| Great StoryTelling Network Newsletter
Volume 14, Issue 10 – 31 October 2018
It took time, but I figured out how to upload a video to youtube! So, here’s the link to the first video for the launch of both books. I hope you can view it and that you enjoy the show. In it, I explain why I chose the title ‘The Age of Smiling Secrets’. https://youtu.be/kagYpjzKo4A
I also share the speech that I gave during the launch. Read it to discover why I was once called a Martian.
Meanwhile, Rohi shares a post about nine contests for writers with no entry fee.
–> Video montage of the launch of Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time and The Age of Smiling Secrets by Aneeta Sundararaj
Before I share my journey to publication of three books in 2018, I thought I should answer a question many have asked me. Who are the two men I’ve dedicated these books to and why? The novel is dedicated to Dr. Rajah Sundararaj. He is my father and the reason for dedicating the book to him is obvious. But why did I dedicate the collection of stories to the SwamiGuru?
Our story begins three years ago when I made an appointment to consult him at the centre. This was in Old Klang Road. When I arrived, it was dark. I couldn’t find a parking spot and I was miserable. “At least this one speaks English,” I remember thinking. You see, I had assumed that SwamiGuru was yet another astrologer I had to meet.
With barely concealed hostility, I sat before him and we had a pleasant enough conversation. When my allotted time was over, his assistant motioned for me to go down on all fours and touch SwamiGuru’s feet to seek his blessings.
“I can’t do this,” I said. Sensing everyone’s irritation, I quickly explained, “It’s not because I don’t respect you. If I go down on all fours, I don’t think I can get up. These jeans are just way too tight.”
So what if he was offended? After all, I didn’t plan to meet him again. When I looked at him, though, his eyes were dancing. He was amused and I was intrigued.
In the following months, drawn to his organisation, I began to attend SwamiGuru’s discourses. One day, the photo of Maha Avatar Kriya Babaji that he had stuck on the wall was about to fall off. I told him and in a nonchalant manner, he said, “I have met him.”
Met Kriya Babaji? I couldn’t believe it. That very night, I decided that this SwamiGuru was someone I wanted to learn from. If he could meet Kriya Babaji, then, maybe, someday, I would be worthy enough to meet the deathless saint as well.
Meanwhile, my father’s health was deteriorating. Before and after my father died, SwamiGuru and my newfound brothers and sisters at 7C family showered me with the support, love and compassion I desperately needed.
As I picked up the pieces of my life, I started to share with SwamiGuru my stories of shame, rage, sorrow and laughter. I also shared my woes working with literary agents and editors. For example, one Englishman wanted me to fundamentally change my novel and create a scene in the civil courts to prevent the involuntary conversion of the child to Islam to show the superiority of the English legal system. When I insisted that it wasn’t plausible and my people would laugh at me, the reply was, “We don’t care what Malaysians think.” A local editor told me to give up on the novel.
SwamiGuru’s response to all this was, “Publish it yourself.”
Last June, on a whim, I answered a call for submissions and sent one chapter of the novel (called Legend of Nagakanna) to the Commonwealth Writers. Three months later, I received an email that it was accepted in an anthology that would be published in the new year. To date, I am the only Malaysian whose work is included in this anthology called We Mark Your Memory, Writings from the Descendants of Indenture. I am told that it’s currently one of the few books in the world that explores indenture in the Commonwealth.
Curiously, it is this Legend of Nagakanna that is closest to the truth. My grandmother’s name was Nagarathinam. My grandparents lived in Foothills Estate, which was deep, dark and cool. The ghost is based on two characters who also lived there. The temple did exist. And we had to cross a bridge over a stream to get to it. Just two nights ago, my uncle in Singapore said that he remembered going to this stream.
Equally true were the socio-economic and racial problems the estate folk endured. For example, when I once explained to a Ceylonese lady that my father was born and brought up in a rubber estate, her candid response was, “You mean your father still became a doctor?”
That question made me think. Do all people judge the good work a man does based on the colour of his skin, his clothes and his backstory? When I told my mother all this, she reminded me of a conversation with a lady many years ago.
“You must be a Christian?” she said.
So, earthlings, I bring you greetings from Mars.
These are the sorts of conversations that I used to create the stories in Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time. As SwamiGuru said, “They are meant to trigger your emotions and connect you to each character as someone in your life.” Readers have written to say that they’ve cried, the books are ‘unputdownable’ and revealing. I suppose, animal lovers understand the theme in Bitter Sweet that when you give your heart to a dog like Ladoo, it will give you back its body, heart and soul. My favourite story remains Ammachi which is about my remarkable third grandmother and our shared birthday.
I was overjoyed when MPH Publishers decided to publish these stories. Also, buoyed with confidence after the publication of We Mark Your Memory, I was willing to self-publish the novel. The team at MPH agreed to help me and they’ve been such a joy to work with. The darlings took my simple ideas, like my paintings of the two snakes and a photo of the fountain in my grandmother’s house can created these visually stunning covers.
Three weeks ago, SwamiGuru and I were involved in another panel discussion about AI, Industry 4.0 and their impact on our world. I’d said that I am now beyond writing to please editors and readers. Instead, I write what I love. His response was, “You don’t have to write worrying about whom to please. A time will come when you will be able to write what you like and know who will be pleased with it.” I pray that the time is now.
Lastly, I trust that you understand why I dedicated the collection of stories to SwamiGuru. I loved writing these two books and I love reading them even more. With God’s grace, I have faith that you will too.
Thank you, once again.
When you participate in free writing contests, you not only have a chance to win prizes but it can also help you to complete projects within deadlines and show how you measure up against the competition.
Taking part in a writing contest is a great way to combat writer’s block because most contests have clear guidelines and deadlines. If you don’t win, you can repurpose your entries and publish them elsewhere and/or enter them in other writing contests. And of course, if you win, the boost to your confidence and credibility are priceless.
If you are new to writing contests, start by entering writing contests with no entry fee. Here are nine free writing contests that you can enter right away.
1. 53-Word Story Contest
2. The Crucible Poetry and Fiction Competition
3. St. Francis College Literary Prize
4. The Iowa Short Fiction Award
5. International Flash Fiction Competition
6. ServiceScape Short Story Award
7. Inkshares Mystery And Thriller Competition
8. Novella-in-Flash Award
9. 101 Word Short Stories Contest
Take Action Right Now!
(I plan to start with the 53-Word Story Contest.)
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