Friday, October 29, 2010

Bunkasai and the 13 days

You've heard me say I've got a 13 day week going on. Maybe you're wondering how this happens. Here's a quick explanany!

You remember when you were a little kid? Maybe kindergarten. Maybe primary school. And they'd have these programs sometimes where they made the whole school sing, dance, act, etc. And they'd put up all the horrible fingerpainting and lopsided craft you and your classmates made. Usually, they had these things at like the end of a term. And the names ranged from Christmas/Easter Program to School Recital.

You had those as a kid, right?

Well, in Japan every school has them. That's right. EVERY school. From Kindergarten to University. Of course the content at the kindergarten is different than at the university, but same concept. Also at the kindergarten and primary school, they're called Gakushuu Happyoukai- Learning Presentation. And they're called Bunkasai- Culture Festival from Junior High up.

So anyways, I teach at 4 schools- 1 kindergarten, 2 primary/elementary schools and 1 Junior High. Which means 4 of these festivals. Thankfully, the kindergarten bunkasai doesn't happen at this time of year. But the other 3 hit me rapid-fire.

Second last weekend of October
Saturday: Junior High
Sunday: big Elementary
Last Saturday: small Elementary

Monday of one week to Saturday of the next = 13 days

Here are a few tidbits from the festivals.

This is the San Francisco project that I was working on. I now know so much about San Fran, I'm contemplating doing the next Far Out Friday on San Fran instead. lol.

And I translated the Japanese myself. Here's a break down:- 3 weeks research, 1 day translation, 1 day finding pics, cutting them out, and making the posters.

My kiddies got skillzies.

The second years at elementary did a play based on an old rakugo (one style of Japanese play) about a kid with a really long name. This was the name.

I'll write it in roman letters for you:
Jugemujugemu-gokounosurikire-kaijarisuigyono-suigyomatsu-unraimatsu-fuuraimatsu-kuuharutokoronisumutokoro-yaburakouji-noburakouji-paipopaipopaiponoshuuringan-shuuringannogurindai-gurindainoponpocopiino-ponpoconano-choukyuumeino-chousuke! Yeah, suddenly that name you thought was odd, it ain't so bad, huh?

Here's a vid.
The mother comes out to tell Long Name's friends that he's still asleep. Then she calls the grandmother to tell her to wake up Long Name. Grandmother asks, Wait is Long name still asleep? Long name! Wake up. Kids go to play. (They're incidentally singing a song about a Japanese monster.) Then his friend picks Long name in the game. He hits her in the head. And they go tell the mother that Long name hit her. And she calls the dad and tells the Dad that Long Name hit her. Dad: What did you say? My Long Name hit his friend in her head? Long name, why did you hit your friend in her head? (I didn't understand the joke at the end, so I can't translate.)

On an aside, he got the long name from 3 wise men or wizards or something that appeared to the parents.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sibling Rivalry

I talked to my brother a couple nights ago. This is rare. We have managed not to be in the same country at the same time for 4 years. Unless you count the 24 hours where I was in Toronto and he was in Vancouver, but being on opposite ends of Canada doesn't do much for seeing one another.

The thing is, we're not close. And the only reason we saw each other growing up was because we lived in the same house. Obviously, since we make no effort whatsoever to see one another now. Although, that might be the whole different hemispheres thing.

I don't know if you could call what goes down between me and my brother sibling rivalry. In fact, comparing my brother and me, is like comparing apples and oranges. Shiny, spotless, bright red apples and oranges that fell out of the tree and got stampeded by buffalo.

My brother inherited just about every "good" trait from my parents. He's got Mummy's musical talent (she was in a band) and he's the stable, hardworking one. He's tall and thin, an athlete. Seriously, my brother is all literary crush material. My friends used to joke that if he was older... Thank God he isn't. (He's 4 years younger.)

On the other hand, there's me. I inherited my father's musical talent. So while my brother plays sax and clarinet and can carry a tune, my singing (and playing) might just inspire the neighbours to call the vet and have the dying penguin next door put out of it's misery. I'm fat like Mummy. Well, not like Mummy, but fat nonetheless. And it has nothing to do with what I eat, or how much I do. I've never been an overeater, as a kid I didn't like sweets (my friends still think I'm crazy because I can't stomach cheesecake or chocolate, and hardly ever eat ice cream on purpose!), and I've always been active.

