Monday, May 31, 2010

Watching Me on TV, on Kuppa Kopi!

Georgette, Robert, and Sharnaz

Ok, I have to admit it felt weird watching me on the talk show Kuppa Kopi (31 May, 2010). Going into this I felt pretty nervous, anxious, really. I’ve been having a pretty tough month. The day after the shooting I lost my internet connection for several days, got it fixed, then it happened three more times before my computer went haywire last week, losing a lot of my files and its memory, so each day it starts with a clean slate and it’s a hassle to find anything just so I can begin at normal. Before being on TV, my life was all on automatic, a click here and there, and so was my writing, just open up a document, and get right to it, but that crashed too and I can’t blame that on the computer!

I’ve been going through a pretty bad bout of writer’s block, malaise or burnout! I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard from September through April, long hours seven days a week, pushing several novels on several deadlines, aware that I was leaving Unimas. And then all that marking for 186 students, rushing to wrap up by my final day, so I could submit my marks, finish packing and not have to come back to tie up any loose ends. What I really needed in May was a break, a chance to get caught up, and to carefully plan out my next several months and my future and to go after an agent (which I’m finding out can be a full time job in itself – making those pitches rock solid). Instead I found myself mired in mud in a writing project and my whole life, it seemed, came to a grinding halt.

“What’s wrong with you?” my wife kept asking me, out of concern. I was not being myself, very moody. Even my two little boys, Jason and Justin, kept asking about me. I would often stare off in a daze, thinking about all that I needed to get done and nothing, it seemed, was getting done, just piling up, and I didn’t know what was going on! It’s like I hit this writing wall, and I could not go forward. And in the back of my mind was this writing deadline that fell on the very day of my talk show. Instead of feeling excited about a career highlight, my first talk show, I felt a sense of dread,like I had screwed up!

Not sure if anyone I know actually watched it. It was on a Monday at 2pm, when most normal people work (in Sarawak, it's the day before Gawai, so people took the day off to prepare for tomorrow). I know, I should've reminded them. Since we don’t own a TV, we went to Quop, to my mother-in-law’s house to watch Kuppa Kopi. When we changed the channel to TV1(at five to 2), my two children loudly protested! Jason even cried, and kept making a fuss as Kuppa Kopi began.

“Look, there’s Daddy,” my wife said to our children, who weren't interested in the least. They see me all the time, (and I was right beside them) so seeing me on TV is nothing special. I tried to quiet them down so I could hear myself answer Sharnaz’s questions.

I was talking fast, making a lot of body gestures (too much, perhaps?), and my voice seemed too high pitched and my nose seemed too long, and both kept reminding me of Woody Allen. Is that really me? Is that how I look and sound? If I’m ever going to get on the Oprah Show, I’m going to have to work on that voice and maybe get myself a nose job, though I’ll shy away from going overboard like Michael Jackson.

How did I actually do? After imagining the worse for the past month, I felt an inner calmness as I watched me on TV. In fact I felt good – the best I’ve felt in a month! I did fine, too. Sure I could’ve done better working in my book Tropical Affairs and my website as I had posted on a previous blog, and I could’ve been more impactful as taught by Joel Roberts in the Excellence in Media seminar in Singapore, but the book and the website and Lovers and Strangers Revisited all got highlighted on the screen, as did my family (Jason and Justin missed it!).

Still, I made a lot of good points, offered some insights into the writing process and gave some good tips, especially about changing the reading habit. Got some good laughs from Georgette and Sharnaz, too. We all looked like we were relaxed and enjoying ourselves for the half hour that we were on.

Just wished my two boys (and the one in KL) actually watched me on TV so they could carry that memory with them long after I’m gone. It wasn’t until after I came off and Margaret Lim, Roselind Wee and her 14-year old writing daughter Victoria came on that my son Jason pointed to the TV screen at Margaret’s children’s books about Payah, and said, “Daddy that’s my book!” He called Justin over and they both stood in front of the TV, excitedly pointing at their four newest books.

“Is that the woman who gave me the books?” Jason asked me.

“Yes, and she wrote the books, too!”

He studied her with awe. I’m sure he’s going to remember Margaret and that moment forever. But me, I’m just his daddy who happens to be a writer on TV – nobody special.

*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, May 3, 2010

Live on Kuppa Kopi, TV1 – the filming

Georgette Tan, Robert Raymer, and Sharnaz Saberi
“I’d like to invite you to be my guest on my TV talkshow” read the sms from Regina Ho from RTM Kuching, the producer of Kuppa Kopi, the only talkshow from Sarawak on national TV. Shooting was scheduled for Friday, 30 April so I had less than four days advance notice to apply what I learned in Singapore three weeks ago at Joel Robert’s “Excellence in Media” seminar. I was asked to bring along my books Lovers and Strangers Revisited and Tropical Affairs: Episodes of an Expat's Life in Malaysia as well as some articles.

Not owning a TV, I was unfamiliar with the program Kuppa Kopi (Cup of Coffee), which is in their second season and hosted by Sharnaz Saberi. I Googled the program and managed to see two shows, one in Bahasa Malay and the other, I was relieved to see, in English. The set would be a round table, cups of coffee and three chairs. I noticed that for one of the guests, who has a jewelry business, she had some jewelry displayed on the table. That got me thinking, what can I put on that table? Should I prop up my books? In addition to the books, I brought my 2009 Popular-The Star Reader’s Choice Award, a poster from MPH of me in my Anna and the King costume holding a crocodile with the cover of Tropical Affairs, plus a photo display from the films I was in.

