I had an opportunity to interview Patrick Maher once again, via email recently. Maher is an international author who has been featured around the world for Pleng’s Song, a book about a young girl’s struggle to survive an epic flooding disaster in Bangkok.
Question: What are you working on these days?
Answer: I’m busy writing a book series based on Pleng’s Song and I’m currently in negotiations with major international publishers for its publication. So I think some very good news will be coming in 2014, but I have made a change with my writing.
Question: What is the change?
Answer: I’m integrating common middle school curriculum into my stories. In my upcoming books, children will be able to learn about Mesopotamia and ancient Chinese history while they will enjoy a suspenseful story.
Question: Are you writing other books?
Answer: Yes, I’ve finished writing a second book called Plang’s Dance and I am currently writing Pleng’s Drama. There will be rewrites required for all three books so this process will take time. For now, I’m simply staying very resilient and focusing on my goals.
Question: It sounds like you are making a shift towards writing stories that are specifically designed for the classroom. Why did you turn in this direction?
Answer: I did it for my students because I found it is a great way to reinforce learning. I only integrate topics that I teach in my classroom because it sparks the students’ interest to get involved in the writing process. They contribute many ideas to the development of the characters and plot. They also help with the revision process. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to write successful stories because they play such an active role in making sure Pleng’s voice stays realistic. Whenever I veer off and make a mistake, my students are highly critical of my writing and that’s exactly what I need every day. I couldn’t ask for a better audience to give me immediate honest feedback.
Question: You are teaching and writing full time. You also have a family. How do you juggle it all?
Answer: I stick to a daily regimented schedule of diet and exercise that involves mandatory writing time. I enjoy staying busy and active but I also feel like my time is limited and I need to make the most of each day. I don’t want to wake up one morning, look back, and regret that I didn’t make the most of the opportunities presented to me. When I was in my twenties, I wasted many years thinking the world was a playground and my mission was to enjoy life, but now, age is creeping up on me and I want to use my skills to leave something behind that will help children develop their intellects. I feel that’s the best use of my writing ability.
Question: The last interview you did was with the Tripoli Post in Libya, and months ago, you were featured in a national newspaper in Pakistan. Is it hard for American writers to get exposure in these types of countries?
Answer: Honestly, I think I have an advantage because my last name is also an Arabic surname that means “skillful”. So when editors in those countries see the name Maher, they think I am of Arabic descent. So my family name gets me in the door. That being said, getting exposure in countries that are politically opposed to the United States is very flattering because I think it means the world is opening up and it’s fun to be on the front line of that movement.
Question: Are you friends with many other writers in Asia? If so, which ones do you admire?
Answer: I live a very quiet life but I sometimes go out for a beer at the Foreign Correspondence Club of Thailand and I meet many successful writers there, but the club is quite far from my home so I don’t visit there as often as I’d like.
Question: Who do you admire?
As far as writers I’d admire, I really respect Daphne Lee who works out of Malaysia. She writes great stories for young readers and does a lot to help promote children’s literacy. Another writer I admire is Chart Korbjitti. He’s a talented Thai author who has won several regional awards. I love his work.
Question: You left the United States nearly twenty years ago. Do you ever feel like you have lost touch with your roots?
Answer: Not at all and that’s because I have been blessed with very close relationships with my brothers and sisters who still live in the United States. We chat all the time on the Internet and share everything with each other. I also stay personally connected with my four nieces and three nephews, and give them help on their school writing assignments. It’s a lot of fun. The Internet allows us to be a virtual family so it’s as if we never lost touch with one another. Every month, my family makes a point of holding a video conference call where all the relatives log on. That’s how my two children got to know their aunts, uncles and cousins so well. It’s also how I stay rooted to keep a foundation under my feet. I’m really lucky to have such a supportive family.
Question: Before closing, is there anything else you’d like to share?
Answer: There is one last issue I’d like to address that’s been a burning issue for my family. It has to do with mental illness. A member of my family suffers from a psychiatric disorder so my brother Damian recently started a non-profit organization called The Maher Foundation. It’s focused on bringing awareness to children who suffer from a mental illness by providing mental health education to middle schools and high schools. There’s a great need for this type of outreach and I passionately support the cause.
Maher has received national coverage in Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, Libya, Pakistan, India, and England for his work.