VIRTUALLY HERS came out Oct. 2009. Get it at SAMHAIN Publishing. VIRTUALLY ONE coming soon.

I've also made available at Amazon BIG BAD WOLF a COS Commando book, an earlier manuscript about Killian Nicholas Langley. You can sample the first five chapters right here. EBOOK now available for KINDLE, NOOK, and at SMASHWORDS for $4.99.

I appreciate all your emails. If you'd like to buy Virtually His NEW, please contact me. Thank you.


Big Bad Wolf Author's Note/CH. 1

Big Bad Wolf CH. 2

Big Bad Wolf Ch. 3

(more chapters on left side bar below)

To read excerpts of VIRTUALLY HERS, scroll down & click on the links on the right.



VIRTUALLY HERS OUT IN PRINT AUG 2010! Discounted at Amazon!

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Exotic Memories, or, Why I Write (Maybe)

Running late, excuse the mistakes and typos, I have to get back on the roof....)

For those who enjoy my books, it's probably obvious that I have a fascination for different cultures. I write about different countries and customs, hoping to capture a snapshot of the background that shapes my heros and heroines, even the bad guys (like Dilaver and his aunt, Greta).

Of course, the most familiar culture to me is that from my country, which celebrates four different new years annually: the traditional Western New Year, Chinese New Year (fifteen days starting from yesterday), the Hindu New Year, and the Muslim New Year. Each of these are national holidays in my old homeland, and many of us visit our different friends and their families during their new year celebrations.

It is from growing up with this background that shaped me: my beliefs and my outlook in life. Everything might look or taste different, but the feeling is the same. The different cultures celebrate the new years asking for hope and wishing luck and happiness to friends and families.

Thus it is with romance. The storyline may be exotic and the culture may feel alien, but the emotional pull of the story is familiar. My characters love and hate the same as any book set here, in familiar American territory.

Here is a quick snapshot of the Chinese New Year celebrations of my youth. It's a fifteen-day festival and most of us kids loved it because it is tradition for married and old people to give kids and those who are unmarried "red packets," or angpow, filled with lucky money. We always knew who the scrooge in the neighborhood was (she filled her packets with a 20 cent coin each, which was our equivalent of a quarter). Most of the packets would contain a new Malaysian dollar.

My parents, who were wealthy, filled theirs with $5 or $10 for visiting relatives. As you could imagine, one could get pretty poor during New Year if one was known for their generosity!

My siblings and I got quite rich during this time. Our red packet collection is like candy to American kids during Halloween. We wore our new clothes (and the colors had to be red or yellow or green to attract luck. No black or blue!) and we ate the traditional family meal at home, with noodles and sweet meats. The elders enjoyed a meal of wine with raw fish and rice noodles, which had always disgusted me.

On the second and third days, my grandmother would take us to the temples to pray and also give the gods big oranges and tangerines (which signified plentiful wealth) as well as burn incense. The temples in those days were run by old women who had nowhere else to go (just like medieval times when the ladies had to join the nunnery); they depended on the goodwill of the believers to help pay for their livelihood and the temple. As I matured, I grew to understand the limitations of being a woman in certain cultures and the different choices in aloneness that they faced. I'm not saying that these temple women weren't happy or disatisfied, but I wasn't happy or satisfied for them, if that made sense.

Outside the temple were the band of beggars. They traveled together and took care of each other. I still remember the man with no legs sitting on a piece of cloth that told his sad story. People dropped coins in his bucket while he mumbled his thanks, barely looking up. At the end of the day, one of the other beggars would come over to "carry" this man back to wherever their shelter was. As a kid, this group of people were like aliens to me; I wasn't emotionally affected yet.

As I grew older, I learned compassion from understanding the dilemma of trying to survive in a system with no social services help. I also learned that humans would find a way to survive; these beggars banded together into a community and did what they could for survival. I could even say that some of them were perfectly happy the way they were; I've had quite a few funny conversations with the drunken hobos who certainly taught me that humor could be found in anything.
Anyway, the temples would be filled with incense and people praying. The statues of the Goddess of Mercy and the King of Heaven would be draped with cloths of red and gold silk. To a small kid, looking up at them, they were ethereal and powerful beings, magical beings who could grant wishes if they felt like it. Most of the stuff my grandma made me ask for were boring, like good grades in school. I probably wasn't sincere enough in my prayers because my grades were never particularly wonderful.

