06-09-2009 02:08 AM - edited 06-09-2009 02:10 AM
Thank you so much for sharing your time with us here and your talent with us too! I have been in many of the First Look book clubs in here, and as I have said, of all of them, this is probably the book that has held my attention the most and that I have enjoyed the most. I am one of those who have posted that this is not my normal kind of read but the story you are telling, in this style, is very intriguing to me. Stories of relationships are. I was just wondering, did you set out at first to write a book involving magic and mystical things, or did you have a story of families in your head, that as you thought it out, this was the best way to tell it? (If you have answered this by the time you get to my post here, I will find it when I check again, or you can just say yes or no and see previous posts )
You know there will be questions to come about certain specific mystical things in the book and what they mean or do they have real origins, but I will leave those for others to post, a few at a time.
I did notice something tho, that I did want to ask you about and I don't think it has been discussed yet at all, unless on one of the threads I couldn't keep up with, I have had to kind of chose a few threads to concentrate on, to stay with the discussion as I want to. What I was wondering, and it will be no spoiler to anyone this week is, I would like to know about the names used. One of the things I noticed was that the men's names are all bible names! Stong bible names with stories behind them, such as Daniel, Gabriel, Samuel, Elias and Noah. All of the men's names are. Is there a reason for this? A few of the women's are too. Such as Hannah and then you have Rebecca and Leah together even. But a few of the women are not bible names (that I know of) Such as Ravenna and Permony. It just really started to stand out to me about the men and I found myself trying to compare the story of these men in the bible to the makeup of the characters in your book.
Thanks in advance and again, welcome and thanks for coming!
VivianMessage Edited by vivico1 on 06-08-2009 02:17 PMMessage Edited by vivico1 on 06-08-2009 02:18 PM
Thank you for your generous compliments. I'm so pleased to hear that although this is not a book you'd normally read, you're enjoying it anyway!
I did start writing the book as a straighforward chronicle of these two families without any magic at all, but then I found out something was missing. Please read my earlier post entitled Magic for more details.
The names . . . yes, excellent point! I spent quite a lot of time in the beginning trying to come up with these names. Because I wanted to set the story in an undefined time and place, I knew I couldn't go with certain names (i.e., Abdullah was a no go, and Yvette, Mei-Ling, Bruno, and Vladimir wouldn't work either). So I turned to the Bible and chose the names from there. I figured biblical names are used in pretty much every corner of the globe.
You're right about all the male names coming exclusively from the Bible. And you're also right about Daniel and the lions' den--I picked it for this reason, and in the book, Daniel does make a witty comment about being trapped in a cave with a mountain lion when referring to his mother. Gabriel I think is a very manly name, very dignified, but he's also the angel of death in the Bible. I love the name Noah--if I had a son I would call him Noah. Now the irony is that the Bible is patriarchal to the marrow, but in the book, it is the women who are doing most of the action. You can call it my own revisionist version of the Holy Book, if you'd like.
Now the female names . . . Eva is from Eve, "first woman" and "mother of all life," and I used that with a generous degree of irony. Hannah, Leah, Rebecca are also from the Bible. Meridia just popped into my head one day and instantly I knew it was the right one. The same with Ravenna--I just loved this name and I didn't even know it was a city in Italy. Permony is the name of a Balinese deity I happened to stumble upon at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Malin came from an Indonesian folklore Malin Kundang--about an ungrateful son who turns to stone after his mother curses him. I appropriated the name and made it female.
I hope this answers your question!
06-09-2009 02:22 AM
I am enjoying this book so much and this book is of a different kind. It has made me challenge the way I think and I love that! So thank you very much for your genius insights.
My question to you is...now that this book will be coming out soon are you working on any other kind of novel that we should look for in the future? Have you thought about turning this book in a series? And do you think that you will keep the same writing style or try a different path?
Thanks and good luck!
Thank you for your comments. I appreciate them!
I am working on another novel at the moment, but I don't want to say too much because I'm superstitious. It's going to draw on my cultural experiences even more than Of Bees and Mist, and it's also going to have a family mystery at its heart. The writing style is going to have some magical elements as well, but I haven't decided how much. As for turning Of Bees and Mist into a series . . . I'll never say no, but after living with these people for close to five years (especially Eva), I need to clear the bees from the air and welcome a new cast of characters.
