Motion picture, baby

The Quarter Percent 👈🏽 DOWNLOAD BETA VERSION

Blurb A
During thirteen intense days of summer, 2030, profit is territory, and the quarter percent wield influence and prestige to fight for more of it. Behind the screens, a reclusive entrepreneur is rewriting the rules of the game. As the rules change, a former social media influencer struggles to adjust. On the Continent, a popular and charismatic king works covertly to undermine his rivals. His younger daughter takes on an exciting new challenge while his youngest finds herself in his cross-hairs. His oldest daughter is heir apparent. She marshals forces in a bold scheme to burnish her brand. She will do whatever it takes to win.

Thumbnail for the trailer, The Quarter Percent.
Click the image to download the BETA version


Blurb B
It is summer, 2030. Truth is the weapon, and profit is the territory. Behind the screens, Marvin Stone is a wealthy recluse who uses powerful, cutting-edge technology to rewrite the rules of the game. As the rules change, Augustine Santa Clara, a former social media star, struggles to adjust. On the Continent, the popular and charismatic King Cordial of Vale works covertly to undermine his rivals. His youngest daughter, Costmary, is in his cross-hairs. Rue, his older daughter, takes on an exciting new challenge. Gala is the King’s firstborn. When she is named Princess Regent, she forges new ties and unveils her master plan.

Trailer created by Ateeb Khan.

Cover art by Emanuel Malu. Click the image to download the BETA version.

North to South

Illustration by Poelosophy

Indonesian artist, Poelosophy, created some concept art for my novel. There is an exhibit in Dublin, ‘North to South’, which features aboriginal art from Northern Europe and South America. The exhibit is the setting for a scene entitled ‘Big Daddy Pharma’.

Thank you for leaving encouraging words for me when I wrote about the impossible task of getting promotional work done. I’m still processing ideas and will be working on them as I go. Feeling like giving up is part of the journey. But I was amused at suggestions that I should actually toss my project. Hold on a second. I haven’t tried everything yet.

North to South – illustration by Poelosophy

And I am quite sure that if someone were to lend me their celebrity friends and let me slobber all over them in the club, my novel would get downloaded really fast. A Russian woman who pretended to be a German heiress, and stole millions, has deals with Netflix and Shonda Rhimes. Other people, who look different, would be rotting, anonymously, in jail. So let’s be realistic about what’s going on out here.

In the past, I would have been totally destroyed by “delete your book” remarks. But Fifty Shades fan fiction 365 Days was optioned by Netflix. The film skyrocketed to first place last weekend. It tells the story of a gangster who kidnaps a woman, ties her up, and assaults her for an entire year so she will fall in love with him. Even the people who said they hated it, watched it to the end, and uploaded reviews to their YouTube channels. In other words, the release was a success.

If that film is out there, it means two things. One, thinking in terms of ‘good writing’ or ‘bad writing’ is unhelpful. Two, the universe now needs to be balanced, so I will be publishing my novel.

Perceived quality is not a metric that can be influenced by hand-wringing. Instead of telling people what they should/shouldn’t like, I should focus on finding (a) people who will read anything, (b) people who like everything they read, (c) people who like to read full-length novels on mobile devices and (d) people who collect ebooks.

The search continues …

Have a great week ahead.

Cara de la Reina

The mural "Cara de la Reina" is featured in my novel, The Quarter Percent. This graffiti style illustration was created for me by Emanuel Malu at Saita Studio.
The mural “Cara de la Reina” is featured in my novel, The Quarter Percent. This graffiti style illustration was created for me by Emanuel Malu at Saita Studio.

As I have discussed before, my amazing book promotion campaign fell flat because everyone I approached wanted me to be a popular author before agreeing to help me promote my book. Gah!

Over the weekend, I decided to beta test the promotion of a promotional copy of my novel, The Quarter Percent. After receiving a copy formatted for Kindle from the book designer, I wanted to see how a free PDF copy would be received by an influencer who has a large audience of avid e-book readers. This person’s audience only wants fiction books that are FREE or which cost $0.99. Perfect for a beta test? Or so I thought.

After three days of discussions, I was floored when this influencer insisted, today, that the book be published to Amazon first. He also asked me, “But how will you benefit from people reading it?” I am confused. Isn’t the point of publishing a novel to have people read it?

In other words, his audience is not interested in books that are cheap or free. They want popular releases for free or at a super discount. Yet, the advice I have received is to give away promotional copies of my novel to generate buzz. That makes no sense, you say? Large film studios deal with this nonsense, too. That is why they leak promotional copies of new releases to torrent sites.

My confusion arises from the fact that official publication on Amazon defeats the purpose of beta testing the novel with readers in different locations, and watching how they respond to it. I need this information so I can know how and where to promote the story. What I don’t want is readers who are not the intended audience to write reviews on the Amazon page complaining that the novel has words and that the themes are ‘difficult’.

