Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia
Romelia: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Nelson Dino: My curiosity appears when I do speak two native languages, Malay and Suluk. I was curious why I do speak Suluk at home and when outside I speak Malay with friends. This curiosity brings me to the thought of wanting to write. I WAS ABOUT 6-7 YEARS OLD. But it wasn’t immediately materialize as I am not good at making every words sounds beautiful. I only know the conversational words. I don’t have knowledge in literary word and how to use it with multifaceted meanings. But because of the lullaby singing of my mother that I usually heard from her, I begun to wonder of what she was singing. I owe her a lot of indirectly teaching me to learn me beautiful words or how to arranged them in manner that can be understood only its surface meanings but the meaning or esthetics behind them. I read a lot of poetry in different languages. My desire to write was increasing. Then I started to write a poetry. My first poetry was written in English. The language that I am not good at. As far as I could remember, the first poetry that I wrote I titled it – sounds of silence. I wrote it when I was sitting under the acacia tree in 1996. I showed to my friend. He wasn’t laughing but I can feel deep his mind and soul he was. His smiles show it. And after that I started writing poems in Malay, then Suluk. But majority of my poems then are written in English. When I met one of the best novelists, her name was Azmah Nordin, I begun to show interest in writing a novel. Her name is actually been to me before as I read her novel called – Timulak kapal perang – because the title itself is mixed of Malay and Suluk words. I attended her lecture in novel writing in Kota Kinabalu. That was in 2014. She advised me to write short story first. I said I want to start writing novel. Later I will do short story. She became my mentor after that. While writing my first ever novel, and finished it in six months, I extracted part of it to do it as short story. So basically, I owe my novel writing skill from her, Azmah Nordin. She is my first guru or sifu in novel writing as well as short story. For poetry, was my mother. Then I learned from my father, he always tells me stories how he declaim SULUK TRADITIONAL POETRY ABOUT LIFE AND THE EXISTENCE OF HUMAN.
Romelia: how long does it take you to write a book?
Nelson Dino: It depends on the mood. but I make it sure that I can finish them immediately, unedited. My first book wasn’t about creative or fiction. It was non-fiction. Was in 2013. It is about a culture of the Suluk and their struggle. Later I got another book written in 2008 which I finished writing in one month during Ramadan (fasting month of the muslim). Then in 2015, one book came out. I started writing it in 2013 which I finished writing in one month because that’s always my target. It wasn’t published until 2015, after series of editing and proof reading.
Romelia: where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Nelson Dino: My ideas usually I took from my own experience, and from my family and parents. My mother always gives me ideas. She is very strong and have an optimistic thinking in life. This experiences supported by my readings of different genre of books. Not only literary genre but non-fictions too, like book of peoples culture; music, motifs, visuals, songs, dances and social and economic situations, and anthropological nuances of the people.
Romelia: what literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Nelson Dino: Basically only in Malaysia. I only join many literary programs here. I once visited the house of poetry in Taiwan, the qi dong poetry salon. It was only a visit to look for another ideas of how to make poetry part of my life. How to embrace them soulfully.
Romelia: what is the first book that made you cry?
Nelson Dino: By reading, there was none. But when my first novel came out this year, I felt happy, not crying per see but inside my heart I cried of joy that after almost six years of waiting, my first ever novel I wrote came to being. Actually my second novel came out ahead immediately. That novel is based from an local oral tradition of the Suluk about a white crocodile and a big bull that Noe became a tourist attraction in my hometown, Sandakan. The book is titled Sapi mandangan dan apuk daguan. And all of my novels are written in Malay and published by Dewan Bahasa dan pustaka Malaysia. I really thank them for giving me chance and avenue to the new comers or beginners like me to the creative writing scene.
Romelia: what is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Nelson Dino: I don’t know much. But I learnt some other people who are still learning tend to mimic their mentors. Though this is not really about publishing but writing, and some other things is when your writing is changed and editing without even telling you that it was changed.
Romelia: does writing energize or exhaust you?
Nelson Dino: It goes both. It energizes me when I am exhausted to think what comes next. Both compliments to each other.
Romelia: what are common traps for aspiring writers?
