10 February 2010

Writing & Me - A Stalker Story

by guest columnist Karen Quah.  Follow her on Twitter.

I could tell you these contributions will provide writers with sure-fire ways on how to score an agent, get published, produced, become rich and famous.

But I’d be lying. Plus I’m not that kind of contributor.

I have no formulas. Or answers. Just stories.

Stories that might help you make some sense of the whole darn thing or at the very least, provide a good laugh.

Also, I’ve kinda been around. Not in a slutty sort of way – though that case might be argued and is best reserved for another blog. But creatively, if I think about it, I am in my own right, a walking, talking, constantly evolving - well, one can only hope - multi-hyphenate. And one way or another, have managed to earn an income from writing and all things related to it for over 15 years.

So why did you choose to write?

This question evokes a mindless stare that translated into words would go something like: Are you out of your frigging mind? Who would choose to be isolated, insecure, jolted by voices in the middle of the night demanding your pen (or tips of fingers on keyboard) serve as their tongue, and generally psychotic?

I have attempted escape, taken out numerous restraining orders. Tried my hand at other professions. But writing - relentless stalker that it is - has managed to track me down and hold me prisoner.

I guess the tragedy really began at age seven, when I wrote my first novel. It went for 20 pages - which when you’re that age, is equivalent to War and Peace.

My parents never ceased to remind me writing was a hobby, not a profession.

So I got my first job as a travel writer for a Malaysian tourist magazine. And from there, proceeded to work for a daily newspaper and a bunch of lifestyle magazines. Pretty soon I was freelancing and found myself writing everything from advertorials and copy, to entertainment reviews for local theatre and performing arts.

Most of the plays I saw sucked and I knew I could do better. So I wrote my first play, Color Blind. Co-founded a company called Kuali Works (Kuali in Malay means Wok) with another writer, Ann Lee - who still runs the company. And produced my play.

Also, we decided Malaysia really needed its first all-women arts company, so Kuali Works - that specialized in theatre, television and publishing, employed only women and trained them from the ground up.

I also decided to direct Color Blind, which was a harrowing experience and swore would never do it again until I wrote my second play, LightBulbs and directed that.

A black comedy about Malaysia’s first female serial killer, LightBulbs got a full house every night and became a cult hit. So I entered it into the New York Fringe Arts Festival and became the first Malaysian playwright to be produced there in 1998.

In the meantime, I got contracted to write plays for other directors and became Playwright In Residence at a local theatre. A dream come true.

I should probably have stayed and capitalized on the glory. But I felt like a hack - undeserving of the sudden success and certain I was just a big fish in a small pond. Also, I needed to learn more. Also, I fell in love – groan. So I moved to New York. Well Jersey City, to be precise.

But I managed to score a gig as Foreign Arts Correspondent for Citibank Magazine Malaysia and got to review plays and films and restaurants in NYC, which was pretty cool. Plus while I was there, my agent back home scored me a writing gig on a local TV sitcom. So I felt pretty contented… until life happened. As it does.

Found myself pregnant and my partner got transferred to Italy. And so we moved and I gave birth in Italian, which was an interesting experience.

But three months after the baby was born, I was back in Malaysia, a single mum, jobless. And to top it off, my baby was denied a visa to stay. In my own country.

After two years of TV writing and fighting for my daughter’s visa, I decided it was time to give up the ghost and applied for permanent residency to Australia, whereupon my parents again took the opportunity to remind me, Writing Is A Hobby. I had a child now. It was time to grow up.

This time I agreed. And so I did - grow up.

I became a sales rep for a company specializing in reference material for schools, and became quite successful at it until my back went out as I was lifting, which saw me in physiotherapy and unable to walk for 5 months.

When I was finally able to drive, I found myself mysteriously swerving into the Australian Film, TV & Radio School (AFTRS) which takes only 3-4 screenwriters a year.

The following year I found myself one of three students accepted into the Graduate Diploma course for screenwriting. And in the next two years, got to write short films, create my own TV sitcom – Why I Hate Lucy, and script-edited several episodes of an original TV drama series.