I used to joke that I am an alien from outer space. But I am beginning to believe that either I stepped into a wormhole and this is the underverse, or the inhabitants of this planet are insane.

A tale in the crypt

Gala meets Velour’s First Minister

Jennifer Horn has done a fantastic job again creating this storyboard for a key scene for my novel, The Quarter Percent.

In the first scene of the final chapter, Gala and the First Minister of Velour are in the crypt of Ruby Palace. On screen is a replay of the ‘fall of the house of Moss’. At a prestigious awards ceremony, in front of the crowned heads of the Continent, Mrs. Moss spills the dirt on the Continent’s aristocrats. Gala explains that it is her system of interpersonal sabotage.

Morse coded message I created online

In the epilogue, one of the characters receives an invitation card on his breakfast tray. The card is written in Morse. He presses it to the screen of his tablet to translate the message.

(^ω^)


Have a happy week ahead, everyone.

Illustrations

Gala and Cordial of Vale – Illustrations by Victoria Seow

So after literally a week of gymnastics and writing while standing on my head, I’ve managed to format my fiction novel. And rework the timeline after finding out I have physically shredded five key scenes, which I wrote longhand. The novel is completely re-drafted. Edited, done. Not only that, I’ve managed to weave a coherent timeline for all of the scenes. On top of that, the conclusion is tight, the prologue is tight, and the epilogue is tight. I even have a brilliant idea for cover art.

Augustine Santa Clara- Illustration by Victoria Seow

But guess what? The geopolitics is mucked. The Monarchy of Vale (the fictional name of my country) has to be landlocked for the story to work. My protagonist is an absolute monarch of a fictional country that’s needing to negotiate with trade partners, also fictionalised.

My basis for designing the Continent was Europe, with different borders, same cities but different country names. But the m-effing European Union, in real life, it’s just sat there. It already has a trade bloc and negotiates on behalf of member states. While editing, I realise cannot use the word “Europe” or euro as currency. I could use a pound but then readers will be confused, thinking I’m talking about the UK. I am not.

I know I’m overthinking this. I know it’s fiction. But you know how certain types of people are. They immediately start fact checking your fiction. Do you guys remember Pandora? Pandora, my retelling of a doesn’t exist mythological creature entity person. Got Wikipediaded!!!

I know myself. I will trash that thing if someone bothers me.

I might have to situate this entire story on a completely different planet where the sentient beings are octopuses.

Special thanks to Victoria Seow / sunflowerfox for drawing these characters from my novel.

I went and did a thing

Greetings, everyone. Since my amazing book promotion idea got twisted in the game, I had a few other ideas. One person who helped me is Australian illustrator, Jennifer Horn. She created these storyboards for some key scenes in my novel, which I am calling The Quarter Percent. I asked for rough sketches because I’m redrafting at the moment. Here are three of the key scenes.


Rue and Karl – Illustration by Jennifer Horn

Rue and Karl are now friends after their bitter divorce ten years earlier. Karl reminds Rue that he has custody of their frozen embryos from the divorce. They are about to be destroyed. Karl proposes that they start a family instead. Rue agrees, on condition that they ask three gestational carriers to carry the babies at the same time. She also decides to publicise the news of the surrogacy to stir up controversy, which will drum up business for her luxury yacht building company. That decision will backfire because…

Costmary and Karen – Illustration by Jennifer Horn

Costmary’s private dispute with her father, Cordial, has leaked to the press. Social media is Team Costmary. The public takes her sister, the thrice-divorced Rue, to task for promoting a ‘happy families’ image in light of her sister’s hardship. Costmary is having crisis talks with her publicist and friend, Karen. Earlier that day, Cordial had filed a vaguely worded writ against his subjects. Reading between the lines, journalists guessed correctly that the writ was meant for Costmary. To make matters worse, he served her with a €45 billion lawsuit. It represents the stock value of her vegan brand, Costmary’s Farm. Her father’s latest salvo has come as a shock.

Cordial and Marvin – Illustration by Jennifer Horn

Rue and Costmary’s father, Cordial, is distracted at the moment. Three weeks before the closing deadline of a multinational trade deal, he is having a video chat with the reclusive Marvin Stone, CEO of Marvin Stone Technologies, LLC. Marvin has launched a brand new, super exclusive insurance policy that only a quarter of the one percent can afford. Marvin invited twenty-three individuals to sign up for the policy. Cordial is angry because he was not on the list. But Marvin excluded him on purpose. It seems the strategy was effective.

+ – <

You can find Jennifer Horn on Instagram @Eskyjen and view her Facebook Art Page here. She has been kind, encouraging and a lovely person to collaborate with. As always, thank you for your support. Have a productive week ahead.

