Monday, January 27, 2014

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is Back for 2014!

Amazon Breakthrough Novel AwardIt’s time again for Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  At stake is the $50,000 Grand Prize, plus four $15,000 First Prizes and Amazon Publishing Contracts.

Feb 15-March 2: Round 1 (Pitch) – Amazon-selected editors will read and rate a pitch (up to 300 words) from each entrant. The top 400 entries in each of the five categories will advance to the second round. (Note that the entry period will end as soon as they receive the maximum number of entries—10,000 for General Fiction, Romance, Mystery & Thriller, Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and Young Adult Fiction combined.)

March 18: Round 2 (Excerpt) – Amazon expert reviewers will read and rate excerpts (3,000 to 5,000 words) and provide feedback to the entrants. The top 100 entries in each of the five categories will advance to the Quarter-Finals.

April 14:  Quarter-Finals (Full Manuscript) – Reviewers from Publishers Weekly will read and rate full manuscripts and provide feedback to the entrants. The top five entries in each of the five categories will advance to the Semi-Finals.

June 13:  Semi-Finals – The Amazon Publishing judging panel, consisting of qualified representatives selected by Amazon Publishing, will review the manuscript and the accompanying reviews of each Semi-Finalist’s entry to select a Finalist in each category (each, a “Finalist”) using the judging criteria.

July 8:  Finals – Amazon customers will vote to determine the Grand Prize winner. All remaining Finalists will receive a First Prize.

July 21:  Grand Prize winner is announced.

TIPS for preparing your entry

  • Select the genre that best fits your book.
  • Stay within the word count limits: pitch (up to 300 words); excerpt (3,000 to 5,000 words); manuscript (50,000 to 125,000 words).
  • Remove all identifying information from your pitch, excerpt and manuscript, including your name and/or pen name, contact information, author bio/resume, and any awards received for your book.
  • Submit all your material in English.

Here are six lessons that I learned as a Quarter-Finalist in 2012 for one of my novels, The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady, which will also useful when submitting your work to agents and publishers. 

Good Luck!

                 —Borneo Expat Writer  

*Update:  A Perfect Day for an Expat's Exit advances to Round Two for mystery/thriller. Here's the 300-word pitch that got it through.

**Here's a 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, January 16, 2014

Lovers and Strangers Revisited and Tropical Affairs Subject of a Dissertation!

Melyza Pakianatham came across my collection of short stories, now in it's 21st year, during her teacher's training stint in Penang (Institut Perguruan Persekutuan Pulau Pinang) where I gave a seminar on creative writing back in 2006.  Four years later, she contacted me in March of 2010 to inform me that she had chosen my books Lovers and Strangers Revisited (MPH 2008) and Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an Expat’s Life in Malaysia (MPH 2009) as the subject of her dissertation on the use of Malaysian English for her Masters in English as a Second Language at the University Malaya, titled, “The Use of Malaysian English in Robert Raymer’s Short Stories.”

Melyza made plans to travel to Kuching to interview me in May 2010, but due to her father’s illness she had to put her graduate studies on hold for two years.  Fortunately her university allowed her to continue her research.  When she contacted me again in July 2012, I was in the USA after my father had passed away.

I was trying to answer her questions as to why I would use Malaysian English in various contexts without being able to refer to my books, then I remembered that my brother in Colorado had a copy so when I reached there I was able to complete the remainder of her questions without further delay.

Many of the words that Melyza had highlighted were articles of clothing like baju kurung in “Home for Hari Raya” (adapted into a film by Ohio University), or related to food, such as kenduri (celebratory feast) in “Mat Salleh”.  From the context, readers would have a good idea what the word meant.  Others were common slang words like Mat Salleh (for white man) from the same story or place name like kampong (village) or madrasah (the village religious center) in “The Stare”.   I told Melyza that I preferred to use Malay words that were common in certain Malaysian contexts such as parang (machete) and bomoh in “Smooth Stones” since ‘witch doctor’ had other connotations that could confuse non-Malaysian readers or give them the wrong impression.