And while lil bro is a studier, I'm a natural. Not to blow my own horn, but I hardly study. School for me went like this:

Month 1: Study hard, read everything, hand in assignments early.
After: Sleep on books, claiming that I will learn by osmosis; listen in class, because I'm never lifting a finger outside it; turn in assignments with seconds to spare or not at all.

Seriously, the only reason I got through school is because I was good at it. And subjects that required a little more effort than sheer brilliance, got failed, ignored and dropped the minute they'd let me drop them. The grand irony in all this is that my parents thought I would be a good student, because I ate books for dinner as a kid. And because I did really well in the national exam and got into the top school. My brother had a lot of trouble reading and he ended up at the no. 3 school. The lessons to be learned here:

1. Reading does not equal studying.
2. Being naturally good at something does not equal success.

My brother's academic career was almost as successful as mine. His hard work nearly cancelled out my smarts.

I also inherited my father's fascination for shiny new stuff. Growing up, I remember my Dad having 4 jobs. He was the full-time IT manager for the biggest department store on the island. He was also a Captain in the army, a teacher at the polytechnic and something else that I can't call to mind right now. lol. Money was not tight. We were a solidly middle class, 2 car, 1-trip-a-year family. As far as I can tell, he did these things because he felt like. On top of that, he was the manager of the Army Rifle team, and the National Domino team. Yeah, clearly my attention span is genetic.

My brother and I are on the opposite end of the spectrum for just about everything. He's living in Canada, surrounded by my Mom's side of the family, working for a big name computer company, doing design. Meanwhile, I'm in Japan. The closest person from my country is 600 km away, and my closest family is in Australia. I'm winging it on this teaching thing and writing in my spare time.

I made the mistake of telling my brother that I'm a writer in that convo. His reply:

"No, you're a teacher."

Just in case I had forgotten that we have nothing in common and are better off not talking.

As a YA writer, I think about siblings a lot. Sibling and parent relationships can be just as important to a teen as friends. Growing up all my friends pretty much either despised or adored their parents and siblings.

I don't have a problem with Mr. Perfect- er, my little brother. I can't say he feels the same about me. I think he thinks I should (wo)man up and be more responsible instead of gallivanting the world. Maybe some day. But for now I know that there are some people who like to know they've woken up on the same soil they woke up on yesterday, last week and last year. And then there are people like me.

How about you? Did you have siblings? Were you close? Are you now? Did you imagine better siblings for yourself? lol.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What a great idea!

So Nano's right around the corner, and I thought I'd talk about where I get my ideas. (Apologies to those of you non-nanners out there. You must be sick of us by now.)

Ideas come to me constantly. I am not exaggerating when I say a story spark comes to me every day. From my posts, you've already seen that I can make connections where there are none. The same thing happens when it comes to story ideas.I get my ideas from everything that happens in my life.

A Sentence or Phrase
As I was walking home, I saw a guy go the wrong way on a one way street, and it reminded me of a joke we have at home.

This guy is kind of drunk and driving home one night, when he finds himself on a one way street. A policeman stops him.

"Where do you think you're going?"
"I don't know, Officer," the man replies, "But I must be late, 'cuz everybody's coming back."

The phrase "everyone's coming back" stuck in my head. And I thought of a story with an MC who feels like their friends have already reached their destination and are passing him on their way back.

A single word

I was commenting on a blog, and the verification was "ables." Suddenly I was imagining a dystopian society, where you have the regular people, and then those who have developed powers the others don't have - the Ables.

Something you see
Sometimes I'll see a random object on the ground and start to imagine it's story. For example, I can see a pink ribbon and imagine a girl who was a ballerina as a child and her dream was to become a prima, but then she was involved in a bad accident as a teen, and while she can now walk again, she will never dance the same way. SO she throws every thing that reminds her of ballet out the window. Her mother goes out and picks them up, in case her daughter someday wants the memories, but this one ribbon escapes and twirls along on the almost empty main street.

A story you hear
Sometimes a factual story on the news or in the paper, can set me off imagining. Admittedly, this doesn't happen very often since I tend not to go looking for the news, and my tv is in Japanese.

