Saturday, April 30, 2011

Writing is a Team Effort, a Relay Event

My son Jason, age 6, just won his first medal.  A bronze plastic medal that he so proudly wore, even when we made a pit stop at the hospital on the way home from the Sarawak Stadium.  His event was the gunny sack relay.  His team was way behind when he took over for the second leg and he hopped down that field in record time.  One of his teammates fell, but quickly scrambled to his feet, and they all made it to the medal standings.  It was truly a team effort.

His second event, he had to blow up a balloon until it burst and then run for the finish line.  Out of the eight individuals, only three managed to burst that balloon.  He didn’t even get a chance to run!  It was over.  I went over to console him, but he didn’t need to be consoled.  He was determined to burst that balloon as we walked back to the bleachers.  Then he did it.  He was so happy, and I felt proud.  Long after the race was finished, he was determined to succeed and he did.  This was not about winning; this was about sheer determination for him to prove to himself, and maybe me, that he could in fact burst that balloon!

Maybe this is why I keep revising my novels.  I’m determined to prove that I have what it takes to complete my task, and if another rewrite is required, so be it.  Just do what it takes and reach that finish line.

Although writing is an individual pursuit, and it’s not a race, it is a team effort and it is also a relay event.  As a writer, I’m merely the first leg. The second leg in this relay will be an agent, followed by the editor of a publishing house, and then the marketing/publicity team takes over.

There are also several finishing lines.  One is completing the novel, the inevitable rewrites, the agent requested rewrites (offering their input to make the novel more salable).  Then the rewrites that the publisher may insist upon, this can involve some minor editing or a major overhaul (offering their input to make the novel even better). The finish line will be when the book reaches the bookstores or e-book readers.  But the real finish line is when the book ends up in a reader’s hands after they purchase it, or on their bookshelf, after they’ve read it (and hopefully recommended it to others).

As a writer, don’t kid yourself about winning on your own.  Even on that first leg, you rarely write alone.  If you’re smart, you’ll get feedback from your reader friends and spouses (gut level reactions from some; detailed comments from others) and from any editors that you may have worked with on your own to take the manuscript to a higher level (highly recommended if you want to attract an agent).  The more eyes on this (and less ego on your part) the better for everyone.  It’s up to you to incorporate those changes (or dismiss the ones that you strongly disagree with)

Then there are also those cryptic comments from agents that may have turned you down.  Those comments, if you’re lucky to get them, may force you to rethink your novel, or bolster an area that isn’t quite working.  Study those comments.  If the novel isn’t grabbing an agent’s interest there’s a reason.  Find out why!   If you choose to ignore those comments, it’s at your own peril. Writers are often too close to their own project; they don’t see the flaws that jump out at agents (remember they read thousands of unpublished manuscripts).

In a novel that I’m the midst of rewriting, I’m amazed by what’s all in it.  Over the years, huge sections have been weaved into the novel to address flaws in the early draft, often pointed out by some well meaning agent or editor.  So after taking another look at the novel, I would get an idea, how about if I try this or that . . . and then off I’d go sketching out ideas and looking for places to work it in, followed by more rounds of rewrites that can only make the novel better.  Yeah, you can also make a novel worse, but then you’ll get more feedback on that, too!

Again, don’t kid yourself, without all the others in your relay team you’re never going to win a medal or a trophy in this writing game.  If you still have doubts, open any book to the acknowledgment page.  Dozens of people are named.  Without them, you have no published book.  This is what happened to my friend who recently got the news that an agent, her second leg in her relay, accepted her novel, then the third leg was decided via an auction, and now the marketing and publicity people are paving the way for its publication finish line in 2012.

***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, April 28, 2011

A Nice Gesture for a Struggling Young Writer

“You’re a writer?” Greg asked me back in 1987, impressed.  He worked at Borders in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“Yes,” I replied, proud that I had twenty-one publications under my belt, six of them short stories, four of which would eventually find their way into Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann Asia, 1993)  In reality though, I was just starting out and had an awfully long way to go.

I was at Borders to find Harry Shaw’s Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions that someone in Malaysia had recommended.  According to the book jacket, “A handy guide to the proper usage of more than 1,500 words and phrases that are often misused.”  I knew it would come in handy as a writer.

Unfortunately, Borders didn’t have the book.  Greg offered to order me a copy, but I explained that I was living in Malaysia and that I was in Ann Arbor visiting a friend.  Nevertheless, Greg and I exchanged addresses and promised to keep in touch.

That evening, my friend George, who I had hired to manage the Kinko’s that I set up back when I was a regional manager and setting up stores for Kinko’s, told me about this guy who works at Borders who got the interview of a lifetime.  Seems Jay McInerney had recently moved to Ann Arbor to escape some of the craziness that he helped to create when he published his first novel, Bright Lights, Big City.  Seems all these college kids were showing up in New York and asking him to take them out on a “Bright Lights, Big City” tour. The guy recognized McInerney’s name on his credit card and asked if he could interview him.  George passed me the interview, and there was a picture of Greg!

