Monday, December 30, 2013

My year in books 2013

I have visited the Round House and the Red House, reconstructed Amelia and listened to Lucca, gone down to the ocean at the end of the lane and caught a glimpse of the light between the oceans

          I have seen shades of grey through the eyes of a young Lithuanian refugee and a “red” in Jasper Fforde’s color-separated world but not fifty shades of it.

        I listened to the sounds of things falling and echoes from the mountain and traveled through time in life after life and in search of the shining girls

          I spent time getting to know Colin Fischer and Asher LevThe Dodger, the English girl, the normal kid, the giver, the messenger, and the son showed how roles can determine how lives are lived.  

          The Burgess Boys and the Sisters Brothers may live in different times but both sets of brothers are bound more tightly by blood than they imagine. Flora and Ulysses, Blink and Caution, Eleanor and Park touched me with their friendships. 

I laughed reading about the omens about end times and cried reading about  a funny story

As always, books have opened my eyes, touched my heart, and challenged my thinking. Here’s to another great year in books in 2014!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Taking the plunge

I am taking the plunge: I just signed up on the NaNoWriMo website.

Writing the NaNo way is the opposite to what I do. Usually  I write a few pages, or even a few paragraphs, and then I edit. Producing an average of 1700 words a day isn't something I typically do. In the past, when I have been productive and written a lot in a day, the next day has always been devoted to editing. To come up with the word count day after day for a whole month doesn't sound doable, which is why in the past, when I had tried to participate in NaNo, I had always done so unofficially. That way I wouldn't beat myself up.

And so that's why I will participate as an official NaNo writer this year.

I have not been terribly productive in my writing for a while now, and doing something out of character may just be the thing to shove me forward again. And as for beating myself up. Who am I kidding? Official or not, if I don't finish, I would do that anyway. So again, I will try to opposite route: I will not beat myself whether I finish or not. Quite a concept, don't you think?

So come what may, I will jump off the cliff and start swimming tomorrow.

See you on the other side, or maybe when I come up for breath!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

When I Grow Up

I discovered the Narnia books when I was 24. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games were published long after I had turned 11 and 16 respectively. So I never harbored secret wishes to receive a letter from an owl or looked behind dusty coats in wardrobes for a path to a secret wonderland. 

But being visited by Gandalf at 50. Now that, that is still possible.

For many years growing up, I had pegged the 20s and 30s to be a person's most productive time, the prime of their life.

When I turned 40, I realized I didn't know enough, hadn't done enough. But society assured me 40 was the new 30. So I embraced the idea, downplaying my eyesight that seemed to have worsened overnight, and the aches that were sneaking up on me. I tried new things! Took up martial arts! Wore increasingly brighter clothing! Got cataract surgery!

Now 50 is looming. And I see attempts in the media to pass 50 off as the new 30. Um. 50 is the new 30 like orange is the new black.

But, that doesn't mean I am ready to give up learning and doing new things. I do, however, admit to a certain sadness that veers towards hopelessness in my writing. I feel as if I am still swimming upstream, wondering when the steepness will level out. My arms are tired and my eyes drift often to the side of the stream that promises rest.

Then a writing friend shared this article from the New Yorker last week. 

It's not that I believe I will attain the stature of a genius (just writing that sentence embarrasses me, as if I needed to even state it) but it is rather comforting to know that learning and creating can indeed go on for much longer that I had imagined, that just because I'm past the magical period of my 20s and 30s doesn't mean I should give up. I may not have the strength to paddle hard but my muscles have gained stamina from constant practice.

So, bring it, 50s! I'm ready.

Just as soon as I find my reading glasses.

Monday, September 30, 2013


My young adult novel came to a halt in late spring. I was stuck. 

I had actually finished an earlier version of the novel. I knew, while writing that first version, that I needed to make some big changes to the story in the next round. 

The revision began strongly. I felt I was accomplishing some of the changes. 

But something happened at around chapter 10. The changes opened up different venues and I was paralyzed by the decision. Which of these new ways should I pursue? None of them seemed to bring a clear idea of how the story would end up. Staying with the plot I had used in the first version seemed cowardly. 


That's right. A screeching halt.

In the mean time, I read a ton, practiced martial arts, cooked unusual meals, and got my middle grade novel ready for a contest.

No excuses left, I decided to take a look at my YA again. Or maybe my fog-riddle brain, thanks to a cold, is making me optimistic. Or something. 

Good news and bad news.

Bad news: I still don't know how to proceed. 

Good news: There is some good writing in there. (Now I wait for the reprimand. But that's another post.)

With the perspective gained from being away from the story, I realize that despite how difficult it felt while going through the revision, I kept close to my original vision and stayed true to its emotional truth.

As I mentioned, I still have no clue where the story is going, but just knowing that what I have is a keeper is enough for now. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hello, old friend

I have had the most frustrating few weeks of reading. None of the books that I started compelled me to continue.