But I did crawl under the table that the gods sat on. Kids doing that were promised that they would grow up tall, strong, and protected. Heck, at a puny 4 foot 2, I needed to be taller, so I crawled under that table A LOT. I remember shooting up six inches one year and catching up with some of my friends. I remember thinking that the gods must have known how sincerely desperate I was!

As I grew older, I would shuffle the I-Ching sticks that were in tall bamboo vases. The sticks were darkened by age and numbered according to the I-Ching. The ones that fell out were picked up and taken to the counter and one of the nuns would pull the yellow paper from the wall with that number on it. Because I wasn't literate in Chinese, she would read it out loud to me, very lyrical imagery about water in valleys and filling the cave, or desert awaiting rain, or music in the mountain.

I rarely understood what was told about my future but I was thoroughly fascinated with the words and the idea that words were so important to actions and choices (most people used the I-Ching to make a decision about something important or to query about the current state of a problem). As I grew older, I appreciated this tradition in a more celebral way, enjoying the objective interpretation of a problem using imagery. And heck, so much cheaper than a psychiatrist.

While walking anywhere in Chinatown or around my neighborhood, I would hear the rhythmic drums and firecrackers from different directions. The local taichi/kungfu houses would send out their best troupes to do the acrobatics in a traditional lion and dragon dance. The best lion dance I ever saw were dueling troupes hired by my father. They were rivals, so they were dancing their lion-tails off, moving the very heavy lion heads up and down while the other members somersaulted around them. They "crashed" heads, acting out a fight scene, showing off their kungfu. My mother, ever inventive, put the angpow money (their pay) on a pole and dangled it from the second balcony of our house. The acrobats had to work really hard, climbing on each other's shoulders, to get to their packets, but being that my family was rich, they knew their pay would be worthed it.

As a kid, I was told that the firecrackers, drums, and lion-dancing were meant to scare away evil and bad things from the house. All those painted masks were kind of scary, I suppose. But I was really fascinated with the lion's head with its blinking eyes. In my very fertile imagination, I was already making up a story about the magical lion that came alive every new year.

I wanted to be part of the lion dance and learned kungfu and be kickass. I wanted to do splits and jumped off from the shoulders of strong, muscular men. Alas, my parents quashed that ambition rather effectively. Young educated girls just didn't do things like that. You know, I could have been the next Michelle Yeoh, whom, by the way, I shared a school bus with once or twice. Not the Miss Malaysia part, because damn, I stopped crawling under the gods' table and didn't grow an inch taller, but the jumping off from cars and bridges part...I could have...if mom and dad hadn't told me I was a crazy idiot ;-) and should just go to school and study hard.

A trip down memory lane with Gennita couldn't end without her bemoaning about Chinese New Year food. My mother was a fabulous cook and could do all the New Year cakes and sweetmeats like a professional. Almost every year, she stayed up late making lin-ko (a gooey concoction that hardened into rock-like taffee), or chong-yuen, or kuih kapit. She told me I could help her because she shaved me bald when I was a kid. That's right. Shaven bald had something to do with the correct consistency of thickened coconut and steamed buns. I still think she was pulling my leg, but to this day, none of my sister could produce anything other than lumpy kaya, except for me. I had the "magic" touch, it seemed, when it came to smooth, sexy, and delicious Malaysian/Chinese sweetmeats.

That's why, when I post about a trip to New York Chinatown, you're always hearing me wax poetic about the food. I cannot explain to those of you how many different variety of foods that could be sampled in Malaysia without you having been there at least a year. With our four main cultures, one could just eat a different recipe a day for 365 days. So when you sit with me in a Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown, be aware that I usually would go a little (okay, a lot) crazy, and order enough food to feed a refugee family of ten. The waitresses would be staring, amused and somewhat bemused, as the feast keep coming, and you, my poor guest, would have to put up with a non-talking author whose mouth is very busy.

The further away I am from these memories, the more I want to write about them in my books. Not all of them, but little bits and pieces, hooking them somehow to the background of my characters and stories. There was a reason why I made Nikki enjoy food so much; her appetite for the past was huge and food was an immediate acknowledgment of her love of life. There was a reason why I wrote about the girls and the poor people in Vivi's surroundings. The culture of a people runs deep and change wasn't always necessary good. There was a reason why I gave my heroines certain choices and took away some; as a product of my culture, I see women very differently from the way you see them.

