Sunday, June 19, 2016

Writing a Novel, Running a Marathon, and Advice from Dory

Having recently entered five novels into the 2016 William Faulkner - William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition in mid-May, I was determined to start a new novel in June and then run a third marathon in August.  Last year one of my novels was a finalist for their 2015 contest, one of four novels that have been finalist or short-list finalist for Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Competition.

After a marathon performance of rewriting those same four novels for this year’s contest, plus adding a fifth novel that I adapted from a screenplay, I was determined not to let up.  I’m not getting any younger.  I was equally determined two years ago to run my first marathon (for the same reason).  My wife told me I was crazy.  So I ran a second marathon last year to prove that I was crazy.

I admit rewriting five novels back to back is extremely crazy, but what to do?  I want to win and I want all five novels published and when it comes to fiction there’s always seems to be room for improve­ment.  But after all of that editing and rewriting (1,568 pages since I went through each novel twice, so it’s actually 3,136 pages that I also read out loud), and then to start in on a sixth novel so quickly?  That’s just plain insane. 

Okay, I did take two weeks off to write to some agents and to rewrite some short stories….But I was itching to start on that new novel.  Fortunately, I wasn’t starting cold, which can be daunting.  For two years I had been keeping notes and have about 200 notebook pages, plus a pile of loose notes that I’m now typing up and tossing into four sections:  Part I, Part II, Part III and Not Sure Where the Hell it Goes.  Hopefully, I’ll figure out that last section later…

Writing a novel, by the way, is like running a marathon.  First you have to show up at the starting line raring to go...after mentally and physically preparing yourself for the insanity.  Once you show up, you got a fifty-fifty chance of completing it so long as you follow Dory’s advice from Finding Nemo and also Finding Dory, “Keep on swimming.  Keep on swimming.”  Unlike a marathon which you can complete in several hours, you got to show up at the starting line of your novel in front of your computer day after day, week after week, month after month. 

That often means gluing your butt to the chair so you won’t get up every five minutes to look for a distrac­tion.  Besides you got plenty of distractions in front of you – the Internet, email, social media, not to mention all those other temptations a click or two away, like checking your likes or messages on your phone.

Once you complete that first draft, regardless of how bad or good you think it is, you have to do the same for the second draft, so “Keep on writing.  Keep on writing,” though mostly you’re rewriting….Writing a second draft often feels like running a second marathon right after you finished the first, regardless if you’re too tired, not in the mood or still suffering from cramps.  I waited a whole year to run my second marathon, so I know what that feels like.  By the way, no matter how many marathons you run, you still got to cover 26 miles and 385 yards or 42.195 kilometers or in other words,you got to "Keep on running.  Keep on running."  Being familiar with the landscape does help.  This also applies to writing that second draft.

Still, you got to keep showing up at the starting line as you plow your way through it, mile after mile, chapter after chapter.  The third draft feels like a half-marathon since you can reach the finish line a lot quicker assuming you put the hard work into the previous two drafts.  Slop­pi­ness and shortcuts will only slow you down in the long run.

Unfortunately you’ll probably need a fourth and a fifth draft (and a whole lot more races to run) to get the novel cleaned up and whipped into shape, so “Keep on re­writing.  Keep on rewriting.”   

Before you know it, you can see the finish line ahead of you.  Now you can start entering it into contests to see how it stacks up to the competition.  If you’re not making it to the semi-finals nor the finals, you got a lot more work ahead of you, so hold off before you submit it to agents let alone publishers.  Later, after you polish it up and after others have read or edited it, you can always self-publish it yourself if only to test the mar­ket and to prove to yourself and friends (and major publishers) that you have a novel that’s worth looking into. 

By then, you’ll no doubt have other ideas and plenty of notes for future novels that you’ll be eager to start on.  You know the mantra.  You suck it up and just like Dory, “Keep on swimming.  Keep on swim­ming” until you arrive.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Writer Finds Inspiration during Writer’s Workshop and Turns it into a Book!

In April Dr. Gan Siew Hua, recently featured in The Star with her first book Given Another Chance and one of my editing clients, happened to be in Kuching for a research-related workshop, so I had the chance to catch up with her.  I first met Dr. Gan at last year’s Popular Bookfest Writing Workshop in Kuala Lumpur.  

