Alberthiene Endah has made a name for herself by fulfilling a simple goal: to tell people's life stories in a fun and engaging way.
Biographies can tend to go one of two ways. Sometimes - perhaps too often for some - a biography can be a dull read, a mere chronicle of the A-to-Z information of someone's life, from birth to death narrated in a dry style. The other kind of biography brings the subject alive on the page, capturing their character and the events that molded them in an interesting and entertaining way.
Biographies written by 30-something writer Alberthiene easily fall into the latter category.
Alberthiene is quite possibly the most sought-after biographer in the country, with celebrities and politicians alike lining up to have her pen their tales.
So far, she has written eight biographies of seven local public figures: singer Krisdayanti (on whom she has published two books); movie and soap opera producer Raam Punjabi; lawyer Dwi Ria Latifa; salsa enthusiast and former actress Venna Melinda; late singer Chrisye; fashion designer Anne Avantie; and veteran singer Titiek Puspa.
With all of them, Alberthiene set out to write a biography that readers could enjoy.
"Many people tend to be reluctant about reading [local] biographies because they tend to be written like history books. It's pretty different with biographies from overseas which are nicely written and presented with attractive covers," she says.
"There is also a tendency here to believe that if you decide to have your biography written, then it means that your life won't be long. I want to chase away this notion. Take [singer] Madonna who has had more than 20 biographies [written about her]."
Ever since she was a child, Alberthiene has been passionate about writing; she even majored in Dutch Literature at the University of Indonesia. But her entry into the "real" world of writing began in 1996 when she was employed as a journalist for a local women's magazine, Femina.
"Writing means everything to me," she says. "It's a great skill. Through writing, you can `touch' the world."
Through her career as a journalist, Alberthiene entered a new sphere that brought her into contact with people of various characters and from all sorts of backgrounds.
She was deeply immersed in the colorful life of a journalist until the day Krisdayanti asked her to pen her life story.
The book, called Seribu Satu KD (One Thousand and One KDs), which was published in 2003, changed Alberthiene's life.
A year later, she made a major decision: she resigned from her position with the magazine and launched her own career as an independent writer.
"I chose to be a biographer because I often wrote about people's lives during my time as a journalist," she says, adding that her journalism background has helped her a lot in writing biographies.
Her work with KD opened up the way for her to write more biographies, as public figures started to approach her.
"It was always people asking me to write their stories, not the other way around," she says.
Writing someone's biography, Alberthiene discovered, involves immersing herself in that person's life.
"For me, writing someone's biography, it's like you're dating that person," she says.
"You need to be involved in their activities to get to know them inside out so you can really feel the rhythm of their life."
And so she accompanied Krisdayanti on a tour across the country. On another occasion, she stayed up until dawn with Punjabi while he was editing a movie in his studio.
She admits that, of the biographies she has written, she faced the most challenges telling Chrisye's story, published as Sebuah Memoar Musikal (A Musical Memoir).
It was not an easy book for Alberthiene. She conducted long interview sessions, from May to November 2006, when Chrisye was ill, during a prolonged battle with lung cancer.
Making appointments with Chrisye was difficult because so much depended on his health. Indeed, she says, such was his condition that she felt she was racing against the clock and was afraid he would not live to tell the tale.
On the other hand, she adds, she got to see another side of the singer to his previous public image. Chrisye had been known as introverted and moody, someone who could not stand talking for hours. But it was a different story when Alberthiene interviewed him for this book.
"He was quite talkative. He seemed enthusiastic to be telling me about his long journey in music," she says. "It was like a miracle."
She also witnessed how hard Chrisye was trying to fight his illness toward the end of his life, watching him cry while he tried to eat.
"He's a good example for all of us. He was a really tough man, trying hard to beat all the pain. There were times when he was afraid of death. There were also times when he resigned himself to his situation," says Alberthiene.
She is now preparing a second book on Chrisye, capturing his last words before his death.
Writing Krisdayanti's second biography, Catatan Hati Krisdayanti (Krisdayanti's Memoirs) - My Life, My Secret, also left her with unforgettable memories.
Alberthiene says she was surprised when the singer came to her with a list of her dark secrets, including her drug problems, marriage and history of cosmetic surgery.
"I asked her many times whether she really wanted to go public, because I was afraid she would change her mind the next day, but she said yes. She even told me more secrets," she says.
"I really give her a lot of credit for having that courage to disclose her dark side. Not every public figure in the country has the guts to do so."
