Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast—Or Six Important Things Before Lunch!

The Queen said to Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  What if the impossible things, weren’t all that impossible, but rather doable, and they were the six most important things to do to on your list, and what if you could accomplish them all, maybe not before breakfast, but before lunch.  Now wouldn’t that be a great way to start your day! You will have crossed off six important things (not minor tasks, but the stuff you’ve been procrastinating on for days, weeks, months), and now your afternoon is free of guilt.  In fact, you’re so excited by the possibilities you’re really on a roll and you’re anxious to see what else can accomplish today. 

Imagine if you did this every day, just think how productive your life could be, how good you can really feel about yourself, and what if some (if not all six) of these important things are actually taking you a step closer to your goals?  Even if you only managed to accomplish one of those important things that moves you toward your life goals (like drafting out an outline or a chapter of a book you've always wanted to write), that's still pretty darn good.  You worked it into a busy day. 

Most people start the day with good intentions.  You know what you need to do.  You may have even written it down, and you're all fired up, but then something comes up, an email that requires your immediate attention, some late breaking story on yahoo that has you concerned, some funny or fascinating YouTube posting that you can’t resist watching.  Then you get a phone call, and when you check your email, there are a few more items than need to be replied, and, oh, a long lost friend just sent you a message on Facebook!  An office colleague drops by to tell you about an exciting person they just met or relate their latest drama.  And someone really needs your advice or help with their deadline project.

Next thing you know its lunch, and although you accomplished a few things, they were not the top six on your list, they were a few at the bottom that only took a few minutes to clear, neither important nor urgent, just stuff on that list.  So you sort of feel good because you at least accomplished something before lunch.
Oh what a difference your day and your life could be if you just ignored everything that was not urgent, and you rolled up your sleeves and ploughed through, one after the other, those six important things that lately have been impossible to get around to.  But not today!  Today you’re focused, you’re disciplined, and you are absolutely determined not to let anyone else (not even yourself) sidetrack you from the tasks at hand.

When you accomplish what you set out to do, even those mundane tasks—like doing your taxes—that you wished would just disappear from your desk, your self-esteem rises and you feel good about yourself.  You even feel that just maybe you really can take on the world! 

Now isn’t that a whole lot better than feeling guilty because you, once again, by the end of the day, did not do what you know you need to do.  It’s right there on your list, with stars by them!  So now those same incomplete tasks will be waiting for you first thing tomorrow, along with everything else that you need to do, and the thought of that really makes you angry.

Don’t get angry and beat yourself up, just make a fresh commitment to yourself, that, by golly, every day from now on, you’re going to see if you can accomplish six important things before lunch, and just do them (no email, no Facebook, no phone calls, no personal dramas (yours or anyone else).  And maybe, while you’re at it, a few impossible things before breakfast!  Like waking up before the alarm goes off, humming instead of groaning, stretching and exercising, being grateful that you not only have a home to sleep in but also clothes to wear and food to eat. 

Also be glad that you’re alive and healthy and that you have someone to love (parents and children count), and maybe even someone who loves you (yes, pets count).  Instead of wishing you had someone else’s face or body or talent or all of their money; appreciate all that you do have in life.  See life from a whole new perspective, as a joy, not as a hassle.  If you think you have problems, and I’m sure you have your share, turn on the news to the latest disaster!  They got real problems!  Count your blessings!  Put it all into perspective.  

By now you’re starting to feel better about yourself, and once you have breakfast, you’ll feel energized to start tackling those six important things on your list.  Today is the day you’re taking charge of your own life!  About time, too, and it’s not even lunch!  Let’s really work up an appetite!
      -Borneo Expat Writer

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

**Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Remember—Everyone is Watching!

We were shopping for groceries in an upscale market in Kuching when my wife directs my attention to a man scratching his butt.  He was standing in the aisle, not a side aisle but the main thoroughfare with people coming and going all around him, and he had his hand inside not just his pants, but inside his clearly seen underwear, which by the way, was a dull red in color.  He was not a derelict but a reasonably well-dressed man accompanying his wife, standing there aloof, having himself a good scratch, as if he had no care in the world.  I’m sure he does this sort of thing at home all the time.  He didn’t seem bothered by the fact that people all around him, including us, were giving him, I-can’t-believe-you’re-scratching-your-butt-in-public look.

We’re shopping for food mind you.  Imagine all the items, like fruit, he may be casually touching or groping, once he stops—assuming he ever does stop—scratching his butt. 

Yes, at times, we all like to think that, like children, we’re invisible, that no one is going to notice us as we quickly, casually (so not to draw attention to ourselves) pick our nose, our ears, and even our butts (though not all the way inside our underwear) in public.  But everyone is watching.  And if someone is not watching, you can be darn sure that someone will point it out to them, or tell them all about it later, once they get home or back to the office.

I admit, I was even tempted to take the man’s caught-in-the-act photo and put it on YouTube. Let it go viral, so the whole world will know that this man failed basic etiquette, hygiene, obedience, common sense school, and that his parents—shame on them—never taught him not to go out in public in dirty underwear just in case you die, let alone scratch various parts of your body when others are looking. 

