Christina Juzwar is a rising literary star of Indonesian teen and adult fiction. She has written 13 books since taking up writing full time in 2006. Her latest novels are Three Days to Remember and The Butterfly in Me.
Her book-lover father instilled Christina with a love of reading at a young age. A strong artistic streak runs in the family. Christina’s grandfather was the well-known Chinese-Indonesian playwright and film director Njoo Cheong Seng (1902-1962), also known by the pen name Monsieur d’Amour, who wrote more than 200 short stories, novels, poems, and stage plays during his career. Her grandmother, Fifi Young (1914-1975), was a popular Indonesian actress of mixed Chinese and French descent who acted in more than 80 films over her 34-year career.
She lives in Jakarta.
Why I write
I write to empty my brain. I’m a dreamer and am always thinking of stories. It gets very tiring with all those stories in my head so I have to empty it. I also write so people can read what I dream about.
What sort of writing habits do you keep?
I write every day, about three to five hours. I set myself a minimum target of two pages of MS Word, sometimes I get up to seven pages.
I write any time. Morning, noon, night. I always find time. And I always choose a different place to write so I won’t get bored. At home it’s difficult because there are a lot of distractions so usually I go out to a cafe.
Describe the physical domain of your writing space…
I’m flexible and can write in any situation, especially if I’m working to a tight deadline. If I had to choose, I’d say cafes. But my dream one day is to write, alone, without any distraction in Bali.
Worst source of distraction?
My young son! He calls me every few minutes. The solution? Find a place to write outside the house.
Best source of inspiration?
Books, TV shows and an outdoor environment. I like to go to the mall or crowded places to observe people.
How often do you get writers’ block and how do you overcome it?
I don’t believe in writers’ block. It’s just an excuse for being lazy. I always know what to write because I make a synopsis which I use as a map to tell my story.
How often do you doubt your own ability?
Contemporary writer you always read?
Indonesian writer Clara Ng.
Loads! But the one I will never forget is Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper.
Plenty. Both Indonesian and foreign. Some of my favourite local authors are Alberthiene Endah, Dewi Lestari and Clara Ng. For foreigners, I’d say Jodi Picoult and J.K. Rowling.
The book you should have read but haven’t?
To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye.
How did you get started writing?
The first thing I wrote was a short story. I felt confident enough about it that I entered it into a magazine competition. Actually, I sent three short stories and none of them got accepted! But I had caught the writing bug. I then tried my hand with a novel and bravely sent it to a publisher who accepted my manuscript.
Does writing change anything?
For me, writing changes everything. This is the life I always wanted. I’ve worked in a office before and it just didn’t suit me. With writing, I can work anywhere, anytime. Basically I’m my own employer. Writing for me is like working, but it doesn’t feel like working. This is a hobby, a passion that earns money so it doesn’t feel like a chore. I always enjoy doing it. With writing, I’m able to widen my knowledge, meet a lot of interesting people and learn new things.
What are you working on now and when is it out?
2014 is a “wow” year for me. The plan (from God and my publisher) is that I will publish eight books, five novels, two collection of short stories and short stories collaborations with other authors.
Everyone is surprised when they hear that I will publish eight books this year. Trust me, I’m shocked as well. But it’s all god’s plan, and my publisher’s. I didn’t write the manuscripts at the same time, of course. Some I wrote in 2011, 2012 and 2013. So don’t think writing is like performing magic. It needs time.
Posted: Wednesday, May 7, 2014
An Indonesian translation of this interview is here.