Inside MAI Blog: Thoughts on global publishing

"We need a paradigm shift to write in the first person" by guest blogger Larry Brook

I’m sitting in my hotel lobby in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, talking to Seila, one of my editor-counselors for the upcoming writers’ workshop, the second in a series we are conducting with the local Fount of Wisdom publishers.
We’ve been writing first person experience articles, and Seila is alerting me to the crisis of confidence in Cambodian writers. “To write about ourselves, we need to feel that we have worth.” Though we’ve talked about this before, we decide we need to stress it again.
I ask Seila to be sure to refer to his analysis that the Cambodian’s sense of insecurity comes from different sources: from centuries of Hinduism, where if you were not in the Brahmin caste, you were at an inferior level. Then came Buddhism which mixed with Hinduism and then French colonialism where Cambodians were conditioned to view “white skin” as superior. “What I will be sure to remind our Christian writers,” Seila concludes, “is that in Christ, we have a new paradigm – one that says we have a value that no one can take from us. With that, we can write good things about our personal experiences for our people.”
And so the planning goes for a writers’ workshop. What’s the take-away?
Some of the best planning comes through authentic interchanges with mature, insightful leaders like Seila. If this means jettisoning one’s carefully honed workshoppy “10 tips for totally terrific leads,” so much the better.
Seila has to run to a meeting. But now Nara is here. Part of our planning has to do with these special hours with my editor-counselors, not only to talk training, but to encourage them in their own writing.
I ask Nara if we can try an experiment with the book he is writing. He has told me that he is sorry he hasn’t written much because every time he sits down to write –– “… when I try to catch the rabbit, it is always running far ahead, and I never catch it.”
Writer’s block, in short. So here’s the experiment. Nara is writing a book about youth in Cambodia today. One of his chapters is about how easy life is for young people today, compared to how tough it was for Nara’s generation, which was decimated by the murderous reign of the Khmer Rouge. So I probe a little. I ask Nara what made it so tough. And he starts talking, and I start typing on my laptop.

Nara tells me that “out of 64 relatives taken by the Khmer Rouge, only 5 survived. I am one of them.” He tells me how at age 12, he was separated from his parents and given the task of herding cows and water buffalo. Each night he walked 11 kilometers so he could spend the night with his mother, and then return the 11 kilometers in time to attach the bells to the lead water buffaloes before they were let out to roam for grass.

Nara told me that when his father was murdered, someone who had just returned from the killing fields reported they had seen someone that looked like his father. He had attempted to find him, but he was forced back because of the fighting and shelling going on.

And on he talked, and more words went into the computer to become part of his manuscript. Two hours later, I said, “See, you are just talking, and yet your book is being written.”
I’m thinking when the workshop starts, and I assign him to his writing room, he’s going to do very well, thank you very much, in catching that rabbit.

But right now, I have to go outside into the 91 degree weather. (I have my hat and water bottle.) I have to fend off the five tuktuk drivers out front who pounce on me every time I appear, to take me somewhere. Imagine such an assault when all I want to do is take a walk down to the Royal Palace to see if the King of Cambodia is in.

This is the first in a series of daily blog posts by MAI board member Larry Brook. He is leading a writer workshop in Cambodia with Fount of Wisdom publishing house. 

Photo above: common moto traffic in Phnom Penh. Courtesy of ND Strupler,


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