As writers, we tend to notice stuff like this and work it into our writing somewhere, but so does everyone else.  How can you not notice a man standing in the middle of an aisle his pants half pulled down, showing large portions of his decrepit underwear, with his left hand jammed inside of it, scratching a way. Knowing this guy, I’m sure once he's done, he'll probably bring those same fingers to his nose and have himself a good sniff.  Then he’ll grab a box of cereal or an apple, and ask his wife, “Do we need this?”

So when you’re in public, and this goes for children—we have two small ones who are known to do an occasionally disgusting act in front of others that makes us want to disown them—please think twice before you do what your body urges you do to because, believe it or not, everyone is watching, and these days, everyone has a camera on their phones, and they can even be pretending to talking loudly to all their friends, when in actual fact they’re snapping your photo and shouting that out to the world.

By the way, this applies to how you dress, whether your zipper is up or down, whether your jeans need a thorough washing, whether your hair is unkempt or neatly groomed, whether you're complaining about life or embracing it, and even whether you're ranting and raving in your blog posting because you’re having a really bad day and you want to take it out on the world.  Yes, you may be ranting and raving in the privacy of your own room, but in fact, you’re as public as that man standing in the aisle scratching his butt.

After we quickly made it around this man so we didn’t have to watch him anymore, the writer part of me made me look back at the end of the aisle before turning the corner of my life, and yes, he was still scratching his butt, oblivious to his surroundings, and yes, everyone else was watching, no doubt eagerly waiting for his next disgusting move, cameras at the ready.
                  —Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer 

***Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Novel Project: A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit – pitch and 5 pages

A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit (84,200 words)
Having your fate hinged on the erratic behavior of a self-indulgent
American expat who has nothing left to live for cannot be good…

Distraught over catching his wife sleeping with a former boyfriend, Steve Boston flees the US and arrives on the tropical island of Penang—the very place where his wife was born to a couple who met in the Peace Corps.  En route to the colonial landmark E & O Hotel, Boston comes to the aid of a mysterious Eurasian woman whose complicated life has been made even messier by her father’s body washing ashore.  Her father’s death is linked to an American expat­riate, Michael Graver, who’s seems to know everybody’s dark personal life. When the expatriate’s opium-addicted wife and his over-protective maid-cum-mistress both decide to leave him, Graver’s carefully cultivated past begins to unravel.
With nothing left to live for, Graver puts all of his efforts into finding an elusive treasure buried by the Japanese at the end of World War Two.  But then he has an epiphany, a moment of clarity that will affect all those around him, including Steve Boston who is caught smack in the middle with a gun aimed at his head….Set on a Malaysian tropical island over a period of nine days culminating with the Chinese New Year, the story revolves around six desperate and lonely people whose quiet lives are about to explode.
A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit was a semi-finalist in the 2011, 2009 Faulkner-Wisdom novel contest, the first book in a potential series set in Southeast Asia. The second book, The Girl in the Bathtub, was a short-listed finalist in their 2011, 2009 novel-in-progress category.

The mysterious East faced me, perfumed like a flower,
silent like death, dark like a grave.
-Joseph Conrad

                                                                                                             Wednesday, 10 February
        The East has always attracted that strange beast called an expatriate, one of those lonely, alienated men who often have nothing left to live for.  Either they’re hiding from their troubled past, seeking some self-indulgent pleasure, or searching for a mythical treasure—or perhaps a little of each, thus adding to their array of personal problems from the bad life choices that they’ve made . . . . Inevitably their lives often come to a violent or a pathetic end—usually at their own hands—and they have no one to blame but themselves.  But instead, they lash out at every­one, including the ones they claim to love, or blame their circumstances on fate con­spir­ing against them as though it’s merely a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
        Boston just hopes that he doesn’t suffer the same fate or make similar mistakes as he lags behind the other passengers—mostly Malays, Chinese, and Indians—as they hurry aboard the ferry to Penang.  Having read his share of expatriate stories by the likes of Conrad, Kipling and Somerset Maugham, he’s con­scious of the way that the locals keep looking at him, as if questioning his reasons for coming to Malaysia . . . . Being in the wrong place at the wrong time was how this journey began for him after catching Patricia in the backseat of her car with her old boyfriend.  A bad choice that he made that day was fleeing half way across the planet.  The alternative, despite some per­son­al satis­faction, would’ve put him into prison.
        Still wary of the other passengers, Boston feels a distinct uneasi­ness, an urgency that pene­trates deep inside him; some­thing he hasn’t felt since he was a teen­ager in his mad­den­ing quest to get laid.  Then he­ realizes why he has come.  A cat when ready to die goes to a corner and waits.  He has come to his own corner of South­east Asia, or more precisely Patricia’s corner, a tropical island off the west coast of Malaysia.
        Death, when he thinks about it, does seem logical.  Already he’s left his wife, left his business, left his country . . . . Is that the real reason he has come?  Is that why he’s here?  Not entirely con­vinced, he lugs his oversized suitcase to the side railing where he play­fully con­siders the options.  Drown­ing­, he quickly concludes, would be the easiest . . . . There’s no poison to find.  No weapon to procure.  No high place to seek out.  No special timing involved.  Just jump when he’s good and ready . . . . A ferry jump also smacks of­ intrigue.  Some young, ambiti­ous detective bucking for a promo­tion may suggest that per­haps he was pushed.  In any lang­uage that will trans­late into murder.  The local press will have a field day.  With an American involved—identified from the luggage—the inter­na­tional wire service will pick up on the story.  Head­lines will glare:


        Even if the papers tone it down to FOUL PLAY, it will still grab people’s attention;   maybe even Patricia’s.  Someone may recognize his name or the name of their business and point it out to her.  At least here in Malaysia, like those colonial expatriates from long ago, he can die anony­mous­ly, buried in an unmarked grave in some overgrown cemetery that people rarely visit, rest­ing in perman­ent peace . . . . Then again, he doesn’t even have to die.  Just fake his death.  Disappear.  Change his identity from Steve Boston to someone else, someone already dead perhaps.  Thus, no divorce proceed­ings.  No lawyers.  No past to deal with.  Just start from scratch right here in Penang as a tropical virgin.
        Boston wipes the perspira­tion from his forehead as he glances at some of the pas­sen­gers that are seated—an elderly Chinese man, stroking the gray strands of hair sprouting from a chin mole; a stout, turbaned Sikh, shuffling his thick sandaled feet; and a sari-clad woman with a gold ring through her nose, nodding at him respectfully.  Sitting in front of them, three school girls in matching tur­quoise pinafores giggle at two boys snapping chewing gum.  An Australian serviceman casts stern looks at the boys, while a pair of laid-back back­packers takes it all in.  Plenty of potential witnesses, about two hundred—more than enough to con­fuse the truth.
        He can just picture the look on Patricia’s pretty freckled face when she finds out where he fled to:  her beloved Penang, her birthplace, where she lived the first six months of her life, the daughter of an Amer­i­can couple who met and copulated while in the Peace Corps.  His death will cast a pall on her trea­sured memories of having been an exchange student here in high school and return­ing later with her boyfriend Martin.  The same Martin he caught her fucking in the back­seat of her car—in their car.  All Patricia ever seemed to talk about was Penang.  But now she will no longer be able to think about her precious Penang with­out thinking of him.

        An old Chinese man munching on sunflowers seeds spits the shells onto the wooden deck.  He pauses to look at Boston but then continues adding to the mess he’s creating.  The throb­bing motion of the ferry as it leaves the mainland port of Butterworth adds to Boston’s rest­lessness.  Lost in his jumbled thoughts, bone-weary and jet-lagged, he stares blankly out at the sea.  Another passenger bumps into him but keeps going as if he’s no longer there.  Patricia used to do the same as if he were a mis­placed chair that’s constant­ly in the way.
        Boston peers over the side of the ferry at the green water churning to white.  Pieces of wood, bits of styrofoam and a colorful array of plastic bags are being sucked in by the advancing ferry and spat out.  Beige foam covers patches of the sea like icing.  Despite its filth and drifting flot­sam, the sea still holds a special allure.  Ad­mit­tedly he feels drawn to it, drawn to its eternal patience, its willingness to accept him on his own terms.  It’d be easy to yield to it.  If he concentrates hard enough on the same spot, he can see him­self in the water, see his image spiraling downwards, his arms fully extended above his head, his hands reaching, grasping for the surface as he sinks deeper and deeper.
        He finds a foothold on the railing and steps up to get a better look at the sea.  The ferry sud­denly lurches and he’s thrust forward; to keep from being tossed over the side, he tightens his grip on the ledge, his knuckles turning bone white, and braces himself.  Heart thumping, legs shaking, he holds onto the railing longer than necessary before he eases himself back down.
        Avoiding the gaze of those around him, lest one or all of them were watch­ing, he spots an empty seat between two Chinese men.  He drags his suitcase and sits down with a muted thump, putting on hold any further speculations on this silly notion of suicide.  Really, he’s not in the mood for much of anything right now other than to get as far away from Patricia as he can.

        Boston absently studies the Penang Bridge off to the left, reputedly the third longest in Asia when being built.  He’s seen it before in Patricia’s photos and coffee table books on Penang, though mostly while under construc­tion.  Mid­way between the bridge and the ferry, an unusual bright­ness sears its way through the clouds.  The bright­ness grows in intensity before finally revealing itself in its entirety, a ball so huge and orange he can almost taste it.  The sun’s rays create an illuminated path along the sea that stretch toward him like an accusing finger.  Enter­ing the path, a red and black freighter trans­forms itself into a silhouette.  The sunlit water around the freighter shimmers in its wake.  A double-decker ferry, mustard in color with black smoke billowing from its stack, creeps toward them from the opposite shore as it returns to the main­land.  The ferry, like the one he’s on, has pedestrians on top and cars and motor­cycles below.  Thinking photo­graph, he reaches for the camera inside his suitcase just as the Chinese man sitting next to him spits on the floor.  The spit’s sheen against the dull planks holds his attention longer than he prefers.  He turns away and a glint of gold catches the corner of his eye.
            The gold is draped around a dark slender ankle.  The woman’s foot arches in and out of a black and gray low-heeled shoe.  In and out . . . in and out the foot goes.  It kicks itself free of the shoe, leaving only the toes inside.  The leg is crossed, the foot raised, and the shoe dangles precariously from its new height.  Up and down . . . up and down the foot goes.  The shoe, on several occasions, comes dangerously close to dropping, but each time, the foot arches, the toes straighten, and the shoe slides back into place, securely hooked.  The foot is lowered and the toes slip out, free at last.  All five of them celebrate by curling up and down and wiggling from side to side, soaking up the fresh air.  The ankle rotates clockwise, and then counter­­clock­­wise.  With each move­ment, the anklet dances mer­rily around the owner’s ankle.
     --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, March 27, 2011

