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 One of his unpublished novels was an “almost finalist” in the 2008 Faulkner-Wisdom novel contest and another was “short-listed finalist” for their 2009 contest.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 at https://borneoexpatwriter.blogspot.com/
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|
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 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