Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Five Finalists for Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Congrats to the five category winners in this year Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The exposure they are getting is great, and soon there will be one overall winner from the 10,000 who entered back in January.  I wish all five of them the best of luck! 

For those who are considering entering for 2014, here is the link to six lessons that I learned from the process that might be helpful.  Last year one of my novels was a quarter-finalist and two made the finals of the Faulkner-Wisdom Novel contest.  All the best.

Also, I would strongly recommend reading your novels out loud when you edit, and do it more than once.  You'll be surprised by what you catch and the changes you make.
                 —Borneo Expat Writer 

** Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is back for 2014!

***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 20, 2013

Home for Hari Raya-first look at film by Ohio University

Finally got to see a screening of Home for Hari Raya, based on my short story from Lovers and Strangers Revisted, when a private viewing was sent to be via vimeo.  (*Update: HHR was posted on YouTube in October 2013.) Frederick Lewis, associate professor, School of Media Arts & Studies, reported that when Home for Hari Raya was premiered on 27 April at Ohio University, it was well received.  For most of those in attendance, it was their first real glimpse of Malaysia, or even Southeast Asia other than the news.
As the author of the story, I didn’t quite know what to expect from the film.  I was cautiously optimistic, but then I quickly became mesmerized from the opening motorcycle ride through a serpentine road leading to Rina who is waiting for her brother at a bus stop.  Visually, I found the film stunning, a lot was going on; they really caught rural Malaysia, the details.  For me, it brought back all these memories that I have of visiting kampungs in Perak and Kedah, from the kampung house, to the villagers, to their traditional clothes, and even Rina sweeping away a dead gecko from inside the house.  The film was rich with sounds too, from the opening call to prayer, to various birds chirping, to wooden wind chimes.

The story had several brief flashbacks of Rina, as a child crying, not in the original story, though it seemed to work as she kept reflecting back to her childhood, to her father who had taken a second wife.  I admit that when her sister Sharifah slapped Rina, I felt it too.  Having worked extensively on the script through numerous drafts with the director/screenwriter, William Holzer, I knew that slap was coming; still it caught me by surprise.  It worked.  I was impressed with the caliber of the acting, particularly the three sisters; the close-ups, the nuances of their facial expressions, their comraderie; and even their closeness when they weren’t getting along.  It was palpable.  This felt like a professional effort, and it was under the guidance of Frederick Lewis, who brings his vast experience to the student-led project.
Home For Hari Raya, as I blogged about before, and as noted in the article from Ohio Education, is the first international production effort by students from the School of Media Arts & Studies, the result of a cross-cultural collaboration. Fourteen students travelled to Malaysia with Frederick Lewis from December 15 through January 9, immersing themselves in the culture of the region.

According to the article, many of them prepared for their experience in Malaysia by taking a Malaysian culture seminar with Tun Abdul Razak Chair Habibah Ashari of Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), whom I had once had the privilege of skyping with in a session with her students. The students raised more than $3,000 and contributed their own travel expenses to fund the film.

While in Malaysia, the students joined forces with 12 students from UiTM’s School of Film, Theater and Animation on location. The dozen UiTM students assisted with lighting, casting and art direction and rented a kampung (village) house, which served as the film’s primary set location.

Home for Hari Raya, 24 minutes in length, ideal for a half-hour time slot on TV, was premiered with three other short films, Asleep in the Deep, Monhegan Light and Julie in the FunHouse all adapted from short stories set in the US.

Frederick Lewis stated that Amir Muhammad is going to screen Home for Hari Raya at his Malaysian Shorts screening in June.  I approached a film festival in Sabah, also in June, but it looks like the slots are already filled for 2013, a shame we didn’t contact them sooner.  The film will be sent to other film festivals in the US, and possibly around the world.  Hopefully, RTM Malaysia will pick up on it in time for upcoming Hari Raya, 8-9 August, or even for next year.

Joe Battaglia, a director of one of the other films premiered at Ohio University, and also involved with Home for Hari Raya is quoted as saying, “Time, money and effort may make something good, but people, passion and persistence makes things great.” 