Big Fish Small Pond, Small Fish Big Pond

I’m not sure when I first heard the Big Fish Small Pond or Small Fish Big Pond analogy.  I do remember it was in a classroom setting either in my high school, Newark Senior High (Ohio) or more likely at Miami University at Oxford, Ohio.  It made an impact on all of us as we debated the merits of each.  Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and each can lead to success.  Of course, some of us preferred another option “Big Fish in Big Pond”. 

I considered Ohio a small pond and right after graduation, after a three-month backpacking stint in Europe, I left Ohio for Colorado where I began working for K. Graphics or Kinko’s in Boulder, a cool place to live, where I met my first aspiring writers and editors, people with big pond dreams. Then I was offered a chance to be a manager of a Kinko’s in Madison, Wisconsin and made the leap to a much larger city.  Soon after, I began setting up stores in other cities, some small, some big, and in other states. 

Within the company, as a regional manager in charge of eleven stores in three states, I started to feel like a Big Fish, especially after giving a well-received presentation at the national Kinko’s conference in Santa Barbara, California.  When I left Kinko’s to try my hand at writing, three of the top six stores in the country were mine, and we had over 600 stores at that time.

The United States, by the way, is a pretty big pond.  But then I left that big pond for Malaysia, a much smaller pond.  Publishing my first books in Singapore and then Malaysia, I soon found out, limits your scope. The books don’t seem to get outside of those two countries, so it was impossible to break out of the small pond, whether you’re a big fish or not.

Some Malaysian writers, albeit based overseas, like Tash Aw, author of the Whitebread winning novel The Harmony Silk Factory and Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain, long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, showed us that Malaysians can gracefully enter the Big Pond of writing and even get nominated for major awards. 

Then Preeta Samarasan’s Evening of the Whole Day and Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh’s series, both published overseas, attracted a lot of attention.  Even Shih-Li Kow’s Ripples and Other Stories, with a small pond publisher, Silverfish, was shortlisted for the 2009 Frank O’Conner International Short Story Award.  That was exciting.  And it showed that it’s possible to break out for other writers based in Malaysia, myself included.  It also got me thinking, why am I still a small fish in this small Malaysian pond? 

When Lovers and Strangers Revisited (MPH 2008), first published by Silverfish, won the 2009 Popular Star Reader’s Choice Awards, I began to feel like a slightly bigger fish. In 2010 my profile was raised when I was named "One of the 50 Expats You Need to Know" by Expatriate Lifestyle and then featured on the TV program Kuppa Kopi. The Expat also profiled me in their magazine. But still the reality is the Malaysian market is rather limited.  Other Malaysian authors constantly tell me, “You can’t be a full time writer living in Malaysia.”  

Still I kept submitting my short stories to overseas markets and entering my novels to novel contests in the US, and although some have met with some success, it appears I still have a ways to go.  Yet, I also feel I’m close to breaking out of this small pond of Borneo where I now live in Sarawak, which is even further removed from mainstream Malaysia, let alone mainstream USA, or mainstream the world book publishing market.

Getting one of my books, Tropical Affairs, reviewed in Europe last week is a step in the right direction, and so is having another book, Lovers and Strangers Revisited, getting translated into French. Having a French blog set up for Trois autres Malaisie with an additional French translation of “Transaction in Thai” has already made a big impact in my blog hits. This morning when I work up, my blog total for the day set a new personal record, a 32% jump over my previous best, and the bulk of those came from France.  France, by the way, is a bigger pond.

One of the disadvantage of bigger ponds is you have a lot more competition, and even if you are a big fish in your own small pond, once you cross over to the bigger pond, you start at the bottom again, as a small fish.  But a small fish that’s going somewhere, and that can be all the difference.  You’re a small fish on the move.  How far you go will be determined by your own belief system.  Do you feel you have what it takes to breakout in a bigger market?  In order to do that, you need to step up your game, and that is what I aim to do.  Step up my writing game.  I have to.  For me, as an American writer based in Malaysia, it’s time to take a serious look at those bigger ponds in Europe, which I first glimpsed all those years ago as a wide-eyed, fresh fish graduate seeing the big fishy world for the first time.