06-09-2009 07:54 AM
First of all, I would like to thank you for writing this wonderful book and also sharing it with us. I am a person who loves to read and do crafts, but as I adopted a 7 year old 4 years ago and then had 2 babies in 16 months, both of those sanity checks had been gone for me. Thankfully a neighbor told me about the B&N Book Club at registration time for OBaM. This was the perfect book to come back to reading with (that said, this is not my normal reading material)! It has been very difficult to put it down (even with my extremely busy life). I especially love the timelessness as that does let my imagination work in overtime. So many of the lives of the book can really reflect in a mystical way the family's we all have. I have interpreted the magical aspects of the book to be symbolic, what do the different colors of the mists signify?
06-09-2009 09:20 AM
06-09-2009 09:29 AM
Eric, thank you for answering the questions.
First how do you say Meridia?
Second, have you read the section called Magic here at the Book Club?
Do you think that the magical aspects are (at least some of them) Meridia's perceptions about the world and not exactly as the world is?
I am the person who wrote that when I was a kid and rode in the car I thought the car stayed stationary and the trees moved.
Sometimes without explanations--things seem more mysterious, frightening, wonderous
than they really are.
i also remember my best friend telling me when she was a child she thought the lady who ran the corner store had her feet on backward--when actually she had club feet and
she had big orthopedic shoes. When she asked her mother about them, in those days she was just hushed so in her mind she created answer.
Having raised 3 children, 3 grandchildren and taught school and worked in a children's library I know that impressions of the world are often a mishmash of what is real
and what adults say and how children fit the explanation to understand their world.
When you see a rabbit come from a hat--we say it is magic , but it is a trick.
So I am wondering --are all the magic incidents literally happening or how they are seen?
06-09-2009 10:27 AM
Hello Erick and welcome to the First Look Book Club! So far I am enjoying "Of Bees And Mist" although it is not what I expected. I am a huge fan of magical realism and assumed the magic would be more "real". Very quickly I realized that it was meant as a metaphor but that in no way has disappointed me. I am finding the symbolism very interesting. I would love for you to discuss this more, especially the significance of the mists and how you came up with that idea. Also, I have had no problem with there being no clear cut time or place and I can count myself amoung those who picture Meridia and her family to be Asian.
06-09-2009 11:51 AM
Thank you for joining us and taking our questions. And, congratulations on your book. I absolutely love it. I am in awe of the detailed world that you have created. I was wondering about some of the people that Meridia found at the market like the man who grew herbs on his body, the one with the radishes, and the woman who sold her perfumed sweat. Were they based in folklore? Or, were they your imagination? If you made them up, you really have a good imagination!
Also, you were talking about metaphors. You use a lot of symbology, and I realize that is what you intend, but I see Eva really spewing great swarms of bees, the marigolds and roses are really at war, and the staircases move. Is that what you were seeing when you wrote the book? I don't think I've read another book that paints mental pictures quite like this one which makes it fun, by the way.
Thank you for your high praise. I'm so glad that you are able to lose yourself in that world!
Those three instances you mentioned--the woman who grew herbs on her body, the man with the radishes, and the woman who sold her own sweat--I did make up. There are other ones I appropriated from other stories. The man whose beauty once launched a thousand ships and now sold love letters is my male slant on the Helen of Troy myth. Also the girl who turned into a pillar of salt whenever she faced the sun is inspired by the story of Lot's wife in the Bible.
Thank you for bringing up the point about metaphors. Yes, I do see them clearly in their physical forms as well. For instance, I can see the mists surrounding 24 Monarch Street. I can see the different apparitions in the mirrors (which at times made me afraid to look in my own mirror when I was writing the book). I can see the marigolds literally gobbling up the roses. And I can definitely see bees shooting out of Eva's mouth like bullets when she's speaking. So you're right. They are both metaphorical and literal (at least to me), and the text is written in such a way that you can choose whichever approach suits you best. Some readers think they're symbols, and that's fine with me. Some think they're real, and that's also fine. For readers like you who think they're both, that's excellent.