I couldn’t agree more, and I feel proud to be associated with this film and honored that my short story “Home for Hari Raya” was adapted by Ohio University into a movie, a first for me.

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

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Faulkner-Wisdom: Reading Your Novel Out Loud for Better Results

After last year when two of my novels made the finals for William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition and a third was a short-list finalist, I decided to outdo myself and really push these novels to see if this year I can finally breakthrough, not just with a win, but gaining the interest of both an agent and a publisher, preferably in a two-book deal.  This is my stated intention, my goal for 2013. 

In other words, I’m going for it.  I plotted this the moment I returned from the US last August following my father’s funeral.  Having failed to publish a novel before he passed away and tired of making excuses or glancing away whenever someone asks about my writing or my “job”, I decided enough is enough.

What I love about novel contests are their deadlines.  It gives me something to shoot for.  This time around, I didn’t just want a quick run through each novel as I’ve often done in the past for one novel or another, sometimes three novels back to back . . . . No, this time I gave myself plenty of time, nearly eight months.  I started with A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit, a thoroughly revamped novel in 2012, though I went too far in changing it to third person, which I did for last year’s contest.  Although it made the finals, it wasn’t working as effectively as I knew it could.  I wanted to change it back to first person, but using past tense instead (previously it was in the present tense as I mentioned in an earlier blog, inspired by rereading The Great Gatsby).  I had actually started to revise the novel before the 2012 results, before my father passed away.

Often I read my novels out loud inside my own head, but I now and then I’d catch myself on automatic, glossing over sections.  This time around I vowed to read the novel out loud, really out loud, wanting to hear the cadence of each word, all 88,000 of them.  Not one time, but read each chapter aloud three times, editing as I go along.  It was a painfully slow process and required drinking a ton of water (and a lot of toilet breaks), but I was determined to make this novel the best that I could make it.  I found myself making lots of changes and catching stuff that didn’t get caught in previous edits.  Then I read the novel aloud once more in January, in February, and again in April (that’s six times!) before sending it to Faulkner-Wisdom.

Next up was An Unexpected Gift from a Growling Fool, which was a short-list finalist for Faulkner-Wisdom in 2009 under a different title.  Outraged by the first graders being shot in the Newtown school shooting just before Christmas, I was determined that this novel, which also involves a shooting by a child, needed to be in the on-going and future dialogues about guns and children, so I wanted to revamp it.  I changed the title, changed the name of the town, introduced a new opening including an anecdote as to how the town got its name, Growling.  Again, deter­mined to raise the writing to a higher level, I read out loud each chapter three times, all 103,000 words.  I then read it out loud again twice more in February (separated by two weeks), and again in April.

In March, I was happy that the April 1st deadline for the Faulkner-Wisdom contest got pushed back to May 1st (and again to May 15th), so I could wrap up the rewrite of first 50 pages of The Girl in the Bathtub for their the novel-in-progress category, a 2012 finalist; The Act of Theft, my 12,300 word novella entry; and move onto my third full novel The Lonely Affair (previously titled The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady), short-list finalist 2012 & 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom and a quarter-finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  Now I had the time to do the same treatment of reading each chapter out loud three times (98,550 words), then again in April and twice more in May, and sending it off with my blessing last night.
So right now I’m feeling pretty tired, but pretty good, too, knowing that I gave the three novels—all five entries—their best shot.  I’m also pretty excited about picking up where I left off with The Girl in the Bathtub, (around the 200-page mark) with one hundred and fifty pages of notes to guide the way.  If I can complete this by using the same discipline that I’ve been using since I got back from my father’s funeral (and reading it out loud, too), then 2013 will be a pivotal year for me and bear fruits for years to come.  And if I can sell one of those novels this year, even better! 

As they say talent and persistence always win out (talent, without persistence, gets you nowhere) and reading your work out loud is the perfect way to take your writing to a higher level (as long as you do the hard work and make those corrections!) even for those expat writers based in the far-flung corners of the world, like me here in Borneo.

*Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award-Six lessons 

**Two novels and one novella are short list finalist for 2013 Faulkner-Wisdom, so five books into two years, including the Girl in the Bathtub, my Gift from the Past.  In finals for novella 2014.

**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.