Notes 7/3

Coffee with milk in a dark mug
Image by Nicholas Ng via Unsplash

A few days ago, a post from one of our blogging colleagues, supporting peaceful protest, vapourised just as I posted a response to it. The suppression of speech and shredding of proprietary content is only the beginning of the issues plaguing social media platforms. As Upper Echelon Gamers puts it, “Companies do not care about you.”

Many social media users complain about content banned for “reasons” including nebulous and somewhat petty rules violations. Meanwhile, the most vile content continues to be added to those same platforms seemingly without resistance. I once saw a post with an offensive word spelled out on Scrabble tiles. The justification for posting it was wordy. He knew exactly what he was doing and who would be reading. Another subscriber from a different country threatened, from the comfort of his bedsit, to get me ‘deported’ even though I am a long term resident of a country he has never even visited.

I believe that a platform like WordPress has the resources to hire staff to manually review posts flagged by an algorithm, and warn users about community policy violations. It is lazy to smoke every post that uses the flagged keyword or hashtag of the day. If you have a blog, keyword lists are not enough. People who use speech to denigrate others know how to evade the censors.

Brown paper in envelopes with fountain pen
Image by Ankhesenamunn via Unsplash

I once had a subscriber suggest here, on this blog, that “the races” should shove off to a remote part of the world so she wouldn’t have to live in harmony with us. A mutual write-off won’t make the world a better place. I’ve tried to initiate discussions on the problematic phrasing, virtue signalling and outright opportunism that occurs in times like these. Invariably, my remarks bring out a defensive response. I think the best approach is to keep using our blogs to challenge retrogressive ideas in a non-confrontational way: Art, fiction, reflections, photography, poetry, music and film. The resistance is here on WordPress.

That’s why I’m always beating the drum of engagement. As wonky as it is, this platform enables us to see more of the world. Of course it is risky to reach out and start conversations with people we have never met face-to-face. Sure, it can be a painful undertaking. And yes, it might be a terrible idea but in the exchange, I feel that getting noticed disrupts the status quo of toxic ideologies.

This leaves me with a most important question. How do we get closer to those individuals, to influence them away from divisive and destructive ideas, when the voices of the well-intentioned continue to be suppressed?

(^ν^)


Post script: As a side note, it has been five days since my attempts to upgrade this account have been thwarted. Yet, on Dashboard, I see a notice encouraging me to buy a unique domain. That is a machine talking. Not a single peep has been heard from the mysterious Help Desk humans. As far as I am concerned, they have left town.

Sunday at the coffee shop

Some tumblers and reusable cups at a local Starbucks.
The top shelf of my “office”


This afternoon, I had the brilliant idea of attempting to upgrade my account. However, WordPress wouldn’t let me enter my postcode on their PayPal payment page. I switched keyboards twice and used the number pad. They were kind enough to ask why I was cancelling my order.

Why do I keep doing this to myself?

Dessert - strawberry mousse in a glass display case
Designer mousse – I ordered extra whipped cream instead

I see what the matter is with the new block editor. It literally depends on the time of day. At 11.00, 13.00 and 16.00, I couldn’t use the backspace key or CTRL + X to delete images or blocks of text. It’s 19.01 or two hours before this post goes live. Now, I can do all of those things. But the earlier function of accessing arrows on the left side of the block to move text around, has gone.

Social distancing notice in a Starbucks coffee shop.
Table top – a fifteen-minute visit turned into a two-hour battle

At first, I thought the editor was not iPhone friendly, but typing on a desktop is equally frustrating. It’s not that the block editor lacks functionality, it is that the removal of user control means that poorly rendered backend code can really ruin your day. I wanted to switch out the following two photos. It was impossible on my phone. When I got home, I found a tutorial online and was able to do that.

Screen capture of the block settings feature for images.
A “killer” app

Again, the block editor is rubbish on my phone. I uploaded medium-sized images but they were huge when I viewed them on my laptop screen. Searching through the side bar and finding the image resize tool was exhausting. I like to edit HTML because if there are any issues, I can always look at the code and fix it there. I’m not being stubborn. Look at this:

Some html code from the new block editor. Screen capture.
Okay …

Pretty straightforward. But the block editor returned an error message when I tweaked the code. I needed to do this to embed images from the Google Photos app. The app doesn’t give me a .jpg link so I used a different app to create an embed string. I could not embed that into this block editor. My workaround was to upload photos into the media library in WordPress. It will get full fast, so this workaround is not sustainable. Not that I could pay for extra space even if I wanted to.

Have a great Sunday.

My amazing promotional campaign idea crashes and burns

… before it’s got off the ground. Anyone have a celebrity friend I can borrow?