06-09-2009 11:52 AM
Hiello and thank you for joining us! You have written an amazing story and I really enjoy the way you tell a story!
Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you're enjoying the book and feel free to ask me anything you'd like.
06-09-2009 12:12 PM
Erick, Since joining many of b&n's new look book clubs, I will now declare you the winner of the best new author going. I have never read such poetic writing in my entire life of reading mostly fiction. And the concept of writing as if the characters origins are somewhat like in a dream, is to me, the cleverest idea any writer has ever had. It puts you into a smooth satiny mood while reading the novel. It's like so mystical and magical that is, it kept me in a trance of sorts. I never wanted to put the book down and have read it twice to capture every essence of this wonderful novel.
I discussed with another reader, vivico, the significance of having the time and place unknown and we both agreed, it left it open to magic or a great mystery into the time and place. I believe it opened your mind to all which made it a unique book of all times. Opening your mind to wonder all the questions and reading deeper into what yyou as a reader believe. For example the names, I do not feel it could have been in modern day in the U.S. because of the names. No modern day names such as Taylor,Madison,Caleb,Gage. I believe because of the market parts that it had to be maybe in an Asian or India culture. And also I do not remember any automobiles in it. But this could have been intentional also.
Did you pick a place or is it also mystical and magical to you also. ? To say it was A wonderful read doesn't ever barely touch this treasure of yours. Thank you so much for this treasure of a book.
What sweet, thoughtful words! Thank you so much! I wish every reader was as wonderful as you.
About the names, I very meticulously chose ones that were universally known and used--mostly from the Bible. Some I took from Indonesian folklore. Please read my earlier post on Names.
I see the book as a tapestry woven from the different cultural threads I've had the privilege of encountering. Some things in the book (as you sagely pointed out) are distinctly Chinese and Indonesian, some are very American (for example, Meridia's outright defiance of Eva strikes me as very American--no woman in a traditional Asian family would even think about doing this to her mother-in-law), and some I borrowed from different cultures. So no, there isn't an actual place in the world on which I based the town in the book, but at the same time, the story can take place anytime, anywhere, in the past, present, and future all at once. For more on this discussion, please read my post on Time and Place -- why ambiguous.
Thank you for being a great reader!
06-09-2009 12:22 PM
Erick, I had no trouble at all with there being no time or place & enjoyed being able to let my imagination run free. However, your explanation is wonderful! If I had any doubts, you would have washed them all away. What an incredible way to explain this! I imagine if this was ever made into a movie, it would cause some devoted readers to be upset when their vision isn't close to what they see on the big screen, lol
Thank you for such a unique novel. I was a little shaky on some of the beginning chapters but now that I know the characters I am truly enjoying it. I especially like that some seem clear cut, like Gabriel, but then I get the feeling there is more to it & this makes me anxious to read more.
I have no question, simply wanted to shower you with praises! Thank you for sharing your talent & your time with us.
I'm so pleased that you are now able to get into the book! Thank you so much for your praises!
You brought up an interesting point about movies. The great thing about books (especially in this case, since there is no time or locale stamp attached to it) is that you can imagine whatever and whomever you want. A writer can say that a character is wearing a tight, sleeveless black dress, but a hundred readers will see a hundred different black dresses in their minds. This is wonderful. But when I go see the movie version of a book, I'm often let down because the images on the screen aren't exactly the ones I have in my head. I get over it quickly, of course, as most of us do if the movie's any good, and I let the filmmakers' version dethrone the one I have in my head, at least for the duration of the film. That's just the nature of books that are turned into films.
It will indeed be very interesting if they ever make a movie out of this!
06-09-2009 12:55 PM - edited 06-09-2009 12:59 PM
Thank you for allowing us the chance to talk w/you. I am in awe of wonderful storytellers and, brother can you tell a story! Has all your writing thus far been focused on this book, have you published any stories prior to this that we might be able to read??? This book is so good I really don't want it to end, so I will be looking forward to more of your books in the future
I would be interested to hear more about the different cultures you drew from for your story.
Thank you for your comments and enthusiasm! Of Bees and Mist is my first published book, but I've written two other novels before it--they were so horrible that they will never see the light of day (I won't even let my agent see them). Prior to Bees, I had one short story published in Kyoto Journal entitled "The Mismanagement of Mr. Ak-Sam." If you could get your hand on it, I recommend it--I think it's a good story!
