Sunday, January 30, 2011

Getting Started with Pre-Writing Techniques - Quill Annual 2011

This is a revised, expanded version of last year's article in The Writer.
Note for Illustration 1, circles should be used, not squares.


***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.

****Announcement latest workshop:  Writing Your Life Stories Workshop—Kuching! 28 April 2012 (with links to other workshops and writing tips!) 

If you are interested to bring one of my writing workshops to your organizations or association in Sabah/Sarawak/West Malaysia/Singapore/Brunei please contact me at robert@borneoexpatwriter.com  Thank you.

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

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Early Mornings and Borneo Blackouts

Now that my six year old is in primary one, I have to wake up at 5:45 each morning to help my wife to get the two boys ready for school, so she can leave by 6:15, especially during the monsoon season when torrential downpours back up traffic.  For her it’s extra driving into town and then back out to the Free Trade Zone.  For me, since I’m wide awake now, I stroll into my office, turn on my computer and get to work.  Luckily I have a two minute commute. 

Getting up early used to be a big problem for me as I wrote in “Much Ado about Sleep” in Tropical Affairs.  But when your children are schooling you don’t have much choice, and that can be a good thing.

Since the school year started on January 3rd, my logged-in working hours has taken a significant jump.  This is why I’ve been able to revise my novel so often.  Although this does lead to burnout, when I continue to work in the evenings, after reading to the boys and putting them to bed, especially if I stay up past 11, which I’ve done every day this week.  One night last week, pushing a deadline, I was up until 4am, having started at 6:15am, so I worked nearly around the clock.
           
“Are you crazy?” my wife asked.
           
“No, just sleepy.”
           
So last night with my novel out to Amazon, and also needing to catch up on some sleep, I was relieved there was a lightning storm, common this time of the year.  I was in the midst of doing the dishes, and I dropped everything to save the blog I was working on since I hadn’t given it a file name, and shut everything down, and unplugged the computer.  Having heard one too many stories about someone losing their computer (and every file in it) from lightning, I’m now quick to react.
           
As soon as I got back to the dishes, lightning struck again and we had a blackout.  The boys panic since it’s pitch black in our house, while Jenny and I scramble to get some candles lit, using the stove for our fire source.  Only then can we see the batteries to load into our flashlights.  Batteries rot fast around here; maybe since it’s the tropics. 

By eight, with work officially done courtesy of the blackout, we get the boys upstairs where they brush their teeth and change into their pajamas by candle light.  They refuse, however, to sleep in their own rooms without a night light, so we all settle into our bed and after reading them a candle-lit story, get a good night’s sleep.
           
In theory, anyways.  Getting to the boys to quit poking and kicking each other is another matter.  When the power comes back on at 9:30, after moving the boys to their own beds, and with Jenny falling asleep, I sneak back downstairs to post yesterday’s blog, doubly glad I had followed my instincts and saved it.

By the way, do you know how far away the lightning is from you?  Since light travels faster than sound, as soon as you see a lightning flash count one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three.  If you hear the sound, it’s three miles away.  If you hear the lightning even before you get to one thousand and one, it’s pretty darn close.  One recent afternoon I saw this huge flash that looked as if it was just outside by backdoor, and the sound was immediate.  My house and computer got lucky that day, but my modem was destroyed.  
           
Early mornings and blackouts in Borneo.  It’s all a part of my writing routine.

                     -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.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Put Your Writing First and the Rest of Your Life Will Follow

My wife visited the Indonesia border market at Serikin, Sarawak and picked up a nice rattan mat.  I’m always amazed how a new piece of furniture, even if it’s just a mat, can set off a chain reaction of shifting furniture, cleaning, and revamping the whole downstairs if not the entire house.

 This applies to taking a fresh look at your novel.  I thought I was done with The Boy Who Shot Santa and ready to enter it into the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, but then I innocently thought I’ll just have a quick look at the first page to confirm it’s ready to go.  I shifted a word here and there, added a phrase, and since I liked the changes I was making, I thought maybe I should have a fresh look at the entire excerpt (between 3000-5000 words), and then I thought, why not the first fifty pages for James Jones First Novel Fellowship coming up in March.  Then I thought, what if I spend a couple more days on this and just go through the whole novel one more time, just in case, then I can sent it out on Monday with a clear conscience.

