Young writers test the limits of teenlit


The Jakarta Post – Sun, 05/11/2008 – Lifestyle

Daniel Rose, Contributor, Jakarta

A man who works in marketing and rarely reads fiction said that whenever he heard the word “writer”, the first thing that crossed his mind was eccentricity.

His definition of “eccentricity” is introverted and quiet on one hand, extroverted and rebellious on the other. In short, he thinks writers are a strange breed. Where did he get this idea? “The Hours and Finding Forrester,” he answered.

Three young writers sat in the waiting room of Gramedia Pustaka Utama (GPU) publishing company one afternoon—two girls and a guy. The girls, Ratih Kumala and Dyan Nuranindya, were wearing T-shirts, and the guy, Fadil Timorindo, wore a washed-out jacket and skinny jeans. There was nothing eccentric about their appearance.

“Maybe age has something to do with it. Younger writers like me or Ucu Agustin tend to be more relaxed, even though we write serious stuff,” Ratih Kumala, 27, said. “I grew up in Solo, and older writers there believe in finding inspiration from within, but I prefer to hang out with all sorts of people,” she added. Ratih’s novel, Tabula Rasa (Grasindo, 2004), won third place in Dewan Kesenian Jakarta’s Novel Competition 2003.

But the-man-who-works-in-marketing-and-rarely-reads-fiction is not alone. Fadil Timorindo, whose hairdo resurrects Hilman Hariwijaya’s famous fiction character Lupus, sees literary fiction writers as a group of brainy yet mysterious people. “High literature works are beautiful, so I guess the writers need to dig deep into themselves to find ways to express that beauty.”

Fadil, 18, the author of the recently published teenlit Let’s Party (GPU), is one of the few males who write in this genre.

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Let’s depart Jakarta for a moment and go to Surabaya to meet another young writer. Stefani Hid, 22, has three published novels under her belt. Dealing with heavy subjects like existentialism, depression, obsession with death, and absurdity, Stefani is a pretty laid back person in real life. “I write to get my problems out of my head. I mold anything that is clamoring inside it into sentences. It’s a good form of therapy,” she said.

Subjects like existentialism and depression sound cool, indeed, but our young writers, especially those of pop novel fame, are aware that young readers are especially fond of love stories. Stephanie Zen, 20, another Surabaya-based writer, has written four novels that deal with this theme. “Believe it or not, three of my novels tell love stories in a musical setting: band groups. The other one is about a girl who falls in love with a badminton player.”

Dyan Nuranindya’s best-selling novel Dealova (GPU, 2004) is also about love between young people.

“Tabula Rasa in many places deals with romance in general: relationships between males and females, between a young person and an older person, and between lesbians,” Ratih, who has been married to prolific writer Eka Kurniawan for two years, said.

Do these young writers dare to go further and speak of the unspeakable theme in their works, considering how some, if not most, Indonesians react to the word “sex”?

“Yeah, my novels have some sexual content. In a talk show in Depok, one man who claimed to be a teacher said my works were a threat to the morality of the nation’s youth. So I told him that was not the message,” Stefani, who started writing at the age of 16, said. “Besides, people should no longer turn away from this kind of topic, especially not young people.”

All of these authors either have their latest drafts ready for publication or ideas waiting to be developed into writing. For now, they are content to walk into a store and see their books displayed on its shelves, although they do have bigger goals.

Dyan, who has seen her work turned into a movie, dreams of having her own production house or recording company.

“I have many dreams, but I would like to help people with idealism but are afraid that they cannot sell. I have a musician friend who used to convey political messages in his lyrics, until one day he decided to give up and started writing mellow songs. It’s sad, really,” said Dyan, who would also like to write fairy tales.

Fadil, who studies advertising, thinks that he cannot make a living out of writing alone. “So, I’m hoping to work in an advertising agency one day.”

“Seeing your books brought to life on the big screen does sound exciting, but what would really be an achievement is to have them translated and distributed overseas,” Ratih, who has also been developing scripts for Jalan Sesama, the Indonesian version of Sesame Street, said. “But, actually, I just want to write, and write and write.”

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