Friday, December 30, 2011

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Matlan Marjan, a Malaysian Shakespearean Football Tragedy

*For zoom, click on article, then right click, click view image, click zoom

This is my article from the November 2011 issue of Esquire Malaysia.  You can only grow if you learn from your past mistakes.  If not, then you're doomed to repeat them until you do learn...

I found this article on Matlan a challenge to write since I don't follow football.  But Esquire asked me to write it with a literary approach.  Luckily I was living in Malaysia when Matlan scored those two goals against England and when the scandal broke out so I knew the background.  Now I had to do a lot of research, find the story, and a theme . . . The day (the year actually) Malaysian football died...

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

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

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Kuching Writing Workshop, Dec 17, 2011

Last Saturday was the “Turn your Personal Experiences into Published Articles” workshop in Kuching.  The turnout was about half of what we had in KK due to it being a last minute arrangement and too close to Christmas.  It also fell on finals day at Open University (and at least one other university); so many people who had expressed an interest couldn’t attend.  Those who did make it, including Charles from Miri, got a lot of writing done.  In fact Charles, who had attended the same workshop in KK in August, felt this one was better, maybe because he completed his first draft. 

In KK, like many writers who only write on computer, he seemed to have trouble writing longhand.  Writing longhand, however, can be liberating.  You just keep going to the end instead of reworking the beginning over and over to perfection (some never get to the end and just give up on the story.)  At the workshop, after all the pre-writing prompting that we use on your story, by the time I let them write, after they had already been thinking about narrative for about an hour, they were raring to go.

Charles did bring me another story to edit, which is the best way to improve as a writer.  Get some direct feedback, some guidance to take your writing to the next level. Consider it an investment into your writing future.  When I began, I hired someone to critique my first 20 or so stories, and the better ones ended up in that original collection Lovers and Strangers (1993 Heinemann Asia). 

Also attending the workshop was Allen, a photographer interested in travel writing, and Jasmine who has an interest in copywriting and who first came across me on a Malaysian airlines flight when she read my short story, “Merdeka Miracle” that I wrote with Lydia Teh and Tunku Halim.  Brenden, who’s studying in KL, was the youngest, who I first met at the 2009 MPH Short Story workshop in Kuching.

In the afternoon session we had Edrow who not only came with his 18-year-old daughter Joan, but had already completed a novel and had even been submitting it to UK agents!  After the workshop we talked about the whole finding-an-agent process and some alternatives.  It can take some time and plenty of rewrites.  Then there was my French friend Annie, who wrote a nonfiction manuscript about her experiences in Borneo, and writes a blog.  She has already blogged about the workshop, which she called “so refreshing; a tonic boost really.”

As I told the participants at the beginning of the workshop, you may know the beginning of your story as you begin to write today, but you may not know the full ending—where that story will take you years from now.  I used the “Mat Salleh” story from Lovers and Strangers Revisited as an example.  That story had its beginning when I visited my ex-in-laws in Malaysia for the first time while still living in the US.  I then took two correspondence courses offered by Writer’s Digest, one on the Short Story and the other, Advanced Short Story. 

Getting some helpful feedback, I kept reworking the story, glad that I had kept a journal and took a lot of photographs.  When I moved to Malaysia, “Mat Salleh” became not only my first published short story in Malaysia, but also my first published short story in the UK—in My Weekly (they even ran the story with colour photos).  When it was published in Lovers and Strangers (1993 Heinemann Asia), I thought that was the end of the story, especially after a pair of publishers bought out the publisher and dropped its Writing in Asia series. 

Twelve years later “Mat Salleh” and the revised collection, Lovers and Strangers Revisited (2005 Silverfish) was taught at USM in Penang.  The collection was republished a third time by MPH in 2008 and even went on to win the 2009 Popular Reader’s Choice award.  I thought that was the end of the story—a rather nice ending, too.  But Lovers and Strangers Revisited got translated into French as Trois Autres Malaisie.