There are a lot of ponds out there, so where will you make your mark, as a Big Fish in a Small Pond, or as a Small Fish in a Big Pond?  Bear in mind, you can only become a Big Fish in a Big Pond by making that small pond to big pond transition, which is a lot easier these days thanks to the Internet.  Of course, there is no right answer.  Just ask yourself, what feels right for you? Whatever you choose, whether Big Pond or Small Pond, I wish you luck.
                     —Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

*Update: Here's a link to the intro and excerpts of LSR 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.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Two Brief Writing Interviews, One Session Holding a Toddler

Here are two interviews, my first forays into YouTube, split from the same impromptu session, back in 2008, after a reading in Kuching at Bing!  My website designers, Nic and Krista from Redbox Studios, were in town, so I asked them to attend  the reading and then roped Krista into reading something from one of her blogs, which she naturally blogged about. 

After reading an excerpt from “Transactions in Thai”, which has just been translated into French from Lovers and Strangers Revisited, Nic approached me about the idea for a You Tube interview for his website.  I was carrying Justin at the time, as everyone including my wife Jenny, was busy saying their goodbyes, so we found a quiet place alongside Bing!  As Nic asked me a handful of questions, I tried to think of suitable answers while hoping Justin cooperates.  Like any toddler, he can get restless and throw a tantrum pretty fast.  We both managed to get through it, in one quick take, and that was that.

Over the years I kept coming across various versions, some better than others.  Then today I realized that there were, in fact, two separate interviews, split from that one session, with appropriate headings and questions added in.  I’m sure I must’ve known about this, but at the time, I may have been distracted with marking exams, blogging The Story Behind the Story series,  and writing, with two small children clamoring for my attention to notice.  After seeing the different versions out there, I thought it’s about time that I post the two that Redbox Studios created for their website. 

Here’s the first “My Website Got Me Three Book Deal” (two books actually)
And “Going Online Gave Me Tons of Publicity”

***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, March 25, 2011

Expatriate Archive Centre’s Book Review Tropical Affairs—22 March 2011

Two good news for Tropical Affairs: Episodes of an Exapt’s Life in Malaysia. One, a book review appeared on Expatriate Archive Centre’s blog.  Expatriate Archive Centre, located in Den Haag, Holland, is also one of the libraries that I mentioned in a recent post. This is, unless I’m mistaken, my first book review outside Malaysia/Singapore!  (*correction, the original Lovers and Strangers by Heinemann Asia was reviewed by Asia Magazine in Hong Kong back in 1993.)
Thoughts on Robert Raymer’s “Tropical Affairs” Written by Amanda Potter
Narrative essays collected into a book are a little like the predecessor to modern blogging. Robert Raymer’s “Tropical Affairs”, a collection of previously published non-fiction narratives about his life and times in Malaysia, almost reads like one (in a good way). Through his years of essays we learn a little about Robert’s life as an American living in Malaysia for more than 20 years, sympathize with his struggles, and cheer in his successes.

Tropical Affairs collects essays from Robert’s own life through relationships, work, children, and hobbies and after 20+ years in his adopted country, it’s clear that Robert loves Malaysia and the people who call it home. The book is organized into a series of themed sections with a little something for everyone to relate to. Personally, I found the expatriate, writing, and “being myself” sections the most interesting, but parents and even movie fans will find entertaining and thoughtful morsels as well. Humor and candor play equal parts in Robert’s writing, reflecting the complex and multicultural experience of living abroad.

However, although the essays are interesting, often entertaining, and sometimes even inspiring, I was left wanting a stronger central narrative to carry the book as a whole. I had hoped to learn a little about Malaysia through Robert’s experiences, but without any prior knowledge of the region, the essays didn’t lay the groundwork for me to fully understand his encounters. In addition, I found the way the essays “time traveled” back and forth through is life to be a bit jarring; especially when there were two essays written about the same exact event but not placed side-by-side.

Ultimately I found “Tropical Affairs” to be best read by simply flipping the book open and selecting a story at random. Each on its own is sweet and filled with experiences that anyone can relate to. And I like the slightly provocative title which encourages you to have a short, fun affair with each story, but maybe not a long term relationship.

Robert Raymer is also the author of (the equally provocative) Lovers and Strangers Revisited, a short story collection about Malaysia. He writes for several publications and also blogs and maintains a website at
                                          *  *  *
The second good news, I just got the Tropical Affairs royalty statement, though not as high as I’d like it to be—is it ever?— but it did mention a second printing around June 2010.  That’s good because I recently added buy links on all my 2009 Tropical Affairs excerpt posts, which I accidentally left out.  Several of these, particularly on Indochine and Paradise Road, continue to be my most popular posts, maybe because of the cool costumes that I get to wear in the films. 

***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..

Creative Writing Workshops—Comes to Kota Kinabalu

First workshop at Universiti Malaysia Sabah
  Second workshop, open to the public:
Using Critical Thinking Skills to Turn Personal Experiences
into Narratives and Short Stories


When: Saturday,9 April
Time:  2.00-6.00pm
Cost:  RM100
Who:  13-90+ years old
Where:  7th Floor, Wisma Anglican, Karamunsing
Next:  Email or sms your name, contact phone number & email address to.................