“I just met him,” I said, and read the interview. It was George who had even lent me a copy of Bright Lights, Big City back in 1984 shortly after it came out. George was always recommending me books along with another Kinko’s manager I hired, Mike. In fact Mike was at my apartment in Madison, Wisconsin, when I got the news of my first publication, “Managing Your Time”.

“You lucky, son of a bitch,” Mike said, as he got into his car and drove away, angry at me.  He was mad because he kept telling me how hard it was to get published; he had been trying for years, and I just published the first thing I submitted.  

Mike, who got me interested in writing, had lend me a book on the writer Norman Hall, who went off to Tahiti with Charles Nordhoff and wrote the Mutiny on the Bounty series.  That book fueled my imagination, and two years later I left Kinko’s and moved to my own tropical island, Penang.    

But, Mike was right; it wasn’t so easy for me to publish my work after moving to Malaysia.  I knew I needed help and that Shaw book would surely come in handy. 

Later, at another bookstore in California, I did find a paperback copy.  But what really made an impression on this young writer was that Greg not only found Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions, he sent me a hardback copy all the way to Malaysia as a gift.

Last year, while shuffling more of my books home from Unimas, my car was broken into and two backpack full of books were stolen.  No doubt they were expecting a computer and other goodies, not books!  One of the books I lost was the Harry Shaw book, the paperback version.  I still have the one that Greg sent me, which I keep handy near my computer.

I just want to say thanks, Greg, your gesture meant a lot to me.  Also, I’d like to send you Lovers and Strangers Revisited, the revised version of the one I gave you all those years ago, so you can see how far I grew as a writer.  Yeah, I know, I still got an awful long way to go to catch up to Jay McInerney!  But if you still want to do that interview, I’m still here in Malaysia writing…

***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, April 27, 2011

Power Outage: Don’t Moan—Improvise!

Yesterday when the power went out in the midst of editing on my computer, I just kept on going, in the dark . . . . Then I grabbed some other editing, and took it outside where it was nice and bright.  The power outage lasted a couple of hours, but it also brought a smile to my face, because it reminded me of an article I wrote for New Straits Times in 2000, titled “No Wind, Row!”  This was the first article of mine that I’m aware of that a total stranger, an editor for a highly successful magazine, was so inspired by it, she made photocopies and mailed them to her friends.  Of course, now a days, we send online links!

I  re-titled the article "Don’t Moan—Improvise", revised a few times and included it in Tropical Affairs, under the “Being a Writer” section.  Even though the article feels a bit dated since I was writing about the mid-1990’s (I haven’t dusted off that manual typewriter for a long time, finally sold that old unreliable car, and haven't been playing tennis either), still the advice rings true today, especially since moving to Borneo and leaving teaching.

Don’t Moan—Improvise!

“No wind, row!” barked Winston Churchill, no doubt to a group of hapless sailors bemoaning the lack of wind to fill their sails.  Although I’m no sailor, I often apply this nautical advice to other facets of my life.  When things don’t go according to plan, instead of moaning, I force myself to make a new plan by improvising.  In other words, I do whatever I have to do to get what needs to be done completed on time.

For instance, in Malaysia where I live as an expat, we occasionally have power shortages, so if I’m in the middle of writing, I’ll permit myself to groan a little, then I’ll say, “No computer, type!”
I’ll dust off my ever dependable manual typewriter and get the job done.  If the typing isn’t urgent, I’ll take advantage of the down time by completing other non-typing tasks, like editing or brain storming new ideas for articles, short stories, screenplays or novels.
This is also the time to reorganize my writing notes, straighten out my files, update my non-computer records, and clear away everything that has been accumulating on my desk, so when the power – and especially my computer – is back on, I’m raring to go with a clear mind and an uncluttered office.
Then on those days when I have errands to run and my car refuses to cooperate, which happens a lot with my less-than-trusty old car, I’ll boldly announce, “No car, walk!”
By walking, I still get to my destination and pick up some much needed exercise in the process.  If the distance is too far, as is often the case, I’ll take a bus or a taxi, or – if I feel truly inspired – I’ll ride my bicycle.  I just do what I have to do to get wherever I have to go.  Instead of complaining that I have no car and use that as an excuse, I get on with my life. 
To make sure that I get to my destination or to my appointment on time, I’ll leave early to allow for delays, and will often bring along an umbrella in case of rain as well as a book or a magazine to read while waiting for the bus or taxi.
Every now and then when I go to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, I’ll make my rounds visiting magazine editors and publishers, and if I can’t make an appoint­ment ahead of time because the editor is out or if I just happened to be in the area, I’ll stop in and present myself and my work.  If the person I want to see is busy, which is usually the case, and if coming back later or the next day is inconvenient or impossible, I’ll tell myself, “No appointment, wait!”
While waiting, I’ll browse through the publishers’ latest publications, go over my manuscripts, and rehearse my selling pitch – for articles, short stories, or a book proposal.
Invariably I get to meet the person whom I came to see, even if it’s only for a few minutes while they are rushing out of the building to meet their own appoint­ments.  More importantly I’ve put a face behind my words and have established contact, which later will lead to sales.
Now that I’m teaching writing full time and freelancing part time, I have these days, weeks, months, when there’s just not enough time to complete all of my tasks, so I think back to a time management seminar I once attended and say to myself, “No time, make time!”
So I’ll get up an hour earlier, shorten my lunch hour, cut out unnecessary breaks, limit phone calls, cut short e-mails, avoid idle chatter with colleagues, leave the TV off, and just try to work more efficiently both at work and at home.
Then during those intense periods of my life when I feel that all I ever do is work, I’ll use my final battle cry, “No life, get one!”
So I’ll go to a movie, play tennis, visit a beach, read a novel or just play with my son who’s always so full of life.
Now whenever I find myself in the middle of the sea of life and there’s no wind, I rarely moan or shrug my shoulders in defeat and say, “What to do?”  I just do my best Winston Churchill imitation and get on with my life and gain a little life in the process.
                                                             #  #  #                 

