People

Dewi Lestari Nourishing
the seeds of ideas

Dewi Lestari
Dewi Lestari

Rave reviews have been posted on blogs and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Blogger Icha Sanusi wrote that previous novels — Kesatria, Putri dan Bintang Jatuh (a Knight, a Princess and a Falling Star); Akar (Root); and Petir (Thunder) — were ordinary once she read the fourth novel. Petir was published in 2004.

One of the most sought after answers is the question why it has taken Dee, as the author is familiarly known, so long to release Partikel, which was published on April 13. Dee said that for her, writing is a process that takes time to mature and if someone pushes a writer to finish his or her book, they can only expect ordinary results.

“I believe every book has its own ‘birth’. Looking back, I can see how writing Partikel needed the perfect combination of knowledge, interest and passion that may not have happened if I had pushed myself to write it a few years ago,” she told The Jakarta Post. 

She has been busy during the last eight years. In 2006, the 36-year-old author, singer and songwriter released her fifth album titled Out of Shell and published Filosofi Kopi (The Coffee Philosophy), a collection of short stories.

Two years later, she released another novel, Perahu Kertas (Paper Boat) and Rectoverso, containing 11 short stories along with an album of 11 songs.  

She said that each creation had its own highlights, but admitted that Partikel was particularly interesting for her.

The book tells the story of Zarah who experiences an extraordinary childhood with a unique father. After her father disappears, the nature-lover begins her own adventure in the search for her father, along the way searching for answers to her many questions about life.

“With Partikel, I voiced my concerns about the environment, such as the destructive course we are taking and the future of humanity on this planet,” the mother of two said.  

Dee spent time researching various topics that took her interest, such as shamanism, ethnobotany (the study of the relationships that exist between people and plants), entheogen (a substance consumed to bring on a spiritual experience), crop circles and extra-terrestrials.

She was also drawn to learn about new paradigms within the study of anthropology which ponder questions about the history of Earth.

Partikel is interesting because I weaved all these topics into one storyline,” she said.

Although her latest piece of literary work may have become the most talked about topic on her Twitter account, the upcoming release of the film Perahu Kertas, directed by Hanung Bramantyo, also excites her fans. The movie’s trailer started circulating on YouTube earlier this month.

Perahu Kertas is the story of two best friends, Kugy and Keenan, who find it difficult to admit that they have fallen for each other. Their relationship evokes many questions about choices related to love and personal dreams.

Perahu Kertas is a reflection of life’s great lessons, such as finding that subtle balance between when to let go and when to pursue. It’s not just about romance,” she said.

Dee said the offer to produce a film based on the book came at the same time when there was an offer to publish it. She promptly nodded in agreement knowing that the story had been movie material ever since she wrote the first draft back in 1996.

She believes in the success of the film because Bentang Pustaka, her book’s publisher, is a sister company of Mizan Productions, which previously made the blockbuster film Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Warriors), based on the bestselling novel by Andrea Hirata. Laskar Pelangi is the highest grossing film in Indonesia’s history, with more than 4 million viewers.

“It was a 2-in-1 deal to begin with, and I was sure I was in good hands,” she said.

She was involved in the cast selection, which was coordinated by Hanung’s wife Zaskia Mecca. Despite some compromises, she said they were quite happy with the final results.

“Of course, we cannot satisfy all fans of the book. Nobody can compete with the reader’s imagination,” she said, adding that the movie would be adapted by Hanung, and should be enjoyed separately from the book.

The film will also mark her debut as a scriptwriter. She said her role as scriptwriter allowed her to guide the story from book to the big screen, saying it was like escorting a bride down the aisle, before the story was “married” to its director.

Her impressive row of books and large readership numbers are a testament to the success of her career as a writer, however, screenwriting is a completely new beast to tame. In a bid to prepare herself, she joined a filmmaking workshop featuring British film director, writer and composer Sue Clayton some years ago. She also researched screenwriting.

“I started from zero. I spent almost a year writing the screenplay for Perahu Kertas,” she said.

Although she admitted that she enjoyed writing the screenplay, but added there will be no more screenwriting activities anytime soon because of her busy schedule.

Writing is apparently a career that caters to her passion.

Dee said writing is not only a natural interest, but a skill that needs persistent practice. It is a process that involves failures, but most importantly it also involves the determination to come back after a failure.

She said her career as a writer never involved sadness, but it did involve challenges. Her biggest challenge is setting time to research and write in the juggle between family commitments and her responsibility to join promotional events.

“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 have an impact on their lives,” she said.

She said she usually worked from three months to a year during the writing process, while research was done on a daily basis. She digs deeper for more detailed information once she discovers something that she likes or a new topic that triggers her interest.

She believes that inspiration comes to a perceptive mind; one that, in the right situation, is sensitive enough to open up and be willing to play host to that inspiration.

“If I create a new book, or write a new song, it’s always the result of collaboration between seeds of ideas and my own willingness to work on it. So if one day I stop doing what I’m doing, perhaps that same dynamic won’t take place anymore,” she said.

Dee, who used to believe in soul mates, said she no longer believed in that anymore. She now believes that life is ever changing.

“Life will always serve us with surprises, yet there’s a familiarity in everything we encounter because I think our hearts are a lot bigger and more powerful than our logic. The heart just knows, intuitively, and intelligently.

And life is not a full stop for her. Next, she is gearing up to do more as Rectoverso and Filosofi Kopi also set to hit the silver screen. She is also working on Gelombang (Waves), the next installment in the Supernova series.

“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.”

— Photos Courtesy of Dewi Lestari —

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