Monday, September 11, 2017

Interview: How 'The Shells of Mersing' Came to Be

Following is from an interview of me (March 2013) by author Mary Cronk Farrell in the "Next Big Thing" Blog Hop! This traveling blog hop began in Australia, and each author was asked ten questions about a Work In Progress.  
My Thanks again to Mary!

What is the working title of your book?

The Shells of Mersing

Where did the idea come from for the book?

My husband and I lived in Kluang, Malaysia for nine months in 1995-96. I was volunteering at a local orphanage when I learned that one of the boys (7) had been rescued from domestic slavery. I was aware of human slavery, of girls mostly, but my shock level jumped to a new level. This was the little boy I had made yarn dolls with at Christmas time. I then learned that human trafficking and slavery did indeed exist in Malaysia and even more so in Thailand to the north. From this experience a story grew.

I began to ask a lot of what ifs. What if a Malay girl and her sister had been sold in Thailand? What if an American G.I. later met and fell in love with this girl, and took her to America as his bride? What if he then died and left his Malay wife alone with two children? Would she miss her family, especially her sister in Thailand, and try to rescue and bring her to America? And finally, what would be the fate of her children, if she disappeared in Thailand?........which is where my story begins.

The idea for the title came from my travels. We sometimes meandered up the east coast of Malaysia along the South China Sea. The views were incredible. We would stop to gather shells or just walk along the beaches. Mersing was the first stop, and I fell in love with the colorful boats in its fishing harbor and a section of beach. I decided to make Mersing the childhood home of my Malay mother, and the shells a special collection her daughter inherits.

What genre does your book fall under?

Adventure/Mystery, Young Adult fiction. 
[also - Multi-cultural and Romance]

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

-Only two actors so far. They may be too old for the part, but I have always imagined Vanessa Hudgens as my main character Callie (15), who is half Malay; and Zac Efron for Sam (16), the American boy she meets in Malaysia.
-Lucas (8), Callie's brother (also half Malay), plays an important role, but I'm not familiar with younger child stars. He needs to be smart and confident.

(Zac Efron and Vanessa Anne Hudgens;

[Here is the song from High School Musical I that really inspired me. Both my husband and I love this movie, and we were reminded of our own sweet romance in high school.]

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

After witnessing the murder of her Seattle foster dad, a teenage girl runs away with her eight-year-old brother and sets off on a journey to find their missing mother in Thailand and family in Malaysia.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I hope to find an agent. [I did not find an agent. Instead I found a small publisher in Canada, Evernight Teen, which I was thrilled to find]

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

One year. I have since written several drafts and changed the tense twice. [Note: this was 2013. It took until 2017 to be published, but I always believed in this novel]

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

To some degree the following:
-Patricia McCormick's Sold, the story of a thirteen year old girl from Nepal, who is sold into sexual slavery. (There is a tragic back story of human trafficking and slavery in my book that becomes a live threat to my main characters, Callie and Lucas).
-Wendelin Van Draanen's Runaway - Holly is abused by her foster dad. (My main character is afraid of her foster dad when he drinks, especially the night she and her brother run away).
-Heidi Ayarbe's Compromised - A father goes to prison and his motherless daughter is left to fend for herself, and ends up in an orphanage; She runs away to search for an aunt in New Mexico. (My main characters’ mother is missing and their father is dead; they are placed in a foster home and then run away to search for their missing mother and Malaysian relatives).

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

-Callie and Lucas stowaway on a large sailboat called the Meli Ann and cross the Pacific to Hawaii.
-The Mersing shells are stored in a wooden box with a beautiful dragon carving on top, but there is a secret compartment and much more in this "dragon box."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Floating Market - Bangkok 1995

Photos from author's visit .... 

Callie, Sam, and Lucas would have seen this at Bangkok's famous Floating Market. 

They toured the canal in a long boat

A Thai spirit house 

View inside a Thai home.

The market where goods, fruits, and vegetables are sold

Time to eat!

Selling hats to the tourists above.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Fun Facts - Durian: One Funky-Looking Fruit in Malaysia

Durian has long been known for its pungent odor. Descriptions range from rotting fruit, dirty gym socks, stinky armpits to even sewage. True, true, it is all true! While living in Malaysia, I could smell this fruit a block away when ripe.
Callie and Lucas in The Shells of Mersing taste their first durian in the Kluang market. Sam and Josh have a fun time watching their reactions. Eating durian in Malaysia is almost a rite of passage. It's just something you have to do, if only the one time.  

I still remember the truck heaped with durian that lumbered through our neighborhood one afternoon, the driver honking his horn, the neighbors gathering with excitement as he approached. Malaysians love durian. At twelve inches long, six inches wide on average, and with a thorny husk as hard as a nut, durian is one funky-looking fruit. Definitely one of a kind.

Durian is native to southeast Asia, dating back to prehistoric times, but it has only been known to the western world for about 600 years. Durian trees can grow anywhere from 60 to 164 feet tall. One fruit alone can weigh about 3.3 pounds and fetch a surprisingly high price. A high quality durian purchased in Singapore, can cost as much as $50 U.S dollars. It has long since earned a reputation as the "King of the Fruits."  