*Oh, it sounds like we're going to have another thunderstorm here in Borneo, so I'd better post this before the power goes out...I'll grab some romantic candles while I'm at it and get those two little boys bed to early! 
                —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.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Back to School—Change Your Belief System!

Last week I was called to school on behalf of my six-year old son who has developed a rather bad attitude toward school.  He can’t be bothered about losing his pencils and erasures.  He can’t be bothered with finding his notebooks. They’re in his bag somewhere but he won’t look for it.  He just tells the teacher, it’s not there.  He’s the same with homework.  Can’t be bothered to write it down properly, let alone actually doing it!
Got two calls two days in a row, so I went to school on a little fact finding mission to see what’s really going on.  Thankfully, it’s not as bad as I was led to believe.  Primary school kids, the headmistress told me, were constantly dropping stuff and not bothering to pick it up.  They constantly misplaced their books, and—believe it or not—really don't like to do their homework!

The biggest problem, as far as I could see, was his attitude.  If we could change his attitude toward school and teach him to be a little more responsible about his pencil case, his books, and his homework . . .

How about your own attitude?  Is it as good as you think it is?  Our attitude is based largely on our belief system, a system that was put into place when we were children, stuff we picked up from our parents and relatives, from our teachers, from our classmates, and from our friends.  How we view success and failure.  How we view money.  How we view work.  How we view ourselves.  That’s our belief system, and like most normal people, it is largely based on negative beliefs.  Ask yourself, how do you view wealthy people?  Is it positive or mostly negative?  How do you view your own success? Is it positive or mostly negative?  Are you diligently striving toward your goals or complaining about how unfair life is?  Or how bad the economy is?  Or how you can’t get any decent breaks?

What many success psychologists say, our belief system is holding us back.  And the biggest part of that belief system is fear.  Our fear of failure, fear of rejection, and our fear of success! But who in their right mind would be afraid of success?  A lot of people.  With success comes responsibilities.  With success comes pressure to maintain that success.  A lot of people believe, once you are successful, once you’re on top, the only way is down. 

Lisa Jimenez, author of Conquer Fear, says “Fear is the dominant problem in your life today.”  She also says “Fear is a gift that was instilled in you as a means of protection and way to bring you closer to God.” But “when you run away from or deny your fear, you leave the gift unopened. “ However, “when your fear of success or fear of failure is exposed,” she added, “you break through their control over you.  Your belief system is the driving force behind your behaviors and your results.”  She says, “Your everyday habits are broadcasting your belief system, your fear, and your unmet needs loud and clear.” 

This explains why we often put stuff off until the last minute, or why we dramatize stuff when it goes wrong so we can “be the star in our own live dramas!”   See, the whole world is out to get me!  No wonder I can’t get a head.  If you had a boss (spouse) like mine…

Lisa also said:

Change your beliefs and you change your behaviors.
Change your behaviors and you change your results.
Change your results and you change your life.  

It’s not easy. To change your belief system, first you have to acknowledge that it was you all along who was holding yourself back.  That’s hard on the ego!  Here’s a video of Lisa Jimenez talking about the day she realized that she, too, had a fear of success.  But once she realized that, and changed her belief system, and started to do the things that would make her business a success, she became . . . wildly successful.  It all began when she learned to get out of her own way!

So ask yourself, are you ready to take that big leap?  I am.  Not only am I willing to change my own belief system about success, but also change my son's belief system about school.
              --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.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Transactions in Thai - Escapade en Thaïlande

Here's the first page of my short story "Transactions  in Thai" translated into French by Jérôme Bouchaud as "Escapade en Thaïlande".  Previously, I posted a link to extracts from the story from thr French blog that was set up by éditions GOPE for Trois autres Malaisie, the French translation of Lovers and Strangers Revisited.

Escapade en Thaïlande, Robert Raymer, éditions GOPE.  Cet inédit vient en complément de Trois autres Malaisie.

