“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 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.
Five part Maugham and Me series
Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I