Nelson Dino: For me is about writing then editing at the same time. It wont make you finish your writing when you do edit them at the same time while writing. Others are the lack of reading and researching. When I write I do not think of edit them yet. I finish the whole manuscript first then let it sleep for a while before going to think of editing. I also do, when I finish one chapter, I don’t immediately edit, but I add one more chapter before I edit the previous chapter and so on and so fort.
Romelia: does a big ego help or hurt writers?
Nelson Dino: It doesn’t help so much but it has its own contributions. Because sometimes disturbs the flow of the story. So basically I don’t do for that. I don’t want my stories to be inserted with egoistic feelings and hurts. I want my story to be flowing without putting things emotional or egoistic feelings. Or because just for the sake of writing story. Because story is about us, the people. Not me as individual. First all I consider the collective consciousness of the people. Not only mine.
Romelia: what is your writing Kryptonite?
Nelson Dino: It’s between writing fiction and non-fiction. Because I do both. It is the shift of thinking to one genre to another genre. That’s why when I writing non-fiction I put or forget first for the fiction one until I finish writing the non-fiction. I get hard time to shift my thinking and thought process to both.
Romelia: have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Nelson Dino: Yes. Because I have different genre of books surrounding me. When I look at them, I would be disturbing to which one I should pick reading because it makes me wanted to read all of them. With the feeling, I end up not reading anymore for days. But I can overcome this when I set my mind which genre I am going to write and I can read books related to what I am wanting to write first.
Romelia: did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Nelson Dino: I did. But I prefer using real names. But even though I am using real name, many still think that my real name is actually my pseudonym.
Romelia: do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Nelson Dino: I go for both. Because I cannot detach myself from many. My experience could be the same with other people’s experience. And sure that people, whoever they are can relate to any writings that I have because people are unaware of the collective unconscious are a collection of individual unconscious.
Romelia: do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Nelson Dino: Yes. Writing is not about what your emotions tell you. Writing is about telling story. Not telling about emotions. Anybody can be a writer even without emotional connection what he or she wanted to write. But emotions I admit could be a tool of the success of finishing your writing.
Romelia: what other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Nelson Dino: Yes, they do. I can learn from their perseverance and experience. First is my mentor. She always my inspirations.
Romelia: do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to buIld a body of work with connections between each book?
Nelson Dino: My books stand of its own. But the content or the ingredients maybe taken from the same culture. Like the Suluk and Malay culture. Or the Sabahan culture that I am belong to.
Romelia: if you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?
Nelson Dino: Just keep writing. Don’t compete with other. Compete with yourself to make sure you are successful at your own rite because for me there is no competition on writing stories. Different person, different style.
Romelia: how did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Nelson Dino: It does change me a lot. I became more enthusiastic to write more stories, especially the untold stories of the local culture.
Romelia: what was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Nelson Dino: The prize that I got from my short story – Langan Dundang – when It was chosen as one of the Sabah’s literary prize in 2017/2018.
Romelia: what authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Nelson Dino: I cannot remember any.
Romelia: what did you do with your first advance?
Nelson Dino: I bought tangible things that I can use longer, like bought my new laptop and bed.
Romelia: what was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Nelson Dino: It was during my childhood. Language is just amazing. It has its own soul. Because I understood its spiritual, conceptual and meanings.
Romelia: what are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
Nelson Dino: Any magazine that could help to improve writing techniques. Not focus on literary one. Your magazine can be one of them.
Romelia: from where you get inspired with your first book?
Nelson Dino: The first non-fiction book was from my own surrounding and culture and experience. And where I got my inspiration too for my novel.
Romelia: describe yourself in a few sentences. Tell us something we do not know about you and something you hate about the world.
Nelson Dino: This is a hard question. Actually I cannot describe my own self. I am not the best judge to myself. But I don’t address myself as writer. For me having a book published is not enough to be immediately call myself as a writer. But if someone would call me such, I don’t refuse. Because that someone maybe based it from what I did. And what I hate about the world is the people who hated the world that cannot accept coexistence of the multifaceted, multicolor, Multilanguage and multi cultures of the people that world had offered them.
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