Escapade en Thaïlande
Le gérant du Kingman Hotel de Hat Yai scrutait les deux Occidentaux. Échoués dans le hall d’entrée, ils lisaient un journal en diagonale, discutant de leurs projets en attendant que le déluge s’arrête. Ils s’avéraient être américains, mais ils auraient tout aussi bien pu être australiens, britanniques ou allemands. Leur nationalité exacte importait peu : ils étaient occidentaux. La couleur de leur peau pouvait donc être exploitée, par eux-mêmes et par les autochtones…

Flairant la bonne affaire, le gérant – un Thaïlandais mince et affable que les deux hommes avaient déjà rencontré à quelques reprises dans le hall – s’approcha d’eux le sourire aux lèvres. Il plaisanta au sujet de la pluie et rit de sa propre blague. Les deux hommes restèrent de marbre, l’examinant même avec une forte dose de soupçon – comme ils l’auraient fait avec tout autre Asiatique les approchant sans raison apparente. Il se présenta sous le nom de Jek et voulut savoir s’ils avaient besoin de ses services. Tandis qu’ils écoutaient son boniment, leur attention s’égarait de temps en temps vers les autres clients de l’hôtel, des Malaisiens pour la plupart à en juger par les journaux qu’ils lisaient ou leur apparence. Ces derniers – qu’ils fussent malais, chinois ou indiens – venaient ici pour les massages, les prestations


Copyright © Robert Raymer 2008. Titre original : Transactions in Thai
Copyright © Éditions GOPE, mars 2011, pour la version française
Traduit de l’anglais (États-Unis) par Jérôme Bouchaud –

*Here is the Story Behind the Story of "Transactions in Thai".  Here is the Story Behind the Story to all 17 stories from Lovers and Strangers Revisited.  All but three of the stories will be in the French translation, Trois autres Malaisie.

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

***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 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, April 20, 2011

Family Stories -- the Good and the Bad

My grandfather on my father’s side was killed by lightning at age 32 when my father was ten years old.  My grandfather on my mother’s side molested my mother when she was thirteen.  I never knew this until I was in my thirties.  I wrote about it in the short story “Waiting for My Father to Crash”, a story I mentioned in yesterday's blog about my father nearly crashing a plane.

When one of my students (from Africa though studying in Malaysia) read that story she had a confession.  She too had been molested as a child but she had never told anyone about it, not even her parents, and she asked me for advice. I felt humbled. This was my story about my parents, about the events that led to their divorce, and yet it had a powerful affect on my student from a whole different culture.  By chance, I happened to know this student’s father, and I advised her to talk to her parents.  As a parent, I would think they would want to know.  I would want to know if anything bad happened to my children so I could be there to help them overcome the pain.  I know my mother always had a distrust for men.  Nevertheless, as a single mother for several years, she did a remarkable job raising her children.

When my father was in his sixties I asked him to describe what happened that day when he came upon his father, dead.  His father was in horse drawn wagon with his two daughters, when lightning killed him.  It didn’t harm the children but it knocked down the two horses.  My father was in the fields trying to bring in the cows, but the cows refused to budge because of the lightning as if they knew something bad was about to happen.  So my father ran down the lane to tell his father about the cows, and that’s where he found his father, lying in the lane, thrown from the wagon. The two horses still lying on the ground.  His two elder sisters had already run in the opposite direction to tell their mother what just happened.  When my father told me this story he became this frightened ten year old boy again. 

When I came home from Malaysia for the first time after having been away for three years, I was already in my early thirties, close to the age of my grandfather when he was killed by lightning.  Being so far away from home, I now wanted to hear these family stories from my parents, the good and the bad, while they both were still alive.  I spoke to other relatives, too, and more truths came out, truths that left me numb. I wrote them all down in my journal while they were fresh, so I wouldn’t forget.

Other truths made me laugh, like hearing my grandmother on my mother side telling me about her playing basketball in high school and college—this was back in the twenties.  She went to college but neither of my parents did.  She remarried after my grandfather ran off with a college girl when my mother was a toddler.  The second marriage lasted over fifty years.  My father, after the divorce, later remarried and is now closing in on his fiftieth anniversary, too. 

Sometimes people make bad choices early in their lives.  Sometimes tragedies happen.  Crimes, too.  But these are our lives, and these are our family stories.  It’s up to the writer to choose how to write about them.  Even the most painful of stories may bring about a happy ending for someone else, like my student who is now happily married and raising her own family back in Africa. 

She has also published her first short story, a different family story, that she wrote and work-shopped in my creative writing class.  Writing can be the start of the healing process for all of us.  It’s therapeutic.  What family stories do you have?  What stories do you need to write about?
            —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.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Finding Stories in Your Backyard

They Flew Proud  
My father sent me a book.  His book.  No, he didn’t write it, but he’s in it.  A lot.  He even got a chance to sign autographs, and they posted him on YouTube!   When the book came out he was 81 years old.  It’s the first time he sort of felt like a celebrity.  I’m happy for him.  Seeing him on YouTube made my day.  I called him up and had to explain to him what it was.  He had no idea; doesn’t own a computer. Doesn’t understand how it’s possible that I saw a video of him a day after I finished reading the book. (I contacted the author, went to her website and clicked on it.) But that’s okay.