As expected, the book sparked controversy. But in Alberthiene's hands, the shocking stories were beautifully and sensitively written, ensuring readers would not want to put the book down until the last page.
She is currently working on the biography of First Lady Ani Yudhoyono, which is scheduled for release at the end of this year.
To complement her work in journalism and biography, Alberthiene also writes novels, an activity she describes as a form of relaxation during her hectic schedule writing other people's memoirs.
Her debut novel Jangan Beri Aku Narkoba (Don't Give Me Drugs), published in 2004, was a hit; the following year, it was made into a movie called Detik Terakhir (The Last Second), starring Cornelia Agatha.
The novel tells the story of teenagers whose search for love is complicated by domestic violence, loneliness and the ravages of opting for escape through drugs.
She spent about two weeks doing research in a drug rehabi-litation center in Bogor, West Java, as well as interviewing doctors and drug addicts. During her research, she witnessed a pair of newlyweds taken to the center on their wedding night, having overdosed.
Her hard work won critical praise and recognition, including an award from the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) in 2004 for her effort in combating drugs and the first prize in the 2005 Adikarya Award, presented by The Indonesians Publishers Association (IKAPI).
The success of the novel encouraged her to write more, with subjects ranging from the lives of a material single woman and lesbian to the glamorous life of a celebrity.
Most of her novels, she claims, are based on true stories. "I love true stories and using accurate data in a story," she says. "Of course, I change the names in the novels."
She often hangs out in cafes to get out-of-the box ideas, writing down the story in a notebook - as she did when she met The Jakarta Post.
Dressed in blue jeans, a black printed tee and a scarf, her straight hair hanging loosely just under her chin, Alberthiene looked chic. She also looked busy: As she sat on a wooden chair in a corner of a caf* in a posh shopping mall in South Jakarta, she was scribbling in her notebook, her eyes occasionally flicking around the caf*, watching the people coming in and out of the place. She broke from her writing to check her cell phone several times, checking messages and incoming calls and updating her status on Facebook.
All this is in a day's work for her. "I can hang out in a cafe by myself, writing stories for hours," she says. "I don't get bothered by all the hustle and bustle of the cafe. I can even get many ideas from that."
When not busy writing books, she likes to spend her time with her husband, photographer Dio Hilaul, going shopping or hanging out with young writers to share her experiences in writing books.
Reading books is also always at the top of her list of fun things to do. Children's author Enid Blyton, who is famous for many popular series including the Famous Five and the Secret Seven, is one of her all-time favorite fiction writers.
She also loves to read books by biographer Andre Morton, the writer of best-selling biographies of Princess Diana and Monica Lewinsky.
Even though her life and career seem perfect, Alberthiene says doesn't want to just sit back and relax. She is still dreaming of penning the story of actress Christine Hakim.
"She's just glowing. She's irreplaceable," she says. "Besides Christine Hakim, I hope that one day I can pen the life story of a non-Indonesian person. That would be interesting."
Full Name: Rr. Alberthiene Endah Kusumawardhani Sutoyo
Place & Date of Birth: Bandung, Sept. 16 . (she declined to reveal the year)
Marital Status: Married to Dio Hilaul (photographer)
Seribu Satu KD (2003; One Thousand and One KDs)
Panggung Hidup Raam Punjabi (2004; Raam Punjabi's Life on the Stage)
Dwi Ria Latifa: Berpolitik dengan Nurani (2004; Politics with a Conscience)
Venna Melinda Guide to Good Living: Bugar dan Cantik ala Venna Melinda (2006; Fit and Beautiful the Venna Melinda Way)
Anne Avantie: Aku, Anugerah dan Kebaya (2007; Me, The Gift and Kebaya)
Chrisye: Sebuah Memoar Musikal (2007; A Musical Memoir)
Titiek Puspa: A Legendary Diva (2008)
Catatan Hati Krisdayanti - My Life, My Secret (2009; Krisdayanti's Memoirs - My Life, My Secret)
Jangan Beri Aku Narkoba (2004; Don't Give Me Drugs)
Cewek Matre (2004; The Material Girl)
Jodoh Monika (2004; Monika's Partner)
Dicintai Jo (2005; Loved by Jo)
I Love My Boss (2006)
Selebriti (2008; Celebrity)
Ojek Cantik (2009; The Beautiful Motorbike Taxi Driver)
Nyonya Jetset (2009; Miss Jetset)