Friday, December 31, 2010

Spirit of Malaysia - a first look at the new cover

Here's the first look at Spirit of Malaysia, an Editions Didier Millet book that I was asked to write the text for, a state-by-state overview of modern Malaysia, a good learning experience for me and a pleasant opportunity to revisit all of Malaysia, if only from my computer and via stacks of guide and reference books, after living here for twenty-five years.  Amazing how much I learned, which is often the case with every book that you write.

The copyright holder of the series provided the photographs, and the layout was already done for me.  Just needed to come up with the text for each section and for the photos, too.  Sounds easy, but initially when writing this it gave me fits -- I was fighting it!  But then I found a way to break down each section, from the economy to transportation, from background history and heritage to diving sites and tourist resorts and just stuck with it.  The problem was always an overload of information from far too many sources and finding a way to distill it all down to a few paragraphs here and there.  Having a deadline and a signed contract helps!

The book will make a perfect gift for those wishing to know more about Malaysia, a happy balance between fascinating and well-chosen photographs (three or four per page) and just enough background information and depth to keep it interesting, without weighing you down.  At 80 pages, it's portable too, in a soft cover, so it's easy to slip into your luggage or backpack or mail overseas to your family and friends.

For advance orders you can go to Amazon.  In the US it sells for $15. In Malaysia RM49.90

Finally, I'm on Amazon, if you don't count some old copies of Lovers and Strangers from the Heinemann Asia Writing Series(1993):  two used from $75.23 and one collectible (an autographed copy) from $49.95.

Let's share the Spirit of Malaysia with the world.

*Here's an updated link with an e-book view of some of the photos.
** Here's also the first review.

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

****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.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The rise of Maui Inner Circle…and the demise of Maui Writer’s Conference

This is one of those good news, bad news scenarios.

The good news is that the Maui Inner Circle gets a mention as “notable authors” in Graham Brown's latest interview, dated 12 November 2010. Eight of us met at the Maui Writer’s Conference back in 2006, which I blogged about earlier this year, after three of us had published at least one book.  Of course the big breakout news then was Graham Brown’s thriller Black Rain published in January 2010, followed up by his latest book Black Sun in August.  He has also recently signed with Random House for a third book in his series.  Way to go, Graham!

Graham Brown Author Black Rain

Now the pressure is on for the rest of us at Maui Inner Circle to do our part.  For me, my fingers are crossed for a French translation deal for Lovers and Strangers Revisited, my award-winning collection of short stories set in Malaysia.  I also have a new book coming out with Didier, Spirit of Malaysia.  Other than some publications in literary magazines by Eric Paul Shaffer, author of Burn & Learn, Drew Tollman is in post-production for the film Hop, coming out Easter 2011.  She’s also starting to make deals for her pre-school show.  Her company is called Beach Plum Media and a web site is in the works. All the best, Drew!

The bad news is that the Maui Writer’s Conference where we all met is no more.  After a run of 17 amazingly successful years, with its auspicious beginning documented by director John Tullius in Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul, the conference switched its name to Hawaii Writer's Conference and its location to Waikiki.  A victim of the downturn in the economy and poor ticket sales for a fundraising event headed by Nora Jones (along with some contractual disputes over the $50,000 that she was paid in guarantee money—there are two sides to this story, so let’s not be too quick to blame her), the conference, unless it's part phoenix, is sadly no more as reported by Lee Cataluna in the Honolulu Star Advertisers.

Our year at the Maui conference is notable not only for Bobby Moresco (Crash, Million Dollar Baby) and Ron Powers (Flags of Our Fathers) but also the West Maui Mountain fire (above).  Now the Maui Inner Circle is looking to set the world on fire with our writing!  Rather appropriate since Graham Brown is writing about the Mayans and its apocalyptic year 2012, with the tag line, “forget everything you think you know.”

So forget everything you think you know about the Maui Inner Circle.  Our story is just getting started…wish us luck! And let's wish John Tullius some luck with his conference, too. Without it, we would never have met.

