Sunday, April 25, 2010

Maui Inner Circle: Graham Brown, author of Black Rain

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 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's 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.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"The Future Barrister" - Descant 148: The Search for Happiness

"The Future Barrister" has just been published in the literary journal, Descant 148, in Cananda, for my 97th short story publication. The 98th short story publication was "The Merdeka Miracle" with Lydia Teh and Tunku Halim last August in Going Places, (published after "The Future Barrister" was accepted). Then I just realized, while doing a google search that I didn't include "Neighbours" being published online in Malaysian Literature in English so that pushes my total up to 99, though I'm wavering whether I should include that or not since it appears to be a blog. Here's a link to Denis Harry's "Are You Mrs. Koh?")

For "The Future Barrister" this is the version in Lovers and Strangers Revisited (MPH 2008) that's in the present tense, a last minute change which seemed to solve some problems I was always having with the story.

Here's the link to The Story behind the Story of "The Future Barrister":

Karen Mulhallen

Larry Frolick - The Dark Side of the Moon: My Toronto, 1967–1999
Alex Pugsley - Fudge
Madeline Sonik - Ashes

Robert Raymer - The Future Barrister
M.H. Vesseur - Babyface Junkie (Translated by Paul Vincent)
Douglas Glover - Pointless, Incessant Barking in the Night
Emi Benn - What Martha Did

John Keyes - Evacuation Route (A Canadian Goes South)

Ariel Gordon - Waterage
David Day - Cry of the Curlew
Myrna Garanis - Myrtle on the Midnight
Brian Henderson - Something to Remember the World By
Jeffrey Herrick - Divine Wind; Hohle Fels
Leanne Averbach - Dusk, If That
Roo Borson - Nara
Joanna M. Weston - The Canoe

Anitra Hamilton - Humpty Dumpty
John Massey - Soldiers
Jim Hake - The Joy of Repetition

I'm still waiting for the actual issue to arrive in Borneo!  (It arrived safely.)
I'm also patiently waiting for short story publication number 99?/100 in my countdown to 100!

*Update, 100th short story publication, 78th from Lovers and Strangers Revisited.

**Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, my collection of short stories set in Malaysia.

***Here's 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.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Joel Roberts, Excellence in Media, Singapore, Day Two and Three.

Joel Roberts had stated at the beginning of the three-day media event that he had made some adjustments to focus more on the business aspect than the media since the Singapore media are very much controlled by the government, so he was not able to do what he would normally do in his events in the US and UK. (Thankfully he kept his off-the-wall humor - he's hilarious; he also does great voice imitations in pseudo-Japanese). He had even said to me, when I spoke with him after the first day, that he knows that this seminar will not benefit me all that much, as a writer/novelist, and apologized. I told him, on the contrary, it has already helped me to own up to my credentials, something I learned from him at the Harv Eker event and from his CD’s, plus I can readily apply what I’m learning to pitch agents, editors and producers.

Two weeks before the event, Heidi, Joel’s wife (who I found out did some amazing work in Hollywood of getting work produced and teaching others how to get their work produced and that, in reality, “angel” agents don’t exist), had requested that all of us send in a brief “one paragraph description of your business, products, service or book” and a photo. I sent in the following bio, purposely writing it in third person as though I were presenting it to the media or an agent/editor:

Named as one of the “50 Expats You Should Know” in Malaysia by Expatriate Lifestyle (January 2010) and profiled in an upcoming edition of International Living, Robert Raymer is an American writer and writing facilitator living on the island of Borneo. Until recently, he’s taught creative writing for 13 years at two Malaysian universities. His short stories and articles have been published 450 times; they've appeared in The Literary Review, Thema, Descant, London Magazine, Reader’s Digest and The Writer (his latest in their May 2010 issue). Lovers and Strangers Revisited (MPH 2008), a collection of 17 short stories set in Malaysia have been published 65 times in 10 countries, taught in several universities, and won the 2009 Popular-The Star Readers Choice Awards. His most recent book, Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an Expat's Life in Malaysia (MPH 2009), is a collection of creative nonfiction about his experiences of living in Malaysia for over twenty years, including being an extra in three Hollywood films (Anna and the King, Paradise Road, Beyond Rangoon) and the French film, Indochine, which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. One of his unpublished novels was an “almost finalist” in the 2008 Faulkner-Wisdom novel contest and another was “short-listed finalist” for their 2009 contest. His blog on writing, his interviews, and book reviews can be accessed from his website