It’s thoughts like these that can wreck the next three days of your life, not to mention losing sleep to meet the opening deadline, thus putting everything else I had planned for those days on hold.  But then I remind myself, this novel is one of those Big Rock projects that if you don’t do first, you’ll never make time for later.  There aren’t that many unpublished novel contests out there that I’m qualified to enter and the three or four that I know are bunched up at the beginning of the year, so this is the time.  Not later, when you have more time, but now!  

I also believe that if you put your writing first, the rest of your life will follow, something I’ve been putting into practice for some time now, whether writing first thing in the morning, or first thing in the evening or whenever you choose to write.

So last night around midnight (Tuesday evening in Borneo), I finally got the novel sent off to Amazon.  Ok, it’s a day late, but in better shape!  Those who procrastinate too long, risk not getting it in on time (there’s a two week window of opportunity—maybe); or risk getting closed out (that’s the maybe, part).  Since they accept the first 5000 manuscripts in two categories from around the world, and anyone with a semblance of a novel, even those rushed, hatchet jobs pumped out in November for NaNoWriMo qualify (hopefully they rewrote and fixed them in December and January).  Then there are all those self-published novels, and e-novels…it seems every writer in the world has at least one novel stashed away somewhere, so why not dust it off and sent it in.  In other words, those 5000 places can go by fast.

Whether the novel is polished or off-the-top of your head, spit-it-out-fast-before-you-lose-it-affair, it still comes down to that 300-word pitch.  (And beginning writers often get their published friends to write their pitches for them, agents lament.  This becomes obvious when they request to see the full manuscript.)  Since the pitch is the key that opens round two for the Amazon (or an agent’s interest in the real world), can you blame them?  Just means the rest of us have to make darn sure that our pitches are even better than merely good.  They have to be great.

Wish me luck on my pitch and my novel, too, and I wish you—all of you who are thinking about entering or are submitting to agents—luck too.  For me, this is the year to just go for it.  And cleaning your house now and then doesn’t hurt.  A by-product of the chain reaction of the Serikin-mat buying and house revamping was that I ended up with a nice rocking chair in my office, where it’s finally getting some use by everyone in my family except me.  I’ve been too busy writing to rock.  But oh, it does look tempting…

*Update, The Boy Who Shot Santa has just made it to Round Two
                         -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.
.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Spiders and Scorpions and Applying What You’ve Learned

There’s nothing like starting the writing morning with a large spider under your computer.  It’s not a tarantula, but I’m sure, if it wanted to, it could do some damage to my toes.  One morning, while frantically marking exam papers at home, I kept hearing this clicking, scratching sound beneath my desk.  Finally, I had a look.  It was a scorpion.  This is an area where my children sometimes play with their toys.  I figured I had one crack at this.  I grabbed a board and I knew that if I didn’t kill it, it would find plenty of places to hide in my cluttered office and haunt me for the rest of my writing life, or until I moved.  I smashed the scorpion and one of my knuckles in the process.

In life you got to apply what you’ve learned.  Living in Borneo, I’ve learned to always check my shoes and moccasins before I put them on.  In writing, I’m applying what I learned from Joel Roberts, the media guru, from his three-day media event in Singapore.  The three big lessons for me were, don’t run away from your credentials, create impact with your words, and pay attention to the media.  The first two I began applying right away when writing to editors and agents or during interviews because I’m selling myself and my writing.  If I can’t say good things about me (without bragging), who will?