As I said before, there are three main cultures that I drew inspiration from: Indonesian, Chinese, and American. Indonesian culture in particular is deeply rooted in folklore, legends, and superstitions. When we were little, my brothers and I had a Javanese nanny who liked to tell us bedtime stories. She was the one who introduced me to my first ghosts and spirits, and thanks to her, I spent many a night convinced that there was a jinn hiding under my bed. She was also a Muslim, which made her stories a curious blend of ancient Javanese superstitions and Islamic beliefs. It was from her stories that I conjured the ghosts and spirits that roam the town, and it was her beliefs that informed much of the superstition in the book. One example is Eva's habit of cutting roses to hang above the shop door for good luck--this is my spin on a common Indonesian practice of giving offerings to placate evil spirits. Another example is the midwife taking precautions with charms and amulets during Noah's birth--this is a ritual prevalent during childbirth among traditional Indonesian families.
The book also reflects my Chinese upbringing, or what little I was allowed to experience. Because of the widespread anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia, I grew up disowning and despising much of my Chinese identity. In fact, the only bit of Chinese culture I loved and was exposed to in those years were the Hong Kong martial arts movies. Inspired by them, I dreamed up my own mythical land of witchcraft and magic, where invincible men combat villains with lightning-quick swords and formidable women soar to the sky on swirling silk. It is this atmosphere of sorcery and enchantment that I aimed to create in the book, both as an homage to those movies and a nostalgic remembrance of the only part of my Chinese heritage I was permitted to embrace. Hence, Ravenna flies on a rapid sailor's breeze when she goes to visit Meridia after Noah's birth (you'll read this in the next section). Gabriel disappears inside the mist much like the heroes in those movies vanish as they elude their pursuers.
The third ingredient I mixed into the book is my American influence. The fact that Meridia dares to defy Eva strikes me as very American. No wife in a traditional Chinese or Indonesian family would even think about standing up to her mother-in-law in this way. The same goes when Meridia so decisively leaves Daniel and goes home to Monarch Street after Eva ousts her--in Chinese or Indonesian society, a newlywed would pause more than a dozen times before doing this. In addition, the book also owes much of its existence to my reading of Western literature. In a way, Of Bees and Mist is my tribute to all the books that have shown me different means of using language to tell a story. Great Expectations. Beloved. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Wuthering Heights. The way the yellow mist knocks on Gabriel's window comes from a line of T. S. Eliot. There are other instances in the later part of the book which I'll be happy to discuss at the end.
06-09-2009 02:32 PM
You talked about some of your favorite authors and also about books about Chinese Culture and upbringing. Have you ever read any of Lisa See's historical novels? I am hooked on her now and learning so much about ancient Chinese culture at times but in her newest novel, (I won't plug it by naming it on this site for your book ) I learned about how the Chinese were treated here during the 30s and 40s and how they had to come through the west coast, not through Ellis Island like everyone else and some of the things done to them that just blew me away because so much we should know, is never part of our history courses at school! Many people don't even know we had German POW camps here in the states too, but my mother lived close to one.
I think reading some of her books is what drew me to yours and being willing to read a fantasy type story with magic and mysticism because I was hoping they would be part of a really good story of people's lives too, and so far your book does not disappoint in that area. It could be anytime, anywhere, anyone but I do like it on the heels of her book because it makes me think still in terms of how we stereotype groups of people but in reality, the human experience is universal. We are not so different, we may express our cultures differently but if we all embraces those wonderful differences, would we treat other cultures, other peoples, so badly at times. Or for that matter, other people in our own families.
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
06-09-2009 03:22 PM
I'd like to echo the others' comments about the amazing book you've written. There don't seem to be many writers that are talented enough to not only write a story, but to create an alternate reality, as you've done here.
As I've been reading the book, it struck me that perhaps aspects of the book were perhaps based on fairy tales or folklore from other cultures that you wove together to create this other world. The story that you wrote of the your father's friend and the comment about the bees that was written into the story seemed to be such as element. You had mentioned that the book was influenced by a number of other cultures. Could you expand a bit more on this? Was there perhaps a story you heard as a child about the power of mists or mirrors that inspired their use in your book?