And when I graduated, found to my amazement I had been awarded a post-graduate scholarship with Southern Star Entertainment, which was a great honor and a wonderful learning experience.

And to be honest, I thought this was it. This was my second chance.

But it wasn’t. Well, it was and then it wasn’t. I landed a gig on a TV drama, but the story producers changed and the new one didn’t like me and thought my work sucked and the recession hit and suddenly there I was again - jobless, with a daughter halfway through primary school, skilled at nothing but words.

Such is the nature of our business, of life. It doesn’t just apply to Hollywood. It’s everywhere.

I’m lucky Writing is the relentless stalker that it is. I’m not sure I would have maintained the resilience I needed otherwise.

Sometimes resilience is all we need.

For as my journey continues like one tumultuous wave after another, I would like to tell you it gets easier. That after being validated and published and produced, that I feel less of a hack and more secure.

But it doesn’t. And I don’t.

What I do know is this: I am a writer.

I write not because I want to but because I have to.

Life experience is not a bad thing. It is what informs my writing.

And I am undeniably Multi-Hyphenated - though far better and happier at some hyphenates than others.

I wonder - If your creative/professional path were translated into a story, what would it be? A War story? A Western? A Detective Story with a twist? 

Or just a good old-fashioned Love Story?

Karen Quah is a journalist, playwright, screenwriter and script editor who is currently working on her first novel. She also runs a blog called ModernDayStoryteller. http://moderndaystoryteller.com


Jeanne Veillette Bowerman said...

Great twisted path your life is, Karen. What you neglected to share though is you are also a nano winner this year! Watching your journey and now knowing the full story behind your writing career has been a pure joy. Multi-hyphenated indeed. Nano-winning-chap-wearing writer... to name a few. The stalking of writing has brought us all great rewards via your words.

kquah said...

Thank you, my wonderful shit-stirring friend who pimps it good every time. When I thought I'd covered it all, there you go, plugging the Nano. It has been a joy and honor to follow you on your journey Jeanne and to have you on mine. Comforting to know I have twisted minds like you to keep me company on my twisted path. And thank you for your kind words. Deeply humbled. *curtsy*

booksbelow said...

Had no idea of the winding road you've taken so far. But as you said, when you have to write you have to write. And thank goodness for that, can't wait for your first novel.

kquah said...

That's very kind of you to say about my novel, Roger. Can't wait to finish Rewrites so I can find out what it's about -ha. And thanks for stopping by. Just checked out your blog. Very cool.

Ct Kingston said...

Marvelous tale of a life well lived. It's great to learn more about you and to also see how unruly a writer's road is, but that with focus it can be navigated. I have similar experiences to your creative travels, which brought a smile. Aha, we're all out there digging in the same damn sand. But some add water making mud and others build a castle.

Wonderful piece. And as I often say, Thanks for it.

kquah said...

I had a funny feeling you and I would share similar "travel experiences". You can just tell by reading a writer's work. I love your analogy Tina, of digging in the same sand. Yes. Some make mud and some make castles. And some make mud castles. And if some asshole tramples on them, we just build 'em again.

Thank you Tina. Am honored you liked it.

Sharla said...

Wow! You've done a lot Karen. It's funny the twists and turns our lives take and how we always seem to keep going back to what we truly love—despite the lack of pay (or applause). I'm so glad writing is still stalking you!

Tim said...

Hey, Tyler, this guest columnist is a hot looking chick! Can I get her phone number?

kquah said...

Thanks Sharla, I guess I'm glad writing is stalking me too. Just don't tell Writing I said so! And thanks for your kind and wonderful support. It means the world to me.

As for Tim... Who are you? Reveal yourself!

Tim said...

Another stalker! ;)

sedef said...

Congratulations, Karen, on the many impressive achievements already under your belt. I have a sense that the best is yet to come. Thanks for sharing, and I look forward to more...

Tim said...

This is a great review of your bio. I greatly enjoyed, as it filled in some gaps left out in your bio on your blog.

As do all your friends and students, I appreciate your advice, guidance, and support.

And I eagerly look forward to your future work.

Your happy stalker,
- Tim

kquah said...