*As an update, Lovers and Strangers Revisited is now being translated into French!
                                                          -Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

**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.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lovers and Strangers Revisited, a French connection?

Looks like Lovers and Strangers Revisited might have a French connection.  A publisher in France with an interest in South East Asia has expressed an interest in translating Lovers and Strangers Revisited into French, after reading two of my stories, “Neighbours” from my website and “On Fridays” in Cha.  Nothing is official, but they just ordered two copies of the collection to explore that very possibility.  That’s a good start.  Now they need to know the details of my contract with MPH so we can work out a solution, a win-win for all three of us.

Two of the stories from collection have already been published in France, though in English. “Sister’s Room” was published in the French literary journal, Paris Transcontinental back in 1992 the year before Heinemann Asia brought out the original Lovers and Strangers in Singapore.
Then in 2003, “On Fridays” was published in Frank as a joint publication with The Literary Review after Frank’s editor, David Applefield was their guest editor for the Expat Writing issue.

Is this the start of my European period?  Last month Dr Rashidi, a friend who teaches Lovers and Strangers Revisited at USM here in Malaysia saw one of my short stories in Silverfish anthology at a German university, and then I was contacted from The Netherlands, when the Expatriate Archive Centre at The Hague requested a copy of Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an Expat’s Life in Malaysia for their library.  And now France. 

*Here's an update - it's official Lovers and Strangers Revisited is going French!

*Update: Here's a link to the intro and excerpts, and to four reviews of Trois Autres Malaisie in,,, and Petit Futé mag.

**Here’s an update to the French blog about Trois autres Malaisie, a link to meeting the French translator Jerome Bouchaud in Kuching, and also to order a copy or recommend it to your friends, especially those who would like to know more about Malaysia or have an interest in Southeast Asia.

***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.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Novel Project: The pitch, synopsis and first five pages of The Mother of that Boy

The pitch:
The Mother of that Boy (99,200 words)
What if you’re the mother of a boy who shot his father dressed as Santa Claus?
Would you be able to defend your son? How about yourself as a parent?

          Rachel Layton finds her fragile marriage shattered when her eleven-year-old son shoots a burglar who turns out to be his drunken father in a Santa Claus suit.  The shooting sets off a chain-reaction of events that threatens to tear apart a small Pennsylvania town.  Cast as a villain and labeled trailer trash by the media, Rachel is determined to hold her family together, even as her son struggling from post-traumatic stress disorder gets beaten up at school, her teenage daughter moves in with a low life twice her age, and an old high school boyfriend comes and goes.  Tired of being on the defensive, Rachel speaks out against guns, especially hunters who give guns to under-aged children.  But that just makes people even madder.
Despite threatening phone calls and a brick through her window, Rachel refuses to back off until Gordon’s Gunshop—located smack on Main Street—is shut down . . . .The one sensible thing that Rachel absolutely refuses to do is to take her son and flee.  But that’s just her—stubborn—like nearly everybody else in this dead-end town.  Just as Rachel’s life begins to calm down, Eric breaks into a cold sweat when he sees another Santa at the mall.  Sensing trouble from the other anxious parents, Rachel tries to prevent her son from confronting him.  At the same time, she’s all too aware that someone is stalking her.
          The Mother of that Boy was a short-list finalist for the 2009 Faulkner-Wisdom novel contest (an earlier draft and a different title).