Still using the new editor. You need lots of Real Estate in order to create a post. I’m on my phone. And no Siri that’s not a capital R and a capital E.

Today, I had a brilliant idea while I was having lunch. I dropped my food and wrote everything down. Then I joined Fiverr. As I’ve referenced in my previous post, I am miserable because I was trying to get going on Twitter when they imposed a new feature that allows a small group of people to select limited accounts from which to receive tweet replies. This limits who can directly engage with a post. It is another way of creating an elitist clique among already popular feeds. That is not fair.

Going off on a tangent here, let me say that I’m sick and tired of people telling me how amazing social media is for promoting myself. The number of unanswered tweets I have read daily makes me sad. On top of that, Twitter wouldn’t allow me to promote my tweets because my account was too new. I feel that it is impossible to grow through organic engagement. 

facebook application icon
Photo from Pexels

I read that on social media, between 4.7% to 5% engagement is good. And anything above 9% is rare. It is a lot of singing and dancing for paltry rewards. Therefore, I thought it would be efficient to use many existing networks to get my project idea out there. I want to meet and correspond with people who like to read books. I don’t know how many people are reading my chapters on this blog and I don’t want to trash my project because I don’t get a lot of feedback in this forum. The plan was to create redundancies by launching as many campaigns as possible and renew them periodically.

Do I continue writing or do I shred my novel? I think it would be a good idea to encourage people to sign up to read it chapter by chapter in chronological sequence. Based on demand or continued mailing list subscriptions, I can decide what to do next.

My plan so far: Readers who are interested in reading an entire book for free will subscribe to a mailing list and receive a new chapter each week. Subsequently, I will ask readers to share testimonials and links to my blog, or write reviews. I estimate it will take several months to a year.

Fiverr has everything I need for my campaign. All of the individuals I contacted are popular and sought after. They advertise shout outs, interviews and advertisements. I was thrilled. I typed out my stump speech, added some bona fides and messaged every one I could find.

Six hours later, almost everyone responded. I got three positive replies. However, most were not willing to do any promotion for a new author. Others needed to read the whole book first.  

This means I may not get my project promoted as widely as I’d like even though it’s a FREE fiction novel. But isn’t that the point of promoting a product via a total influencer roll out?

I agree that name recognition helps. Chanel, Dior, Estée Lauder, Fancl and Shiseido give away skincare and makeup products all the time. They’re still able to sell full-size products for ridiculous prices. I should know because I’m on all of the above birthday mailing lists, and receive free, limited edition products in the post or over the counter. 

Even so, I felt like a start-up skincare company being told by a beauty vlogger that they won’t even patch test my products because they’ve never heard of my “brand”. I appreciate everyone’s honesty and will now proceed to feel sorry for myself.

 

Other images in this post are free from Unsplash.

Rinse, repeat …

Collage with postage stamps

So far, the new WordPress editor is driving me bonkers and is about to get slapped upside the head with my pimp hand after trying to stitch me up via Siri. 

Warning! Rant …

I spent the last four days trying to delete my Instagram account, which I started four days ago. Before that, I was forced to shred my Twitter posts, all 202 of them and delete my account. Long story short, Twitter is Babylon.

I have sworn that I would never use Facebook products ever. I had to go back on my word because I’m not able to travel overseas this year. 

Instagram’s software decided that my photos were professional-looking. I was prompted to upgrade to a professional account and pay for advertising. They then said that I needed a Facebook page (so they can mine my data and sell me ads). I declined because I wasn’t going to sell my artwork anyway, and their analytics are irrelevant. I was planning to post photos from my archives to establish some credentials. I wanted other artists to pay attention to me when I engaged with them. Instead, from the fourth post in, my photos started vanishing. Soon after, I was not allowed to react to stories, or comment on more than four consecutive posts. So I said, I’m done. Four days later, after several thwarted attempts, I finally did it.

I was miserable the whole time.

You have to understand, I study programming and machine learning so I know how algorithms work. I don’t believe that their algorithms are even-handed. Machine learning code requires human input and all of that “the algorithm changes constantly” nonsense you see in tech magazines, is shorthand for “our programmers are constantly re-drafting the code so that people who are not buying advertisements will feel compelled to do that”.  

I had zero followers and was getting suppressed. It is a clear sign that Facebook exists to sell advertisements. They don’t cater to anyone who refuses to add to their bottom line. I don’t have access to their servers, so there is nothing I can do to change their policy to help myself.

Please do not ask me about all of the accounts I visited in stealth mode. Oh, I spied on everybody: neighbours all the way to my former teachers, classmates, childhood friends, crushes, crushes’ crushes, uni friends, colleagues. People are so nice when they don’t know it’s me commenting.