Then I got an email last week and that old version of “Mat Salleh” in that original collection caught the eye of a film director at Ohio University in the US and they wanted to film the story.  After talking to the head of the film department, I suggested that for their purpose, the revised version of “Home for Hari Raya” might be a better choice, and they loved it.  So you never know the full ending of your story, where it’ll take you over the years and even decades, but the beginning you can start at a writing workshop.  You just need to get it started and see it through completion, draft after draft.

So, what have you written lately?  If you lack the discipline to start something new on your own, then sign up for one of my workshops.   Or any workshop that just happens to be in your area.   Good luck with your writing!

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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ohio University to Adapt “Home for Hari Raya” into Screenplay and Film!

My Leap Year just took a leap forward after meeting someone new, Frederick Lewis, a professor of film/video at Ohio University who contacted me last week regarding the possible filming of one of short stories. We discussed on the phone what they were looking for and I clarified which book he had read the story from—it was the original collection of Lovers and Strangers (1993 Heinemann Asia) that they had at their library (just as I had blogged about), and not the 2009 Popular Reader’s Choice Award winning Lovers and Strangers Revisited (2008, MPH) 

Lewis, who has received numerous grants, awards and nominations for his independent documentaries, has also received praise from film festivals for the full-length feature Trailerpark based on a short story collection by acclaimed author Russell Banks, which was made by 70 of his students for an advanced narrative production class. 

Lewis had previously brought some Ohio University students to Kuala Lumpur a few summers ago, and, coincidentally, to Sarawak, on the island of Borneo where I happen to live, though we never met.  He told me via email and also on the phone that he is trying to bring students back to Malaysia in December 2012, during their break, to shoot a short film.  He said that my stories from Lovers and Strangers have come up in their research and conversation while looking for a short story to adapt into a screenplay and film.  

After discussing what he was looking for, I suggested that “Home for Hari Raya” instead of their original choice “Mat Salleh” might be a better fit.  So I sent him the link from Istanbul Review, which had published it online in May 2011 (I blogged about that too) and the link to the story behind the story.

Four days after receiving the revised Lovers and Strangers Revisited version of my story, Lewis emailed and said, “My students love ‘Home for Hari Raya’.  They are going to begin work on adapting it into a screenplay.”   He then added, “The story contains all of the elements we agreed we wanted more than 6 months ago when we started the search.”

He said the screenplay has been assigned to OU student Margaret Babington, who will be contacting me as the screenplay progresses.  Jeremy Parolini, who is doing a degree in Media Management, will be the producer. Lewis will begin working on the Education Abroad proposal with a goal of shooting this in Malaysia next December.  This will involve working out the logistics—how much the trip will cost each student, where they will stay, and where they will shoot.  They will be working with the local film industry and liaising with Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM).

Ohio University, by the way, has strong ties to Malaysia, going back 30 years.  As many as 2,400 Ohio University alumni live and work in Malaysia—the University's greatest concentration of alumni outside the United States.  The present Tun Razak Chair in Southeast Asian Studies is Habibah Ashari, director of the International Education College (INTEC) at UiTM in Shah Alam.

The next 3-4 months will determine whether we get our proposal approved and can recruit students for the production phase,” Lewis added.  For some of the students and their parents, it’ll be a dilemma, since it may be the first time they’ll spend Christmas away from their families—half way around the world in Malaysia.  But it's too good of an opportunity to miss, not to mention that, well, Malaysia is the tropics and the tropics trump Ohio winters every time!

My fingers are also crossed.  Although this may not be Hollywood calling, I’m still looking forward to working with Frederick Lewis and this team from Ohio University.  The fact that I grew up in Ohio and attended Miami University (in the same MAC conference), gives the story—about three Malay sisters returning home for Hari Raya following the death of their father—an interesting twist for Ohio University, or as Lewis stated, “A very pleasant bonus!”

Not a bad way to end 2011 and kick off 2012!
                  —Borneo Expat Writer

* Update and Skyping with Ohio University and the filming in December 2012.  

