I love writer success stories, even more so when I know the writer and met them before they sold their first book. I met Graham Brown at the 2006 Maui Writer’s Conference when he was just like the rest of us, writing a novel and dreaming of getting it published. In fact, several of us formed a group that we dubbed Maui Inner Circle.
In 2005, I began my Countdown to Maui Writer’s Conference project and signed up for the early-bird special. But then some harsh realities arrived pretty fast; within one month, I found out that after ten years my contract teaching creative writing at USM (Penang, Malaysia) could not be renewed (needed a six month break) and my wife Jenny was pregnant, so since Maui was half a world away, I cancelled. After securing a position to teach creative writing in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, I took a gamble and re-signed up for the Maui Writer’s Conference in Hawaii (and put together a website, too).
To lessen the cost, the conference people put me in contact with Ian Earle and we shared a condo and a car and the same goal of winning the MWC Rupert Hughes Award (to recoup our investment). We then met Doug MacIlroy, Graham, Drew Tolman, James Burke. As luck would have it Ian and I were both in the top ten for the Rupert Hughes award, as were Eric Paul Shaffer and Ann Marie Svilar who joined us afterward for a celebration drink; since we happened to be sitting at a round table, we dubbed ourselves the Maui Inner Circle and hung out together.
Six weeks later, my wife Jenny and I moved to Borneo, started our new jobs and had our second child. Meanwhile I kept rewriting my novels and keeping my dream alive. Now and then, when I had good news to share I would initiate a round of emails with the Maui Inner Circle, hoping to take it to the next level. Then in September 2009, the third anniversary of our meeting, I contacted them again after my collection of short stories Lovers and Strangers Revisited won the 2009 Popular-The Star Reader’s Choice award here in Malaysia (with another book due out in October).*Update, Lovers and Strangers Revisited has now been translated into French.
That’s when Graham dropped the bomb. He not only had an agent, but also a two-book deal with Bantam/Dell, for Black Rain and its sequel Black Sun. Here’s the link to how he met his agent at Thrillerfest 2007. Then Eric, who has published three books of poetry, told us about his novel Burn and Learn that was coming out with Leaping Dog Press.
Right away Ann suggested that we form a novel critique group, and immediately we were in business, hammering out the details, the pecking order, and eventually agreed to send out a brief synopsis of the novel and the first five pages. Beside the invaluable feedback to our own blind spots, it was great to see what others were now writing. We even got the opportunity to critique the first five pages of what could be Graham’s third book. Is that cool, or is that cool?
Since then, after completing round one of our critiques, and realizing how much time it involved since there was so many of us and other pressing commitments, round two was put on hold, a disappointment for me. I did manage to get Graham’s and several others feedback on the 300-word pitch I was working on for one of my novels for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest, which forced me to take a serious look at my other pitches, too. Although only one made it to the second round, I’ve been busy rewriting my three novels and a novel-in-progress for the upcoming Faulkner-Wisdom contest. (In the 2009 contest, I was a short-listed finalist in both the novel and novel-in-progress category; the other two were semi-finalist, though one was “almost finalist” in their 2008 contest). Now it's time for me to knock on doors and get myself an agent -- I'm in the market.
This has been a culmination of pushing myself to the limit these past six months (nearly four years since we met at Maui) in my quest to join Eric and Graham in the ranks of Maui Inner Circle published novelists. Dreams do happen, just ask Graham Brown. And how is Black Rain doing? It’s an international bestseller, currently being published in the U.S, Germany, The Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Italy, Israel, and Poland, with a sequel on the way. Not bad! A huge inspiration for the rest of us at Maui Inner Circle, and for writers everywhere. Way to go Graham!
*As an update, please go to this link:
**Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, my collection of short stories set in Malaysia.
Here are links to some of my author-to-author interviews of first novelists:
Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.
Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.
Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day.
Chuah Guat Eng, author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change.
Five part Maugham and Me series
Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I