One of my cousins, who is a fashion designer, sent me a lovely welcome audio message to thank me for joining her army of fans. In real life, her husband banned her from talking to me because I told my cousin she should not allow her husband to name himself CEO of her multinational fashion brand, which she started on her own. He has no business training, mind you. He claims on his social media accounts that he is naturally better at business because he’s a dude and men are traditionally the provider. It’s a very long story – and you can read about it at that link. 

I woke up on Sunday morning to a face full of the power couple in an Instagram live stream. Their marriage is amazing and perfect and stuff so they were cohosting a marriage counselling session with a very good-looking celebrity singer couple. I had to intervene after a guest complained that her man wasn’t ready to have children. She joked that her friend told her to take a sample of his you-know-what while he was sleeping. I quickly jumped in the chat to say that it was assault and battery. (If I had a partner kinda sorta joke that they would impregnate me in my sleep, there’d be no discussion about it: that would be the very end. Don’t say hi to me, get lost forever).

Of course the power couples ignored me. Because, they don’t have any knowledge about fundamental human rights. And why would they? They’re not really helping anyone, they’re building a brand.

 

Tear up that cheque

Rue et Cassidy

Cassidy looked at the cheque. It was written in the amount of ten million euros. The recipient’s name was Asparagus Saints, LLC. She looked at Rue with her mouth open. With a puzzled laugh and flutter of her eyelids, she asked, “Why are you giving this to me?”

“I think you mean to ask why I am not offering it to you through a representative,” said Rue. Her calm voice disguised her irritation. Cassidy’s tone was informal and they were not close friends.

“Well …” Cassidy said, while rolling her eyes.

“Let’s get some things sorted. You could take that cheque to a journalist and repeat everything we spoke about here,” said Rue. “However, as soon as someone rings my attorney for a comment, you will be thrown in jail for extortion, blackmail and money laundering.”

“What?!”

“The person who wrote that cheque runs the Kiev underworld. I asked him for ten million euros, and he gave it to me no questions asked. Do you have any friends like that?” It was a rhetorical question, but the princess waited for a response.

“No, Ma’am,” responded Cassidy, feeling put in her place.

“I also asked him to register that business in your name and open an account for you at a bank in Niue.”

“I didn’t ask for this,” said Cassidy.

“Your endgame was to spend the Count’s money,” responded the princess, referring to her first ex-husband. “House, car, boat, plane, diamonds, clothes, bags, shoes, skin, hair, nails, boob job, lip fillers, vitamin drips. This is more than you would get in a divorce. Doesn’t refusing this cheque make you a liar?”

“No!”

Image by Sebastian Coman via Unsplash

“Really? Do you love him?”

“Yes.”

“Yes? I handed you a cheque for ten million euros, threatened to have you locked up, and there you are, still holding it.”

“I’m trying to understand what this is all about.”

“I believe you’re hesitating because you think you can cash that cheque and keep sleeping with my ex-husband,” said Rue. “You are an entry-level backstabber. If you had any real gold-digging skills, Karl would have married you already.”

“I’m not a gold-digger, or a grifter, if this is what you’re trying to prove,” said the woman.

“Did you earn that money?” Rue looked at the cheque, looked at Cassidy’s face and leaned her head to one side. She felt she was exercising a great deal of self-restraint.

“Of course not,” replied Cassidy.

“You’re holding a piece of paper representing an amount you haven’t earned. If you loved that man, you would have torn it up and stomped out of here.”

Cassidy calmly put the cheque on the table, hooked her arm through the handle of her purse and stood up. With a curtsy, she said, “Your Royal Highness, if I may be excused.” Her voice was trembling.

“You may not,” said the princess, smiling. She leaned back in the sofa and looked up at the Cassidy. “Sit down.”

Cassidy obeyed. Tears were welling up in her eyes. She asked, “What do you want from me?”

Image by Rod Long via Unsplash

“I believe that in spite of your low aspirations, and uncouth behaviour, you think that you’re ambitious. However, you have misunderstood people’s opinions of you. You think they respect you for spending Karl’s money. But they think you are a sex worker. You would know how not to act like one if you had a good mentor.”

“Ma’am? Are you offering to mentor me?”

“That would be inappropriate, not to mention unpleasant, given how thick you are. Put the cheque in your purse. Accept it as a generous payout from a concerned third party. Consider that you would get nothing after the inevitable demise of your opportunistic coupling.” Rue inhaled deeply and glared at Cassidy with a glacial glare. 

Cassidy picked up the cheque and neatly tucked it into her wallet, which she had retrieved from her purse. Rue continued, “Now, I’m going to introduce you to a stylist.” She turned her head towards the doorway behind her and called out. “Harlowe?”

A petite, curvy woman with ankle-length, rose pink dreadlocks entered the living room from an adjoining room. She was wearing a white dress that looked like an apron over a blue silk jumpsuit. There were thong sandals on her feet. The straps were bejewelled.