I arrived at RTM at 8:00am, fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, for makeup. I was introduced to Sharnaz. Although she was having her makeup done, she got up and shook my hand, which she also did for the other guests when they arrived: Margaret Lim, author of the acclaimed children series, Payah, Roselind Wee and her fifteen-year-old daughter Victoria who had published a series of children books and her latest self-published collection, “Tales of Fantasy”, and Georgette Tan from the Borneo Post.

After each of us had our makeup done (mine was brief and superficial), we were led to Studio A. The backdrop of the set was different from what I had viewed (they had recently shifted to a new location) though the setup was the same (inside the cups were water, I was glad to see, since I don’t drink coffee). Sharnaz, who graduated from University Malaysia Sarawak in 2006 just before I joined, looked elegant in her red kebaya and black slacks. I was asked to sit between her and Georgette, who I had met via my website and who had reviewed the Silverfish edition of Lovers and Strangers Revisited and organized several readings that I took part in. The others would be on later. Before I took my place, I set up displays with the help of Rafida, the assistant producer.

The shooting was scheduled for 9:00, but it was 9:30 before it got underway. Sharnaz kept running through her various introductions, while Georgette and I joked about our being on TV for the first time. (Actually this is my second time; the filming was on location at Benuk, last Gawai, and I didn’t know that I was going to be interviewed until the last moment, also on TV1.  I missed the actual program, though a colleague saw it.) I also glanced through my four 3x5 cards, based on the scripted questions that I received two days ago, questions about myself and my website (2 minutes); what made me come to Malaysia, to Sarawak to write and teach (1-2 minutes); who’s my favorite writer, favorite book and why (Georgette and I, 1 minute each); about the books that I wrote (2 minutes); which is my favorite and why and what inspired me to write (1-2 minutes); about my teaching creative writing (1 minute); some comments about the other guests writing Sarawakian folktales (1 minute); and how one should prepare to become a writer and what can we do to improve local fiction (Georgette and I, 1-2 minutes each).

The questions didn’t come in this order and some questions were never asked, so opportunities, on my part were missed, like my failure to talk about my website (had I known she was going to skip the second question about the website, I would have worked some of that into my first answer!) Several times we talked about Lovers and Strangers Revisited at length, but I never got a chance to talk about Tropical Affairs, though I did manage to hold up the book. I’m glad I had it on display on the table and hopefully the camera picked up on it more than once.

I was hoping to inject some humor, but most of that was tied to the second book. I did get a huge spontaneous laugh out of Sharnaz when she mentioned that she had not read my book and I touched her on the arm and said that I wouldn’t hold that against her. That was a moment of impact. I did manage to mention that Georgette had reviewed LSR and Sharnaz came back to that and asked Georgette point blank about what she thought of the book. Altogether we were in front of the cameras for about an hour, including some commercial breaks; the actual filming was about a half hour. There were no retakes, which surprised me. I may have gotten about ten minutes or longer, a lot more time than I was hoping for. (The second half of the show featured the other writers.) They’ll be some editing (um’s etc will thankfully be taken out); but what other words will deleted from my mouth, for talking too fast, or rambling, or for reasons beyond our control, like the program was running too long.

Overall it was a great learning experience, being on the show, and then watching from the studio, behind the cameramen and technicians, the other guests, and judging if they were making impact or not, or how they were coming across on air. This made me wonder how I came across. I did hold up one magazine, Expatriate Lifestyle’s January 2010 issue naming me as one of the “50 Expats You Should Know” (which seemed like a good idea at the time though now I wished I hadn’t), and both books! The other guests, all writers, didn’t hold up anything, though Sharnaz held some books up for them. Next time, I’ll clarify, will the host be holding up my books or should I? The producer, monitoring the program upstairs, may have prompted her to hold up the other books after viewing the the first half of the segment.

Had I to do it all over again, I would have prepared in the same way for each question, but I would’ve brought only one 3x5card and written all that I wanted to work in (the impact stuff), in the first opportunity to do so, like a good anecdote about each book (to suggest why they’re worth reaching) and where the books are available (online and in what bookstores – the other writers were asked later but I wasn’t and I failed to work that into the conversation).  Also, mention my website (was displayed on TV, after I emailed Regina) and blog, thanks to the missed question.

That’s why I’m here to learn, and you can only learn through actual experience and a lot of practice in the language of impact in preparation for that day, since, according to Joel Roberts, the time is short and the stakes are high. Naturally I’m anxious to see the program and get my own copy so I can view it over and over to see the opportunities that I missed and those that I got right, and learn from both, so the next time, I’ll be more than ready. In the meantime, if you want to catch me live check me out on Kuppa Kopi on 31 May, TV1 at 2.05. If you missed that, you can go to my blog and website.

Robert Raymer and Sharnaz Saberi holding an autographed copy
of his 2009 Popular Reader's Choice Award winning
collection of short stories Lovers and Strangers Revisited
* Updates, Lovers and Strangers Revisited is now being translated into French.  

**Here's also a link to a pair of creative writing workshops. ( I included three links from the happy participants).  If you wish to contact me or invite me to conduct a creative writing workshop at your school  for your staff or students, or to your association, for self-improvement, I can be reached at  

***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.