The ones that get me most commonly are tragic stories. Someone's been run over, or murdered their wife. The average person asks themselves, "What would make someone do that?" or merely says, "What a waste!" I start building a plot in my mind.

What if
What if a deaf person wanted to become a concert pianist?

Okay, I'll admit this is not really a what-if, but somethin I saw. My hearing impaired student can play the keys off a piano.

A character
Sometimes a character lodges him/herself in my brain, and eventually tells me his/her story. Like Clarkson Bourne, who's always drunk, and gets into all kinds of messes on account of it.

A theme
After my trip to India, I knew I had to write a story about one set of people oppressing another.

A setting
On occasion a setting inspires a story in me. Living in Japan, I want to some day write a story set here. Also, having gone to a military academy, I'd like to write a story set there one day as well.

A Song
I love music, and there are lots of songs that tell stories. Sometimes, I feel like expanding a song into a novel, or even just capturing the spirit of a song in a novel. Some examples: MISERY BUSINESS by Paramore, SK8ER BOI by Avril Lavigne, pretty much every song Taylor Swift sings, CALIFORNIA GIRLS by Katy Perry, ORDINARY DAY by Vanessa Carlton and 22 by Lily Allen.

All of these are really just sparks, and need development before they could be converted into a novel. But even the tallest tree comes from a seed.

Where do you get your ideas?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In Memoriam

The Right Honourable David Thompson 25 December, 1961- 23 October, 2010

The Prime Minister of Barbados, David Tnompson, passed away on Saturday, October 23rd, 2010. He was 48. He had been diagnosed wiht pancreatic cancer in March. He leaves to mourn, his wife and 3 children.

The new Prime Minister of Barbados is Freundel Stuart. (Pronounce Fruhn-dell)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Crossing Over

The novel I completed started, as so many do these days, in the month-long throes of Nanowrimo. It was a YA novel, and it was good. Not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But it was gritty. Gritty in a way that made a backroad in Tennessee feel like the interstate.

See, the book was about sex. But it pulled no punches. The opening sex scene (yes. OPENING. SEX. SCENE.) contained no heaving bosoms. Nothing quite so PG. It was all grit and anatomy. The way a teen girl might play it back in her mind. It made romance novels seem like picture books.

The scene felt true to the story.

The story is not a pretty one. It's set in a town kind of like the one where you would have found West Side Story a few decades ago. But only without anything so sweet as jazzdancing in the streets.

So I was kind of conflicted. Because it seemed pretty dark for teens. But yet it was also real and true.

It was around that time that I wandered into Writer's Digest Community, and found the Young Adult/Crossover group. They are a group of writers who write for teens. Almost. Their stories and mine, would be best if the age range started around 17.

In my mind, YA is the most diverse audience of them all. There's a big difference between a 12 year old and an 18. Heck there's even a difference between two 18 year olds. An 18 year old in LA, who's brother's in a gang is different from the 18 year old who's spent all her life in Christian girls boarding schools in Utah. And they need different stories.

We write for those teens. The teens who've left Barbies behind eons ago. Or never even bothered to own one.

We've just passed 100 members, and I think we're one of the most active groups on WD. You're welcome to join us, if this is your niche.

Also, even if this isn't your niche, feel free to poke around WD. I've met just as many great people on there as in the blogosphere.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why After-work yoga was a bad idea

10. You are on Day 5 of your 13 day week, and your 5th day of working til 6 or 7 (for a teacher that's late) and you're exhausted.

9. You finish work too late to go home, and too early to just sit at the Hall, so you'll go to the complex across the street to buy socks. $100 later you'll condone yourself with the fact that you actually needed everything you bought.

8. When you finally get to yoga, the guy at the door who takes your 200 yen ($1.50USish) will remind you that you met at the Hip Hop class, and you will spend half the class daydreaming about how YUM he is and how you'll see him at Hip Hop on Tuesday instead of concentrating on the yoga instructor's words...

7. Which are obviously in Japanese, and she's talking in this soft soothing voice, which is great for setting a yoga mood and all but not so great when you're trying to listen to your 5th language. Also, you're exhausted. The combination of little Ms. Soothy Voice and lying on a comfy mat, is really making you want to snooze.

6. You will realise, minutes into the class, that you don't know the Japanese word for breathe, which you've never needed to use, but which might be handy in yoga.