Picking up a pen and notepad from the table, Rue scribbled something on a page, tore it off, and handed it to Cassidy. “When Miss Harlowe is finished with you, arrive at that address, on that date, at nineteen o’clock, sharp. No plus ones, thank you.”

“Ma’am,” said Cassidy. Now intrigued as well as confused, she curtsied to Rue again and followed Harlowe into the adjoining room. She didn’t hear when the princess exited the suite.

(o^  ^o)

Hello everyone and thank you for reading. This is a rough draft of a scene in my novel, The Quarter Percent. Context is everything, I suppose.

Don’t ever change yourself

I finally did it. I finally gave into my deep-seated aversion to non-specific socialising. Blogging on WordPress, I had something to talk about: A photo, a piece of art, poetry, a short story or a reflection. I feel better relating to people in context and not simply blurting thoughts out into the ether.

an assortment of stationery cans, a few Disney Frozen and Heartful Fairy, colour

I deleted the Twitter app from my phone. That means I can only access my account from my tablet, my laptop, and every single computer at work. (There are about one hundred of them and I have administrator privileges.)

The thing is, and I know what you’re thinking – that one deletion is not a huge deal – but it’s significant.

What put me over the top was looking at a retrospective from a fashion blog sitting above a post about the World Food Program and other United Nations programs. The juxtaposition feels weird because I’m interested in clothes and I also want to help people.

Another issue that bothers me is that many communities are not being helped by these programs. They are facing food shortages; they don’t have access to clean water or soap. And these wonderful organisations are practically unreachable.  

I know this because I spent every day this month so far trying to reach them. An NPO asked me to help them out of a jam so I did the best I could. I composed emails and PSA copy, brainstormed ideas, edited an entire website’s content, looked up contacts, confirmed contacts, sent direct messages, and tweeted at organisations and individuals. 

One organisation made it very clear that they could help in limited ways, so that’s encouraging. Still waiting for a response. 

I read a PR blurb about another organisation sending food aid to a developing country. They assured me that as long as I contacted their office in country they would be fine. So I asked the NPO to do that. I’m hearing that the NPO can’t raise this organisation on the phone, nor receive any response via email or LinkedIn. 

This evening, I saw a PR blurb from the WFP saying they raised $3 billion to alleviate food shortages in the world. They were so concerned about the plight of displaced families. Does this make any sense? I feel like an alien sometimes – I have no idea what’s happening on this planet. Maybe I’m too naive and it’s time I grew up.

I’ll be spending much of Saturday brainstorming with the NPO about how to get a community with homeless children fed. There is food aid available but the official channels seem completely cut off from the communities that need help the most. And yet, they are somehow able to collect data from those same communities in order to raise funds. When I see all of this ‘Let’s help hungry children’ and ‘Donate now’ on their websites, my heart breaks a little.

How did you meet your husband?

Praia and Augustine

“How did you meet your husband, Praia?”

“It is a very long story.”

“Start and keep going until you get to the end. My brain is saturated with work stuff. Cleanse me with your tale of true love.”

“I met him in Bhutan five years ago. I was already in country for three months when we met. I was a field tech volunteer with the Yoon-Kim Foundation. I was involved with Xu Ming, the film director. You might have heard of him?”

“Who hasn’t?”

“He was there to film a documentary about the Yoon-Kim Foundation. My boss asked me to guide him and his crew high up in the mountains. He wanted to capture some nature scenes. It was pure lust. At least, for him.”

“What about you? What was it for you?”

“I thought he was the one. He was humble, thoughtful and attentive. While I was deeply infatuated with Ming, I met my husband. He was taking a year off after finishing an internship. He decided to be a volunteer medic in Bhutan  while looking for fellowships. Everything was platonic. We went on hikes, explored some parks, had picnics, took photos. We didn’t hold hands or kiss or anything. He had a girlfriend back in Canada: a commercial pilot.”

“Hot stuff.”

“I was crushed when I saw her photos. Former Air Force pilot, two engineering degrees, speaks five languages, double D cup, skinny as a toothpick, super long legs, the type of creamy platinum blonde hair you only read about. He won the lottery ten times over, right?”

“Depends on what he wants.” 

“Good point. But I never thought that at the time. Well, one day, while we were waiting for a ride to pick us up from a remote village, he looked into my eyes and said he wanted me to run away with him to America.”

“What?”

“I thought he was joking. So I said what you just said.”

“What did he say?”

“He repeated what he said.”

“What did you do?”

“I asked him about the genius supermodel genius. I didn’t care if he thought I was insecure. She was dynamite.”

“That happened to Ming?”