Contacts:         Jude Day – 014-3514298 /
                        Farida Shukoor – 016-8486874 /

Critical thinking for surprising results!  Jumpstarting ideas – creating stories!

You don’t have to be a writer – but you can inspire yourself to write!                                    
Brainstorm and tap into your creativity – the results can amaze you!

Robert Raymer’s 4-hour Creative Writing Workshop covers the following areas:

How to organise a story – using colours, fears, objects, sensory details, what-if, festive occasions, unusual experiences, people and locations, feelings and emotions – things to avoid when writing – writing a story

Q&A Session

Robert Raymer will also bring copies of his books – so you can buy autographed copies!  Selling at Rm25 and Rm33 each. 

*Here's a link to Getting Started with Pre-Writing Techniques.
Organised by the KK Theatre Group, SPArKS 

** Here's a link to the actual workshop (with blog links from the happy participants).  If you wish to contact me for a workshop at your school or 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!  


Thursday, March 24, 2011

A French blog for Trois autres Malaisie and a new translation for The World of Suzie Wong!

A French blog  for my upcoming collection of short stories Trois autres Malaisie  has already been set up by my publisher Editions GOPE for some advance publicity.  Here is the translation of ‘Transactions in Thai’ from Lovers and Strangers Revisited that's made partly available.  By emailing the contact given, the whole story is free.  So if you can read French, check it out.

* Update: To order Trois autres Malaisie please follow this link. The publisher is offering free shipping and 5% discount.

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

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

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

 *****Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Also Editions GOPE is giving new life to Richard Mason’s The World of Suzie Wong by launching a new revised, unabridged French translation.  Chapter two, you may remember, takes place in Malaysia, in a rubber plantation.
French translations of The World of Suzie Wong and Lovers and Strangers Revisited  (Trois autres Malaisie) will soon be side by side.  I like that. The World of Suzie Wong was not only an international best seller, it ran for many years as a play on Broadway and in London, and the movie version won Nancy Kwan a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in the role of Suzie.  

 Is there a film version for one of my short stories in the making?  Or maybe my Penang-set novel The Expatriate’s Choice, now that I finished rewriting it for the Faulkner-Wisdom novel contest. First, I need to find a publisher and perhaps a French translation!  It just dawned on me that the opening scene for The Expatriate’s Choice begins on the ferry to Penang, and the painter Robert Lomax met his muse Suzie Wong on a ferry in Hong Kong.  Hmm...
                                                *   *   *
Editions GOPE: The World of Suzie Wong    (Extract from Chapter One and blurb in French)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When You Work, Work; When You Play, Play

Last night I was reading with my children, trying to get Jason to concentrate since he is still struggling with reading.  Justin, however, kept playing the fool, trying to distract him, and Jason seemed more interested in playing with Justin than reading, so I stopped. 

“There’s a time to play, a time to study, a time to read, a time to eat and a time to sleep.  Don’t mix them up,” I told them.  “When you do, those are the times you get scolded or punished.”

If I’m not being productive during the day, why not?  Am I working, or playing via surfing the internet, or replying non-essential emails that I should be doing after hours or being a busybody on Facebook to see what others are up to? When the children come home from school and I’m still trying to squeeze in more work, I get frustrated and angry with the boys, and so do they. 

“Where’s Daddy?” Justin asks.  

“He’s busy doing his homework,” Jason replies. 

“Speaking of homework,” I remind him, and we all groan. 

Then I thought, this is stupid, “There’s a time to work, and a time to play.”   So now I tell myself, once they reach home and until I put them to sleep I will not work. It saved a lot of frustration.  Now my time and my mind are not divided.  I help Jason with his homework (my wife helps with the BM) and I help Justin with his playing.  I also help in the kitchen so we can eat on time, then I help with the dishes and help getting the boys to bed and then reading with them, which I find is really relaxing for me, too.  It’s also a great time to bond with your children, and it creates great memories for them too that will last the rest of their lives. 

Once those lights are out, I’m free, with a clear conscience, to return to whatever I was working on, or I’m free to answer those emails and check in on Facebook.  Then when it’s time to go to bed, I’m free to play a little there, too or to just talk with my wife, both of us undistracted by children and computers. Somehow we all get through another day as a family, and that’s a nice feeling.

How are your days, are you mixing up playing at work, and then working at home to play catch up, when your children and spouse need you the most?  Don’t mix the two up!  Work when you work, and play when you play.  If your mind is always somewhere else, you’re not going to be effective at work, nor having fun at home.  What applies to children, applies to adults.  That’s a lesson I’m learning from my children before it’s too late, before they grow up and move away.   
           -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, March 22, 2011

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

 Amazon Breakthrough Novel AwardOk, I admit I’m feeling a little disappointed that The Boy Who Shot Santa did not advance to the Quarter Finals of Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.  I thought I would even make it to the semi-finals on the strength of the whole novel, knowing how much effort I had point into this and all the rewriting I did in the months leading up to it.  But it didn’t, so that’s a step back for me, a time to re-access….For those who did get through, congrats!  For those who didn’t, or didn’t even get this far, or are struggling to make their writing or their lives more successful, then this is for you (and a reminder for me).