5. When you have to turn over to go into Locust pose, you will be staring straight at YUM's butt. And there goes your concentration again.

4. Even though you're more flexible than average, Japanese people have no bones. You will look over at the instructor and she will have her head between her legs. Meanwhile, you'll be flailing to try and grasp your foot, and thinking you might look like the spawn of a crazy donkey and suffocating goldfish. Then the instructor will calmly mention that she's 50. You'll thinking about throwing your 28 year old body off a bridge, but the thought of the freezing water will stop you.

3. When the class is over, your unmentionables will be so far up your unmentionable, you will contemplate surgery. Then you'll think about trying to explain your dilemma in Japanese, and decide that your unmentionables will either come out willingly or you will learn to live with them where they are.

2. When you actually get home, it's late and you've missed the package you've been waiting on all week- 3 books on the craft, of writing of course. And you kind of knew that this was going to happen, because you won't be home all weekend to receive them. (And yes, Japan Post works 7 days a week, delivery from 7 am to 9 pm.)

And the number 1 reason why after work yoga was a bad idea?

1. You'll be too tired to write the post you intended to write, and feel guilty. But you'll try to tell yourself this post wasn't half bad. And then you'll give up and go to bed, because you have a 13 hour day tomorrow, Saturday, and another on Sunday, so you hope your wonderful readers will forgive you.

And a photo collage of last weekend's trip to Sendai.

I spent half of Saturday at the hostkid's Day Care Sports.

13 month old host-sis doing the Class Dance.

Host "Mom" with host sis.

Crazy races are the order of every Japanese Sports Day

In this game you had to grab other kid's hats without lossing your own, all while piggybacking on Mom or Dad.

Parents had to grab a card, and depending on what they got, and who they matched up with, they'd jump into a huge pair of underpants, wear a tiedup skipping rope like a train or share an umbrella as they raced to the finish line.

Host bro doing his dance.

In front of one of the Date Samurai at Sendai Museum.

My host siblings are too cute!

Samurai Date Masumune's statue at Sendai Castle (where there's no longer an actual castle. lol)

Sendai speciality- cow tongue. It was absolutely delicious. I at it at the oldest cow tongue restaurant in Sendai, and learned the word for absolute mindboggling happiness.


Off to bed. :)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

That's so gay!


So I just read on the Contemps about a big furor over Vince Vaughn saying "That's so gay," in some movie. (Disclaimer: I lovesies the Contemps, and this is nothing personal against them or the poster. Just my views. As always.)

I personally don't have a problem with calling something so gay. Or so retarded. Or so ghetto. Or so whatever you can think of. But as people keep pointing out, I tend to be in the minority when it comes to dealing with other people. Personal tendencies aside, here are some arguments for why I would leave a line like that in a book or movie.

1. They are just words.

This is why it doesn't bother me. They could just as easily make up a random word and insert it into the sentence. I've only ever heard "That's so..." phrases being used in a light context. Jocular. It's very different to saying someone is gay in a negative way. And pretty often you find that the sort of people who use these expressions are just regular people who have nothing against gays, or differently ableds or ghetto people.

It's like the difference between a group of black people referring to their friends as "my ni**as" and someone spraypainting NI**A on my front porch.

2. It's true.

I don't mean that whatever Vince Vaughn was talking about was gay. I don't even know what he was talkign about. I mean that it's a true respresentation of life. When I hear these arguments about not including x or y in media, I ask myself this question. How much is the media supposed to influence real life, and how much is it supposed to reflect it?

3. It's true (part 2).

Like I said I don't know what Vince Vaughn was talking about. But let me tell you a little secret about stereotypes: they are very often based on truth.

Quick example:
A man sees a man in a hot pink pants, and exclaims, "That's so gay!"
We survey 10 men who've worn hot pink pants and 9 are gay. Therefore we can deduce, that for a man, wearing a hot pink pants is "so gay."
(Seriously ask your male friends, and let me know how many have left home in hot pink pants. Please don't do this with Japanese guys, rappers or pimps. Your results will be seriously screwed.)

And I'm not going to pretend that there aren't negative undertones with the association of certain things and "that's so gay!" But really what's wrong with a straight man thinking that being perceived as gay was negative? A proud gay person doesn't like being taken for straight either.