The above is a culmination of years of getting what I do down on paper, though never to this extent, this well written (I hope), whereby I even added in my “movie credits” for a little bonus impact. I also sent a photo of me holding a crocodile, just in case. . . . From a media viewpoint, if I wanted to grab their attention fast, which I learned from Joel last September, I had to own my credentials and state the most important ones up front, which then immediately establishes your credibility and makes others stand up and listen to what you have to say next, a lesson in “grab them fast, hold them long” that applies to more aspects of our lives than we care to admit.

Robert Raymer on the set of Anna and the King
On the second day, we practiced our pitches using our “dip” and “zigzag” models that we were taught on our partners, and they would then give us feedback on “impact”. What resonated with them and what did not, and then we would revise and incorporate that into our model as we prepared ourselves to be interviewed on day three.

One thing that resonated with my practice partners, which I failed to mention in the requested paragraph, was what I had to give up in order to write in Malaysia. I used to work for Kinko’s, now FedEx Kinko’s back when they had only 17 stores. Six years later, I was a regional manager in charge of eleven stores in three states; most I had set up on my own (scouted locations, did the general contracting, hired the staff and trained them and got them up and running). Of the 440 stores back in 1984 when I “retired”, three of the top six in the country were mine. Kinko’s (K.Graphics) wanted to make me a partner, but I wanted to write. So I moved to Malaysia with my then Malaysian wife. For my “dip”, I wanted to dip down to my divorce and custody battle over my son that led to an epiphany, a reason to continue writing, which I had never articulated before – a breakthrough.

As soon as I got back to the hotel (a backpacker’s bed and breakfast called Sleepy Sam’s, a five minute walk to Plaza Park Royal where the event was taking place) and knowing I would be in the hot seat the following day, I got to work. I spread out all of my notes and variations of what I had written on the first two days and began to combine and distill it all down to the essential in about two minutes, which is often all you really get when live on air. Thirty seconds is more like it, an elevator speech, in case your only chance to pitch someone your ideas, product or project, would be the length it would take to ride an elevator, and if you can’t grab them that fast, it could be history. But if you can hook them, they may gladly give you more time to spell it all out later at their invitation in an actual meeting.

I was up at 6:30 the following morning running though my spiel while taking a shower and having breakfast. I rehearsed it, out loud, on the footbridge over Beach Street, where a few people gave me an early morning eyeful and steered clear of me in case I was psychotic. When I arrived, I was ready. Again Joel Roberts singled me out about my writing and this time asked me to stand up (he did this to only a handful of people throughout the three-day event) and told everyone that they’ll be hearing more from me later, confirming that I would be on.

After lunch, when he asked who was ready to go to be interviewed, I raised my hand and he said to me, “You’ll be up later.” He had something special in mind, something more toward the entertainment field than just business, as he mentioned to me at the end of day one. But then the afternoon wore on as he dissected a few others, some for nearly an hour, highlighting missed opportunities of impact. It was amazing to watch him work, and how he’d then do the interview with himself, playing both sides, by saying what the interviewee should have said. We sat enthralled – how does he do this? But then, time began to run out and we were put in groups of three for a round of interviews, one being the interviewer, the other the interviewee, while the third provided feedback; then we would rotate our roles. This was valuable, but not what I had mentally prepared myself for.

Afterwards, as we were saying our goodbyes, and later when many of us including Joel and Heidi were in the lounge, people kept coming up to me and saying, “I thought Joel was going to be interviewing you?”

