Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Jakarta Post | Profile Story | April, 2012 | by Indah Setiawati

Please share a bit about the process of writing Partikel. It took some years after the launch of Petir in 2004. Why was that? 

Tell you the truth, I don't know the exact answer. I believe every book has its own "birth timing”. Looking back, now I can see how Partikel needs a perfect accumulation of knowledge, interest, and passion, that might not brew up to the right boiling point if I had pushed myself to write it few years earlier. The ease of today's technology also allows me to do my research while I stay at home most of the time, looking after my family. 

I believe that you consider all books as your babies, but I still want to ask this. How personal is Partikel for you? 

Each of my books has its own voice, its own stressing point. With Partikel, I voice out my concern about the environment, the future of humanity on this planet, the destructive course we are heading.  On this particular episode, I also have a chance to juggle many topics that have been my interests, such as shamanism, ethnobotany, entheogens, crop circles, extra-terrestrials. Lately I'm also drawn to learn more about the new paradigm of anthropology, the work of pioneers like Graham Hancock and Andrew Collins. I feel there's a shift of global thinking that takes place as we speak. New evidence and questions about our history on this planet are emerging everywhere. So, Partikel is particularly interesting for me, because I can channel all those topics through its storyline. 

I talked to Mas Hanung (Bramantyo) a few months ago. He told me he was first fascinated with Supernova and later decided to film a book of yours, Perahu Kertas. You also penned the script. How was your reaction when you first heard that the decision to film the book was final? Whose names came across in your mind for Keenan and Kugy? Did the final actors and actress satisfy you? I believe your fans have mixed responses to this question, don’t they?

The offer to make movie out of Perahu Kertas came along with the offer of publishing the book in the first place. From all of my books, if I had to choose one to be filmed, the top of my list would be Perahu Kertas. The story is indeed a movie material. I realized it ever since I wrote its first draft back in 1996. So there had been no doubt in me to say yes to the offer. The publisher, Bentang Pustaka, is a sister company to Mizan Production, the same company who made Laskar Pelangi. So, it was a 2-in-1 deal to begin with, and I was sure I was in good hands. I signed myself in as the scriptwriter because I have always compelled to do it for Perahu Kertas. It was my first book to be filmed, and if there's any way I can "guide" it through, it's by writing the script. It was like escorting the bride on that long walk in the aisle, before the story "married" its director. So, first, it was just me and the producers, then we handpicked the director. That's when Hanung came into the picture. When I met him in person, I instantly have faith in him.  I was certain he would do a great job. The next challenging phase was the casting process. Hanung's wife, Zaskia Mecca, is the casting director. As we all have agreed, I was involved in the final selection. It was not easy at all. Perahu Kertas' casting is like an orchestration. You changed one cast, you had to change everyone, or the whole dynamic would go awry. We were quite happy with final result, although we also knew we all had a portion of compromising, even myself. When the shooting was about to begin and everyone gathered, including the casts, I started to see different qualities shone from them. I believed they are the perfect ones. Of course, we cannot satisfy all the book fans. Nobody can compete with the reader's theatre of mind. Yet, nobody can perfectly fulfill it either. In this case, we have to understand that Perahu Kertas movie is being retold by Hanung's perspective, and if we learn to appreciate that without having to fall back to our own theatre of mind all the time, we would enjoy the movie a lot more. 

What were the challenges of writing the script compared to the days when you wrote the story? Are you interested to pen more scripts? Will the film audience get a full story of the book in the cinema? Or did you have to omit many parts to pack the novel in a few hours? 

Screenplay is a totally different beast. One might be an author of dozens of fiction books, but screenplay writing must be perceived as a new ball game. We cannot go light with it, just because we're fiction writers. So I've prepared myself for quite some time for this. I always knew I wanted to write Perahu Kertas screenplay, so I took a film making workshop years ago, I bought a lot of books on screenplay writing, I read screenplays of movies that I like, etc. In short, I started from zero. I spent almost year writing Perahu Kertas screenplay. There's no way I can fit the whole book into the movie. I don't want to do that either. Stuffing the whole book plot into 110 minutes motion picture is not my objective. It's a movie, it's a different format, it speaks to the audience differently than a book does. I need to recreate the book into something similar, not identical. It carries the same essence and spirit, but with different delivery. I must admit, I enjoyed writing a screenplay. But, at the moment, I don't have the luxury of time and attention to do more screenplays. My main priority now is to finish my Supernova series. So, no screenplay in any time soon. 