4. You still have to smell the daisies.

I read an email about ten years ago, which may or may not have been true, about Bill Gates on a school visit. The details are sketchy, but here's the gist: he said that all the coddling in school was going to make it harder for kids when they graduated.

Let's take "No Child Left Behind." (If you're not American, that's an education program which basically slows a whole class down to the progress of the slowest children. That's an oversimplification, but for my purposes it will do.) So these kids, they go through school with nothing being too much harder than what they can handle. And then they get out into the real world, and it hits them for a home run. Life is not waiting on them. They get thrown in the deep end. And they have to figure that out quick. Or get left behind.

Painting an inaccurate picture can only make it harder when the time comes to face reality.

5. Omission can actually be a negative.

Enter imaginary teen who's struggling with being gay, but afraid to tell his friends:

"I am so unhappy. I wish I could talk to someone. But my friends would never accept me. I cringe every time they say "that's so gay." I could never tell them who I am. Even the people in movies and books never say stuff that cruel. Hello ledge. JUMP."

Don't believe it could happen? Go talk to the 13 year old anorexic who's got a picture of a size 4 Photoshopped model on her wall.

What do you think?
Should books and movies tell the whole truth? Or only the pretty parts?
Should we protect the children from everything regardless of their age? Or should we teach them according to their age? Or should we just through it all it them, good or bad, sink or swim?

P.S. I am normally a very openminded person. But I've had it up to here (my eyebrows) with people going on and on about leaving things out of the entertainment media. It makes me want to scream! Stop worrying about changing the media, and start working on changing THE REAL DAMN WORLD! Excuse my French.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Japan Writers Conference

So I thought I published this on Friday. Blogger apparently thought differently...

As you know I did the Japan Writers Conference last weekend.

ILOVEDIT!!! So much that I think I will talk about why EVERYONE who wants to be in this industry should attend a conference.

Here's what I absolutely loved:

1. Amazing people from a million backgrounds.
There were people at various stages of the publication process; people who wrote fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or all three; Americans, Canadians, Chinese, Japanese, 5th generation Japanese (quite a different thing). Everyone was so friendly and helpful. And I found out about writers, critiquing and readers groups, right here in Japan.

2. I learned so much! The only thing I'd call myself an "expert" on is foreign langauges, and that's only when compared to the layperson. In a room of linguists, I think I'm bottom-tier. BUT I feel like I've heard most of what's to be said about writing. So I really didn't expect to learn that much.

3. Trying out new things. I made judgements on some things before I tried them. Character trait lists, pre-writing, writing prompts... All things I'd never done, and never felt like they'd help me. During the workshops, I got to try some of these out. And WOW!

4. An opportunity to be an English speaker. Living in Japan, I don't often actually need to speak English. In August, I got through 5 days without speaking English, and I didn't even realise til the 5th day! Being someone that's so into performance poetry and reading, it isn't easy being in a non-English speaking country. In fact, I think that might be the hardest thing.

5. The workshops rocked! There were 3 rooms going on at the same time. 1 room was basically Screen and Fiction, one was Poetry, and one was the business side. But there were some pretty tough choices in some of the slots.

Pre-pubbed author, Holly Thompson, talking about YA literature.

Here's the Nihon (Japanese for Japan) College of Art, where the conference was held. There was also a fall festival going on, because there's always a festival on somewhere here :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Two for Tuesday: Happy Anniversary!

Well, it's Time Travel Tuesday. And it's my blog anniversary! I've been assaulting eyeballs around the world for a whole year! (Actually, the anniversary was Sunday, but I was out of town with my host fam, and posting was just not happening.)

I actually meant to do an INSANITY this week to celebrate, but I somehow didn't factor in that this is my 13 day week, and I'm way too brain-dead to organise anything even vaguely resembling a contest. Unfortunately, I won't be slowing down any til January, so it doesn't look like there'll be any giveaways for a while.

Anyhoozy, in honour of the anniversary, I'm giving you 2 Two for Tuesday's. In case, you don't know what Two for Tuesday is, you post two things and show a link between them.


Here are my favourite two blog posts from the last year.

Jack Sparrow's Writing Rules
from back in June and
16 letters of fame from March.