For the media, Roberts’ mantra was that you have to find ways to connect yourself, or the products you sell, to what’s happening in the news, and you have to react fast because yesterday’s story can get old in light of news-breaking events.  It’s all about timing.  So when the story broke about Representative Gabrielle Giffords being shot and a little girl was killed in Tucson, coupled with yet another school shooting in Omaha, it clicked.  The novel that I’ve been pitching to agents The Boy Who Shot Santa is about that very issue, so I added the following to my query letters:

Due to the tragic shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and recent school shootings in Omaha and LA (kids/teens with guns, and kids being shot—the 9-year old girl in Tucson), I feel that my novel, THE BOY WHO SHOT SANTA, is as timely as ever.  Rachel Layton is a voice of reason against guns. This gun issue in America is definitely coming to a head; politically, it's huge in more ways than one.  About time, too, before there's another assassination attempt…or another child/teen is involved as a shooter or as a victim.

Then I go into my pitch.  Is it working?  Too soon to tell.  Agents are inundated with query letters from writers and they often take weeks and months to get back to you, plus even more time once they’ve requested your work, but in order to stand out, having your book tied to a national or international story can’t hurt.  Suddenly you and your work have become relevant; they can visualize a target market for your book, too (anti-gun crusaders, concerned mothers about the safely of their children at school).  To make sure they don’t miss the tie in, I stick it in the subject line of the email:  Query: The Boy Who Shot Santa—tie in to tragic Arizona shooting.

So I’m applying what I’ve learned, and since that story broke, I’ve been rewriting my novel with a vengeance in anticipation for agents wanting to see more and also for the upcoming Amazon Breakthrough Writing Awards.  The Amazon contest, by the way, is a must for any would be novelist.  Why?  Because it forces you to fine tune your pitch down to 300 words, to concentrate on your opening chapters, the first 3000-5000 words, and also the entire novel.  All three have to be perfect.  If there’s no impact with your pitch (Joel Roberts again), you don’t advance to the next round (same with agents and editors); if your opening chapters are weak, they won’t even bother with the rest of the book, despite your great, earth-shattering ending (same with agents and editors); and if the whole book doesn’t hold together nicely, it shows that you’re all talk (pitch) but no action (novel).  Agents get that a lot at writing conferences where writers can really talk up their books, but haven’t gotten around to polishing or finishing or even starting it…

So, what have you learned and have begun to apply to make 2011 your breakout year as a writer?  Far too many writers, it seems, have given up hope; they’ve become jaded by the harsh realities of the last two years.  For me, I see hope, so long as I’m learning to write better and learning new ways to make my writing relevant.  Learning, by the way, is must if you ever expect to grow as a writer.  Because in life (think of plants), if you’re not growing, you’re dying. 

As for the spider, it got away.  I have a feeling it’ll be back when I least expect it….I’ll learn from that, 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.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dying Alone in a Far Away Land

Back in 2009 I blogged an excerpt of "Dying Alone in Far Away Land" from Tropical Affairs Episodes of an Expat’s life in Malaysia (MPH 2009) and I got several comments and also enquiries via my website email from those who new Bill McVeigh and been to his house located behind Casuarina Hotel (now Hard Rock Hotel) in Penang, Malaysia.  So I thought I would publish the full article for the benefit of others outside of Malaysia, who while staying at the Casuarina Hotel back in the 70's, 80's and early 90's, may have visited him and his mélange of animals, or glimpsed him walking to and fro on the beach with his dog or one of his otters, or had heard about him and are curious.


DYING ALONE IN A FAR AWAY LAND

Whenever I see an abandoned house in Malaysia, I often wonder if the former occupant was an expat like me, and did he die alone?  Was he forgotten?  This is a fear that many expats have – dying alone in some far-flung country.  But then I met a man who did just that ten years ago (now 16 years): Bill McVeigh.
           
When he was alive, thousands of tourists would walk past his house in Batu Ferringhi without even knowing they were walking past a house.  Even if they looked beyond the stalls offering souvenirs and fake watches, they would be hard pressed to make out a house sequestered behind a wall of trees and shrubbery (on all sides) that sealed off Bill McVeigh from the rest of the world. 
            
