Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lovers and Strangers Revisited—Another Revision, Another Look

“You’re revising it?  I thought you just send them the book?” a fellow American writer in Borneo replied, when I mentioned that I’ll be busy the next two weeks revising all the stories for Lovers and Strangers Revisited.   I had just told him that it was confirmed that Éditions GOPE will be translating the collection of Malaysian-set stories into French.

“Yeah, you could do that,” I could’ve replied, but instead, I told him that I saw this as an opportunity to improve the stories for future markets.  I want the best French translation out there and the best English version, too.  Now that I’m getting the book into Europe, other readers might recommend it to other publishers in other countries, especially those with an interest in Southeast Asia, and they might be interested into translating, too.
Plus there are plenty of English speaking countries, including the US, UK, and Australia, where the collection is not yet published, and I do hope to get this collection into those markets.  As I writer, I believe in giving myself a helping hand (even playing salesman).  If I can improve the stories by tweaking them some more, shouldn’t I do that?
I remember several people seemed to take offense in the comments when Sharon Bakar blogged about the Booktalk that I gave at MPH in 2008 (when the new MPH edition came out) after relating that I had been revising the stories since Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann 1993) to improve them in order to get them published overseas.  I also ripped them apart to make them better for Lovers and Strangers Revisited (Silverfish 2005), and revised them again for MPH, and this was even before their editors offered their own input.  One Australian author said she would never do that with her collection, but then she added that she sort of wished she had because she knows she could’ve improved them.  When the MPH version ended up winning an award, I felt justified, and now it has attracted a French translation.
For me, that first version back in 1993 was the best version—at the time.  But I grew as a writer, and after I began teaching creating writing (and a lot of grammar) and revising all of my students work I became a better writer.  Now it was merely a matter of applying what I was teaching, and being honest with myself.  Is that the best you can do?  Can’t you rephrase that better?  Do you really need that cliché!  That expression is rather trite or that metaphor doesn’t seem to be working.  Can you fix it?  How about that beginning or ending, can you make it more effective?  Do you really need all that back story?  Can you trim it?
For this latest revision process, I asked myself similar questions. The more questions you ask yourself, the more answers you find. I changed “The Watcher” from past tense to present tense as I had done a couple of stories in previous revisions, including "Neighbours", to make it more effective. I changed the ending to “Smooth Stones” after getting a lot of close calls on the story in the US.  They always cited the ending as being "predictable".

In “Home for Hari Raya”, I found myself changing the name Ida to Rina; it just didn’t feel right for a university student (always reminded me of someone I knew), and in “Transaction in Thai”, even though the story won’t be in the French version since it wasn’t set in Malaysia, but when The French editor mentioned that the name “Jek” was derogatory, I  found a website that lists Thai baby names and came up with Daw.
For each story, in addition to tightening the writing wherever I could, I went on a dash hunt (cutting two-thirds), a passive hunt (converting most into active), and cut out what can easily be implied.
Now I feel satisfied, and the revised versions may do better as I continue to sell them as individual stories to literary journals and on-line magazines.  More importantly, I feel more confident about the collection as I pitch them to agents and publishers.  The stories, judging by their track record, are good, and they’ve certainly come a long way since 1993 when they first got compiled into a published collection. (When blogging The Story Behind the Story series, I was making direct comparisons from the first published version, some dating back twenty years, up until the MPH version and I was taken aback by how much they've changed while still being essentially the same story; it's in the details.) Even now this is far from the end of their journey.  In fact, I have a rather strong feeling, as they finally break out of the Malaysia/Singapore market, that this is merely the beginning... 

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

**Update: Book orders for Trois autres Malaisie   E-book orders.  Or recommend it to your friends, especially those who would like to know more about Malaysia or have an interest in Southeast Asia.
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 and my meeting the French translator Jerome Bouchaud in Kuching, and my involvement in a French documentary for Arte (June 2017) on The Sensual Malaysia of Somerset Maugham.
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. 


Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I

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