Thanks again Erick
I'm so glad you're enjoying the novel! I know there are some characters in it that you just love to hate, but they might surprise you yet!
I knew from the beginning that I wanted the book to be timeless and ageless (see my earlier post entitled Time and Place -- why ambiguous?), but I didn't set out to write a book with magical or fantastical elements in it. I'm not much of a reader of fantasy or ghost stories, and unless you count Brave New World and The Time Traveler's Wife, I don't read much science fiction either. But I do love Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez--and their writing is ripe with magical realism (simply defined, it's a way of telling an extraordinary story in an otherwise realistic setting). When I started writing the book, I thought it would just be a straightforward chronicle of these two families, but a couple of chapters in, I realized that something was lacking. I think I'd gotten to the part where Eva was complaining for the first time, and it just sounded so dull and mundane. A lot of people complain every single day--why should this one woman's griping be unique and special? I didn't know how to fix it, until my dad, who was visiting from Indonesia at the time, told me a story about a friend of his who was often kept up at nights by bees. I was confused, and asked him if his friend was a beekeeper. My dad laughed, and said that it was actually the friend's wife who was keeping him up at nights with her endless grievances, which sounded exactly like bees buzzing. The idea hit me like a bolt of lightnight. I went back to those chapters and rewrote them.
So the answer to your question is yes, the timeless and ageless aspect of the novel made it easier to include the magic. But to me, it's not the woo-woo/wicked-witch/haunted-house/spooky-cemetery kind of magic. In fact, the fantastical elements expand the characters' thoughts and emotions, and they become a fitting physicial manifestation of the characters' inner turmoils. Metaphors, if you'd like, brought to life by the dynamics between the characters. I'd be happy to discuss this more if anyone's interested!Message Edited by Erick_Setiawan on 06-08-2009 02:44 PM
06-09-2009 05:00 PM
Hi Erick. At the outset, I have to thank you for being a part of the First Look Book Club. I might have missed your book had it not been part of this great discovery vehicle. I didn't know what to expect when I read the description of the book when your involvement was first announced. After reading the book, I was definitely pleasantly delighted.
The book is certainly humorous, mysterious, playful and ominous in turns. It was also always one step ahead of me so there was a constant to read on. It teases the reader in that it gives little hints or little anecdotes about the characters but never the entire picture. I read on in the hope of eventual satisfaction and I certainly wasn't disappointed. The pace was a little slower past the halfway point but that could have been as much my impatience at learning the ending as anything else.
My question is this: What genre or genres do you consider this book to be part of?
Thank you again.
06-09-2009 06:55 PM
First of all I would like to say thank you so much for allowing us a "first look" at your book and for joining us here on the board as we discuss it. From the onset, I had no problem with the fact that there was no mention of a definitive time or place and I strongly suspected that was by design. I think it adds to the ambiance of the book. I think your response to the post about time and place was excellent. You have done a great job of blending cultures, magic and fantasy. Your character development is very good. I feel like I know each one of them. I will say that my likes and dislikes of the characters have changed from when I first started the book and I expect them to change again before I finish. I don't have a question at this time because all of my questions have been asked and answered. But that will probably change as I get deeper into the book. Thanks again for spending the time with us. You have done a great job answering the questions that have been posted this far. As far as word of mouth recommendations, you can count on me to recommend this book every chance I get! I already have a line forming for my ARC.
06-09-2009 06:59 PM
First of all, yes, the author is very creative and has written something new. The impact of his novel is without doubt remarkable. Neither concept nor execution are questioned; imagery and use of language are fabulous. Mr. Setiawan has probably turned every sentence over and over in his head before and after writing it. He's probably been awakened by a word in the middle of the night, has stewed over a sentence while eating dinner, or has questioned the structure of a paragraph during a drive home. And I'm sure his editor has gone over the whole book with a fine mind, a watchful eye, and a bag of tricks only known to her trade.
