Monday, May 16, 2011

Margaret Lim, Author of the Acclaimed Rainforest Children Series, Payah, Passes Away

Margaret Lim second from right, sits beside Sharnaz Saberi, while her son, Einhard, stands at right.
One year and one week after I met Margaret Lim on the set of Kuppa Kopi along with her son Einhard, she has passed away.  I took a liking to both of them right away as we chatted outside the RTM building and later while having ourselves made-up for the shooting, which aired on 31 May 2011.  Margaret, who is from Sarawak but lives in Germany, even passed me four of her books from her acclaimed rainforest children series, Payah, for my two children, who not only loved the stories but also the vivid, delightful illustrations done by her daughter, Su Jen Buchheim.

During the filming, after my segment with Georgette Tan of The Borneo Post and the lovely Sharnaz Saberi was completed, I watched behind the cameras as Margaret Lim spoke about her work, with Roselind Wee of Unimas and her fifteen-year-old daughter, author Victoria.

Afterwards, I was invited to join Margaret and Einhard and two of their friends for tea and lunch in Kuching.  Margaret and I stayed in contact through email and our blogs—we both blogged about the Kuppa Kopi shooting. Here’s her blog along with some of her close-up photos. 

Margaret even recommended that I submit my work to Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and they not only published “On Fridays” from Lovers and Strangers Revisited in their September 2010 issue, but also Margaret’s entertaining “Portrait of a Children’s Book Author as a Young Reader.” 

Then in Cha’s February 2011 issue, there was a review of my book Tropical Affairs and a short story by Margaret, “Dorothy’s Song” 

I even mentioned Margaret in my most recent article “Getting Known Through the Media” in the April-June 2011 issue of Quill.  (I was hoping they were going to use the above group shot, but they didn't.) I have yet to see the actual issue, but already I’m saddened by the fact, that just over a year after our meeting, Margaret Lim has passed away.  Her work, however, particularly her children’s books, will live on in my memory and the memory of my children. 

Even though they never met her in person they did see her on Kuppa Kopi. My son Jason pointed to the TV screen at Margaret’s children’s books about Payah, and said, “Daddy that’s my book!” He called his younger brother Justin over and they both stood in front of the TV, excitedly pointing at their four newest books.

“Is that the woman who gave me the books?” Jason asked me.

“Yes, and she wrote the books, too!”

He studied her with awe. I’m sure he’s going to remember Margaret and that moment and her books forever. Other than me, Margaret Lim was the first author they had seen on TV--the first author whose books they actually have.

If you haven’t had the pleasure to read Margaret's books, please do check them out in bookstores for your children, relatives and friends.  They're also available on Amazon.
                    —Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

***Here's 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, May 9, 2011

The Novel Project: Making a Decision

I’ve made three crucial decisions to write.  One was leaving Kinko’s to move to Malaysia to write full time (or until my money ran out).  Another was deciding to go to Maui Writers Conference at a time when I was in between teaching positions and my wife was pregnant (had been planning this for over a year).  And a third was to leave teaching at Unimas last year, without a net, to write full time.

To be successful they say, all you have to do is make a decision and then to back that up with consistent action that will take you in the direction of your goal.  Publishing novels was one of my goals, one of the reasons I decided to move to this tropical island.  But you can’t write in a vacuum; you need to get out in the world to see what the real world is really like, and I thought by going to Maui (I know, hardly the real world) I would get a huge dose of some writing reality--the good news (it’s possible) and the bad (there’s a lot of talented competition).  It was at Maui where I met Graham Brown, who at the time, was just like the rest of us, had a dream to write and publish his books.  Unlike many of us, he kept attending other writing conferences where he eventually met an agent who believed in his talent and then last year his first two novels were published, Black Rain and Black Sun.