On several occasions, I had heard about McVeigh, this modern-day recluse and his mélange of exotic animals, including otters, golden gibbons, and a hornbill, who lived in direct defiance to the hotels that had squeezed in around him.  It was said that when he took walks along the beach, his two otters would follow him.  When a friend of ours was visiting from Holland in November 1988, she bumped into him.  I knew I had to seek him out and meet him for myself.


Although his house was next to the Casuarina Hotel, finding an entrance among the shrub­bery was difficult, so I went around back and eventually found an opening.  The house was the size of a small cottage and looked unlivable – doors were off their hinges, windows were broken, and large parts of the roof had collapsed inside.  Debris lay every­where inside.  Yet as I glimpsed through the broken bars of two moon windows, a sem­blance of a home emerged – scattered furni­ture, framed pictures, and book­shelves full of books and maga­zines.  I knocked on the front door and called out, “Hello?”
            
Drawn to a large cage with a beautiful golden gibbon, I ventured around to have a look.  The double doors to the servants’ portion of the house were missing.  Thinking there had to be a beach access, I circled around to the other side, where there were more cages, although each was empty.  Feeling uncom­fort­able at trespassing, I made my way to the back gate, past an old dona­tion box for tourists (often guests of The Casuarina Hotel) who wished to view his animals.
            
While walking along the beach, I saw a scruffy westerner with a fisher­­man’s air about him.  His white beard was short and patchy and his top teeth were missing save for a few stumps, as if someone had bashed them in; his lower teeth were intact.  He was walk­ing at a fast clip with a large black dog that struggled to keep pace.  I stopped and asked him if he owned the house by the Casuarina Hotel.
            
“No,” he replied, “but I’ve live there – if you can call it a house.”  He then looked at me curiously for awhile.  “You’re Robert.”
            
Taken aback that he knew my name, I looked at him—amazed.  He said he recognized my face from The Star newspaper; two weeks earlier, they had featured me for win­ning third prize in a short story contest.  Having read my story, “The Future Barrister” he began to compare my writing to that of Paul Theroux.  Then he criticized Theroux for all of the “foolish errors he had made about Malaysia” in his book, The Consul’s File.
             
As he spoke, he looked sideways, occasionally glancing at me.  He talked like he had been shut away for years.  I gladly listened, yet also wondered, was he mad?  Far from it, he was lucid and extremely well-read.  As we stood there on the beach, he talked for an hour straight on topics ranging from pythons to the Loch Ness monster.  A pragma­tist, he looked to refute Nessie through careful under­standing, observations, and explana­tions.  Never once did he dismiss something offhandedly; he backed up his opinions by citing books that he bought from the second hand bookstalls along Macalister Road (later shifted to Chowrasta Market). 
            
I asked about his otters.  Years back, I saw one­ creeping along the beach.  The otter then ran up to a startled tourist and rubbed against the man like a cat.  Everyone, including me, was amused.  But not all hotel guests liked the idea of sharing the beach—let alone the hotel pool—with an otter and complaints were made.  McVeigh told me one of his otters had been caught and killed.  Later, the other suffered the same fate.

Five years later in 1993, while staying at the Pacific Bayview, I happened to look out the window and saw hidden among the trees, Bill McVeigh’s house.  I wondered, was he still alive?  As I approached the house carry­ing my son Zaini, who was less than two at the time, I had my doubts.  The place looked more decrepit than before, as if no one had lived there for years, if not decades.  Standing in a partial clearing by the side entrance, I called out Bill’s name.  Not one but two dogs sounded the alarm.  Both came charging.  Knowing that dogs smelled fear, I held my ground.  For Zaini’s sake, I tried to remain calm.  The lead dog’s head came up to my waist, to Zaini’s legs, yet Zaini didn’t cringe nor did he cry out, even when the dog had a good sniff—first me, then him. 
            
Moments later, Bill appeared.  He couldn’t see us, so I called out again.  He bent down and made us out through the underbrush.  Bare-chested with a sarong around his waist, he invited us to come around to the front of the house.  The golden gibbon that was supposed to be in the cage was gone—he had let it out a couple of weeks ago to have a run around.  He expected it to come back.  He assumed I was staying at Casuarina Hotel, where guests some­times visited and brought him food or gave him money—he had been living on charity for years.  When I told him that I met him five years ago, he racked his brains and asked, “Are you the short-story writer?”
            