In 2009, I was at T. Harv Eker’s Guerrilla Business Intensive seminar in Singapore eating lunch with four other people I just met, some from Singapore, Canada, Australia, and myself the lone American.  All five of us looked relatively successful judging from our clothes, our appearances, and the fact that we shelled out a considerable amount of money for this five-day event in Singapore, most of us travelling just to get here, from Kuching, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong.  There was a pause in the meal and I caught their attention by asking a simple question, “What personal adversity did you have to overcome that led you on the road to success?”

I went first to set the tone and talked about my divorce and custody battle and a lot of fallout that transpired during that rather difficult time in my life. Another couple took turns discussing their own marital breakups, a business going bust, dealing with bouts of depression, one on the verge of suicide.  A woman then broke down and cried as she related how she was assaulted and battered by a boyfriend and ended up in the hospital.  Even now she is struggling with trust and intimacy issues in her relationships. 

Another, the son of a multi-millionaire, admitted that he had gone to prison because of excessive driving violations.  Singapore is rather tough in this area.  One of those violations wasn’t even his.  He was covering for his now ex-wife during a traffic accident, claiming he was driving when she was (and drunk at the time), so she wouldn’t accumulate excessive violations herself. He lost his driver’s license, and then with less than a week to go, he got caught driving without a license, and because of those additional points, he now had to spend two weeks in prison. 

Later, I spoke to his father and he said it was an important lesson for his strong-headed son.  He had advised him not to drive without his license and not to marry that woman in the first place; she was trouble and was always getting him into trouble.  Since their divorce, he had turned his life around and has his whole future ahead of him.

All of five of us had reached rock bottom in our lives, and the point that I wanted to make by posing the question in the first place, was that, despite those setbacks, or maybe even because of them, because we had been through all that—the shame, the indignity, the frustrations—we were determined to make a success out of our lives.  To turn it all around, which each of us gradually did, and found ourselves at the same place having lunch together during a break at this seminar in Singapore.

What personal adversity have you gone through that has in fact made you stronger, more determined to succeed?  Are you looking back, focusing on what all went wrong and blaming everyone else, or are you looking ahead to what you can still make right?  In life, we’re going to have our setbacks, our disappointments—some major, some minor—but it’s how we pick ourselves afterward that matters.  Life is often a series of two steps forward, one step back.  Learn from those ‘steps back’ and apply that knowledge for your next two steps forward.  So long as, at the end of the day, you’re determined to keep moving forward, that’s all that matters.  Just take all of your setbacks in stride and keep focusing on your goals.

That's exactly what I'm doing right now, itching to get back to another novel for another contest and considering other routes to publication to add to the three books I have in the marketplace and a fourth, a translation, on the way. The rules to publishing has changed drastically in the last two years (e-publishing is taking off and bookstores are closing) and it's time to explore these options for my next two steps forward.  

*Here's a link, to another writer who just broke out in a major deal.  

*Update: The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady just made Round Two 2012, so far (I included the pitch.)
**Update: The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady just advanced to the Quarterfinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 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.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Libraries, a Wonderful Place to Find Your Own Books!

A friend introduced me to where you can find books in world libraries, including your own. Just out of curiosity I punched in my name and after eliminating a few others with my name, including one who wrote about mining in several Western states back in the mid-40’s, I found some surprises, like Silverfish New Writings 4, that I edited, is in the University of Michigan library and the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies.  Tropical Affair is in National University of Singapore and as I blogged before in the Expatriate Archive Centre in Holland.

The Heinemann Asia version of Lovers and Strangers is in such places as Harvard, Yale, Cornel, University of Wisconsin-Madison and  Ohio University, as well as in two branches of the British Library.  Lovers and Strangers Revisited is in some of those same places, plus UCLA, University of California, Berkeley, University of Michigan, Columbia University, and of course the Library of Congress.  So is The Spirit of Malaysia, but since it’s new it has yet to make its way to the libraries yet and Trois autres Malaisie.will soon be in French libraries.

But right now I’m picturing some student in Harvard or Yale picking up that old version of Lovers and Strangers Revisited and thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to move to some tropical island and write books.

*Update: Expatriate Archives Centre just reviewed Tropical Affairs!

**Another update:  Someone at Ohio University did pick that old book and now they're adapting my short story "Home for Hari Raya" into screenplay and film! Also two short stories from the collection was taught there and I skyped with the students.

***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 the French translation of Lovers and Strangers Revisited Trois autres Malaisie.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Got Some Writer Envy—Get Some Editing to Improve Your Own Writing!

Authors Yvonne Lee, Robert Raymer, and Adeline Loh at 2009 Popular Star Reader's Choice Awards 

When I first heard that Yvonne Lee, author of Madness Aboard and Vanity Drive, had some incredible sales with her first book, The Sky is Crazy:  Tales from a Trolley Dolly, I felt a twinge of jealously—it’s human nature.  I was like, wow, how did she do it?  Another writer mentioned that she’s good at online marketing, and I thought, OK, I need to do more of that.  She is also good at going after the media instead of waiting for the media come to her, which is also smart.  (They made never come!) Ok, I should do more of this too!  Then she did something that really caught my attention.  She contacted me to help edit her next book.