The author of They Flew Proud, Jane Gardner Birch, found her story in her own backyard.  Basically it’s a book about her father, but oh, it’s much more than that!  In the acknowledgements she wrote: “Until three years ago, I had no knowledge of the Civilian Pilot Training Program nor did I know the Boards existed (the names of those like my father who learned to fly solo from May 17, 1944 to July 17 1948).  All I had was one photo of my father in a military uniform and a child’s memory of an airport.  That doesn’t make a book…”

But she took the story of her father and made it a part of an even bigger story, the 1940’s in the US, about the men and women in small towns who not only learned how to fly but also who became the backbone of this country for the sacrifices they made to support the war efforts by working in factories and by going off and fighting in World War Two, a time that so many of us know so little about.

In the forward it states: "...Now we have Jane Birch’s They Flew Proud, a crisply told account of her father, Gardner Birch, his fellow pilots, and their involvement in the CPTP-WTS course of training at Grove City College, in Grove City, a small town in western Pennsylvania. Ms. Birch has done a remarkable job of piecing the story together so many years after the fact. She deserves a great deal of credit for what obviously has been a labor of love, a resounding tribute to her father and his love of aviation, and a reawakening of formative childhood memories." 

Grove City, Pennsylvania is where I was born.  Grove City College is where my grandparents and my brother attended.  Grove City is also the setting for my short story “Waiting for My Father to Crash” that I wrote after my first visit home after three years of living in Malaysia, published in both Silverfish New Writings 5 and 25 Malaysia Short Stories, Best of Silverfish New Writing 2001-2005.  Basically it’s about my father who nearly crashed his plane, a Piper Cherokee.  Four years later, my father did crash that plane.  The engine died, and he knew he was going to crash but he was smart enough to find a back road and was lucky enough no cars were on it, and he brought it down onto that road.  He was thrown out of his seat and a wing was torn off.  But at age 65, he was able to walk away from that crash.  He never flew again.

But now he is, thanks to this book, at least in my memory of all those flights that he took me with him, including the time we flew into the airshow at Oskkosh, the biggest aviation event in the US. (Check out the photo of the author Jane Gardner Birch at Oshkosh with, yes, that really is Harrison Ford.

2007 Combs Gates Award
They Flew Proud even went onto win the Combs Gates Award, which is presented by the National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF), located at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, to honor a project which best promotes or preserves America's air and space heritage.  Not bad for a book that started out with a few questions about her father. 

Thank you, Jane Gardner Birch.  By writing about your father, you wrote about my father, too.  You wrote about a lot of fathers and mothers who learned how to fly and how to survive WWII.

So what stories are in your back yard?  I bet if you looked around you might find something that raises a few questions in your mind.  Who knows, if you did a little research you might find an even bigger story, and possibly a book that only you can write.

*Here’s a link to the other pilot interviews including a longer segment of my father, Bill Raymer 

** This is a link to another story involving my father, the day his own father was killed by lightning.

***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, April 18, 2011

Being Peed On (now and then) is All a Part of Writing

My four-year-old son peed on me.  He was half asleep and those things aren’t all that cooperative early in the morning.  Instead of the pee flowing straight into the toilet, it shot at a sharp angle at me.  Luckily I wasn’t fully dressed.  As I washed it away, his brother and mother laughed at me.  Nothing like getting peed on to start your day.  Surely not the best of omens.

Sometimes this is what it feels like when you get a less-than-fantastic review for one of your books, as I did when I stumbled upon a review of Tropical Affairs that I overlooked in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, based in Hong Kong when it came out in February.  (I was pushing a deadline.)  This is the second time Tropical Affairs has been reviewed outside Malaysia/Singapore in one month!  In March it was reviewed in Holland by Expatriate Archive Centre  I’m flattered that Cha chose to review it, but you can’t expect everyone to love what you write.  That would be naïve. Most books and movies get mixed reviewed.  Not all good, not all bad.  Each individual has to decide for themselves.  As I wrote in an earlier blog, The Outsider Within

“I guess you can’t really call yourself a writer if someone doesn’t find fault with your writing somewhere. When you put your work out there, whether in book form, in literary journals, magazines, newspapers or blogs, you have to expect some criticism, or comments regarding your competency as a writer….It’s all part of the writing game like developing thick skin.  Remember, it's only one person’s opinion.  Think of your favorite singer or band, favorite movie or TV show, favorite and most-loved book of all time, and there’s going to be someone out there who absolutely hates it for a perfectly valid reason.”