It is not unusual to read a few chapters of a book and decide not to pursue it, but 5 books in a row?  Well, actually, Book #2 held promise and I read more than half of it. But the original reason that drew me--the distinctive voice--became grating. In fact, the voice and its cleverness took front and center. I had no idea who the narrator is because his inner thoughts and actions don't fit. The worst is that for a mystery, I had no idea what the actual mystery is


Then a friend mentioned a book she loved and I remember enjoying it as well. I even recall a particular description even though it had been a few years since I'd read it. Something else tugged at me at the mention of this book.

I dug out my copy of Broken For You.

Re-reading it is like meeting an old friend.

I am curious to find out if I'll lose interest or find that I'm such a different reader now than I was that I no longer like it. Or if I will discover new things to love.

Will keep you posted.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

The opening paragraph of Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey:
It began with my father not waning to see the Last Rabbit and ended up with my being eaten by a carnivorous plant. It wasn't really what I'd planned for myself--I'd hoped to marry into the Oxbloods and join their dynastic string empire. But that was four days ago, before I met Jande, retrieved the Varavaggio and explored High Saffron. So instead of enjoying aspirations of Chromatic advancement, I was wholly immersed within the digestive soup of a yateveo tree It was all very inconvenient.

I laughed. I was so confused--what happened to the writer's oath of "never confuse" or maybe Jasper Fforde has built up enough cache so that he can indeed confuse but make people read more--but  also so tickled that I had to read on. I mean how can one be eaten by a carnivorous plant and call it merely inconvenient?

What about you? would you be put off by the many questions--what's the Last Rabbit and how does one get eaten by a plant and for goodness sakes, what does it mean to retrieve the Caravaggio and explore High Saffron and what are these things anyway?--or would you be intrigued enough to want to read on?

Frankly, I would have passed except I knew Jasper Fforde and I have enough information about the narrator that I am curious to see how my questions would be answered. What do I know about this guy? Well, that he had a dream dashed/postponed, that he is somewhat accommodating to his father, that Jane is an important person in his life. Probably the most pressing question right now for me is: how did he survive being digested to tell his story?

And also, because it made me laugh.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Spring Break Writing Retreat Day

My family took a 2-day ski-vacation to start off the children's Spring Break. I have skied a few times in my life but it's not my preferred mode of strengthening my heart and lungs. I still have bruises and embarrassing stories--don't ask me about the time I fell backwards off a poma down the slope, or the number of boulders and trees I "found" while skiing, or about the pair of glasses I broke, or the skiers I took down while waiting in line because I fell, and especially about the time I was "rescued" from the top of a green slope -- that made me convince the husband to take both kids by himself to the slopes.  

What was I left with? An empty condo, hours by myself, and this view.

Hello, Writing Retreat Day!

Without distraction from housework and the lure of the internets and the pantry, I scribbled a good number of pages by lunch time. 

There is something about writing in long hand that helps my thinking flow. So I continued to write, pass the hand cramps, till the chapter ended.


I decided to go for a walk. I thought I would look at some shops, hopefully unique ones that can feed my creative brain. No, I didn't make that up; I believe it's called an artist's walk. 

The backdrop was beautiful, but I really didn't want shop at chains. I made it my mission to seek out cute boutiques and quaint toy shops or used-book stores. Alas, I found more national chains and 5 banks within walking distance. And thankfully, two furniture consignment shops.

Here are some of my finds.
Vintage skis

                             Book shaped accessory


Gorgeous antique cabinets


   I could do with this in my house:

But not this:  

Then it's a stop at a local bakery for more writing. Believe it or not, the little jaunt into the furniture consignment shops fueled another good hour of writing. 


 Or maybe it was the sugar.


Oh, all right, I did step into Pier1 Imports, where feathered friends ruled:  


So, what do I take away from this day?

  • I should write in long hand more often
  • There is something about being in a different location that helps me write
  • I wish I had bought the hazlenut torte whole when they said they didn't serve it in single slices.
  • There will be more Daddy + kids days.
  • Staying off the computer is possible, and very good.
  • Pier 1 Imports can carry some old-looking trunks and cabinets but they are not the real deal.       

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Re-reading Favorites

 Elizabeth Strout has a new book out, The Burgess Boys. Amazon and Barnes and Noble and other bookish places are sending me emails and offering special pre-order prices. 

 This just makes me want to revisit Olive Kitteridge.

I loved it the first time I read it and now as I think about re-reading it, I am filled with...trepidation. Will I love it as much? What is I get disappointed? Why don't I just leave it the way it is?

Strange that I don't feel any excitement about discovering something else to love. 

Can anyone relate to this?    

Monday, March 11, 2013

My name is Asher Lev

I have only just begun to read My name is Asher Lev, and by page 20, I already know that this is one I will read slowly so as not to miss anything, in the writing and in the story.

Asher Lev was the juncture point of two significant family lines, the apex, as it were, of a triangle seminal with Jewish potentiality and freighted with Jewish responsibility. But he was also born with a gift.

But he was also born with a gift? But?  Not and?