Prior to going to Maui, I worked with a pair of novelists in Penang, one of whom this year found an agent and her book went to auction.  (Until the book comes out, for privacy reasons, she wants to maintain a low profile.) So I blogged about another writer, that a friend of mine had met, Amanda Hockings, who the week before had broken out in a huge way.  As I wrote about before, when you meet writers who break out, it expands your own belief system.  Instead of buying into all of the naysayers (even the ones residing inside your head) that the publishing industry is impossible, especially now that it’s in such a state of flux (upheaval by some accounts), so it’s best to avoid altogether until things settle down.  Obviously that’s not true for the people I just mentioned and a whole lot of others.

Then a year ago, I made the decision to walk away from renewing my contract to teach creative writing (and general English) because I felt, in more ways than one, that even though it was paying the bills, it was holding me back from ever achieving my dream to publish my novels.  Or maybe I was just using that teaching position (and marking all those papers) as a handy excuse.  Either way, I knew it was time to leave if I’m ever going to achieve my original dream.  I decided to just go for it.

Two weeks ago, I got a flash of insight to change the title of a third novel (the third novel title I changed this year—one for each of my three novels), and everything seemed to click.  The title change, as with the other two books, made me think of the novel in a whole new light and gave it a new focus.  Suddenly for this 23rd draft, I thought, this could work, and the title also doubles as a cool metaphor.  (**The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady.  The previous title was The Lonely Affair of Jonathan Brady.)  

I hadn’t worked on this novel in over a year, and I had been holding back from it in favor of the other two novels, each requiring massive rewriting for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. But when the new title idea struck, I knew it was time to act on it that very day.

So once I made the decision to rewrite this third novel for the Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Contest, where it was an almost-finalist for their 2008 contest, I wasn’t sure if I had enough time, other than line-editing it and making those corrections.  Then I got the news that the deadline, which had already been pushed back from 1 April to 1 May, just got pushed back to 15 May! (Is this an example how providence moves for you once you make a decison?)  Thus now I got plenty of time to complete it, so long as I remain focused and cut out all distractions, like the Internet TimeThief.

It all began with a decision.  In this case, it’s a culmination of decisions that I’ve been making draft after draft going back far too many years, but I like to think, that each decision I made with this novel has been a natural progression that will ultimately lead to the goal I set back in the US when I made that first decision to leave a safe, secure position for the life of an expatriate writer, now living in Borneo.
                      --Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

* By the way, shutting down that Internet when you don't need it has been a life saver this past week.  I was able to crank!  Here's an updated link to the revamped first five pages.

**update The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady is short listed for 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Contest


***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.
 

Internet Time Thief Often Requires Drastic Measures (and a Simple Solution)

Ok, I admit, sometimes when writing I lack self discipline.  It’s been an ongoing problem lately.  And the culprit (other than me) is the Internet Time Thief!  The Internet is so readily available, a mere click away, and it’s so darn tempting, but it's stealing my time!  But today, following a suggestion that I learned from a staff at MPH following my booktalk on Saturday,I decided enough is enough!  

The problem is, in the middle of writing, I keep finding myself thinking, let me just check to see if I have any emails, or any blog comments?  Or check on my blog stats to see what posts are doing well today?  I’ve been doing this about a dozen times a day (maybe more, especially when bored, restless).  Do I have too much time on my hands?  I’m thinking this will only take a minute, which it does, until I respond to an email that could easily have waitedfor a more opportune time, or get snared by one of those yahoo news stories that suddenly grabs my attention, especially those cute baby or animal YouTube postings. 

Not only does this kill my writing momentum, it gobbles up a lot of time.  Then I got to figure out, now where did I leave off and re-motivate me to get back into the story.  Then half an hour later, I do it again!  What is my problem?  The Internet!   Temptation!  The problem is my own lack of self-discipline!

Lately, I’ve been grumbling about this, even wishing for the old pre-Internet days when I could just work on the computer free of all those temptations trying their hardest to seduce me from my writing!

Then the lady from MPH said, “Sometimes, I switch the Internet off while I'm writing.”