The synopsis:

The Mother of that Boy                                                 Novel 99,200 words           

          The day before Christmas, Rachel has a spat with her husband Lyle over the hunting rifle that he bought for their eleven-year-old son, Eric.  While teaching Eric how to shoot the rifle, Lyle passes along valuable tips about being caught in a life threatening situation in light of recent break-ins at their trailer court, including his drinking buddy, Sam Taylor.  While Rachel is visiting a friend, Lyle sneaks out to have a beer, after putting Eric in charge with explicit instruc­tions to shoot first and ask questions later if anyone tries to break in.  At Roadkill, Lyle nearly gets into a fight with Deek Jack­son, a low life his age who is secretly seeing his sixteen-year-old daughter, Tara.  As a joke, Lyle borrows a Santa Claus suit.  Eric, thinking he’s a burglar, shoots him, setting off a chain-reaction of events in a small town.
          Reporters, demanding to know how Rachel can raise a child to kill Santa Claus, flock to her trailer.  Forced to make a statement, she accidentally lets out that Lyle dislikes Christ­mas.  After Lyle’s funeral, the press antagonizes Eric into making a sensational comment about him hating Santa Claus.  Tara admits to Rachel that she’s sleeping with Deek Jackson.
          When school reopens, troublemakers goad Eric, who’s struggling from post-trau­ma­tic stress disorder, into a fight.  While his over-sized best friend Duncan Hayes watches, Eric gets beaten up.  Rachel is forced to find a job as a waitress at The Diner, where she works with Sam Taylor’s teenage daughter, Connie.  Tara quits school to move in with Deek Jackson.  Finding the receipt for Eric’s rifle, Rachel visits Gordon’s Gunshop.  Later, she runs into Dale Hocker, Eric’s principal and an old boy­friend from high school.  They start to date again.
          A drunken Sam Taylor beats up his daughter Connie.  After passing out, Rachel discovers that she is pregnant with Lyle’s baby.  Dale abruptly ends their relation­ship.  On the last day of school, Eric is attacked by a group of boys and is hospitalized.  Feel­ing desperate, with no on left to turn to, Rachel calls her estranged father who offers to help out.
          An elderly librarian friend convinces Rachel to speak out against hunters leaving guns lying around for their children to find.  During Rachel’s talk, she’s heckled by Bert Hayes (Duncan’s father), Deek Jack­son, and Gordon Damby, owner of Gor­don’s Gunshop.  A drunken Sam Taylor kills a family of five in a car accident; barely alive, he makes wild accu­sa­­tions that Rachel is a witch.  A brick with a bullet taped to it is thrown through Rachel’s window.  Suspect­ing Gordon Damby, Rachel leads a protest outside Gordon’s Gunshop.
          Later, Rachel confronts Eric about fighting and skipping school, only to learn that kids at school are calling her a witch and a whore for sleeping with their principal.  Wanting to put a stop to all this, Rachel confronts Eric’s principal, Dale Hocker.  During a heated argument, Rachel goes into labor.  Dale not only delivers the baby, but also, after 18 years, finally gets around to proposing to her.  Rachel’s not so sure this is a good idea.
          Bert Hayes forces his son Duncan to go hunting and Duncan shoots his bullying father in the back.  With the two patricide shootings linked together, Rachel delivers a sterling anti-gun statement to the press.  Deek Jackson beats up Tara for getting pregnant.  Later, while drunk, he pays Rachel a visit and threatens her family with a gun.  Eric surprises him with a gun of his own.
          At the mall two days before Christmas, Eric breaks into a cold sweat when he sees Santa Claus.  To Rachel’s dismay, he gets into line behind the other kids.  Sensing trouble, parents pull their children out of line.  As Eric confronts Santa Clause, Rachel is all too aware that some­one in the crowd is stalking her.  Christmas in Sharpton will never be the same.