And two songs I'm celebrating with.
How I feel about my blogging and writing journey- and the Carpenter's ROCK! One of the best things about Japan is it's obsession with the Carpenters :)

And this is how I feel about you guys. You keep me strong. Thanks for staying!

It's been a wonderful year. Here's hoping the next one is just as beautiful and filled with even more triumphs :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

WC- not just a toilet!

Monday! What's on my mind?

Writers Conferences. (As opposed to Water Closet aka toilet- although some people might argue they go to both with their crap...)

Last week, I swore up and down that every writer should make a supreme effort to attend one. So here are a few general thoughts on the subject.

Things to look for when choosing a conference

- Price. Okay, admittedly, I do know of a writer's conference that can run up to $2,500, but most of them are not in that range. You're not going to a conference every weekend. And this is an investment in your future. (Maybe even a tax-deductable one.) Pick a conference early and save for it. Most of us are in a position to put aside a $50 or $100 each month.

- Make-up. Is the conference lecture intensive? Or does it have more hands-on workshops? Or is it more of a "let's write together" thing (a retreat)? Which type works best for you?

- Location. Ideally, the conference will be nearby, cutting down on travel and possibly accommodation costs. You can also try looking for conferences near family or close friends, to save on accommodation. (Accommodation and travel are the biggest costs outside of the actual conference.)

- Who will be there? Will there be big name authors, agents and editors? Will an agent or author that you admire be in attendance? How important is that at this stage in your publication process?

- Access. Will there be an opportunity for one on one time (or small group conversations) with authors, agents or editors?

- Size. This ties into makeup and access. How many people generally attend the conference? How many will be in each workshop/seminar/session? With a smaller size, you also have a chance to develop personal relationships with the attendees. With a bigger size, you've got a greater variety of people in attendance.

- Length. How many days is the conference? How much time can you afford to be at a conference?

Here are a couple of places that you can find info on writers conferences, mostly in the US of A.

New Pages
Poets and Writers
Shaw Guides

Things to do before a conference.
- If you're going to be in small sessions or one on one with publishing professionals, you may want to read something(s) they've written, represented or editted.

- Read the conference website/ info packet thoroughly. Make sure you have all the things you'll need to bring- a WIP, a complete MS, raw beef for the Cerberus that guards the Great Gates of Publishing, whatever they ask for.

- Read the schedule. Conference schedules are often packed. You may want to line up which sessions you'd like to go to before hand. Once again some of them may require you to bring things or make some advance preparations.

- Gather materials. You'll want to take several pens, a notebook or two, maybe your laptop. Make sure you've got everything.

Well there you have it. Writers Conference in a nutshell. Hope you choose to go. It's an unforgettable experience!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Building Character in your characters

It just occurred to me that the word character has like 5 zillion meanings. Well, maybe not that many. Maybe just a million or so. We get all caught up in thinking of characters as personnages, pawns in the stories we tell, but character is first defined as:

the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.


Isn't that interesting?

There was a character workshop by Lauren Shannon at the Japan Writer's Conference. I quite enjoyed it. You know I love my characters. She gave some interesting exercises.

(1) Map it.

Draw a circle. Draw 6 lines coming out from that circle, like spokes. And put a circle on the end of each spoke. In the middle circle, write the character's profession. In the other circles, write stereotypical traits of that profession. Then change one (or two or three). Not a small change, make a 180.

Here's the example we did.

Female Truck Driver named Marge
1. Divorced
2. Big woman
3. Baseball cap and mullet
4. laughs loud and a lot
5. sexy mudflaps
6. swears

Lauren changed the swearing to being extremely proper and anti-swearing. And made Marge into a character who passes through the truck stop the MC works at. She's always getting into fights over people cussing, and since the MC likes her (she leaves good tips), she's always a little stressed when Marge is around, because she's waiting for a fight to start.

And just like that, you've got a story!

But be warned: while you can use this idea to make sure your characters aren't stereotypical, it can make your book Quirk Central with overuse.

(2) 120 questions

Lauren writes a series of questions, a minimum of 120, and answers them for each character. Write a list straight through and then go back and think through each question.

We even had one of the guys in the workshop act as a dummy, and asked him questions about the character he'd created. There were lots of things that might never work their way into his story (where he shopped, if he had friends of his own ethicity, what he ate for breakfast), but I believed they helped make MR. Kwan real. And would help his creator tell his story.