And yet, in spite of all the care, one misses a slightly awkward phrase here and there; an expression might slip through, because one is too familiar with the text. I often read stories out loud several times to get the rhythm right, but while I am doing that my eyes will pay no attention to a misspelled word; my mind compensates for the omission or addition of a letter. In all the years I have helped others catch their errors before a manuscript went to final print, I have never found a writer to be upset over suggestions on how to perfect a masterpiece. As a matter of fact, I would guess, that letting an error go through to publication for fear of hurting the author's feelings, would be much less acceptable.
But...I'm sorry you are "ticked off" and I apologize for bringing it up on this board. My bad.
Adeline79 wrote in part:
I read somewhere here on the boards a comment about words being misused and it being obvious that English is not your first language. That really ticked me off because it is such a unique book with very strange and fantastical imagery. The whole point of creative writing is to come up with a new and impacting ways to say something. This is what you did so well.
06-09-2009 07:02 PM
I must say that you have written a wonderful novel. I am thoroughly enjoying each and every chapter and wonder what or who is going to happen next. Thank you for writing such a provocative story. I love the twists and turns, because it keeps me on my toes.
My question to you is How did you start writing and what motivates you? I would also like to know how you came to write "Of Bees and Mist"? Oops! I guess that's two questions. LOL.
"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." Dr. Seuss
06-09-2009 08:01 PM
Hi Erick! Thank you so much for bringing Of Bees and Mist to First Look! And taking the time to visit us!
First of all I loved Of Bees and Mist, but I had to take a step back and "re-adjust" my thinking as I started reading. Of Bees and Mist was not what I expected, more like a fairy tale. When you were first starting to write the novel was that your initial thoughts- to write more of a fairy tale as apposed to a traditional novel? Thank you ! Suzanne
Thank you for being a part of First Look! I am greatly enjoying my time here.
I'm glad that you were able to take a step back and readjust your thinking. As I noted in a previous post, that was one of the reasons why I wanted to set the book in a place no one has encountered before. This way, you must check all your assumptions and preconceived notions at the door and start with a clean slate. And let your imagination run free!
To answer your question, the novel actually started as a fairly traditional one, without any of the magical elements. I wanted to tell a story about these two families, based on tales and anecdotes that had been accumulating in my head for years (like cobwebs), but the more I wrote, the more I realized I was going about it the wrong way. Please read my earlier post on Magic if you're curious to know what happened after this!
06-09-2009 08:04 PM - edited 06-09-2009 08:05 PM
Thanks so much for providing such a wonderful story and for taking the time to thoroughly read and respond to our comments and questions. I must say, I am enjoying your comments to our discussion almost as much as I am enjoying the book!
06-09-2009 08:17 PM
What an amazing read! Congratulations I loved it from page 1 because of its uniqueness. It really makes the reader think and come up with his/her own interpretations. To me it has the feel of an epic battle between good and evil (like Lord of the Rings) yet on an intimate and domestic scale. I love the way that the characters emotions are portrayed metaphorically. It makes age old themes that have been explored in literature a million times over seem so fresh.
Your writing style is very poetic. I read somewhere here on the boards a comment about words being misused and it being obvious that English is not your first language. That really ticked me off because it is such a unique book with very strange and fantastical imagery. The whole point of creative writing is to come up with a new and impacting ways to say something. This is what you did so well.
My question is did you start out with certain themes or messages that you were trying to portray, or did they just develop as you told the story?
Thank you so much for your kind compliments! Regarding the other comment you mentioned, I figured it'll be all right if for every comment like that, I'll get one like yours!
Regarding the origin of the story, I didn't start with any kind of theme or message. What happened was that I had all these tales that had been sitting in my head for years collecting dust, and they mostly came from my family. I was very shy when I was a kid, and instead of playing outside with the neighbors' children, I would sit in my mom's living room listening to her talk to my aunts and our family friends. Because I was so quiet, they often forgot I was in the room, and they never censored what they said. So at a very early age, I knew what S&M was, for example, because one day they were talking about a couple they knew who liked to beat each other up before intercourse. Suffice it to say, I learned a lot about human behavior and especially about the way women interacted with each other when their husbands weren't in the room. Over the years, all these stories just collected in my head without rhyme or reason. The book was my attempt to sort them--and by extension, my childhood--into some kind of order.
Thanks again for your beautiful words!