“Yeah, me too,” I replied, disappointed. Not so much disappointed in Joel, but in me. I should have sat closer to the front; I should have sought him and Heidi out more during the breaks, as some did. It was lesson in networking – some were, yes, pushy, but others just seized the opportunity presented to all of us since Joel Roberts was very, very approachable. I did benefit in my preparation for today and also in my subsequent group interview; I will be able to use most of it as I zoom in on agents for my novels and screenplays. But I did leave it all to Joel and Heidi and I should’ve met them half way. He did take the opportunity to single me out a few times, which surprised and impressed me; a real ego boost. For that I am grateful. Later, in the lounge, I did ask him about it and he did apologize. Time, just got away from him.

But there were plenty of other opportunities to get up on stage in those three days and some seized it more than once and that took great courage on their part and it was a great learning experience for the rest of us. But I needed to be up there for my own sake, even if that meant being ripped to shreds. I would learn from the experience in more ways than one, and when the time does come when I’m interviewed live on radio or TV for my books, I would be more than ready for them because of that experience. I clearly missed an opportunity. I will learn from it so I can grab those very opportunities in the future.

After Joel’s apology, I did reply, “That’s all right. I know a way you can make up for it. Do you happen to know any agents?” (He works with many of them.) “Would you mind passing them my card?” I handed him my red Borneo Expat Writer business card. I had planned to do this on stage after our interview, with the microphone, because I was sure it would get a laugh. Instead I did it in private, from one American to another in Singapore.
                                                           -Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

PS: Two weeks later I actually found myself in front of a TV camera as a guest on a talk show in Malaysia.  Thanks to my preparation for Joel, I was ready! Now I'm on Wikipedia.

Here’s also the link to Joel Robert’s website.

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

**Here's 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.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Star - Sarawak - 13 March 2010

This was part of a larger feature on Sarawak in the Weekender, last month, that had several other profiles. It was nice that they separated ours from some of the rest and highlighted it in green. It was odd that they never mentioned that I was a writer or my books -- an oversight. Still it's a nice family photo of us in Sarawak and I'm glad we were chosen. My two little boys liked it, too!

***Here's 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.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Joel Roberts - Media Expert -Singapore

I'm in Singapore now, just attended Day One of a three day seminar in Excellence in Media, The Language of Impact. Joel Roberts specializes in "when the stakes are high, and the time is short". He knows his stuff. He's the guy that publishers hire to work with their authors before they get on prime time media shows like Oprah. There are 120 brilliant and successful people attending, many having come from T Harv Eker's Guerilla Business Intensive, which is where I first saw Joel in action last September. I worked up the courage to give him a copy of Lovers and Strangers Revisited and he promised to read at least one story.

I then listened to his set of 14CD's three times while driving back and forth to work to change how I think about writing, or whether or not I can make an impact with my words and own my credentials, sell myself as a writer. Good stuff.

Today, out of the blue, he praised my writing from the stage while I was sitting in back in the next to last row. We barely made eye contact today; I hadn't any opportunity to approach him, so I was doubly surprised. At the end of the day, I did briefly speak with him, thanking him. He said he's going to get me on stage for one of his intensive grillings. He knows how to cut to the core and nail you for any vagueness. He dissects nearly every word you say for impact. He's incredible, from prime time radio in LA, KABC. He's absolutely brilliant and funny. A great show, a great personal investment. If I can't convince an agent to represent me, then no novel deal - simple as that. Every word does count. I have to sell the book in about two minutes or less. "Grab them fast, and keep them long" is one of his mantras. I'm here to learn.

Here's the link to Day two and three, and another link to my first TV interview a few weeks later.

***Here's 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.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Making Money Out of Your 'mis'Adventures, Quill April--June 2010

Robert Raymer standing between Yvonne Lee (Vanity Drive and The Sky is Crazy) and Adeline Loh (Peeing in the Bush) just after winning 2009 Popular-The Star Reader's Choice Award in KL
***Here's 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.