**Update: Ohio University posted HHR on YouTube (It starts at 3:16, so scroll back to the beginning)

***Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited
 ****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 to the French translation of Lovers and Strangers Revisited Trois autres Malaisie.  Thanks!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Leap for Success this Leap Year—2012

Yes, 2012 is a Leap Year when February will finally have 29 days again.  This is particularly special for those born on that day—now they can celebrate their birth on their actual birthday.  Why not make this year special for you, too?  How?  Well, you can start by changing your routine, by doing things differently or doing different things—maybe the things you’ve been putting off for years, even decades.

You may have set New Year resolutions in the past only to have them fizzle out by mid-January.  So this year, start earlier and get a jump on everyone else.  What’s holding you back?  Is it your self-esteem?  Here’s a fun, productive way to raise your self-esteem, and not a bad way to end 2011.  Make a list of your top 25 accomplishments going all the way back to school if you want. Do it chronologically for a nice trip down memory lane.  I first did this in 2006 and then expanded my list to 50, adding in quite a few that I had overlooked in my previous list.

As you complete your own list, you’ll already be thinking about what you can do for 2012!  Here are six ways to make your Leap Year special.  In fact, these six things alone will not only have a profound effect on your 2012, but also your life!

1)      The books you read. What books have you been meaning to read but haven’t gotten around to?  What books will help you in your career?  What books will get you thinking in a new, better way. What books will help you out of a rut?  What books will help you with your finances?  What are the books that others have been strongly recommending?  Set a goal to read a half hour or an hour a day, a book a month.

2) The places you visit. The best way to get out of rut is to go someplace new, even if it's not that far away. Get in your car or hop a bus or take a short flight.  Can even be a day trip, or a weekend get away.  Three day holidays are ideal.  Check your calendar and plan ahead.  Set a goal to visit one new place a month or one new country a year.  Or take a couple of weeks (or a couple of months) for some serious traveling, though that will take more planning and more money.  But if you plan ahead and economize, there are some good deals out there.

3)     The people you meet.  Are you always hanging around the same people, having the same conversations?  Then meet some new people!  How?  Attend a workshop or a seminar, or go to a conference and meet people who may share your same interests. Or take up a new hobby, like photography or flying or scuba diving, or enroll in a course and study a new language or anything else that interests you.

4)      The thoughts you think. Pick up some personal development CD’s and listen to them in your car as you drive back and forth to work.  How many hours are wasted stuck in traffic?  Not any longer!  Pretty soon you’ve be thinking about yourself in a whole new way.  You’ll start to see opportunities that have been there all along.  Why spend the rest of your life complaining about how bad things are?  How is that helping you or your spouse and family?  Instead of focusing on what’s wrong in your life (and the world around you), start appreciating all that is right and start seeing the possibilities! 

5)      The decisions you make. Get in the habit of making decisions, even small decisions.  If you’re forever putting off decisions, well that is your decision—to put them off!  This year, see how many decisions you can make in one week.  Can you make six decisions each daythree in the morning, three in the afternoon? How about six impossible things before breakfast? Deciding on one impossible thing, after really thinking about it, may make that impossible thing, very possible.  Maybe not right away, but you’re stepping in the right direction the moment you start to make some decisions with your life.

6)      The actions you take. We all talk about what we want to do, but do we actually take those steps to do them?   Or are we resigned to the fact that our goals are merely pipe dreams?   Only one way to find out!  Decide on a new course of action for 2012, make a plan how you can accomplish it, then get started while the thought it still there.  Today, do the very first thing that needs to be done.  Often it’s a click away.  Do a little research and find what you’re looking for.  If you need to make a phone call, pick up the phone. Then follow your plan through to the end. If you fail, well at least you tried.  Now you can try it again in a new way and make better decisions!  Put your whole heart into it!

So end 2011 by making a commitment to yourself that 2012 will be like no other year.  This is the year that it will all begin for you.  Already you’re making a list of books you want to read; the ways you can meet new people; the self-development tapes you want to check out (to change the way you always think); the decisions that you've holding off on (aren’t you tired of procrastinating?); and the action steps you plan to take, so you too can leap forward for success in 2012.