He then talked about other writers, again in a rapid-fire one-sided conver­sa­tion.  Meanwhile I jostled Zaini back and forth between one knee and the other, now and then offering him his bottle or swatting away mosquitoes.  The mosquitoes, which thrived on his property, didn’t seem to bother McVeigh.
            
“Occa­sion­ally I forget,” he said, as he watched me swat away yet another mosquito from Zaini.  He went inside and was quick to offer some spray for our legs and a mosquito coil.  He later joked about the young tourists who wanted to venture into the jungle but couldn’t last a half hour on his front porch.  He had a good laugh over this.
            
He also had a good laugh over “the hippies” back in the 60’s and 70’s.  He told me some expats visited him, including one on a Harley Davidson, but who knew practically nothing about motorcycles.
            
“It was all for show,” he said.  When I mentioned that I knew one of the gentlemen he was referring to, he said, “Don’t tell him you know me!”
            
Although I wished I could stay longer with him, Zaini was getting restless; it was so steaming hot in McVeigh’s makeshift jungle that sweat poured off my son.

Six months later, I took my friend Anni (“Farewell to a Tango Dancer”) to see Bill and brought him a copy of my recently published collection of my short stories set in Malaysia, Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann Asia,1993, later republished as Lovers and Strangers Revisited, MPH 2008).  Going to his house was always creepy; you didn’t know what you were going to find, including finding him dead.  Bill was still there, and alive, but barely.  He told us he almost died from the cancer that was clear­ly growing out of his left ear.  

He talked for nearly three hours as we sat on his porch and listened.  Never in any of my visits had he invited me inside the house, no doubt ashamed of how it looked.  I had heard from a friend—the former “hippy” that we both knew—that he kept snakes there, including a python.  When the friend had asked to see the python, it took Bill a long time to return to the porch.  “I had to disentangle them all,” he had said.
            
It was hard to imagine that anyone could live in that house— and with all those snakes too, and god knows what all else.  But I refused to pass judgment on him.  He had made up his mind long ago that this was where he was going to die.  Until then, he just made the most of it.
            
The few bits and pieces of information that I had gleaned from him about his personal life was that he was English, born in China where his father might have been a diplomat, and that he grew up in Australia.  During the war he was in Burma, and then he came to Malaya in 1949 and fought the communists throughout the Emergency (1948-1960).  He lived awhile in Johor where he raised crocodiles.  In Penang he traded in animals: cats to Europe for lab testing (before it was banned) and more exotic species to zoos.  He grew a beard because he used to be a diver; he had what divers called ‘blue chin’.
            
“Every time I shaved, I would scrape off all the skin,” he said.  “All divers back then grew beards—it saved their faces.”
            
There was so much more I wanted to know about him, but Bill McVeigh was not a man you could ask questions to—he rarely gave me a chance to speak.  If you were with him, your role was to listen and let him talk about whatever he wanted to talk about.  And enjoy the ride.

Three months later in April 1994, Anni called me.  She said all the shrubbery around Bill McVeigh’s house had been cleared by a bulldozer.  The cages where the gibbons and the hornbill had lived were gone too.  I dropped whatever I was writing and met with Anni.  Everything was cleared out of the house, save a few magazines scattered on the red tile floor, including an issue of Manor Houses, June 17, 1965, and a large, moldy, green leather steamer trunk.  Curious, I opened the trunk and a large gecko jumped out and landed on my jeans, startling me.  The joke was clearly on me; I could almost hear Bill McVeigh laughing.  Anni sure did.
            
From the staff at the Casuarina Hotel, I found out that Bill had died of cancer.  They hadn’t seen him walking his dog for three days, so they checked on him and found him dead in the bathroom.
            