Granted another extension for her thesis due to the difficulty of having to take care of her father and her grandmother, who had been hospitalized numerous times in the recent months, Melyza persevered.

Now her work is finished and bound for shelves, including my own.  So congrats to Melyza.  It was an honor to have my books chosen as the subject of your dissertation. 

Nice, title, too!   
           —Borneo Expat Writer
  *Here's a link to my website, to MPH online for my three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

“Neighbours” (6th Cycle texts) Extended Again (SMP 2008-2015)

My short story “Neighbours” from Lovers and Strangers Revisited  as part of the 6th cycle texts for SMP Literature has been extended again through SPM 2015.  The 7th cycle texts (so far unknown, I think) will begin for SPM 2016. 
Again the stories from that original collection, after 20 years, is still going strong, heading into its 21st year (and even 22nd year).

Let’s hope another of my short stories from the collection will be selected for the 7th cycle, perhaps “Home for Hari Raya” recently taught and filmed by Ohio University, or “Merkeda Miracle”written with Lydia Teh and Tunku Halim for Going Places (August 2009), the in-flight magazine Malaysia Airlines.

*Link to my website, to MPH online for my three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie. 


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lovers and Strangers Revisited - 20 Years

Near the end of 2013 a friend from Penang sent me a Christmas card and mentioned that she was teaching my short story “Mat Salleh” from my collection Lovers and Strangers Revisited for her reading class at UiTM.  I then realized that 2013 was the 20th anniversary of the original publication of Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann Asia, 1993).  Although I’m posting this a little late, I have a strong feeling I haven’t heard the end of these stories for years to come.
 “Mat Salleh” was the first short story from the collection published in The New Straits Times.  I sold it again a few months later to My Weekly in the UK, and then "The Future Barrister" won third prize in the 1988 Star contest and "Sister's Room" third place in a contest in the US.  I knew I was onto something.  The 17 short stories set mostly in Malaysia have so far been published 82 times in twelve countries, the collection won the 2009 Popular-The Star Reader’s Choice Award and has been translated into French.  (Previously, three stories had been translated into Japanese.) 

In 2005, a colleague at Universiti Sains Malaysia where I taught creative writing informed me that he was not only teaching my story “On Fridays” in his post colonial course on Singaporean and Malaysian Literature but also planning to teach the collection in the following semester.  Since the book had gone out of print, I contacted Silverfish Books (I was the editor for their Silverfish New Writing 4) and they agreed to re-publish the book.

Having revised the stories numerous times since its initial publishing, I wanted something more; so I revisited (and overhauled) each story—adding new openings, new endings, new back stories, even doubling several stories in length, which I wrote about in the introduction and then added the word ‘revisited’ to the title.

The first book launch in 1993 was organized by Penang Players (I used to be the stage manager for several of their productions and critiqued many of their plays prior to their performance.)  Penang Players not only sponsored the book launch they also read extracts from four stories and did a delightful play reading of One Drink Too Many, a comedy that I wrote based on the short story “Neighbors”, thus turning a simple book launch into a literary event attended by over 100 people.

In 2007, after moving to Sarawak, the Malaysian part of Borneo, I encountered some distribution problems, so I agreed to buy out the last of the stock from Silverfish and switched publishers to MPH (2008), followed by another round of editing and adding two stories.  I also created the blog series, The Story Behind the Story, for each of the 17 stories, separating fact from fiction and noting the significant changes that led to their various publications.

“Neighbours” (about neighbors gossiping over a neighbor’s suicide) was then selected by the Malaysian Education Ministry to be part of the sixth cycle of reading texts for SPM literature for Form 5 students for 2008-2010.  Three times it has been renewed and will be be taught in selected schools through 2015. The Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (MELTA) also had an online thread for “Neighbours” with over 20,500 hits and 30 pages of comments (around 290) before they archived it then took it down.  Denis Harry even wrote an article for the New Straits Times about the story’s main character, a busybody, titled, “Are You Mrs. Koh?”