“A few days after that shocking declaration, Ming called me from Shanghai. Anyway, I told him I loved him and he seemed happy. But a day later, I texted him to ask if he was coming  to Bhutan to see me. He told me he had to  be in Kyrgyzstan for a location shoot for that big budget film.”

“Nothing unusual about that.”

“When I told him I missed him, he laughed out loud and called me a silly girl.”

Ahh …”

“Yes. I don’t remember what I said to him, but I felt stupid, thinking it was serious.”

“Then you ran into your husband’s arms?”

“No. The last thing I needed was a rebound fling from a non-thing. I found the most remote village in Bhutan and hid out there. I don’t think I showered for the first six weeks.”

“Rejection is pain.”

“I was ashamed and angry, and I took it out on myself. I believed that Ming was into me. It makes me cringe even now.”

“And then you ran into your husband’s arms?”

“Not yet. It’s a really long story. While I was outdoors rolling up tents one morning, my tablet lit up. It was Ming. He wanted to video conference but I had no makeup on, my hair was dirty and pinned up, I was in baggy pajamas, three parkas and mucking boots.”

“Sounds like you were having the time of your life out there.”

“Oh, I felt happy and free. Smelly, and … free. I looked at my tablet and for a moment thought about pressing the accept button. Let him see me looking destroyed.”

“How long was that moment?”

“It was long. But I chucked it in my bag and finished up my morning work duties. When I came home for my lunch break, I saw that I had a video message. Ming said he missed me and wanted me to fly to Paris to see him. He had an awards ceremony and wanted to bring me on the red carpet.”

“And?!”

“After what he put me through? He should have sent me an apology. I laughed out loud. I’m sure the entire village heard me.”

“Was it the kind of laugh you hear in movies when the villain realises he trekked across the universe, wiped out dozens of civilisations to retrieve a box, only to open it and realise it was empty the whole time?”

“Exactly. And I was laughing at myself. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He rejected me and there he was, begging me to drop everything and run to him.”

“Right? Was it a rebound summons?”

“Maybe? I didn’t think about that at the time. I remember thinking he was hideous. That’s when I finally took a shower. I had to scrub him off me.”

“Was it like waking up from a trance?”

“Not really. I think I started to feel better after accepting that I was being silly. He was  right about that. Now comes the part you’ve been waiting for.”

“Wait, I need more juice. All right… Go.”

“All right. So I’m sitting on the edge of my bed, after scrubbing a month’s worth of dead skin off my body. My hair is fluffed out and all over the place. I hear a knock on my door. I open it, thinking it’s one of the villagers …”

“Wait … it’s your husband at the door.”

“Yes. Accompanied by … genius supermodel genius.”

“Ugh…”

“She sparkles, by the way. I am sure it was the loads of highlighting primer she had on but let me say, she was the design template for hentai fantasy. She had translucent teeth, skin and hair.”

“Ugh….”

“They got a ride up to the village and wanted to ‘explore the area’.”

“How smug.”

“The way he looked at me though, you’d never believe he’d ever seen a woman before. I felt scared for a minute.”

“And, how did you react to the way he looked at you?”

“I pulled my ‘best bitch’ face and told them to see me at the village tuck shop after my work duties were done. It was only after they walked away that I realised I was wearing a pair of huge, neon yellow room slippers, a bright pink dressing gown, and no bra.”

“Please … stop. You met your supreme love rival, GSG, in a bathrobe?”

“And don’t forget that my nipples were poking through.”

“Crushing.”

“I face-planted on my bed. Anyway, when we all met up later, he was asking me if I was with someone. Like, a love interest. I thought he was looking for some sign that I wanted him, so I took a shot. I said that romance was elusive and that I wanted to run away to America, where I could meet people who understood the words coming out of my mouth.”

“What did GSG say to that?”

“She smiled sweetly, in her computer-generated-waifu way, and squeezed his hand. She was saying something inspiring, because she’s also a guru and totally into keeping it simple with her feather-soft complexion. But I could barely hear it because her engagement ring blinded me. It blinded me because it was that big.”

“Oh, no! Not again … This is not a romantic story, Praia. It’s a suspense horror thriller.”

“Believe me, a week later, I was this close to throwing myself off the side of a hill into a gully, when my phone rang. It was him. He was on his way to see me. I hung up.”

“How on earth did you both get married?! Wait a second. I need blueberry popcorn.”

“I’m getting there. When he shows up, we have a quarrel. The gist of it is that I ask him if he thinks I’d be grateful to let him get on me because he’s engaged to every otaku’s wet dream. I say I’m not interested in running away to America to get dumped. Not that I could even consider moving unless I had a job waiting.”

“Right on, babe.”

“So he pulls out a tablet with an electronic marriage license application. Downloaded it from the Canadian High Commission’s website. And filled in his part of it.”

“Where were you when this was happening?”