I never knew what brought Bill McVeigh to Penang, other than he came with his sister.  One thing I did know, he lived a lot, read a lot, and laughed a lot, particular­ly at the foolishness of expatriates who think they know more about Malaysia than they do.  Myself included.
            
Of course, Bill McVeigh didn’t actually die alone—he had his animals, including his snakes.  Nor was he forgot­ten either.  Anni had painstakingly restored the trunk back to its original condition.  Whenever I visited her, I would marvel over how great it looked and we’d reminisce about him and his house.  His spirit also stayed alive in my journals, in my mem­ories, and in my writing the original article about him, inside my book Tropical Affairs, Episodes of an Expat’s life in Malaysia (MPH 2009), and now this blog, twice. 
            
His house, by the way, survived, too, at least the foundation and some of the walls.  It had been converted into a bistro called Ferringhi Walk.  On the wall are framed photographs that I took of Bill McVeigh’s house, taken a few days after he had died, after the land had been cleared.  I’ll even donate a copy of this article, so the patrons can read about him.  Perhaps they’ll raise a toast:  To Bill McVeigh, who lived and died in a far away land. 
—Robert Raymer, from Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an Expat’s Life in Malaysia, Borneo Expat Writer
*Update, this is now a souvenir outlet for the Hard Rock Hotel.

**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, January 10, 2011

Power of Five Your Way to Success- Quill Jan-Mar 2011


*Here's the updated, trimmed down version, cut from 1100 words to700 at the request of a writing publication in the US.

**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, January 9, 2011

Beating a dead horse...or keeping it alive until it thrives...

Just came across this cool advertisement from Quill on the internet announcing the arrival of Lovers and Strangers Revisited back in 2008.  I was scratching my head, where did this come from?  Then I dug through some old copies of Quill and found it on the back page of their July-September issue!

This was the third time for publishing this book, and I remember, at the time, another publisher making a remark about another writer who was also republishing her book, "Is she still beating that dead horse?" Then I thought, well her book came out at around the same time as my book back in 1993, so this could very well apply to me.  Am I beating a dead horse?  But then it went on to win the 2009 The Star Popular Reader's Choice Award, and now it's looking like it'll soon be translated into French, so you just never know, do you?

So am I beating a dead horse...or keeping it alive until it thrives...

This is also why I kept revising my short stories, over and over, and why so many from this collection have been published, some twenty years after they were written!  And why I keep revising my novels, The Boy Who Shot Santa, 16 times, The Lonely Affair of Jonathan Brady, 22, and Tropical Affairs, 14, because you just never know...how close you are to succeeding, to finally getting the novel just right.

I do this every year when a new round of novel contests come up and I think, well it's been a year (or sometimes several years have passed by).  Let's take a look, and right away I find better ways of saying something, or how if I did a little rearranging, a little tweaking here and there, and what if I did this or that, or added something to chapter....Then once again I plunge myself back into a novel for yet another rewrite, which I just did in December, as an investment and a vote of confidence for January and 2011.  I'm so glad I did.  I wasn't planning on it either other than a cursory glance, but instead, I spend a month overhauling it.

Writing is basically rewriting, and every time I rewrite something, I'm thinking, hey, it's coming alive.  I thought it was finally dead this time, but it's really coming alive, and that gives me hope for the New Year.  And hope is a good thing for a writer.  Hope is a good thing for everyone.  Imagine a life where you have no hope...
                                         -Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

*Just to update, Lovers and Strangers Revisited has been translated into French and will be out in September 2011.  And now "Home for Hari Raya" is getting filmed by Ohio University!


***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.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 
I spent most of December rewriting my novel The Boy Who Shot Santa (formerly A Season for Fools) to get it ready for the upcoming 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  The winner gets a publishing contract with Penguin USA and $15,000 advance, plus distribution on Amazon.  They need a 300-word pitch, a 3000-5000 excerpt (I’m sending 4000), and the full novel.  