Over the years many students have contacted me about that story via my website or facebook. When I mentioned to one student whose class was adapting “Neighbours” into a play that I would be attending the Popular Bookfest in Kuala Lumpur the following week for Tropical Affairs, nominated for the 2010 Reader’s Choice Award, her teacher, Christina Chan organized a field trip bringing about a dozen students to meet me.  She said it was a rare opportunity for students in Malaysia to meet the writer of a story that they were currently studying (most had either passed away or lived overseas).   

Robert Raymer with Christina Tan and her students at Bookfest 2010
In addition to the collection itself (stories from the original collection were first taught at a high school in Canada), nine stories that I know of have been taught numerous times at several universities and private colleges throughout Malaysia (along with The Story Behind the Story, a handy aide for both teachers and students I’ve since learned).  In 2012, two of the stories “Mat Salleh” and “Home for Hari Raya” were even taught in the U.S. at Ohio University in their Southeast Asia Studies program (where I had the honor to skype with the students)
The Lovers and Strangers collection has been instrumental in other aspects of my life.  In fact, it helped me to land my first teaching job at Universiti of Sains Malaysia where for six years I taught two courses on writing and then created a new course on creative writing that I taught for four years before introducing the materials to Universiti of Malaysia Sarawak and taught it there for another three years.  (I had used Lovers and Strangers Revisited as a calling card while giving a creative writing workshop for MELTA in Kuching.)

Back in 2006 the collection Lovers and Strangers Revisited (and unfortunately the author) was even psychoanalyzed by a Malaysian academic at a short story collection conference in the UK.  As a writer, it’s imperative to develop a thick skin; it also comes in handy for reviews. Thanks to LSR, I’ve been interviewed several times in magazines, newspapers, and online.  I was even put on national TV along with my friend Georgette Tan, who earlier had given me a nice review in The Borneo Post.  Together we appeared on Kuppa Kopi with Sharnaz Sabera.
Georgette Tan, Robert Raymer and Sharnaz Sabera
In 2007, in reaction to a blog post by the Malaysian author Lydia Teh about publishing books in Malaysia, I posted a rather lengthy comment based on my experiences of publishing this collection in both countries, then I used it as the first posting for my own blog, Borneo Expat Writer.  Then in 2009, as part of publicity for LSR, I had been asked to write a short story for Going Places, Malaysia Airlines in-flight magazine for their August Merdeka (Independence) edition along with Lydia Teh and Tunku Halim, both successful authors in Malaysia whom I had yet to meet.   

Accepting the challenge, I quickly came up with an idea and an opening for “Merdeka Miracle” The three of us furiously sent emails back and forth between Kuching, Kuala Lumpur and Paris and London (where Tunku was travelling with his family) to craft a first draft and then revised it daily, about twenty times, to meet the tight deadline.  Later, at the same K.L. Bookfest where I met the students and their teacher, I finally got to meet Lydia Teh.
Lydia Teh and Robert Raymer and "The Merdeka Miracle"

I’m sure the success and the publicity surrounding Lovers and Strangers Revisited, which had just won the Popular Reader’s Choice Award, was largely responsible for me being named one of “50 Expatriates You Should Know” by Expatriate Lifestyle (January 2010)—quite an honor since most of the other expats were diplomats, celebrities, or leaders in their industry and mostly living in Kuala Lumpur, while I taught creative writing, gave workshops, and wrote books in Sarawak.

Robert Raymer standing between nominated writers Yvonne Lee and Adeline Loh.
In 2011 Editions GOPE translated Lovers and Strangers Revisited into French and published it as Trois autres Malaisie, which means "Three Other Malaysia".   Then Ohio University School of Arts, Media & Studies turned my story “Home for Hari Raya” into a film, shot in Malaysia in December 2012/January 2013.  The 24-minute film can now be seen on YouTube.
Twenty years has gone by quickly, but the stories in that original Lovers and Strangers collection have come a long way since 1993.  And for 2014, its 21st year, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.
          —Borneo Expat Writer

*Update, Lovers and Strangers Revisited is now the subject of a dissertation, titled "The Use of Malaysian English in Robert Raymer's Short Stories".  Nice title! 

**Novella in finals of 2014 Faulkner-Wisdom.
**Link to my website, to MPH online for my three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.