Shadow Magic, Filipino-Malaysian author Nazri Noor's first book in his Darkling Mage series of urban fantasy novels, could recently be found on top of multiple bestsellers categories across Amazon's online Kindle stores. It's now topped the bills in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and United States, and Noor, who lives in California and publishes independently, is astounded.
"I'm amazed by the doors this has opened for me considering the stigma that still plagues independent publishers," Noor tells The National. "Perceptions are shifting, but change comes from within the indie industry itself."
Noor was born in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, to a Malaysian father and Filipino mother. He has spent most of his life studying and working between his parents' home countries, but moved to Santa Barbara in 2014. It's where he decided to pursue his passion for publishing. "I never really made a serious attempt at fiction until I was 30," he says.
Before that, he'd only dabbled in it, writing for his school paper and contributing to magazines at university, before graduating with a degree in communications. He spent most of his professional life working in lifestyle journalism and public relations. But an article he read about American writer Amanda Hocking, who achieved remarkable success in the early days of independent publishing, made him consider it as a career.
A full-time job
Writing fiction is now Noor's full-time job. "It's grown from simply writing and editing into a full-blown business," he explains. "I'm actively involved in networking with other authors and engaging readers on social media, but I also directly handle marketing for my books."
That involves sending out email newsletters, optimising his online advertising, updating his website and social media platforms, and vetting audiobook files. "The best part is the freedom to do all my work from any place in the world that offers internet access and a power outlet," he says.
It's busy work. Noor is currently finishing his sixth book, Last Rites, in the nine-novel Darkling Mage series. The latest instalment will be available on Amazon on April 11. At the same time, he is working on another, parallel urban fantasy series. "I hope to have the first three novels out before the end of the year," he says. He is also excited about releasing a batch of merchandise inspired by the books, such as T-shirts, mugs, tote bags and notebooks.
While he's very much involved in the business side of things, the opportunity to live in a world of fantasy drew him to this profession. His influences are horror and fantasy writers such as HP Lovecraft, Anne Rice, George R R Martin, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman – and Noor's books feature all manner of mythical creatures and supernatural happenings.
"The stories are ultimately about characters using their wits to overcome their challenges, that even in worlds where people cast spells and use magic in their daily lives, it's still split-second thinking and creativity that gets them out of binds," he says. "Weirdly, despite the occult strangeness of it all, that makes the stories even more human, realistic and relatable."
Filipino and Malaysian influence
And while Noor continues to explore paranormal themes in his novels, his heritage nations continue to influence him heavily. "On a surface level, I use smatterings of Filipino and Malaysian supernatural folklore and mythology, and there's a lot of mention of our food in the books – so much so that one reviewer wrote that Asian cuisine should practically stand as its own character," he says.
But there's already a character that embodies Noor's relationship with the Philippines in particular: Mama Rosa. "She's the surly, burly middle-aged owner of a California Filipino restaurant that carries her name," Noor says. "Rosa is an immigrant, like myself, and while she only plays a supporting role in the books, she provides shelter and a familial backbone for pretty much the rest of the main cast."
After all, the importance of family bonds cannot be understated in Filipino culture, he says. “[It’s] part of what makes Filipinos who they are, and I feel that strongly in both my personal life and my writing.”
There’s certainly nothing unnatural about that.