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Interview with Educator Turned Horror Writer Dr Elmi Zulkarnain Osman

Dr Elmi Zulkarnain’s horror novellas and short stories have been read by tens of thousands of readers from around the world. Dr Elmi’s novella titled “Stillborn - The Legend of Pontianak” even broke Wattpad’s record after it was read by more than 14K readers within a week it was published; skyrocketing Dr Elmi Zulkarnain’s novella to the #1 spot under the “Kuntilanak” and “Pontianak” categories.

A true storyteller of the purest kind, emerging writer - Dr Elmi Zulkarnain’s works of fiction are widely known as rich and genre-transcending (supernatural – paranormal – murder – ritual – folklore), appealing to discerning adults every bit as much as young adults. With no signs of slowing, Dr Elmi recently published a brand-new novella titled “Adrian Lim - The Killer Healer”. This novella tells the story about a confident trickster called Adrian Lim who convinced numerous women that he possessed supernatural powers.

Book reviewer from IndieWriterReview, Alice Kate had the opportunity to talk with Dr Elmi Zulkarnain Osman about why he became a writer and where he feels inspired.

She also reviewed all of Dr Elmi’s works on Wattpad.

Alice Kate (AK): You have already established yourself as Malay language writer. You had your poems and short stories published and also won a few regional literature awards. What changed to make you want to start writing fiction in English?

Dr Elmi (Dr E): I had always wanted to be a bilingual writer (English and Malay), and had actually started writing stories in English during my spare time when I was still an undergraduate at the National Institute of Education (NIE). My wife, Nur Hafiszah is my guiding light and my pillar of strength. The motivations my wife gave spurred me on to work even harder and write even better.

AK: You completed your first English novella after you completed your PhD studies, but it was never published as a hardcopy book. Do you think that your fans will ever get to see some physical form of that novella or an anthology of novellas for sale one day?

Dr E: Definitely. I’ve written lots of unpublished novellas and short stories, especially later in my career. I have already made plans with a few publishing companies in Singapore to publish my anthology of horror novellas and supernatural-paranormal short stories as an eBook and a real-physical book for readers to read. However, I might not publish my book with a traditional publisher and just self-publish my book. In the past, authors who self-publish their own books instead of being offered a contract by a traditional publisher sometimes get a raised eyebrow and a snide, “Oh, so nobody wanted to publish your book?”. However, the advancement of technology and social media has democratised publishing.

AK: You started writing adult horror (I myself particularly enjoyed Dark Times in Kuching – a supernatural-horror novella about the Manananggal | Hantu Penanggal) but transitioned to a much heavier novella that contains strong language, high graphics of sexuality and mature themes. What made you make that transition?

Dr E: Good writing is good writing; believable characters and compelling plots are crucial regardless of who’s picking up the book. I don’t just write in a strong language just for the sake of it but because I want readers to appreciate the authenticity of the work and realise the “Emotional Truth” of the story.

AK: I must ask, why Asian ghost stories or folklores such as the Pontianak and The White Lady of Balete Drive? While in recent years the western vampires from Vampire Academy to Twilight have become popular in modern fiction worldwide, you took them on when fewer people were interested, which I give you a lot of credit for!

Dr E: Asian ghost stories have always been my favourite genre, ever since I was five or six years old. I grew up listening to all these ghost stories especially vampiric stories from the Malay mythology. I never actually think about the market when I’m writing. I just go with stories that I feel interested in.

KS: What was it like seeing Farid and his group of friends come to life in your short story about Trunyan Cemetery - The Skull Island in Bali?

Dr E: I always like seeing how people interpret my characters and the world I create, whether that’s as short story or novella. Nobody ever captures all of the characters exactly the way I picture them, but that’s what’s so special about books – every reader creates a unique visual world inside their own head. I enjoyed the writing this story as it was based on a real account.

AK: You’re a self-professed film buff. Would you like to see any of your other novellas portrayed on the silver screen in the future? If yes, which ones?

Dr E: I’d love to see ALL of them filmed! I’m always open to TV or movie adaptations, as it’s a great way to reach new readers and entice more people to give the books a try. I hope one day, film makers like Eric Khoo will start considering adapting one of my works into a film.

AK: What made you love horror and things that go bump in the night so much?

Dr E: It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed, ever since I was a young child. The darkness – not just physical darkness, but the darkness of the human mind and soul – has always fascinated me.

AK: Thank you again so much for agreeing to do the interview, Dr Elmi! Can you please leave our aspiring young writers with sound advices?

Dr E: Reading—the good and the bad—inspires me. It develops my palate for all the tricks that I (as a writer) have invented over the years. A good writer recognises he needs help. Capture ideas. A good writer is constantly gathering creative input. Write every day. This cannot be overlooked.

Dr Elmi Zulkarnain Osman can be found on his official sites, Wattpad (@ElmiZulkarnainOsman) and Instagram (@elmizulkarnain).

Dr Elmi’s eBooks will be available for purchase from Amazon Kindle Direct Publish, NOOK Press by Barnes & Noble and Booktango starting in June 2019.