The first five pages:

Men may live fools, but fools they cannot die.
-Edward Young (1684-1765)

        Rachel Layton can’t help but notice Lyle grinning at her.  It’s like he’s mocking her.  Like he knows some­thing she doesn’t and is rubbing it in.  He grabs a bottle of Bud­wei­ser, opens it, and leans against the refrig­er­a­­tor to take a drink.  Before he does, he grins at her again like some hyena that’s laughing at her on the inside. 
        She ignores him and glances out the kitchen win­dow.  She can barely make out the top of the Ever­­green Trailer Court sign arched over the entrance, decorated with blinking Christmas lights, several burned or busted out.  The lights only add to the gaudiness of Ever­green like some drunkard foolishly drawing attention to him­self.  Since the other trailers all have their Christ­mas decor­a­tions up and their trees lit, it made not having any feel worse like watching another kid eat ice cream after your own parents refuse to buy you one . . . . She lets out a prolonged sigh for the seven­teen years of lost battles with Lyle over nearly every­thing related to Christ­mas, especially him not allowing a tree inside their trailer.  If it wasn’t for Tara and Eric, she wouldn’t left him long ago.  If only the bastard hadn’t gotten her pregnant.
        She glances at Lyle, not at all surprised that he’s still looking at her with that stupid grin on his face.  “What?” she finally asks him, in no mood for any of his antics.
        He doesn’t say a word.  He doesn’t have to.  His mocking grin says it all.  I got you!
        She shakes her head, still mad at herself for marrying the damn fool.  She calls Tara and Eric to the table for their overly late Sunday dinner at one.  Both grumble for several moments until a commercial comes on and then pry themselves away from the TV.  Rachel joins them at the table and breathes in the aroma of baked chicken, buttered baked potato and cornbread.  Lyle remains leaning against the refrigerator, his arms now crossed—still grinning at her.  He winks at Eric, guzzles some beer, and wipes his mouth on the sleeve of his favorite frayed-at-the-edges yellow and red flan­nel shirt—something she’s been trying to throw away for years.  He sur­veys the food as if it’s the furthest thing from his mind before reluc­tant­ly sitting down at the table opposite of her.
         Rachel ignores him as she and the kids dig in.  In between bites, she glances at Lyle, fully aware as to why he isn’t hungry; in addition to a drinking a couple of beers, he pigged out on the peanut-butter cookies and some vanilla ice cream about a half hour ago, after she had pointedly told him to wait until after dinner.  There’s still cookie residue on his chin.  Evi­dence.  His hair, as usual, isn’t combed, nor did he bother to wash his oily face.  The longer she looks at him, the more she despises his wide forehead, mis­chievous blue eyes, pointy nose, and jutting chin.
        “You’re not going to eat, are you?” she finally asks, tired of him grinning at her like some simpleton from the Sharpton Odd Fellow’s Home.
        Lyle grins even wider and doesn’t bother to reply.
        The telephone rings.  Rachel grabs Tara’s and Eric’s arms to prevent them from getting up.  Lyle takes another gulp of beer and squares his shoulders.  “Why look at me?”
        “Only you get calls during meal times.”
        “My friends eat at odd times—that’s all.”
        “You mean drink,” Rachel replies, “and they drink all the time.”
        Lyle takes the beer with him as he gets up from the table, no doubt glad for an excuse to get away.  He glances at Mr. Potato Head who’s looking down at them all from his perch on top of the refrigerator with an air of superiority matched only by Lyle himself.
        “Keep an eye on them until I get back.”
        “Talking to your toy again?” Rachel asks.  Mr. Potato Head not only belongs to Lyle but also resembles him, par­ti­cu­larly the limited facial expressions.
        “At least Mr. Potato Head doesn’t talk back like some people I know.”  Lyle turns the corner before Rachel has time to respond.  He continues past the mahogany gun cabinet containing several well-oiled rifles and shotguns and the yard-sale-bought-and-chipped desk where the telephone is located and the presents that Rachel bought for him and the children.
        When the ringing finally stops, Rachel turns to her eleven-year-old son Eric, who’s eyeing her as if she has just com­mitted a crime by crossing words with his father.  “Eat up while it’s hot.”
        “I’m eating,” Eric replies, his mouth full of chicken.
        “Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Rachel says, sounding so much like her mother it scares her.  It’s as if her mother is coming back to haunt her, which is all she needs right now. A ghost.  She glances at Tara, whose head is cocked to one side as she fingers her shoulder-length reddish blond hair.  At sixteen, Tara looks a lot older than she is.  For Rachel that means trouble.  Already she lost her virginity at age fifteen, the only thing she and Tara seem to have in common, other than Lyle.  Tara had no say in that matter.  Rachel, most assuredly and regretta­bly, did.
        Noticing that Tara is still watching her, Rachel asks, “What are you looking at?”
        Tara rolls her turquoise eyes—eyes that remind Rachel far too much and far too often of her dad.  Not only the way she rolls them but how they fail to see the world beyond the limita­tions of Sharpton, Pennsyl­vania.  For that matter, Tara’s entire dimpled-cheeks, thin-nosed, hawkish face is Lyle through and through.  At least Tara keeps her hair neatly combed.  Lyle would rather die than comb his hair, something he only does first thing in the morning or after showering—some­thing else he keeps to a minimum.
        Rachel sighs in defeat and glances up at Mr. Potato Head.  “What are you looking at?”
Like Tara, it doesn’t bother to reply.

