Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Take two aspirins

...and work late into the night.

I am so close. I can feel it in my bone. But as always, the last little bit to polish a story takes big bits of energy and time. But because the end is near, I get an extra dose of adrenalin and motivation to push to the end.

Tonight, I'll be burning the candles at both ends,
or as my mother likes to say in Cantonese, eating late-night congee, sic yeh jook.

Anyone joining me? I've cooked up extra congee.

Aspirin? I've got that as well.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The nature of the beast

Blogs are so wonderful. So much wisdom, so much passion, so much humor: stuff that enriches our lives. Yet blogposts are in the forefront for only a short time, and then they are archived and often forgotten.

Little ol' me may not have as big a slice of the readership pie as the popular bloggers, but
I'd like to do my part to bring some posts to a wider audience; posts that have either touched me deeply or provoked me to think to a wider audience.

Here is one by my cyber-friend, Tanita Davis, who wrote so eloquently about a much respected professor, inter-racial marriages, malice, all tied in a nice big bow of Shakespeare's 130th sonnet.

I hope it touches you or inspires you, or both.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

3rd person fly-on-the-wall

My current short-story is written in a third-person point of view, but not in the usual 3rd-person omniscient or 3rd-person limited. It's more like 3rd-person fly-on-the-wall. The narrator reports what she sees and hears in a scene, but nothing more. She doesn't get in anyone's head, she can only be at one place at one time, she reports objectively.

I chose this because I wanted to create distance between the reader and the story. I don't know if such a pov exists. And if doesn't, I wonder why. After all, writers are creative people who tend to challenge status quo.

So far in this story, it's working but not terribly well, but I sense sparkles and possibilities, which are very tempting. I think it may work if I keep experimenting and being sensitive to how the story comes across to a reader. I am not sure.

In the mean time, I decided to try a more common approach: a 3rd-person limited, told by three different characters in the story. I am enjoying the freedom it allows me to dwell inside a character's head and emotions. What I give up is the distance I wanted to create, but maybe distance isn't what's good for this story.

  • Re-write the whole story in new pov.
  • Put it aside (and maybe clean house again, drats!)
  • Re-read both versions.
  • Revise the better version.(Let's get into the argument of what constitutes "better" on a different day, shall we?)
(I sound so waffly! Any of you writers go through this whole I-think-A-but-maybe-I-should-do- B-although-A-seems-to-have-potential-but-I-don't-know-what-about-C process?)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Poetry Friday: Ecclesiastes

Eccelesiastes 3: 1 - 8
(New International Version)

These is a time for everything
and a reason for every activity under the heavens

a time to be born, and a time to die
a time to plant and a time to uproot
a time to kill and a time to heal
a time to tear down and a time to build
a time to weep and a time to laugh
a time to mourn and a time to dance
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them
a time to embrace and a time to refrain
a time to search and a time to give up
a time to keep and a time to throw away
a time to tear and a time to mend
a time to be silent and a time to speak
a time to love and a time to hate
a time for war and a time for peace

Poetry Friday today at Kelly Herold's new blog, Crossover

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Current status

Goal: a <5,000-word short story
First draft: 4,404 words
Condition of manuscript: rough
Condition of brain: fried
Condition of house: MESSY
Strategy: leave ms for the moment; attack mess in house.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ah! Air

Sputter and start. Stop. Sputter. Start.

Two unplanned interruptions on the first day. One on the second day.

One overcooked steak. Two undercooked pork-chops.

Sputter. Start. Stop.

Swim lessons signed up just before classes filled.

Start. Write. Write. Forget time. Late to pick kids up from first day of camp.

A spectacular summer night lightning show that went on for a couple of hours. Followed by rain and tornado warning. Decisions to let kids sleep or bundle into the basement. Basement won. Rain stopped five minutes later.

Write. Think. Write. Backspace. Plan. Write. Delete. Read.

Resist temptation to read email, check facebook, write blog posts.

Two out of three.

Back to work.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wish me luck

And perseverance. And discipline. And focus.

Kids at day camp this week. Must hunker down. Will see you when I re-surface for air.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mare's War

I am, as usual, late to the party. (Can you see my beetroot face?) But you probably already know about the launching of Tanita Davis's new book:

Mare's War

In fact, you've probably been over at her blog, participating in the events she's been hosting. If not check out her blog, and more importantly, check out her book.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book Review: Shift by Jennifer Bradbury

One of the first things writers are told is

write what you know.

But does it mean we need to have experienced everything we write?

Jennifer Bradbury knows a thing or two about bicycling cross country. But she probably doesn't know first-hand what it means to be an eighteen year old boy. Yet she writes from a first person POV of one.

The story is about friendship. About being on the cusp of adulthood. About figuring out who you are. About loss and hope. About human decency and frailty.

I'll bet she has experienced all of these. Not in the details, but in the actual feeling and thinking and questioning and observing and understanding. The authenticity comes through, and that makes the book moving and engaging.

