found an admittedly old but interesting article by Jane Sullivan titled “Asian authors offer a new perspective of Australia”. Below is an excerpt taken from this article, which I believe sums up why I’m blogging about this topic:

“Another Chinese-Australian writer has a confrontingly bleak view of his place in Aussie culture. Writing in Overland magazine, Ouyang Yu, author of 28 books in Chinese and English, says that most Chinese-Australian intellectuals he knows have given up trying to express themselves as artists or writers. They tell him the only thing that is valuable in this country is money.

In his provocative essay, Ouyang Yu sees Australian-Asian writing as something still buried in the margins. He complains that the dominant culture virtually ignores its resident Asian writers, except for some women who are conveniently exotic and unthreatening; that most Asian books aren’t reviewed in key media; and that his own books have been rejected by ‘white mainstream publishers’…”

The article ends with the following:

“Part of the problem Ouyang Yu identifies stems from the fact that we still don’t buy Australasian books on the sort of scale we buy, say, Amy Tan or Vikram Seth novels, or memoirs such as Wild Swans. Australasian writing is seen as a curious little footnote to the main game. Next time you see a book by an Asian-Australian in the shops, make a point of picking it up, and discover some new perspectives that aren’t just about frangipani, maidens and temple bells.”

Faced with all this anecdotal evidence (I stress the word “anecdotal”), I wonder what I’m doing seeking to become a speculative fiction author of Taiwanese descent living in Australia. In a typical Asian upbringing, I was raised to get a degree and get a “real” job. So I did that. I got a degree in computer systems engineering and have a full-time job in this area. But I have discovered (for quite some time now) that I find it unfulfilling. I have always loved fantasy and I find the creative process of writing speculative fiction to be most rewarding.

I write because I want to create a world that will capture one’s imagination and also so I can give something to my three kids and say, “Here’s something I wrote. It’s come from me, I’m proud of it and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.”

This is why I write.

And to those following me, I appreciate you coming on this journey. Regardless of whether I ever get published, all I can do is try. What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll be another Asian-Australian speculative fiction writer who never made it (wherever ‘it’ is). At least, I’ll have discovered more about myself than if I never tried and more importantly, I’ll have no regrets.