That’s what successful writers do; they seek out those in the position to help them.

That’s what I did, too, when I first began to write.  I hired an editor to point out all of my mistakes in the short stories that I was writing, not knowing that I was even making any mistakes!  To be honest, I was looking for validation!  Brilliant—don’t change a word!  I learned an awful lot and realized I had an awful lot to learn about writing.  Gradually I transformed these early stories, draft after draft, into a collection, Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann Asia 1993).   

While revisiting my old short stories for Lovers and Strangers Revisited (MPH, 2008), I did it again.  I approached an editor friend and convinced her to edit my stories by hiring her!  And these stories had already been published many times!  Although there were no grammar mistakes or glaring errors, she did point areas in each story that needed to be tightened.  She questioned details, word choice, and any ineffective writing that needed to be reworked.  She pointed me in the right direction, but the rest was up to me, as I overhauled the stories.

Basically, I hired a fresh pair of eyes to catch mistakes before I send it to the publisher.  Of course, the publisher will assign you an editor, but usually they’re overworked and will mostly catch minor mistakes, yet many errors (and a lot of bad, lazy writing) will still end up in print!  Pick up most books published in Malaysia (and elsewhere, too) and you’ll see what I mean. 

Did my efforts pay off?  Lovers and Strangers Revisited did win the 2009 Popular-Star Reader’s Choice Award and now the collection is getting translated into French.

Yes, I know, hiring an editor will cost money, but consider it as a writer’s business expense or as an investment into your own writing.  I did.  You’re also investing into your education as a writer by learning from the editor’s corrections and comments.  This way you’ll be more aware of your own writing and less likely to make similar mistakes.  You will, in fact, become a better writer by learning how to make your writing more effective.

So what do you look for in an editor?  Other than price, consider the editor’s experience and publishing credentials.  Can they walk the talk?  Like many editors, I offer a basic line-editing service, catching any and all grammar mistakes and related errors.  For years I taught advance grammar to English teachers as part of their English Literature and Language Studies program.  I also line-edited my creative writing students’ work and did the same for published writers, too.  Unlike your average English language academic, I offer an advance editing service that takes you into the mind of a published author (and creative writing instructor), adding personal insights into your writing, whereby your word choices, your turn of phrases, and your writing style does matter if you truly want to be successful.  So does your organization, your transitions, your point-of-view, and your underlying story logic, especially in fiction and creative non-fiction.  Is your story plausible, believable, or full of gaping holes and question marks?

After I edited two sample chapters, Yvonne Lee replied, “You're so super efficient!  I love the way you gave me details about why certain phrases didn't work. Very thorough work in such short time.  A perfect teacher . . . . Really appreciate the care and time you had given to my work :)”  Notice the smiley emoticon that she added.  That made me smile, too.  This is exactly why she is successful.  She not only knows how to come up with good ideas, write and market her work, she’s not afraid to ask for a fresh pair of editing eyes.  She even shows appreciation, and that’s rare these days!  (Believe me, I’ve spoken to other editors!)  

Yvonne even made these comments after I caught her making some silly mistakes and couple of glaring non-grammatical errors that we all tend to make when writing in a hurry.  She wasn’t angry or embarrassed.  Maybe a little embarrassed . . . . I know I was when my editor friend caught my mistakes!  Bear in mind, I was paying her to catch those mistakes so they don’t end up in print!  

Far too many writers, on the other hand, get defensive and lash out at you!  "How dare you insinuate that my writing needs to be improved!  It’s perfect as it is!  Don’t touch a word!”  Editors at publishing houses hear this all the time, and it’s so frustrating for them . . . . They see the errors and so will their readers, but the writer is all ego!  These types of writers you really can't help; their egos won't let you!  But whether you own up to the criticism or not, or live in a state of denial, if the mistakes are there, it’s far better that I (or another editor) catch them than thousands of your readers!  

As for, Yvonne Lee, I’m impressed that after three published books, she’s still willing to learn from others so her future books will continue to be bestsellers.  That’s rather admirable, don’t you think?
And yes, I’m still a little envious of her sales and her publicity (then again she is a former stewardess and I’m not!).  After having gotten to know her and working with her, I feel she deserves it.  She’s also going places with her writing, and I find that very exciting and am glad to be a part of it.

Being jealous or envious of other writers won’t get you very far in your writing life, unless you use that as motivation to write better.  Bottom line:  if you want to be as successful in your writing, do what successful writers do.  A good place to start is to get some serious help with your editing to give your writing a lift, so you too can become that best-selling, award-winning writer that will be the envy of everyone else.  Myself included.  Good luck!

For those wishing to contact Robert Raymer for his editing services, please go to his website at

*Here’s also a link to The Story Behind the Story which contains the editing changes I did for my stories that led to their various publications. 

**And for Yvonne's marketing, check this out.

***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.