        “Told you it’d happen again,” Lyle says, returning to the table; a cockiness in his gait from never being wrong despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  “Someone busted out Sam Taylor’s window and broke in.  Took all their presents.  Even swiped some orna­ments off the tree!”
        “Who would do such a mean thing?” Rachel asks, laying down her fork in protest.  The Taylor’s trailer is just around the bend, not far from theirs.
        “That’s the second one this month,” Lyle says, reclaiming his seat and glancing at the food as if wishing he’d already eaten it.  “Told you it was going to happen again, didn’t I?”  He grins smugly to let his genius sink in.  “Let ’em try that here and I’ll shoot their ass.”
        “Shoot first, ask questions later,” Eric pipes in.  He helps himself to some milk.
        “Got that straight.”  Lyle aims his index finger at Eric like a pistol.  “Pow!”  He blows away the imaginary smoke and winks at Eric.
        “We should give Sarah something to help out,” Rachel says.  “How does fifty sound?”
        Lyle picks up the beer bottle by the neck and strangles the idea. “Fifty is a lot of money.”
        “Just means you got to cut down your drinking and eat more.”  She picks up her fork as if to show him how.
        “Twenty sounds better,” Lyle says, leaving the fork where it is.
        “Twenty is barely going to buy a decent present.  She’s got three teenagers at home.”
        “That Connie’s working over at The Diner, so they’re not hurting none.”
        “With Sam drinking away the pay, she doesn’t have much of a choice, now does she?”
        Lyle doesn’t reply; Sam’s drinking is a touchy subject since he’s one of Lyle’s drinking buddies.  Lyle finishes the beer, gets up and grabs another bottle from the fridge.
        In protest, Rachel adds, “Maybe I’ll give them one of our pies, too.”  
        “Not the apple pie,” Lyle says.
        “Only thinking of yourself.”
        “I happen to like apple pie,” Lyle says, and sits down again.  “You too, right, Eric?”
        “Me too,” Eric replies, and gulps down more milk.
        “I can bake another,” Rachel says.  She looks from Lyle to Eric.  “Eat your potatoes.”
        Lyle stretches out his arms in a manic pose.  “Not in front of Mr. Potato Head, please!”
        Eric sprays milk from his nose and mouth as he cracks up laughing.
        “You’re so disgusting,” Tara says, still fingering her hair.
        “Clean that up now!” Rachel says.
        “Didn’t do it on purpose,” Eric replies, sopping up the mess with a paper towel.
        Rachel turns her attention to Tara.  For a long moment she just looks at her.  Finally, she says, “You’re awfully quiet.”
        Tara sighs and turns to her father.  “I don’t know whether I should get my breasts enlarged or reduced.  What do you think?”
        “You’re too young to be thinking about doing anything to your breasts,” Rachel protests.
        Tara rolls her eyes.  “I mean when I graduate—for my graduation present.”                                
           --Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

***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.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Crossing the Bridge of Action

Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things.  Action is the bridge that links them together.  On the other side of that bridge are the results that you want.  Knowing what to do can only take you so far.  You still have to roll up your sleeves and cross that bridge.  You probably have to do it every day, too, so get used to it.  Assuming, of course, you really want those results that are waiting for you.