In fact, why wait every four years?  Why not try this every year! Or try right now!
          —Borneo Expat Writer

*Get a jump on your New Year Resolutions

 **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 to the French translation of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, Trois autres Malaisie.  Thanks!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Copy of Trois autres Malaisie has arrived!


My copy of Trois autres Malaisie  has arrived!  The whole process, from the initial contact by Editions GOPE to explore the possibility of translating Lovers andStrangers Revisited into French to my receiving this copy took about one year. 

Although the cover is the same, it’s not—it’s better (though it's not as sharp in jpeg, above).  But holding the books side by side, you'll see (and feel) the difference.  The cover is now glossy, which makes the colors appear more alive and the woman more real; her exposed eye seems even more mysterious.  The cover type is also bolder and stands out, though my name is smaller (on the spine, too).  The thickness is about the same, even though there are three less stories; the height is shorter.  Inside, other than the obvious language difference, you'll  notice another big difference.  There are ten illustrations from different artists and a hibiscus is used as a colophon (to denote breaks such as major scene changes). 

Also, in back, Editions GOPE, has added illustrations and a synopsis of several of their books, including Trois autres Thailande and Le Monde de Suzie Wong, the French translation of Richard Mason’s The World of Suzie Wong.  This is good; it means that in future books and in new editions of past books, Trois autres Malaisie will be added, too. There is also Trois autres Malaisie translator, Jerome Bouchaud’s Malaisie: Modernite et traditions en Asia du Sud-Est.

The stories are regrouped into three sections: The Malays, The Chinese, The Indian.  Since the majority of the characters in “Neighbors” are Chinese it’s placed at the beginning of the Chinese section.  Here is the table of contents (I added in the original titles—some I could guess at, most I could not)  

Mat Salleh (Mat Salleh)
Les pierres saintes (Smooth Stones)
Le regard (The Stare)
Les vendredis (On Fridays)
Hari raya (Home for Hari Raya)
Symetrie (Symmetry)
Naufrage ( Only in Malaysia)

Les voisins (Neighbors)
A l’hotel de la gare (The Station Hotel)
Le guetteur (The Watcher)
Les amants anonymes (Lovers and Strangers)

Le futur avocat (The Future Barrister)
La chambre de grande soeur (Sister’s Room)
Teh-o a Kuala Lumpur (Teh-o in K.L.)

*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.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Creative Writing Workshop—Torture or Fun?

Creative Writing Workshop—three words that can send shivers down people’s spine!  Is it the word “creative” that scares you?  Often I’m told, “I’m not very creative,” and they cringe at the thought, as if being creative is an affliction akin to some tropical disease.  Or is it the thought of “writing” that's haunting you?  I know back in school the thought of writing was often equated with torture doled out by masochistic teachers bent on ruining our lives or at least killing a few of our precious weekends.  Then there’s the “work” part in workshop that doesn’t sound terribly exciting.  Who wants to pay good money to “work?”  There’s also the money issue.  In reality, though, who are you paying?

Yourself actually.

That’s right.  You’re paying yourself to show up for the workshop and invest your time to do something that you’ve been meaning to get around to for far too many years.  Ever since you’ve had that nagging idea that you want to write something, or that you have a story to tell.  It’s not necessarily that you want to be a writer, but just maybe you want to write about what happened to you a long time ago, something that changed you, made you a better person or a little wiser or a little more cautious or very grateful.  You've been thinking, if only I had the time.  The workshop will give you that time!

When people ask me, “Are you really going to make us work?”

I reply, “No, I’m going to make you play!”

Writing is playing with words, playing with ideas, playing with memories.  No one is asking you to write a masterpiece, let alone a book.  Just play with your ideas, play with the memories of the events in your life, the significant events that make you special.  That make you think.

“You mean I have to think, too?”

Relax, we have pre-writing techniques that will help you think, help you to remember, like clustering or mind mapping, or free writing.  Pretty soon you’ll have ideas gushing out of you, long forgotten memories from your childhood or when you were an awkward teenager.  Soon you’ll be recalling events in your life that you either learned from, that helped get you through a difficult time in your life, or maybe even some hilarious mishap that wasn’t all that funny at the time, but now looking back, it cracks you up just thinking about it.  At the very least, you survived it, or maybe even had the last laugh!

