Friday, March 7, 2014

At Kinokuniya - "Land of the Meat Munchers" Meet-The-Author Session with Zombies and Blood-Red Skies

If you think the book "Land of the Meat Munchers" is a foodie's guide to the best meat dishes found around Red Dot Island, or some sordid story involving a lot of plump juicy booty, think again. Although, come to think of it, "Land of the Meat Munchers" does involve a whole lot of writhing bodies, but of a far less sexier kind.

The book, by ex-ST journalist now-freelance writer Nicholas Yong (whom Red Dot Diva meets in the local geek world from time to time), is a tale about 3 young survivors trying to make their way from Ghim Moh to Tiong Bahru MRT station during a zombie apocalypse in Red Dot Island.

The book started off with undergraduate Jim scrounging for more food and supplies around the Ghim Moh HDB estate when he met an already unhinged Serina, who saved him from a near fateful "uncle"-zombie attack. While driving along Mount Sinai Road, they bumped (literally) into Bollywood-handsome Raj with a love for cooking, and the trio banded together to keep those hungry undead gnashers out of their way.

Peppered with Singlish words, and phrases in a cadence that is very familiar to Red Dot Islanders, the book is an easy fun read. Folks unfamiliar with Singlish can refer to the footnotes regarding meaning of the words and phrases used. There are also tons of social commentary references like Meet The People session, COEs, prices of HDB flats, foreign domestic helpers....  Some of which border on dark humour. And for those who love the zombie horror-genre, there is enough gore and violence to keep things intense. Enough anyway, to make Red Dot Diva wanna grab her Dad's beloved golf stick.

Last Saturday (1 March), Red Dot Diva attended the "Land of the Meat Munchers" Meet-The-Author session held at Kinokuniya's flagship store. Once there, she was promptly accosted by two of her favourite female zombies. Obviously, they are book nerd zombies. For what kind of zombies hang out at bookstores, right?

Book-nerd zombies!

At 2 PM, Nicholas' friend kicked off the short talk by making a quick introduction about Nick and the book. It seemed to be a quiet Saturday afternoon. A few people walked past and gave curious glances while Nick was reading a section from the first chapter of the book. There were only about 10 of so who were genuinely interested and stayed throughout the session. No matter, those folks made the best out of the time allocated discussing about writing, tropical variant zombies and ways to survive an apocalypse on the island!

For those who missed the Q&A, here's a re-cap of some of it:

Question: How did you get interested in the zombie genre?
Nick: I watch a lot of zombie stuff - The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, Zombieland. My head is full of zombies. So, when you are a fan of zombie genre, you tend to imagine yourself in a particular scenario and how you would survive it. As you may have guessed, I live in Ghim Moh, and I constantly imagined how it would be like if it the entire estate was infested with zombies and how the people around will react to this. And the story emerged from there.

I also wanted to make a Singaporean story with Singaporean characters. There is quite a bit of Singlish in it because I was trying to replicate the way Singaporeans talk. 

Question: Were any of the three characters in the book inspired by real life people?
Nick: Yeah. The female character is someone I kind of know. She is quite bad-ass and has the potential to go kind of psycho also. And the Indian character, he is an "atas" Indian lawyer, who is  based on my friend who is an "atas" Indian lawyer.

Question: Any sequel to "Land of the Meat Munchers"?
Nick: I do have ideas for a sequel. I'm just exploring in my head at the moment and I haven't written anything yet.

Things were going smoothly when suddenly, a tall hefty heavy metal rocker-dude in a black Pantera T-shirt and black cap got hold of the mic, and sat down with a deep groan, right in front of Nick. Red Dot Diva and geek pal Melvin had noticed him lurking around the book racks on the side for quite awhile.

Intense Pantera-dude (Pic by Gillian Ang)

Pantera-dude then started rambling incoherently and earnestly in broken Singlish (if Singlish can be broken even further):

"This story is a real story, you know. Imagine this zombie, I myself .... I see before. 1989, September 12. Singapore nearly invasion. Because that time I was playing Golden Axe Part 3. Then, my friend, he asked me to open the window. So I opened the window. You know what happened to the sky??  Like blood red. The sky is RED. ALL RED. Like Blood. No cloud no nothing. 1989, September 12. On Monday."

Dramatic segue.

(Although, Red Dot Diva and Melvin were already on the verge of bursting into laughter.) Nick and his friend were staring at the guy incredulously while he warned about a blood red sky.

Nick's friend quickly took back the mic and then quipped, "I was in Primary school that time. I don't remember seeing you." Red Dot Diva's section of the crowd couldn't help but laugh out loud. "So, any more questions about zombies or about the book?"

The author and his zombie booth babes
Red Dot Diva made an attempt to re-focus the discussion back to Nick's book by asking him a question: Do you prefer fast zombies? Or slow ones. And what do you think caused the apocalypse.
Nick: I prefer the fast ones like in "28 Days Later". You have the slow ones like those in "Zombieland" or "Shaun of the Dead", but the fast ones are scarier. Instead of those slow ones that are just shambling around and are easy to get away from. As to what caused the apocalypse, my favourite theory is a government project gone wrong. But in my case, in my story, I prefer to keep it indefinite. It's something that is already there and the survivors had to deal with it. The cause of it is not as important compared to how the people respond to it.

At this moment, Pantera-dude had stuffed a pair of earphones into his ear lobes, but was still loitering on the sidelines. Not long after, a Kinokuniya security uncle half his size crept up behind him and eyed Pantera-dude with intent. But after awhile, Red Dot Diva was no longer noticing him and he seemed to have disappeared into the ether.

Question: What did you enjoy most about writing the book?
Nick: My favourite part was coming up with the dialogue. I think, my biggest strength is in dialogue. I tried to think of how Singaporeans speak and how people in this age speak. And I think it has to do a lot with social media. Our sentences are getting shorter and shorter, and we use a lot of acronyms and shorter sentences so I tried to reflect that. I did not want the English to be too good, because I do not think Singaporeans speak that well. That was my favourite part - looking for appropriate dialogue, terms and the context, and bringing across their emotions through that..

After a short book-signing session, there was still time to kill. A couple more new readers have joined in the group, so a few more rather interesting questions were posed to Nick.

Someone asked if the book was made into a TV show, who should direct it. Nick said he thinks having Royston Tan would be always be a good choice. And he would like Daryl David (host of "Pyramid Game")  to act as Raj.

Red Dot Diva posed another question: If you were in an MRT train car when there is a sudden zombie attack, what would you do? Nick: Is this an underground line or above-ground?
Red Dot Diva: Underground
Nick: I would grab anything I can find to protect myself. Fire extinguisher. Even that hammer used to break glass! And then, before anything goes to all wrong, must take selfie and post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

"Land of the Meat Munchers" (published by Marshall-Cavendish) should please zombie-lovers who desire for a very local setting and dialogue. They can now fantasize being Jim, Serina or Raj (or some entirely fresh character) battling the undead at a HDB flat corridor!


And also, if you see a blood red sky on September 12th...  don't say Pantera-dude did not give fair warning, hor.


Meaning of atas: high-class, snobby

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