Do you?

I know, I do.  I’m a great to-do list maker, by the way.  I can make those to-do lists in my sleep.  I’m not bad at getting stuff done.  Nor am I that good.  Hey, it’s on my list, even prioritized, but for some reason I never quite get around to the important stuff.  I keep putting it off.  Then I notice, week after week, month after month as I update my to-do lists, that quite a few of those to-do items—usually the important ones—gets repeated over and over.  Sound familiar?

Again, knowing what to do and doing it are two different things.  We want the results, so what’s holding us back?  Yeah, I know, procrastination, but why are you procrastinating?  What are you afraid of?  Fear is usually the culprit.  Do you fear that you’re not good enough to complete the job, or not good enough to receive the rewards on the other side of that bridge?

I admit, at times, I fear both of these.

One of those items on my list that I’ve been procrastinating on is selling my screenplays.  Hey, I did the hard part, I actually wrote them!  But I still have to cross that bridge by selling what I wrote.  Sure LA agents won’t take a look at me, this writer living in Borneo.  LA agents, I’m finding out, won’t take a look at anyone, even if you’re living in LA and knocking on their office door—they don’t have time to deal with you and your movie dreams!  They are too busy making deals for their proven clients.

Book agents and script agents operate differently!  I can submit directly to a book agent who have clear guidelines for submissions stated in their websites or in other listings.  For screenplays you need a script manager, and then, even before they peek at your script, you’ve got to sign a release form (to protect them and everyone in the industry from being sued by you for “stealing” your ideas).  After they’ve determined that the script is as good as you hope it is, they can start knocking on those doors for you.  Since LA agents have worked with these managers before, they trust them.  Together they can put deals together, pulling in actors and producers along the way, to get your script optioned or sold and hopefully, produced.

OK, I know all this, a recent discovery after procrastinating on sending out my screenplays for years (they needed rewritten!), so after rewriting them why am I still standing at the bridge of action, waiting and waiting?  Waiting for what?  For snow to fall in Borneo?

A good question to ask yourself—how bad do you really want those results?  Yeah, I know, really, really bad!  Just because you really, really want it is not—and never will be—good enough.  You need a powerful enough reason. a big why.  If not, you’ll give up the very first time that troll who lives under the bridge says “Boo!”  See, you really don’t want it as bad as you claim!

Now let’s say your spouse or loved one or even your child is on the other side of that bridge and you need to get across it to save them from the trolls.  Are you going to give up this time?  No way!  You’ll fight those trolls off, or find a way to outwit them!  You’ll do whatever it takes to succeed.

So let’s pretend that these screenplays that I’ve written—all five of them—are my children and if I don’t cross that bridge to contact that script manager then I’ll never be able to save them from those evil trolls.  Do I want that guilt hanging over my head for the rest of my life?  What about you, got a good reason to cross the bridge and get on with your own life?   What's at stake?  Your family?  Your financial future?  Both?

Your family, your loved ones, your children (even your friends) all want you to succeed, but you can only succeed when you cross that bridge.  And maybe you’ll get lucky, too.  Maybe all the trolls are asleep, so the only troll around is the one inside your head telling you all the reasons why you’re not good enough, why you’ll fail, why you should crawl back home and hide under the covers.

So find an important why, a really, really good reason why it’s imperative for you to succeed in crossing that bridge of action.  Trust me; this will not be the only bridge you’ll face.  In fact, you’ll probably face several bridges a day, some bigger than others.  But after awhile, you’ll get pretty good at crossing those bridges and reaping those rewards on the other side

And your to-do lists might get smaller, too.
                                                             - Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

***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.