During my presentation, I gave participants a series of starter ideas to get them thinking about their own stories; then later, in the afternoon session, I made every­one write for about forty-five minutes (and went around the room to make sure they got their money’s worth!)  Dr. Gan wrote a first person narrative about a near-drowning-out-of-body experience titled “Given Another Chance.” 

After the workshop she approached me about editing her work.  For the next several months, as she wrote story after story, I helped her with the editing and the crafting of her insightful first-person experiences, many inspiring and very courageous, to make them more effective.  I knew she was onto something special and that this could lead to a book.  I was hoping she would wait and add more stories to make the book longer, but like a lot of writers, she was in too much of a hurry (we’ve all been there), so I was doubly impressed that before the year was even out she had found a publisher!

For writers who are inspired by her story (from workshop to published book in ten months!), a word of caution.  Please don’t rush to the first publisher that catches your attention or who approaches you via the internet – calling all writers!  Sometimes writers are in for a rude awakening when they discover there are hidden costs that they hadn’t bargained on.  Some publishers are traditional publishers and are more discerning about the quality of the books they publish, others are solely for self-publishing, often called vanity presses, whereby they publish anything (with little or no editing) since you’re paying for it and then you’re on your own!  Others are hybrid and give you a range of options depending on your budget and includes distribution to leading book­stores where readers can find them.

Do take time to read the fine print and don’t be rushed into signing a contract without checking the publisher out, which is easy to do these days via the internet or looking at their final products in bookstores or even con­tacting some of their authors to see how satisfied they are.  Make your first publishing experience a rewarding one!

One smart thing that Dr. Gan did, as many writers have done before her including those who had already published a book, she sought out a capable editor, one that she trusted, and it was an honor for me to work with her.  I do know she has a lot more books inside of her!  And, yes, she is coming back to this year’s Popular Bookfest Children’s Book Writing Workshop 4-5 July along with one of her daughters.  I’ll be there, too, to help others to write and hopefully publish their book.  

So if you think that someday you or someone you know wants to write, a good place to start is by attending a writing workshop – it’s not all work, plus you’ll pick up creative tips on getting started and inspiration from other writers.

—Borneo Expat Writer

—Here’s a link to a blog that I wrote about publishing in Malaysia/Singapore nearly a decade ago, with some updates and tips about promoting your book!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Esquire-Malaysia publishes “Seeing the Dead Man”, excerpt from A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit

My short story, “Seeing the Dead Man”, an excerpt from my Penang-based novel A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit, has been published in the November 2015 issue of Esquire Malaysia.  *This is the ninth time, and the fourth story from three chapters (in four countries) that have been published from the former finalist, 2012, and short-list finalist, 2014, of the Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Awards. 

*Originally I posted eight times in three countries but after double checking my records I discovered another story, under a different title, published in India.  (Australia, India, Malaysia, USA)  

A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit (83,950 words)
Expatriates don’t always make smart decisions, especially if they own a gun.

“When living overseas as long as I have,” Michael Graver said from the com­forts of his decaying bungalow, “the question that you always have to ask yourself…is today a perfect day for an expat exit?”
Distraught over catching his wife with an ex-boyfriend, American business­man Steve Bos­ton flees from freezing Wisconsin to the tropical island of Penang, off the west coast of Malay­sia.  En route to the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, a colonial holdover, Boston comes to the aid of a mysterious Eura­sian whose com­plicated life has been made messier by her father’s body wash­ing ashore.  His death is linked to the enigmatic expatriate Michael Graver, who seems to know ev­ery­body’s personal secrets, and his anti-American, opium-addicted British wife, Amanda.
Until he met Graver, Boston merely thought of expatriates as some kind of my­stical creature – a shapeshifter capa­ble of abandoning one culture for another, often living in the sha­dows for the sake of survival; either hiding from their troubled past, seeking some self-indul­gent pleasure, or search­ing for a lost treasure.  Or a little of each as in Graver’s case.
Graver’s life begins to unravel as his past catches up with him.  With little left to live for ex­cept an elusive treasure buried by the Japanese at the end of World War Two, Graver gamely manipulates those around him, including Steve Boston who keeps finding him­self in the wrong place at the wrong time until he’s caught smack in the middle with a gun aimed at his head.