“You can do that?” I heard myself thinking.  Of course, such a simple in-your-face solution!  I felt embarrassed not thinking of that myself.  I keep the Internet on in case I need to research something or verify some fact.  Which, of course, I really don’t need to.  I could do it the old-fashioned way, grab a nearby dictionary or a mini-encyclopedia, get what I want and get back to work.  When I do research on the Internet, true it’s so much faster to find something, but I find myself getting so absorbed in all that information it often becomes yet another distraction from writing!  In other words, counterproductive.  For in-dept research I could save it for non-peak writing time, like in the evening.

So this morning, after catching myself interrupting my work for the umpteenth time, I thought, disconnect it!  Just take away the temptation.  So I did.  I unplugged my Internet connection, and moved it out of reach, so the only way I could reach it is by getting out of my chair.  I didn’t want to make it too easy on myself.

So far it’s working beautifully.  Of course I had to hook it back up in order to post this blog, but then right afterwards, I unplugged it again and got back to revising my novel.  That’s important, since I’m on a deadline and I do need to get it out by the 15th
Sometimes, when you lack discipline (it’s always best to admit these things so you know where the blame truly lies), you just have to take some drastic matters into your own hands.  Wow, such a simple solution to what has become an on-going headache, not to mention a massive waste of time!

***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, May 5, 2011

Booktalk on 7 May, at MPH The Spring, Kuching

                                                                  
Please excuse the really short notice, but I have a Booktalk on Saturday, 7 May, 3-4 at MPH The Spring in Kuching.  In addition to autographing all three of my books Spirit of Malaysia, Tropical Affairs, and Lovers and Strangers Revisited, I will be giving a short talk.  The title and subject: The World is Yours—Bring the world to you as a travel writer, or tell the world your own story through creative non-fiction, or create your world through fiction!

Booktalks in bookstores, I have to admit, can be a funny animal, because as a speaker, you never know what to expect.  In recent years I’ve given about a dozen such booktalks inside bookstores, which are often the hardest place to speak because you’re never quite sure who your audience is.  Rarely do you have a proper sit down audience (thankfully MPH The Spring finds a way to create one by shifting some of their aisles around).  My last one in Singapore, I hardly had anyone directly in front of me because the space was too narrow with a display of my books in the middle.  Instead, people were spread out on both sides, so I was forced to swivel back and forth to make eye contact.

At other stores, I’d have people roaming all around me looking for, what else, books!  They’ll also be juggling books and/or tugging at spouses or children to get their attention.  One friend even dropped by with a baby stroller and she wasn’t even married; just happened to be babysitting her niece or nephew that day. 

At Silverfish Books in KL, they have a separate room for talks, which makes it ideal, and with months of advance publicity through their monthly online newsletter.  They know how to make it into an event that people plan in advance to attend.  At MPH, they have a talent for making signs and displays.  One I even had framed and another I brought back from Singapore for my office.  It states: Calling All Fans of Robert Raymer! My wife, bless her heart, laughed.

For publicity, I usually announce booktalks months in advance on my website, but lately I’ve been rather slow updating it.  Some people may hear about it from a flyer or an in-store promotion.  Some hear about it from a Facebook announcement, an email reminder, or an SMS.  Most just happen to be in the store at around that time, or were passing by the store and noticed me standing near the entrance speaking into a microphone.  When I was in Singapore last year, midway through my talk, we actually had a little crowd going just outside the store. 

In some stores people sit or stand right in front, while others stand pretty far back, though in my direct line of vision.  Some listen attentively from an aisle or two away, while others lend an ear from wherever they happen to be, while perusing a book, often out of eyesight or even somewhere behind me.  Others pop in and out of the store, pausing for a few minutes to listen, and then hurry off to their next appointment.  One Australian gentleman was so eager to hear me speak in Singapore he came a day early and wondered where everyone was.  Thankfully, he came back the following day.