Perahu Kertas seems to become an inspiration for lovers who search for the true love. Do personally you believe in soulmate? Why? Hehe. I just wonder what might happen if Keenan and Kugy chose to stick on their decision and did not get married.

I think Perahu Kertas is actually more than that. It's a reflection of a grander lesson in life, which is finding that subtle balance between when to let go and when to pursue. It's not just about romance. Every moment of our life, we're confronted with those two choices. Kugy and Keenan are struggling to find their inner voice, and learn to trust it, not only on their love lives, but also on their careers, family relationship, and friendship.
I, myself, used to believe in the concept of soul mate. Now, I cannot say for sure. I guess I don't care much about it anymore. I believe in changes. I believe that life is ever changing. Impermanence. If you believe that you will find a soul mate out there, and that belief makes your life happier and better, then by all means, believe it with your dear life. But if you don't, I think it's fine too. Life will always serve us with surprises anyway, and yet there's a familiarity in everything we encounter cause I think our heart is whole lot bigger and powerful than our logical mind. The heart just knows, intuitively, intelligently. 

What makes you happy and sad most during your career as a writer?

It's never about sadness, I think. It's more like challenges. My biggest challenge is always setting the time for writing and research. As long as I can remember, ever since I published my first book, suddenly the writing process was interfered with promotional events, talk shows, media interviews, etc. They are all necessary, yet they also stole big portion of my time and energy. Now that I'm married with two kids and a household to manage, it becomes even more challenging. I hardly read for fun. Every book I read is for my research otherwise I wouldn't have enough time to do it at all. What's very fulfilling is to see how my books can reach out to their readers and leave impact on their lives.

Some well known authors tell me that writing is a long and painful process (although they prove to enjoy the pain) because it involves researches, editing, mood and the likes. How about you? Could you tell me how you can keep going from one book to another? Which books require the fastest and the longest process? 

I don't look for ideas or inspirations. I somehow believe it works the other way around. Inspiration comes to a perceptive mind who, in the right time and the right situation, is sensitive enough to open up and be willing to be a host for that inspiration. If I create a new book, or write a new song, it's always a collaboration between that seeds of idea and my own willingness to work on it. So if one day, I stop doing what I'm doing, then perhaps the same dynamic doesn't take place. The duration of writing books are varied. It's not always about the writing, but also research, or sometimes our own passion needs an ample of time to mature. In general, I usually work for 3 months up to a year. That's just for the writing. I don't really count how much time I spent for research, because it's almost like daily thing. I bumped into something that I like, or something new triggered my interest, then I started to dig deeper as days went by. Partikel, so far, is the most interesting cocktail of topics. 

In your opinion, is writing a gift or a passion that can be nurtured?  Or else?

Both. Someone may have natural interest in writing, like I always have since I was little. During my childhood, I was not much of a reader, but composing stories was something I always fond of. But for that ability to grow, one needs to be determined, to be willing to practice over and over again, experiencing failure and finding way to get back up. It's the same with everything in life, I guess. A natural talent is a great start, but it's practice and determination that enable someone to be brilliant. And it's an on-going process.

Rampant piracy have become a bitter fact to face for singers and writers? What is your strategy?

I don't have any particular strategy at the moment. I'm just not so much into the business aspect of both music and book industry anymore. Maybe because my engine is leaning towards the creative aspect nowadays. Thinking about the piracy solution takes so much energy because the situation is complicated, involving the law enforcement, government, etc. Something that I just don't have space for right now.

After Partikel and Perahu Kertas movie, what’s next?

Many more. Rectoverso is also made into a movie, so is Filosofi Kopi. There are several possibilities for my other books to be filmed as well, and we're still working on the deal. And of course, the next episode of Supernova, Gelombang. I'm taking it one step at a time, because it's so easy to get overwhelmed in this modern life we're living. I just hope I don't lose sight of what's more important in life.