Or maybe you shared a special moment, something spiritual or even miraculous that you want to share with your friends, family, even the world.  The Chicken Soup for the Soul series is filled with such stories that move us in so many ways.  Many of those stories were first published elsewhere, like in your local paper, under the first-person or a nostalgic section where you get to write about what happened in those days long gone by…

Have you ever done anything interesting?  That’s what got me writing my first narratives that make up Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an expat’s life in Malaysia.   I was lucky enough to take part in some movies while living in Penang (Hollywood came to me!), so I wrote about my involvement.  Basically I narrated what I did.  Unlike writing the short stories in Lovers and Strangers Revisited, there were no inventing characters, creating scenes, or any plot developments.  This was relatively easy, straight forward.   

Then I started to look around my life to see what else I could write about.  Around that time, we had a baby, so I wrote about the silly things that our baby cum toddler did, and the silly things I did too as a new father.

I then wrote about my experiences being a teacher, being a writer, being an expat, being myself, and at times, being out of luck—my misadventures!   Misadventures, I soon learned pays really well.  When things go wrong and you can laugh at yourself over it, and if others can laugh and learn from it too—now that’s marketable.  I even published an article for Quill “Making Money from Your Mis-adventures” 

Just recently, to pick myself out of some doldrums, I did something rather fun, I compiled a list of my top 50 achievements.  Back in 2006, I compiled a list of 25 and expanded it to 50.  It really got me thinking about my life.  Try it!

Of course, another fear we all risk at writing workshops is being “exposed”, found out that our grammar is horrible!  Welcome to the club!  Everyone present feels the same way.  You are not alone.  Far from it.  When I decided to become a writer, I naïvely thought that being a native speaker, with a university degree and a fairly decent grade point average and even getting some of my early work published, that grammar came second nature to me—like breathing; that I didn’t have to even think about it.  So I didn’t. 

Then a well-meaning friend asked me if I’ve ever heard of the term “dangling modifier”?  

Vaguely, I did, though I had no idea what it was.  Curious, I looked it up.  Oh my god, I’ve been breaking that rule all my life!  I flipped through the grammar section of one of my English text books and found all kinds of interesting terms and rules that I shamelessly broke, not knowing they were rules!  Infinitives, anyone?  Surely my teachers weren’t that bad, or maybe, I got a little careless over the years like bad posture.  

Admitting my utter ignorance, I sucked it up and relearned some basic grammar.  You don’t have to know all the rules.  Grammarians don’t even agree on many of them.  Can you split an infinitive or not?  We can split an atom, but an infinite?  Well I do, when it serves my purpose.  Let the grammarians decide if I’m right or wrong.  All I want to do is tell my story.

For my Creative Writing Workshops, we don't focus on grammar.  That comes with revising, later. All I want to do is help you to write your own story, to help you get it out of your system onto paper, where you can play with it (I was going to say “work with it” but who wants to work?) and make it even better.  The more times you go over it, rewrite it, read it our loud, and keep smoothing out the wrinkles, the closer you'll be to getting it published—if you want to.  Not all workshop participants want to publish their work.  They get their pleasure out of merely writing it.

By the way, this is how all writing begins; a writer gets an idea, plays with it, writes it down, and voila!  They’ve written something.  It may not be a masterpiece (that may come later, after they revise it over and over, or get some editing help) but it’s a start, and getting started on your idea, your very own idea based on your very own personal experiences, is why you should attend a creative writing workshop.  Besides, you might even have some fun (and meet some kindred spirits who never realized writing was so much fun either).  You might even at admit, at least to yourself, that you actually like writing, and that you got something to show for the time (and money) spend at the workshop.  If not a complete first draft, something well underway that you can finish off when you get home. And if you sell it, you could recoup your investment!  Who knows, you might even turn your idea into a book!  

And all those years, you thought writing was torture.  Shame on you!

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