The follow up to this novel Girl in the Bathtub was a finalist in the 2015 Falkner Wisdom

—Borneo Expat Writer

A link to my website, to MPH online for three of my books, and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Winners of the 2015 William Faulkner - William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.

Faulkner Medal.jpg

Faulkner Medal.jpg
Congrats to the winners of the 2015 William Faulkner - William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.


Novel:           The Colonel's Son by Daniel Castro
Runners-up:  Horace Edgecomb’s Civil War by Jacob Appel
         Of Light and Violence, Dan Turtel

Narrative Non-Fiction:   Off the Grid, by Randy Denmon
Runner-up:                   My Mother's House by David Armand

Novella:          The Virginal Grip by Paul Negri
Runners-up:   Apple Tree, Michael Caleb, Australia
          Breeding in Stockholm, Stan Kempton, New Orleans, LA
Novel in Progress:  Search a Dark and Empty Place, Emily Capdeville
Runner-up:            An Inventory of Lunatics, Jacob Appel
Tough luck for Jacob Appel who was runner-up in both the Novel and Novel-in-Progress.
As for The Girl in the Bathtub, a sequel to A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit, also set in Penang, Malaysia, it remains as a finalist in the novel category. 

  —Borneo Expat Writer

A link to my website, to MPH online for three of my books, and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Featured in POPCLUB, September 2015

Feel proud to be featured in POPCLUB this month, a magazine that's exclusively for Malaysia Popular (bookstore) card members.  I was featured their once before back in 2009, though they had me looking the other way!

Here's a link to the recent KL Bookfest Workshop that I did with several other writers for Popular in July.

Here is also a link to Lovers and Strangers Revisited -- 20 years!

Hmmm...with the 25-year anniversary of the original publication of Lovers and Strangers by Heinemann Asia coming up in 2018, perhaps, with the help of MPH, we can do a big push to get this collection published in other countries and also translated into other languages other than French....The individual stories have been published over 80 times, the last publication being "Dark Blue Thread" in Australia's Westerly 2011.  Then "Home for Hari Raya" was filmed in 2013 by Ohio University.  Would love to have this collection taught in the US and other countries at various Southeast Asia programs.  "Home for Hari Raya and "Only in Malaysia" were taught at Ohio University in 2012, and many of the stories, including the collection has been taught in several universities and private colleges in Malaysia and for six years "Neighbours" was taught for SPM literature.  There has been some interest before, and I just recently revised all of the stories, which I did for the French translation, too, to make them even better, so let's see what happens...

Again I want to thank Popular for inviting me to the Bookfest and for featuring me in this month's issue of POPCLUB and for having the Popular-Star Reader's Choice Awards, which made it possible for Lovers and Strangers Revisited to win back in 2009!

    —Borneo Expat Writer
A link to my website, to MPH online for three of my books, and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Girl in the Bathtub Finalist 2015 Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Awards

My latest novel Girl in the Bathtub has been named a finalist 2015 Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Award.  Girl in the Bath­tub is a companion novel to A Per­fect Day for an Expat Exit, which was a short-list finalist in 2014 and a finalist 2012.  Both novels are set in Penang, Malaysia, part of an Expats in Southeast Asia series.   

Previously, Girl in the Bathtub was a finalist for 2012 Novel-in-Progress category.  I completed the novel in 2013, a gift from my past, and then followed my own advice by reading it out loud as I rewrote it several times in 2014 and 2015.

Girl in the Bathtub is now the fourth novel to either be a finalist or short list finalist for the Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Awards.  The other two are The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady a short-list finalist in the 2014 Faulkner-Wis­dom Novel contest (and Quarter-finalist in 2012 Amazon Breakthrough) and An Unex­pected Gift from a Growling Fool, a short-list finalist in 2013.

Last year, my novella The Act of Theft, was also a finalist (and a short-list finalist in the previous year).  So four novels and a novella have either been a finalist or short-list finalist in the last three years.  Not a bad track record.

So when you throw in a marathon, August has been a pretty good month so far, considering it’s also my birthday month.  Now if only an agent would take a chance on this American writer living in Borneo, and sell one of these novels it would make 2015 a pretty darn good if not a great one.

Meanwhile, I just adapted a screenplay into a novel and have two other screenplays I plan to adapt as well, so I can churn out some more for next year.

    —Borneo Expat Writer

A link to my website, to MPH online for three of my books, and for Trois autres Malaisie.