Write what you know.

But not in the narrow literal sense.

In the sense that the essence of the book is first-hand truth.

Isn't that why we love fiction?

Monday, June 15, 2009

A slightly more coherent and objective look at last week's stream of consciousness

Or what made me pick the books I did.

The Chinese Handcuff: After a friend loaned me Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, I was so taken by Chris Crutcher's writing and his compassion and honesty, I looked for more.

Shift: and since I now trust Crutcher, I was willing to read a book he recommends.

Gregor the Overlander: recommended by a fellow writer friend.

Ranger's Apprentice: Nathan Bransford says he was going to read it, so I thought I should check it out as well.

Blue Fingers: soft spot for all things martial arts. Although I have to say "Oooh Ninja" alone wasn't enough to keep me engaged.

Archer's Quest: Loved Linda Sue Park's Kite Fighter and A Single Shard. Plus connection to another writer friend.

Jumping the Scratch: Again, liked the author's first book. Willing to read another.

Sisters Grimm: Daughter liked the first in series, so finishing all the books is inevitable. (True for my own reading as well: enjoyed the first few of Five Ancestors so much, I was willing to go on two detours unexpectedly thrown in by the author.)

Series of Unfortunate Events: ditto.

The reason for this exercise? To find out how one book lover chooses books. And for me, it boils down to the matter of:


Trust in a friend's recommendation. Trust in other book lovers' tastes. Trust in an author whose other works I've enjoyed.

How does that translates to my goal in getting people to buy my book? (Okay, okay, finish that thing and submit it and get it published first. I hear ya! I'm trying, I really am!)

  • Get people to like it enough so they'd recommend to their friends.
  • Get someone with clout (like Christ Crutcher) to like it so they'd recommend it.
  • Get enough people to like it so subsequent books, whether in a series or other wise, would get a chance based on earlier works
  • Write a book about ninjas.
So that was an easy problem to solve.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stream of consciousness at the library

Let's see, I need to find Chris Crutcher's The Chinese Handcuff again so I can write a review. Drats, no copies left. Oh, but here's a book Crutcher endorses: Shift by Jennifer Bradbury. Looks good. Gotta get it. Any other Crutchers? No.

No. 2 on my list: Gregor the Overlander. Where's Book 1? Book 1....There it is. Check

No. 3: Rangers Apprentice: Book 1 wasn't available last time... still not here.

No. 4: Oooooh! Ninja! (Grab Blue Fingers by Cheryl Whitesel.)

Where did I put the list? And what was No. 4 before I got distracted by ninjas? Ah well, I'll just browse. Ooh, Linda Sue Park. Which one is this? Archer's Quest. Don't know it. Let's see what the front flap says: Modern day kid interacting with ancient character. I wonder if my friend, whose story is about a pair of siblings interacting with an ancient cat/professor, knows about this. I'll read it and let her know.

Here's a new book by Sarah Weeks, author of So. Be. It. Jumping the Scratch seems to be in the same vein: a look at someone with mental issues with compassion. Put in bag.

Daughter needs books 3, 4, 5, 6 of Sisters Grimm: only found Book 6. Last book of Unfortunate Events. Check. A new Ally Finkle book by Meg Cabot. Grab.

Son would like this Time Travel Soldiers book about Samurai. And this one about the human digestive system, simply titled Guts, with its many full-paged, colorful pictures. And here's one about animals found in US National Parks. What beautiful water color paintings.

Bag getting too heavy. Time to go.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can't sit still to write? Get your carpets cleaned

I was getting all stressed out about life intruding on my writing: the weeds that exploded in my garden due to the unusually wet spring; the soil on one side of the house that needs to be re-graded; the carpets that need to be cleaned etc.

The carpet cleaner came today, and I was cordoned off in the kitchen, which has wood floors. I couldn't step onto the carpet as it's being vacuumed and spot-treated and shampooed and deodorized and sanitized and scotch-guarded.

[Linear by D'Arcy Norman]

So I wrote. Seven pages, long hand.

Life is good. It provides opportunities when I least expect them.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Revise, rewrite, revamp, torture

...whatever you want to call that process: that's what my writing time is all about these days. To help keep me planted firmly in my chair, fingers on the keyboard (instead of the mouse). and mind on the book, I've joined the Summer Revision Smackdown hosted at the Brimstone Soup by YA author Holly Cupala. I am easily persuaded and influenced; put a word like "smackdown"in the title of an event, and I get scared immediately into doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

My goals are not lofty; it's summer and the kids are out of school, remember? But I do want to get this book polished before I send it out. Soon.

I am almost to the end of this arduous task. Now if only those new passages will stop having that new-car smell, and fit more smoothly into the rest of the book, I'll be good to go.

If the word "smackdown" isn't scary and you need some straightforward questions to ask yourself as you revise, The Most Helpful And Polite Agent Nathan Bransford has put together a list. Ever democratic, he's even included suggestions by his legions of fans.