But as a writer, it’s also important to learn from these reviews (many writers purposely ignore all reviews, good or bad, because they find them so depressing, so judgmental as well as any comments from editors or agents!)  True the reviewer may be way off base, but often there’s some truth there.  Many of the articles written for Tropical Affairs were, in fact, my first works to be published over 20 years ago, and I did go overboard on some of them.  Others parts did get repeated as snippets in other pieces, often written years later in different publications.  Yet when you place them all in one book, they tend to stand out, as I now know.  Another reviewer made a similar comment.  In hindsight, I wished I had left out several of the pieces, even though they had been previously published (see there’s that validation!); others needed to be toned down.  Also how to arrange or group your articles is never an easy decision—do it chronologically, as a memoir, or by subject matter?  (I started out grouping all the movie pieces and those under being a father, and then doing them chronologically within each section.)

By the way, the more that your work reaches a wider audience outside of your home or residing country, the more open it will be to criticism, and justifiably so.  Your work has to be good.  But with all criticism (including off-handed remarks from loved ones, friends, and colleagues), don’t let it ruin your day or your writing career (Everyone hates me, I’ll never write again!)  Also don’t read more into it than is actually there.  Often it’s only one or two comments that are less than favorable, not the whole review.  Let yourself cool down and re-read it later, as I just did.  It wasn't so bad.  Could've been a lot worse!  They could've told me never to write again!

So try not to read too much into your reviews or put in words that aren't even there.  That goes for reading between the lines!  Often you'll see that you were way to harsh on yourself!  And do as I did this morning after my son peed on me.  After scolding/reminding him to be more careful with his aim and after being laughed at by my wife (I think it made her day!  And we both had a good laugh over it and so did the boys!), I merely washed it off my leg.  No problem.  Then I showered and began the day properly, as fresh as the day I was born.  A little older, a little wiser, and then I put the review in its proper perspective.  I even laughed at myself for taking it so seriously.

Also, next time, especially early in the morning, I’ll let my sons pee first.

***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, April 14, 2011

Making Books is Fun to Watch - 1947!

In this age of computers and self-publishing your own e-book, ever wonder how those old books got made?  Watch this 1947 video of “Making Books is Fun to Watch” from the Huffington Post.  What a fascinating but laborious process.  Kept thinking, what if someone got the lines out of sequence, or they dropped the lines and spilled those letters all over the floor.   

No wonder it was so difficult to made changes in the galleys.  It would be a huge process to change a couple of words here or there.  Wow.  And that’s just for one book.  How many books did they print a year, and where did they store all this stuff for future reprints?  The video is 10 minutes, but I guarantee you’ll never be able to look at a book the same way, especially those older books that smelled so nice, those books made the old fashioned way.

Now that you're inspired to write, go out and make your own book...the easy way.

***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, April 13, 2011

Will Lovers and Strangers Revisited go Bahasa Melayu?

Yesterday I received a telephone call from a Bahasa Melayu publisher in Malaysia expressing an interest in having Lovers and Strangers Revisited translated into Bahasa Melayu.  Last week at Tun Jugah, during a break of selling books and signing autographs (we had a lot of down time), I met with some BM authors and asked about their Malaysian publishers.  One of their representatives was on hand and we exchanged business cards.

So when the director of this BM publisher called me and expressed an interest in my book, I thought this might happen a lot faster than I expected.  In fact he was already familiar with my book, having seen me the last two years at the Popular Reader’s Choice Awards  He was there to support his own BM authors.  The fact that I won the award in 2009 must’ve made an impression on him, because we’ll be meeting in Kuching next month to discuss my book.

After the success of having Lovers and Strangers Revisited translated into French, I’ve been thinking it was high time I made some enquires about BM publishers.  Ever since the Silverfish version came out in early 2006, I have felt that this book would do nicely in BM.  Malays have always responded well to the book, particularly the stories that involves a Malay such as “On Fridays”, “Smooth Stones”, “Mat Salleh” and “Home for Hari Raya”.  The Malay stories are nearly half of the book.  The book title, however, did cause some concern as I blogged in 2007 (and wrote about in Tropical Affairs) about a USM student discussing the title with a woman who worked at the USM bookstore.  

If the title Lovers and Strangers Revisited still concerns the BM publisher, I am willing to change it to Three Faces of Malaysia or Three Other Malaysia, which is the title that the French will be using. Three Faces of Malaysia also fits nicely into Malaysia’s multi-culture identity, at least for those on Peninsular Malaysia.  Sabah and Sarawak is a whole different matter.

So far 2011 seems to be a good year for Lovers and Strangers Revisited and we still have two-thirds of the year to go.  So let’s wait and see what happens.  For now, MPH has sent them a copy of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, and I’m in the midst of emailing to them, highlighting the good track record of those 17 short stories set mostly in Malaysia.  And yes, I’ll be mentioning The Story Behind The Story, which seems to  keep growing and growing…
        --Borneo Expat Writer

*Update: Here's a link to the intro and excerpts in French 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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Creative Writing Workshop—Two in Kota Kinabalu

Just back from two back-to-back workshops in Kota Kinabalu (Sabah, Borneo), one a six-hour workshop for Universiti Malaysia Sabah (above) and then a four-hour workshop organized by the KK Theatre Group, SPArKS (see below).