“In a staff lounge in the free medical clinic set up by the foundation.”

“So, he was engaged to someone else a week earlier, but he wanted to marry you right then, to prove he was serious about you?”

“It felt weird for sure, but I didn’t ask him about … GSG … because I was insecure and jealous.”

“But you signed the marriage license?”

“Yes. Two days later, the license cleared, we signed some forms and we were married.”

“So in other words, you really liked him?”

“I did.”

“Wait, you didn’t have a bash after you moved here.”

“Nope.”

“You must let me plan your wedding. I’m a disgraced ex-fashionista. I’ve got you covered.”

“All right! Go for it.”

( ◠ ‿ ◠ )

Have you made it to the end of this very long story?  This is a chapter from a work of fiction I’m writing. Reread a few chapters recently and I see there is lots of polishing to be done. Hopefully, time is on my side.

If you’d like to stay in touch with me on Twitter, this  is me: @dotjp_n. Or send me a message on this blog’s contact form. Have a great Tuesday.

Kissing

Temple kissing

Her face was fully inside his mouth when she realized that his hands had clamped her head in place. One of her eyeballs plopped out and dribbled along the teeth lining his lower jaw.  As it settled into a jagged crater, the eyeball surveyed an astral grey amalgam of filling. A nerve ending in the retina swapped that image with the screenshot of a scene from Robocop. The tiny hairs in her nostrils weren’t quite so swayed. This was a human, and the tiny hairs proved it by enhancing the coffee stains and cigarette smoke emanating from his lungs.

Her right shoulder chipped in to help. Twisting to the left, it wrenched her face from his grip. Taking the hint, her left hand pulled open the door of her car. She had been standing with her back to it so she was able to slide in, gracefully, bottom first.

As she steered her car right, to exit the driveway, the man’s narrow body flattened out in her rearview mirror. His knees and elbows were still bent. His hands flopped down at the wrist. His tongue was stuck to the roof of his open mouth, as if he had been rudely interrupted, mid-hunt.

“Eat or be eaten” sustains the appetite for the short term. But human tribes, under threat, preemptively culled predatory populations (of animals and cannibals) so that they themselves could thrive. She wondered if this had happened to the dinosaurs before they went extinct.

Image: Lakshmana Temple depiction of couple kissing, dates back to 950 AD.

The Puppet Prince

Masked ball participant at Venice Carnival 2010

Sophie’s man was always fresh out of ideas. But he desperately needed a new roster of financial ventures to stay solvent. At the outset, his advisors found it difficult to tether him to a coherent idea. Thus, for his own good, his role had to be more “paperweight” and less “partner”. Occasionally, when hurled at an aide, his temper would do a lot of damage. Otherwise, Sophie compelled him to exist as a voiceless lunk.

The man’s lack of foresight had threatened to destroy Sophie’s childhood ambitions. However, she couldn’t simply chuck him to one side, grab a tiara and let that be that. This was not 18th century Russia. Yet, even in those days, serfs would not obey autocrats unless convinced of their right to rule.

And yet, it is 18th century Russia, though the serfs are tending to plots in unformed space. Tapping and scrolling, oblivious to bandwidth overheads, they tithe their landlords in views and clicks. Under Sophie’s influence, the landlords gather with advertisers and content providers at the private soirées she hosts. Grateful, they pay their dues in cash and kind.

Now, as then, the serfs assert the right to touch their rulers, and lash out if someone in power abuses their privilege. The man has an irrational fear of being stoned in public, so Sophie controls him by pointing out what he stands to lose. She does that by feeding him to the serfs, one intractable flaw at a time. Then, she makes the alternative easy to bear: “Let qualified advisors do the heavy lifting. Go along and do not interfere.” She accomplishes this task by training the man to be helpless.

It is breakfast time in the drawing room. As usual, a valet is spreading homemade jam on a slice of crumb-free toast. A mandarin tells the man when to start sipping his coffee. The pages of the morning papers are carefully screened and selected articles outlined in green ink. The same mandarin hovers nearby and murmurs a summary of each one into the man’s right ear.

Though somewhat soothed by the devoted scratchings of knife on bread, the man is in a strop. An item of blind gossip had been planted in the previous evening’s tabloid, and a copy “forgotten” on a coffee table outside the drawing room. He’d seen it on his way in. Someone had blabbed about that day last month when he was pouting about going outside for thirty minutes to cut a ribbon. The front page photo showed him wearing the tiniest frown as he was leaving the car. The sun was in his face, but no matter.

+_*

Image credit: Carnevale di Venezia, Italiana 2010 (Italy), photo by Anja/Edward N. Johnson, 13 February 2010, via Wikimedia.

Notes: Four years on WordPress. Time really flies. My archives are bursting and so was I. Big thanks to everyone who has made this loads of fun.