It’s relatively easy to talk to an audience who are sitting or standing in front of you, but not so easy in stores when people are roaming all around looking for books. Sometimes when you start out, you really don’t have an audience per se, though potentially you do if you can catch their attention.  Those are the times I wonder, if I just start talking will people think I’m some madman rambling in a bookstore, or will they start to gather round and form an audience?  Or will they shush me because they're trying to read! If you’re holding a microphone, that’s always an attention getter, but there have been times, I admit, I’ve been tempted to announce, “Your attention please, does anyone want to buy a book?  It comes with a free autograph!”

One time in Penang, when I had over-scheduled myself with a couple of workshops, two separate talks and a booktalk all in the space of two days, I was actually relieved when I had no audience at all.  For the first time I could just relax and mingle and casually talk to a few stray people who just happened by about my books.  Even managed to sell a few.  Then my son showed up an hour late—teenagers—and asked, “How did it go?”

By the way, if you’re free on Saturday and you happen to be in Kuching and at The Spring at around 3, do drop by.  If not, I'll try to catch you later in some other bookstore, or feel free to check out one of my books or any other book that may interest you... 
         Borneo Expat Writer 

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing: Make it Your Business to Make a Good First Impression

If you’re serious about writing, then treat it as a business.  Treat what you write as marketable assets that have value.  Right now, in your own eyes they may seem like unsalable stories, just words on paper (or inside your computer), but later, they can become properties that you own the rights to.  You never know.  The short stories that I wrote over twenty years ago and published as Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann Asia 1993) and Lovers and Strangers Revisited (MPH 2005) have been published 80 times in 12 countries, and now the collection is being translated into French.  Who knows what the future holds for these stories.  Already I’m getting some interest in having them translated into Bahasa Melayu.

Novels have grown out of short stories, so have movies, such as Brokeback Mountain.  So have plays and even musicals.  Cats, a musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is based on collection of whimsical poems from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot.  From poems to one of the longest running musicals in history!

With every business, there will be ups and downs.  Accept it.  It’s what you do on a daily basis, your constantly moving forward despite any setbacks, that will ultimately determine the success of your business.  Setbacks are just that, a time to rethink your goals and maybe your strategies (writing, marketing and publicity), as I did after I blogged two Steps Forward, One Step Back after one of my novels failed to advance to the third round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.  Sure it hurt.  But right away I began looking at my other two novels and I ended up changing both of their titles too and began overhauling them.  I even began submitting to agents again.  Quickly got a hit, followed by another.

Of course I got pretty excited on that second hit but two days later quickly deflated when that very same agent gave it pass.  It happens, just accept it as part of doing business.  Not every customer will buy from you.  She wrote that she received 5000 novel queries a year.  Even after I sent off the first two chapters of the novel two days ago, I vowed that if this agent turns it down (again, a strictly a business decision), I would hit her again with a third novel this morning.  (I’m taking a break from revising the synopsis, which I also thoroughly overhauled two days ago.)  The synopsis, by the way, was already pretty good, but in this competitive market, it has to be great.  It must stand out above the competition, those other 5000 queries and pitches that most agents receive every year.  Many get twice that many.  So in order to sell my writing assets, my pitch and my accompanying synopsis have to be great, so the agent will request not just samples chapters but the entire novel.  So I began tweaking it, then rewriting it, and finally overhauling the whole thing!

As I wrote in my previous blog, writing is a team effort, a relay event. Just make sure when the opportunity comes, when an agent makes that request, you make a successful handoff, and the only way to do that is by being prepared in advance with your pitches, your synopsis, your sample chapters, and your entire novel.  You only get a few chances to make a great impact (of course you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make a lousy impact or a really bad first impression, if you’re not careful!)

This is a business and you’re making a business proposal to an agent, and if you’re successful, the agent will then make a business proposal on your behalf to sell one of your writing assets.  If the agent (or publisher) says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” don’t let it ruin your day.  It’s business; nothing personal.  Just keep at it, and maybe the next one will really make your day, as happened recently to one of my friends

*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.