Mark Storey presents a gift to an exhausted Robert Raymer after
6-hour workshop at UMS
The first workshop at UMS, we started out with 30 academic lecturers and tutors, including someone who recognized me from Unimas, a former colleague from USM, and a fellow expat writer, Mark Storey, who organized the event.   

In the second workshop, the ages ran from thirteen to mid-sixties, from secondary students to published authors, including fellow MPH writer, Tina Kisil, author of Footprints in the Paddy Field.  One participant flew in from Miri, one was the daughter of one of the UMS staff that I taught the previous day, and another, Farida, was the mother of a student I taught at USM years ago. In fact, her enthusiasm for bringing a creative writing workshop to KK brought both UMS (Mark) and SPArKS (Jude Day) aboard.  Suddenly I’m in KK conducting not one but two workshops to two very different groups.

Robert Raymer demonstrating the use of clustering.
Also attending the second workshop were two students from IPGK Gaya and three UMS students who were taking creative writing in Malay. They told me how different my approach was from the way they were being taught and how easily they can apply my ideas to generate their own ideas.  At UMS, they’re getting mostly theory but they don’t know what to write, or where to even start!  

I take the opposite approach by leaving the theory where it belongs in the textbooks (see “Tree Methodology”  from Tropical Affairs) and showing them some useful pre-writing techniques that actually work in the real world.  We also use sensory details and 5-Ws as prompts that flood them with even more ideas.  Within minutes they’re eager to write.  Several times, after getting them started, I had to stop them, so we could move on, so I could introduce more story-starter ideas! The important thing is they got started and later they can finish up what they began.

The workshops went so well in fact, it looks like I’ll be back to KK in August for another related workshop and possibly a follow up in November. The one in August, I will be creating two longer writing sessions (one for first-person non-fiction, the other for fiction) so they can produce two finished samples to add to what they’ve already started and hopefully completed. (My final exams at USM were one hour and I was always amazed what they came up with after investing some of their precious time with pre-writing).  Then a follow-up workshop (after they’ve had time to rewrite and polish) so I can critique their opening pages from one of those samples, as I did for the 2009 MPH Short Story Awards when I was one of their judges.  By limiting the size of the workshop to 20-25, we can devote 10 minutes for each participant.

When I did this in Kuching '09, this worked wonderfully. They all benefited no matter whose story we were discussing since the others made similar mistakes in their own stories.  (It’s easier to find mistakes in someone else’s story than your own!) 

When I tried this in Miri '09 (maybe because of all of the advance publicity), it wasn’t as effective because many of the writers had sent in stories via their friends or even their moms, so they weren’t even present for their own feedback, nor could they benefit from the feedback for the other stories! Other writers took advantage of the theater style seating and passed down multiple stories.  One submitted four!  I was furious when I found out later what was going on.  It was so unfair to the writers who were present with their own short stories because we couldn’t get to them all.  This time around, as I did in Kuching, where we sat around one long table, I will personally collect each story from each writer, so everyone present benefits.

When I put on my judging and editor’s hat (as I did briefly in KK), I can show them what is holding back their writing (be it grammar, organization, style, including word choices, repetition, and using tentative or trite expressions), so they, and all those who attend, can take their writing to the next level. Here are the judging tips that I posted for the MPH contest and workshop, the post-contest comments and a little inspiration to prove them wrong, and the story behind the story links, whereby I blogged about the significant changes that I made in the Lovers and Strangers Revisited stories that led to their various publications (80, so far, in 12 countries!)

A one-off workshop—although inspiring and motivating for all—is rarely enough.  One writer in Kuching, was so inspired by one of my workshops at Unimas, he turned his ideas into five hundred page book!  (It still has a way to go, but he sure got off to a great start!)  For others, they’ll eventually get around to doing some writing.  We all know about good intentions, but life and work often gets in the way.  The real learning comes from the actual writing. The doing!
      —Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

*One of the IPGK Gaya students blogged about the workshop. (Yes, our pictures came from the same source, but he added more!)  So did the gentleman from Miri.  Here's Tina's blog about the same event.

**Here is the follow up KK workshop in August'11And the third KK workshop 22 October '11

***Here's my workshop with Malaysian Nurses Association and International Tuition School in Kuching.

Here's a blog link about being interviewed on TV for Kuppa Kopi.  If you wish to contact me for a creative writing workshop at your school (for your staff or students or both) or your association, I can be reached at  

****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 workshops:  Writing Your Life Stories Workshop—Kuching! 23 June 2012 (with links to other workshops and writing tips!) and also a workshop in KK on 17 June 2012! 

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  Thank you.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I know! I know! Toys and Computers!