I've made certain choices that some of you never needed to, and that's part of the reason why I write about exotic cultures and women. Not that I'm exotic, you understand, although I'm probably weirder/more alien than I want to admit, but because underneath it all, I've wanted to show that love, humor, survival, and sisterhood are a common thread.

Okay, back to celebrating the New Year ;-). May there be heavenly lions to frighten away the bad vibes around you!

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MO said...

I enjoy reading about your past a lot. You should tell us about your decision to move to the States at so young an age!

Estara said...

Reading your blog for a few weeks now makes me really impatient for Virtually His to arrive on my doorstep in Germany.

May you make more blissful memories.

Anonymous said...

That was nice to read. I wish you a happy new year, and may your brain keep on imagining wonderful characters for us to read about.

Elaine said...

That was a nice trip down memory lane for me, too. Thanks, Jenn. Like you, I, too, spent much of my early childhood under the temple altar as my grandma was the temple medium's assistant. Yeah, I was made to pray for same "exciting" things like good grades and had to drink the "magic" water. I don't know what you call it, Jenn, but my grandma, being Hokien, called it 'hu'. This was a long piece of paper about 7 or 8 inches long by one and half inches wide with chinese characters written on it. She'd burn it and let the ashes drop into a small cup (one of those Chinese tea cups) of water and I had to drink it (while avoiding a mouthful of ash). Like you, Jenn, it didn't work as my grades didn't improve either but at least I did grow to the average Chinese girl's height of 5' 3".

My books arrived from Perth and I've set Virtually His aside though I haven't budged from my decision to wait until VHers is out before I read VHis. We just got in from Bangkok yesterday to a lovely surprise - our son had invited our friends and relatives over for dinner (which he cooked!) and another son had assembled the bookshelves Rick bought for my Perth books. We bought those DIY bookshelves from IKEA - do you have IKEA in the US? Anyway, I now have enough shelf space for my romance collection.

Fanciful Fern said...

That was very well written. Thank you.

As I struggled to remember why I loved CNY so much more when I was kid, I couldn't recall half of what life was like then. Reading your blog this morning, reminded me of some of the things I'd forgotten, like the thrill of having a lion dance troupe come to pay respects at your home's prayer altar and watching my grandmother perform prayers at midnight on the eve to greet the god of prosperity.

Hopefully, next year I'll do my part to make it a more festive new year at home.

May the year of the Earth Rat bring you good health, peace and much creative vibes.

Anonymous said...

Hey Estara,
If you're looking for a lyrical piece from Jenn, try FACING FEAR, which has an interesting Chinese heroine. Virtually His is exotic but not in a cultural sense. It's the beginning story of the super soldier spy series, so a lot of techno-talk in it. I always recommend Facing Fear because it's so different. Hope you can find it, Estara!

Gennita said...

Glad you liked the short essay. Maybe I'll write about that on the next one!

Thank you! I hope you enjoy VHis. Have you read the excerpts I've provided on the right side of the blog?

Which part of Germany are you in?

Thank you. I'm enjoying a quiet one.

Yes, that's the Chinese "fu." I've drank that too. Cough, cough, choke.

Thanks for recommending Facing Fear to Estara. You're right, that one has more of a lyrical prose to it. Estara, if you're reading this, let me know if you would like a copy of Facing Fear; I'll send it to you.

Estara said...

@anonymous: Thanks for the tip, I put Facing Fear on my wishlist at where it's still available.

@Gennita: I've read the first excerpt which starts very intriguing. You sure don't play around with your sexual attraction vibes. This will be my first book by you.

I'm from the stereotypical part of Germany aka Bavaria. Well, North Suebia to be precise. The closest university town would be Augsburg if that helps any.

Thanks so much also for offering to send me Facing Fear, but since it's available (at normal price) on you needn't pay the exorbitant shipping prices to Germany ^^.

I figure if your novel voice is anything like your blog voice, I'll be going through your backlist in any case.

Gennita said...

Hi Estara,
I used to travel to Germany and Italy a lot, that's why I asked. I hope, one day, to resume my Europe traveling days, but the Euro currency is really high now.

As for my writing voice being similar to my blog voice, hmm...I'm not so sure. Maybe I'll have to ask the readers who visit my blog frequently about this. I have a feeling that my writing voice has a very different intensity when compared to my blog voice.

Virtually His was a new experiment for me, moving my focus to techy instead of adventure (unlike the SEALs trilogy, which was all adventure). But the sexual attraction in each my stories has always been strong. Alpha males and all that good sexual vibes stuff ;-).


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