What an introduction to the narrator and his story. 

Asher's gift was drawing. His mother praised his early efforts but constantly pushed him to draw pretty things. His father, a serious Hassidic Jew who worked for the Rabbi, wanted him to outgrow his childish hobby.

When Asher was six, his mother turned very sick. Asher tried to cheer her up by showing her a picture, not one filled with black swirls and angry eyes that he had been drawing, but one with pretty birds and flowers he created for her. 

It backfired. That night, he had this conversation with his father:

"No one likes my drawings," I said through a fog of half sleep. "My drawings don't help."
My father said nothing. 
"I don't like to feel this way, Papa."
Gently, my father put his hand on my cheek.
"It's not a pretty world, Papa."
"I've noticed," my father said softly.

His mother finally made it out of bed to the living room, where she sat motionless and slept. Asher drew her. Then he noticed his father watching him.

I had no idea how long he had been standing in the doorway....There was fascination and perplexity on his face. He seemed awed and angry and confused and dejected, all at the same time.

That night, when his father once again said he wished Asher wouldn't spend all his time drawing, this is how Asher replied:

"I wanted to draw and light and the dark."

Somehow, this experience made him hopeful. Instead of lamenting that his drawings couldn't help, this is how he felt:

I would put all the world into light and shade, bring life to all the wide and tired world. It did not seem an impossible thing to do.

My heart starts to break.    

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Next Big Thing

I have been neglecting this blog, especially since I created a Facebook page. *Sheepish face* My friend, Nandini Bajpai, whose books are being published soon (yay, Nandini!), tagged me for this bloghop and provided me with a good reason to do some dusting off. How does this work? I answer ten questions about the book I am currently writing, my personal Next Big Thing, and tag other writers to keep the topic hopping along.

What is the title of your book?
Circle of Jade

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The story came primarily from my own experiences losing loved ones as a teen. Questions that started then are still the ones I ponder now. One of these is about redemption: how fundamental it is as a motivation, what sorts of things people do, and how well they work. And if these attempts are futile, what then? 

I realize this sounds very heavy. But life for many teenagers can be full of big questions without easy answers, and I hope some of them may find my exploration of these questions relatable. 

 Another source for this story, and perhaps for all of my stories, is the people around us: people who love us and whom we love, people who matter. In this story, it’s the love of her two friends, little brother, and mother whom she has pushed away who help her find her way  again

What genre does your book fall under?
YA contemporary

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I haven’t kept up with current young actors. Maybe readers can help me find an actor for Ash, whose mother is Chinese and father is Brazilian. 

Besides, the majority of the young actors are so glamorous and Hollywoodified (yes, this will be a word soon enough) that I can’t imagine any of them playing the regular kids in my book. 

Having said that, an actor just popped into my head for one of my secondary characters, Finn, whose unique blend of goofiness and compassion help Ash emerge from her grief. I love the way Jay Bruchel played the main character in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: someone who is not attractive immediately, but whose personality and kindness and sincerity draw you to him. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
After a beloved grandmother’s death plunges 16-year old Ash into deep grief, she seeks redemption in serving others selflessly but finds true healing in unexpected ways. 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
From everything I know about self-publishing, I know I’m not a good candidate, so I hope to find someone who will champion my story. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I don’t write in a linear fashion, so it’s hard to say when the first draft finished and the second, or third began. If you pushed me to a corner and told me my life depended on the answer, I’d say around 8 months. 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
In YA, Blink and Caution by Tim Wynne Jones felt the closest to this story. Amy Kathleen Ryan’s Zen and Xander Undoneand Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere both show teens dealing with grief. In general fiction, Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol RifkaBrunt has a lot of the same types of issues I am exploring in this book. 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Yet another question that doesn’t have a straightforward answer. My reason for doing things doesn’t always follow a direct cause-and-effect path. What I do tends to be the result of many different influences.

 If I must answer this question, I’d have to say it’s my teenaged self, my two friends who died young, and my grandmother.  

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Rube Goldberg contraptions? Hot dog dumplings? That Chinese calligraphy ink is smelly? Random Portuguese and Mandarin words? 

As I write, I’m thinking primarily of my character and telling her story. I am aware, of course, of my audience, but I don’t know which of the elements in the book will pique readers' interest. My belief is that if my story rings true, it will engage. 

This is a story about a teen trying to navigate through a difficult patch in her life. I suspect that many of my readers, teenagers, seek to relate. Readers who have experienced similar situations may find my book interesting. Readers who are trying to understand friends who have experienced loss in their lives may be interested. Readers who are curious about life’s many knotty questions may be interested.

Writers you’ve tagged for the NEXT BIG THING Blog Hop.
The talented duo who run the Finding Wonderland blog both have wonderful books ready to burst onto the scene. I hope they'll play. Author and part time physician, Lydia Kang, has two books coming out. Exciting stuff.

Turns out I should have been more conscientious about tagging, you know, asking people first. Tanita has already done this, and here it is