“I know!  I know!” my children like to say whenever I try to tell them something.  One of them even says it before I get the words out of my mouth and I hadn’t even told him what it is that he needs to do so there is no way that he “knows”.  It’s just his knee-jerk reaction for me to quit telling him things that he already “knows”.  Ah, but at six years old, there’s so much he doesn’t know, and even if he does know, he’s not doing it or I wouldn’t have to keep on reminding him and his brother!
Knowing something or being aware of it, is a whole lot different than actually doing it and breathing it so it’s second nature, so you don’t have to think about it.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could discipline ourselves to not waste time casually checking emails or Facebook and Twitter a dozen times a day, or following all those YouTube and news stories about the bizarre things people do to each other, including the very people they love?  We know better right?  Especially when extra writing time is in short supply these days. 

Last night this all came to a head with the two small boys.  Jason will be seven soon, already in primary one, and Justin is four.  I reminded them before dinner not to bring out all of their toys, and not to mix them all up because we’ll be eating soon. Besides it’s a school night, and they’re not allowed to play with their toys on a school night, but what can I say, since their mother wasn’t around, I caved in.  Give them a chance, I thought. They’re boys.  

Jason also insisted he had no homework.  Yeah, right.  And I believed him!  (Usually I’ll check the homework while their mother cooks, but since she had a meeting, I had cooking duties and food comes first.  Already I was running late. . .after I checked my email…

After dinner and homework, I asked them to go upstairs to put their pajamas on.  Then I reminded them, “If you haven’t put your toys away, please put them away, too.  Knowing how they tend to procrastinate (ok, it runs in the family), I called upstairs two more times to remind them that it’s late, and to put their toys away and get ready for bed.  After finishing the dishes I quietly went upstairs to see what they were up to.  It wasn’t pretty.  Toys scattered everywhere, pieces all mixed up; they had been tossing them at each other as “bombs”.  Obviously, they had a lot of fun.  Obviously, I was not in a fun mood.

At the rate they were going, it would take them two hours to clean up their mess when they should’ve been in bed fifteen minutes ago.  And their mother was do home any minute.  Not good.  So I scolded them and to speed things up I grumbled while cleaning up their mess.  This time they had gone too far with their “I knows” and not doing it.  After reminding them four times this very evening, not to mention the thousands of times they had been told by both their mother and me, I decided it’s time to teach them a lesson.  

I cleaned up all of their toys all right, and I mean all of them.  I threatened to give them all away to needy children who would appreciate having such nice toys to play with.  Kids who would gladly put them away properly.  We’ve used this threat before and obviously it doesn’t work.

This time, I planned to make it work. I cleared out every single toy, every single stray piece, including  under the bed, plus all of their board games, and I put them in my car trunk and in upper cabinet spaces out of their reach in our bedroom.  They’ll never find them.  Don’t tell them either, ok?  Even my wife doesn’t know! Since I’ll be going away for four days to Kota Kinabalu, they will not be able to play with them until I get back, and since that will be a school night, they’ll have no toys at their disposal until the following weekend.
Mean, huh?

Then I’ll give them one more chance, with a stern warning, “Next time you play with your toys and mix them all up and don’t put them away when I ask you to, like you’re supposed to, like you “know” how to do, I will donate them to charity.  There is no last warning.  This is it!

Maybe this time, they’ll actually believe me, but I doubt it since they already “know”.  (Hopefully, years from now, after they’re already grown up with their own children, we’ll look back at this lesson and laugh.)    Either that or they’ll never speak to me again!

Right now, I’m considering doing the same with my computer.  “I know, I know,” I shouldn’t be wasting my writing time with all those distractions a click away on the Internet.  This is my last warning, too, or the next time, I’ll stick my computer it in my trunk for a week.  After that, I’ll donate it to another needy writer who’ll appreciate it.  If it works for the children, maybe it’ll work for dad, 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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blog to Paying Article—Twice

I love getting good news early in the morning, which is how I usually get them since in Borneo we’re a half day ahead of the West.  One of my blogs just sold for the second time!  This is one of the reasons I blog, so I can get some stuff written, posted, and then the marketable ones that can be reshaped into articles, I send them out to a paying market, over here in Malaysia for starters, and then I’ll either expand or compress it for the overseas market.  

I blogged about The Power of Five back in September, which ran for 771 words, then I rewrote it and expanded it for Quill for their January-March 2011 issue, about 1050 words. Now The Writer wants me to compress it 700 words to make it fit onto one page to be published sometime in the future.  It could be a while before it actually comes out. 

Still it’s a nice feeling, and a nice reminder that my ideas not only works for me, which I practice in my own writing life (or at least try too, the very reason I post them so they’ll also benefit others and remind me to continue to do this since it works!), but also for editors in Malaysia and in the United States who feel that those ideas will work for their readers, too.   

This has happened several times now, a double publication from a single blog posting.  Sometimes the order is reversed.  First it appear in the US, again The Writer, like “Getting Started with Pre-writing Techniques” in their May 2010 issue, and then reprinted for Quill Annual 2011, both of which I then post as a blog.  This particular article began when I created my teaching units for my creative writing class, and then made its way to my website, if I’m not mistaken, and both of these have been popular among writers and even cited by other writers.

Again, this is why I blog.  There are other reasons, too, but I’ll save those for future blogs.  

***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.