First round is purely on the pitch—if that doesn’t grab people’s attention, you’re out.  80% of the competition will be eliminated.  This is also true for agents/publishers, though it’s more like 90-95% are eliminated!  If they’re not interested in the novel concept, or if you can’t hook them with an interesting premise, they’re not going to waste their time requesting a sample of your writing, let alone reading your entire novel.  They don’t have the time, and too often these days, since they’re inundated with dozens/hundreds of email queries each day, they’re making snap judgments.  In less than a minute, you even grab them or they quickly hit delete and move onto the next one.

This is a harsh reality of the current publishing industry that we need to accept if we’re going that route.  (Another route is e-publishing.) This is also something that Joel Roberts taught me: When the stakes are high and the time is short—it’s all about the impact of your language.  Either you make an impact or you don’t get the opportunities that you deserve.  

How the Contest Works
First Round (Jan. 24th- Feb 6): Amazon editors will review a 300-word Pitch of each entry. The top 1000 entries in each category (2000 total entries) will move on to the second round.
Second Round (Feb. 24th): The field will be narrowed to 250 entries in each category (500 total entries) by Amazon top customer reviewers from ratings of a 5000 word excerpt.
Quarterfinals (March 22nd): Publishers Weekly reviewers will read the full manuscript of each quarterfinalist, and based on their review scores, the top 50 in each category (100 total entries) will move on to the semi-finals.
Semi-finals (April 26th): Penguin USA editors will read the full manuscript and review all accompanying data for each semi-finalist and will then select three finalists in each category (six total finalists).
Finals (May 24th): Amazon customers will vote on the three finalists in each category resulting in two grand prize winners
Grand prize winners will be announced (June 13th)

Here's my pitch, which I revised last night and will be revising several more times in the next couple of weeks.  Any helpful suggestions let me know, 300 words max:

The Boy Who Shot Santa
What if your son accidentally shoots his dad dressed up as Santa Claus?

          Rachel Layton finds her fragile marriage to a redneck that got her pregnant during high school shattered when her eleven-year-old son kills 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 by the media, Rachel is determined to hold her family together, even as her son 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 and utilizing the voice of reason, Rachel speaks out against hunters buying their children guns or leaving them lying around for them to find.  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.
          While shopping at the mall for Christmas, Rachel overlooks one important detail.  Santa Claus.  To her dismay, her son Eric, still struggling from post-traumatic stress disorder, gets into line behind the other kids.  Sensing trouble, parents try to drag their kids, kicking and screaming, out of the line.  Soon the whole town, it seems, is watching as Eric confronts Santa Claus.
Still trying to come to terms with her deceased husband and hoping for one last chance for happiness, Rachel is all too aware that someone in the crowd is stalking her.  One thing is certain:  Christmas in Sharpton will never be the same.
        The Boy Who Shot Santa (97,000 words) is a short-list finalist for the 2009 Faulkner-Wisdom novel contest (as A Season for Fools), and the first book of a potential three-book series.

*Update, The Boy Who Shot Santa has just made it to Round Two
*Update: The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady just made Round Two 2012, (I included the pitch.)
**Update: The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady just advanced to the Quarterfinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012!
                                                          -Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

*Here are six lessons I learned from joining Amazon competition.



**Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is back for 2014


***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, January 5, 2011

Lovers and Strangers Revisited, off to a good start for 2011


Lovers and Strangers Revisited is off to a good start for 2011. The French publisher that’s interested in translating the collection into French just contacted me after reading all seventeen stories and now they are about to undergo negotiations with MPH, the Malaysian publisher.  They are also interested in using the same cover, if they are able, too.  Since the French translation will make the book fatter by 10-20%, they may need to cut a story or two to keep it in the range of 220-240 pages.  My fingers are crossed!

Then last week, two days before the end of the year, The Writer (US) expressed an interest in publishing “On Friday: The Story Behind the Story” for their Writers at Work series for a two-page spread when an opening comes up.  I’ll need to expand the original blog by adding some stuff that I left out, like how it was translated into Japanese by Plaza back in 1992, and how it’s going to be translated into French (assuming everything goes according to plan), plus I need to tailor it more toward their Writers at Work series.  They sent me a sample.

*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.