Thursday, November 6, 2008

Malay Mail, 5 November 2008


Revisiting tales
By GABEY GOH November 05, 2008 Categories: Blogspot

When expatriate Robert Raymer (during a moment of weakness) did a Google search on himself last year to gauge the buzz surrounding his book, what he discovered was a unique take on the old adage: "Never judge a book by its cover".

"A blog entry caught my eye and caught me by surprise, so that's what people are thinking about my book!" writes the American-born author of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, a collection of short stories set in Malaysia.

The post in question, was that of a student who shared a conversation with the book store cashier, about the misconstrued stigma attached to book titles – while picking up a copy of Raymer's book.

"After reading this blog entry, I had to smile – so that's why the book wasn’t selling well at USM bookstore! People were too embarrassed by the title. Sounds like others would stare or glare at them for even picking up the book, let alone trying to buy it," he continued.

The biggest boon of blogging for writers has been its role, not only as a launching pad to promote their works, but also as an evolving workbook and diary for their ideas. Along with his musings about the craft of writing and the business of publishing, visitors to his blog ( borneoexpatwriter.blogspot.com ) will get to delve into his current project.

"Now I’m doing a series of posts, as part of my writing blog, called The Story Behind the Story: Lovers and Strangers Revisited , whereby I blog about how the various stories came to be written," says Raymer, who noted it would be interesting for readers to see how much the stories, over a span of 20 years, have evolved.

How and when did you start your blog?

When blogging was first recommended to me by several writers, it didn’t make any sense, plus it sounded like it would eat into my limited writing time, since I teach full time and have small children at home. Then Krista Goon ( redboxstudio.com/blog ), whom I taught creative writing to at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), kept sending me links to various writers, mostly Malaysian, who have blogs. One was Lydia Teh ( lydiateh.wordpress.com ), she was reacting to a blog post by Sharon Bakar ( thebookaholic.blogspot.com ), about the realities of publishing books in Malaysia. It struck a chord with me and I shot off a reply to Lydia’s blog, which turned out to be a rather lengthy comment. In fact, it was a full length article because I had a lot to say on the matter based on my years of experience publishing books in Malaysia and Singapore.

Having written this article, I thought, why not start my own blog on writing with the same article (and on the same day), which I did on May 19, 2007. The hardest decision was deciding what to call it. I came up with BorneoExpatWriter: Borneo, since I was moving there, Expat, since that is what I am, and Writer, because that is what I do.

Has your blogging changed your life?

Blogging hasn’t changed my life, just my writing life, or how I view writing. Before, I would write or pitch articles for publications, but now I write posts on writing to help inspire other writers. Then later, I think some of these would make pretty good articles, so I would rewrite them and submit them for publication. This is a recent development, but so far one has already been published. So blogging in this sense serves a new purpose for me, it gets me to write articles that I may not have written in the first place, plus they become fodder for paying articles and workshops.

It’s also nice when readers of my stories and former writing students stumble across my website or blog and contact me. Also the website/blog is invaluable for editors, agents, publishers and reviewers to get more information about me and to read samples of my writing. So far I’ve got one US$500 writing assignment from the US, one full page interview and book review ( Borneo Post ), and one workshop presentation (in Miri) from strangers who came across my website.

Any regrets?

I only wished I had started blogging sooner, before there were a billion other bloggers out there.

What in "Cybersphere" amazes you?

How quickly unfounded rumors can spread and how much damage one person with a perceived grievance or a grudge (or just because he can), can humiliate or destroy someone’s life by posting malicious gossip or doctored photographs or stealing their identity and their money! Scary!

If you really had to choose one website to interact with?

Your Success Store ( http://www.yoursuccessstore.com/ ) and its weekly Your Achievement Ezine because of all the great advice that you get from leading success experts on all aspects of your life, from people like Jim Rohn, Denis Waitley, John Gray, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, you name it. It’s not just one person’s point of view; it’s dozens of the most successful people on this planet, those who’ve walked the walk for years, for decades, before they begin to talk.

What would you really like to achieve through Cyberspace communication?

I would like to find an agent who then finds an international publisher for my novels, someone who has the wisdom and the persistence to attract readers from all over the globe so I can stop teaching and write full time to achieve my goal of publishing 20 bestselling books in 20 years.

If there were someone you could influence to take up blogging, who would it be?

I would like to see a joint blog with Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (with Buddha as a special guest), so they can tell us in their own words what they really said, what they really meant, how we got it all wrong (assuming we did), and how we can start to make it all right before it’s too late. There’s too much anger, hate, wars in this world, and most of it caused by misunderstanding or misinterpreting what those original words really mean.

Memorable incidents?

Blogging from Borneo proves that the world is smaller. A French woman visiting her son in Australia stumbled on my blog and as it turns out she lives 15 minutes from us here in Sarawak, so she invited us over to her lovely house for some appetizers, one of which was smoked salmon from a Dutch man, who does this as a hobby. Oh, that salmon was unbelievable good!

Then a man from Canada contacted me and said he used to take ballroom dancing lessons from this woman in her house in the Bidayuh village, Quop, here in Sarawak. As it turns out, that woman is my wife’s mother. And I didn’t even know that she taught dancing! Maybe I should ask her to teach me, it’s been a while since I last danced the tango.

*There's also a side bar that says: Over at the Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (MELTA) website a forum discussion thread has been set up for Raymer's short story “Neighbours” from Lovers and Strangers Revisited, which is being taught for SMP literature as part of their 6th Cycle. So far it has 9814 hits, 289 replies and 29 pages of comments. To join in ior have a look head to http://www.melta.org.my/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=510&forum=5&jump=1 If you enter from the Special Interest Group, it’s free.

*Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited

**Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

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