[Resistance by Mesaj]

Now back to our regularly scheduled program. The above was brought to you by Revision XMA 3000, a new generation of persuasion equipment developed by the Borg Company.

Day One: a report

So on Day 1, I already to had to break the summer schedule. I had my weekly online chat with my critique group followed by Tae Kwon Do class (I wonder if I'll get my book published first or earned my black belt? Bets, anyone?) and I "used up" the kids desk time and screen time. I did get in some revision done at night after they went to bed; I was still fairly awake and coherent.

I did, however, do two things I haven't been able to do with my kids during the school year, due to lack of time: teach them Chinese and piano. And we got to play board games and run around the block and just hang out.

A good first day.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Live? Or write?

Before you comment on how writers cannot write without living, and cannot live without writing, I just want you to see this wink here: see?

I am just having fun with false dichotomies. Doesn't the title provoke a stronger response in you than "how I plan strike a balance between writing and spending time with the kids this summer"?

So anyway, as many writers with school age children have commented on their blogs recently, summer time poses a question for us. Should we continue to write? Or should we take time for our children?

For example, The tollboothers exhort us to take a break and enjoy our summer. I agree. Kids grow up in the blink of an eye. Summer is a time to be enjoyed outdoors, with a leisurely attitude. (Nat King Cole is singing in my head right now: "roll out the hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer....") There is a certain rhythm and cycle to life; and taking a break is very much part of that.

But I know I can't take the whole summer off from writing. Not possible. Not even conceivable. What I plan is to carve aside an hour in the morning (as the kids read or draw or do quiet desk things) and an hour in the afternoon (as they get their screen time) to write.

I'll let you know how that works.

Friday, June 5, 2009

change, pain, anguish, write

I've been working on my MG novel for longer than I care to remember. Some writers can tell you how many revisions their books have gone through; I can't. I am one of those who revise on a rolling basis. But recently I did make myself do a once-through revision, to make sure the big picture details are in place, that characters don't disappear, that threads don't get dropped, that details stay consistent.

This week, I've made use of the forced time away from the novel by my trip, to do another once-through, big picture revision. I anticipated the work to be smooth, with minor changes here and there. After all, I'd done so much of the detail revision last time.

Ha! Right.

Things are never as easy as I want them to be. There are a number of places in the book where the emotional flow doesn't feel right. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I knew which direction I should take, thank goodness. I hate those times when something doesn't read right and I have no idea how to fix them.

But knowing what direction to take and actually writing the scenes that take those directions are two separate events. Oh how I've fought the decision because I know how long it takes for me to get from first draft to polished: very, VERY long. And since most of the book has clawed its way through so many revisions, I was hesitant to introduce new passages that I know would read much more awkwardly.

Can't I just pretend I don't see the flaws? Can't I just switch around some sentences and replace some words and call it done? After all, I am getting ready to send out a few partials and a full. I need to get the baby out the door!

This morning, I finally took the plunge and re-wrote some of those passages. I am resigned to the fact that I'll have to hang on to the manuscript for a longer time before the new passages gel and mature. But I know, in my gut somewhere, the book will be better for it.

Even if the new passages take me to completely new places and I have to rewrite the entire second half of the book.

[An anguished NO escapes me...]

[the graffiti man is anguished by revjim5000]

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Toss and turn

The worst thing about my body thinking we're on the other side of the globe is waking up at dawn and staying awake for hours. I don't do 2 a .m.; or 3 or 4 for that matter. Yet it'll be a couple of weeks before I adjust.

Mining the experience for my writing seems like a logical choice, except that at the wee hours of the morning, my mind is in deep fog. I don't know when John Updike wrote his poem, Tossing and Turning: while still tossing and turning in his bed, or afterward. But it's a poem I relate to very well right now.

Tanita Davis chose this poem for last week's Poetry Friday. I am a little late to the party, but here is a snippet:

Yet we turn each time
with fresh hope, believing sleep
will visit us here...

can only end, around a corner
we do not know
we are turning.

Go read Tossing and Turning by John Updike in its entirety at Tanita's blog.

Monday, June 1, 2009

This is your life

After two weeks of traveling, reunions, and sleep deprivation, I am now back to packing school lunches, pulling weeds, and hyper-miling on familiar routes. The mundane, the necessary, the ordinary.

When I was preparing for the trip, I was worried about the upheaval of my routine, about losing my daily flow. Now that I am back, I miss the unexpected, the dramatic, the heightened emotional state.

Real life, filled with contradictions and opposites.

Contradictions by Marcin Wichary on Flikr

As a writer, I need both. I hope I will make full use of the emotions and experiences I've had these past weeks.

The clock on my computer says 9:42 a.m., my body says it's close to midnight and time to sleep. Where is that second cup of coffee?

coffee by Kwerfeldein on Flickr