They're not impressive, just manic. But thank you Sedef. As always, I love & appreciate your input. One can only hope the best is yet to come. But whatever happens, I am glad and grateful to have your company.

Thank you stalker Tim. You have been by my blogging side from the very start and I appreciate that immensely. I'm glad I helped you fill in the gaps and thank you, as always, for your unwavering support & crazy-ass advice! (I'd do the smiley face but I forgot the code-ugh!)

Simon said...

It's a pleasure to watch the craziness of you and Jeanne VB, like watching two butterflies dance in the air trying to out pimp each other in stunning display, I just love reading your work, it gives comfort to know that the voices in the middle of the night, demanding to be written down, bleary eyed and scrawled on the page so you need a degree to decipher it in the morning, are not mine alone. This need to write, or create or express is a gift and a curse. As I've said before I've witnessed a lot of life, more than the average person due to my work, but my own path is as dark and twisted, yet the light is the ability to release onto the page and talk with like minded people like yourself and Jeanne. It's a pleasure to know you a little bit more and an honour to tweet with you,


Simon VDS

Pulp Tone said...

Just wanted to chime in late and say great column. I used a similar line of writing because I have to in another piece that I did so I completely understand!

kquah said...

Simon, it's so lovely to hear from you and how eloquently you describe it all. To be honest, I wasn't sure about this piece and what reaction (if any) it would evoke. But reading a comment like yours, I am so glad I went with it. That you as a writer and filmmaker can relate to it, is the biggest of compliments. Haha and yes, I've been blessed to come across fellow-psycho Jeanne and just as grateful to meet like-minded souls such as yourself. Though I'm not sure about the butterfly thing - think it's more like rabid possums. But thanks again, Simon. Deeply touched.

Thank you, Pulp Tone. Never too late to comment. And glad you liked it. Cheers!

kquah said...

And one other thing, THANK YOU TYLER for this awesome opportunity. Been quite a ride. It's an incredible thing you've got going here with Multi-Hyphenate. Kudos to you and Keep truckin'!

The Dark Scribe said...

I love this post. I'd say more, but you've said it already.

Thank you.

Tyler Weaver said...

And thank you Karen. The door's always open for you here at MH.

An honor and pleasure. =)

kquah said...

Thank you Paul. Your support is humbly appreciated.

And thanks Tyler. Pleasure has been all mine.

Cecilia Dominic said...

Wow! Twists and turns and drama, indeed! I loved the "giving birth in Italian part," although I'm sure that wasn't as much fun as it sounds.

Thanks for giving hope to those of us who want writing to be more than "just a hobby!"


kquah said...

My pleasure, Cecilia. So glad my story gives you hope - yes if I can do it so can you! And you're right, the giving birth in Italian thing - not fun, ha. Thanks for the kind words. Cheers!

Jessica & Julie said...

What was the novel you wrote when you were seven about? Your adoring fans need to know.

The Uneasy Writer said...

WOW! You are way too humble.
If I had your resume, I would be pasting it everywhere, including a billboard in Times Square.
And speaking of New York, I was living there the same time you were. It's a good thing we didn't meet; NYC would not have survived us.

kquah said...

Ha, good to see you Jess & Julie. It was about a magic bowl of noodles that caused you to levitate and turn invisible when you ate them. Hey, I was seven.

Sheri, you are so right. New York would never have stood a chance had we met up. Strange that we should only find out now. Did you happen to catch my play at the Lower East Side? Hee.

Olive said...

Wow Karen, you have been around...the world. Didn't realise you lived in New York and Italy too. I'm glad that you returned to writing; a bad back was a blessing in disguise. The same type of thing happened me, I was in a bad car accident and my back was killing me for years; couldn't work for months last year and wrote my first book during that time, to preserve my sanity. Otherwise, wouldn't have had the time! You're multi-talented Karen, look forward to reading your next post!

kquah said...

It's amazing how I've found out different things about so many of you with this one post. I had no idea about your accident and that it prompted you to write, Olive. Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I think you're right, the back may have been a blessing in disguise. Thanks for your encouragement Olive, you're a champ!

marion said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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