Durian is eaten fresh, cooked as a vegetable, boiled, roasted and fried. It's added to various dishes and sometimes sugared as a confection. Nutritionally, durian is a good source of dietary fiber, thiamine, vitamin B6, Manganese, and vitamin C. 

There are plenty of myths surrounding durian, among them its aphrodisiac qualities and lethality when consumed with alcohol, neither of which has been proven. But one myth is indeed a fact. The damage done to one's head by a falling durian could be deadly. It's best to heed the posted warning signs when the fruit is ripe for picking.

Popular recipes in Malaysia include combining durian with chilies in a spicy Sambal sauce, and durian mixed in curry sauce served over fish and vegetables, but many Malaysians prefer eating durian freshly cut as is.

(Durian Ice Cream at Pink's)

Another popular form is Durian Ice Cream. I sampled some once, thinking, How bad could it be? It was ice cream after all. Let's just say, it's not my favorite! You can imagine my surprise when I then discovered it was recently on the menu at "Pink's Ice Cream" shop in Seattle.

Durian Jokes

Said the Puffer fish to the Durian: 
 "I'm in love, I'm in love!"

No  joke!

We saw signs like this at upscale hotels in Singapore and Malaysia.

Durian Books

Durian: King of Tropical Fruits by S. Ketsa (2001) (nonfiction)

Durian by Kelly Weisheit (2010)  
(With her family murdered, young Shekrah 
escapes to the Kingdom of Durian, where she meets the prince of Durian, Torian)

So How Smelly Is Durian? (video link)

Durian Song (video link)

"Durian" by Zainal Alam (1950)

Zainal Alam (1926-1991) was born in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia. A popular performer in his day, he has been called the 'Bob Hope' and 'Bing Crosby' of Malaysia. (Song is in Malay).


Friday, June 16, 2017

Almost There: Teaser Excerpt and Release Date

The Shells of Mersing is ready for release June 23. Next
F-R-I-D-A-Y! It's really going to happen! I dreamed 
a story and POOF....a book is born.

A teaser excerpt - The Shells of Mersing:

Groaning, his eyes flicker open. “What happened?”

“Don’t move, Mr. Pirone. I’ll get Judith.”

He grabs my wrist. “You’ll do no such thing. Help me up.” His face softens. “Please, I hurt my back.” I pull him to his feet.

He staggers to the door and stops mid step at the threshold, hanging there for the longest time. “What are you doing here?” he finally says.

“Benjamin, my old friend,” a male voice replies.

Benny inches backward. Glancing back at me, he speaks in a low deliberate voice, “Run, Callie.” He mumbles something else, but all I really hear are his first words. Run, Callie.

A muffled pop pierces the air. Benny falls to his knees and collapses face down. I cover my mouth, stifling a scream, afraid to move as blood gushes from a bullet hole in Benny’s temple. A crimson pool forms on the floor.

A flashlight beam travels over his face and the wound. I gasp, recalling the glowing moon eyes in my dream. The beam of light shines on my face next and goes out, blinding me at first.

“Who’s there? Please. Who are you?”

A cold, unmistakable chill travels down my spine, and then I see him, a man clad in black. He steps over Benny’s body, entering the room. A gun hangs loose at his side in his black gloved hand. I step backward. He flicks his black hair away from his face and moves closer. Two sunken cheeks dominate his long face. A red scar zigzags across his nose. He’s young, in his twenties, maybe thirties. He eyes Benny’s body, snickering to himself.

A toilet flushes upstairs. Please let it be Judith. I step to the side, eyeing the door and the stairs behind him. I can run for it. I can do this.

He snatches my hand. “Not so fast.” His steely eyes are those of a cobra’s. I can almost hear the hiss when his bony fingers clamp down, pinching me. He forces my palm over the gun handle, curving my index finger around the trigger. “You tell anyone about me, and I’ll kill you. Your mama too.”

My mouth goes dry. “My mother?”

He smiles, a cruel deliberate sneer. “That’s right, your mama in Thailand.”

My heart rips apart, a scream building inside. This horrid man knows my mother. He knows her!

His cobra eyes gloat. “Yeah, that’s right. I think you understand. Now don’t forget.”

I struggle to move the gun wedged in my hand. No, I’ll never forget your warning and cruel voice, or your snakelike stare and jagged scar.

He snorts. “Tell them it was self-defense.” He kicks Benny’s body as he leaves.

My knees shake as I watch him disappear. The soles of my feet are molded to the floor. I have a gun frozen in my hand, and a scream welling up inside. No one would believe me in a million years if I told the truth, because the only truth I could fabricate is an outright lie. Tell them it was self-defense, he said. But I can’t lie, nor can I live with the deadly consequences of the truth.

Judith rushes into the room. I have no idea when. Seconds, minutes, hours could have passed. I’m standing where the stranger left me.