Think about it, when you tell a real life story, there are more bits than what you include. But because you know those bits so well, you can tell the story.

If you've been around this blog awhile, you might remember me objecting to lists like these. That character motivation is a lot more important than Coke or Pepsi. And that I don't know some of my best friends' preferences for the questions the lists ask.

But I don't need to know my best friends as well as I know my characters. Noone's going to not like them because I said they like Coke today and that they liked Pepsi yesterday. And while the big picture remains the most important, it only exists by adding bits of the small picture together.

(3) spaces and places
Write a list or description of all the character's spots. What's on their walls. Is their desk tidy. Does their bedroom stink.

(4) Different ages
Write a scene, letter, etc with the character as a child, a teen, an adult, a senior citizen.

(5) Different situations
Write short scenes in random situations. It doesn't even have to be anything intersting. You could just describe a typical Dunkin' Donuts run or something.

(6) Photo collage
Post character-related pictures in a journal. They don't have to be of the character. For example, if a character likes surfing, plays the flute, and love canolis, have those pics. If you need to get in character, you can have a quick looky.

How do you build character in your characters? What makes a character feel real to you?

PS, I'm off to Sendai tomorrow. Sendai is the big city of the Northeast. It's only a prefecture away, but since the prefectures in the North are frikking huge, that's halfway to Tokyo i.e. 300 km.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Slip with caution

At the writer's conference last weekend, we were given prompts and 7 minutes to go at them. The presenter, Suzanne Kamata, author of LOSING KEI, give the exercise a twist, by choosing all Engrish/Japlish prompts. English and Japlish are both words the foreigners here used to refer to Japanese English, which is often hilarious.

The 4 prompts we had to choose from were:

1. A wonderful thing the shines you is here
2. Slip with caution
3. Sweet smell that can be played
4. I believe lions

Without further ado, I present my latest poem.


i see your heart
beautiful and strong
giving life and love
she's not worth it
Slip With Caution

fall hesitantly
not in one breath
notice the little things
worry about the big
she's not worth it
Slip With Caution

your smile
radiant confident
sure of things
which don't exist
you can't see how
she'll break you
til you
With Caution

my heart
on my sleeve
in your arms
i'll do my best
protect you always
no guarantees
Slip With Caution

To infinity and beyond- Time Travel Tuesday

Ack! Bank holiday this week (Health and Sports day, if you care) has thrown off my days of the week. Not that they were very on last week either...

Time Travel Tuesday is usually where I go back in time with music or some other media.

But you know what? Time goes forward, not back. And I'm feeling all inspired since I got back from the Japan Writers Conference. It totally rocked! I'm going to give you guys a few tidbits tomorrow.

But anyway, I came away from it feeling all like this tiny indispensible part of a great big miracle. So today I share my writing goals.


Character development
Writing prompts
Re-reading earlier WIPs
Reading up on writing YA

Nano! ( which will take the place of all recreational activity- you know things like sleeping and showering and eating. lol)

I've done and won Nano 3 years now. The objective is to have 50,000 words by the end of the month. This time, my aim is to actually finish the book. I never finish in November. I wrote the first 50,000 words of WIP1 in a month, and the last 10,000 took almost 3!

Edit WIP1 Part 1.

So I'm (was) a total pantser. After several attempts to work with WIP1, I've finally realised what the problem is. It isn't a WIP. It's 2. So I'm going to cut apart the Siamese twins, and see if I can keep them both alive.


Produce a manuscript of publishable quality by October.

The Japan Writers Conference always takes place at this time. I want to have an MS in case there are any agent-y types this toss. And also because I felt kinda like a schmuck hearing everyone talk about their racked-up rejections and knowing I'm not even that far.

Submit short stories to Hunger Mountain. Although, I should probably write them first.

Get an agent
Get published
Be invited to present
Go on tour
Never forget who I am, and all the awesome people who've helped me (give yourselves a round of applause.)

All of these are in here because they don't have a timeline. The first 3 are dependent on other people so no matter how good I happen to be, there's an element of luck. Touring is conditional on the first 2. And never is timeless.

How about you? What are your writing goals for the month, the year, forever?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lost in Tokyo

Let me say first off that if getting lost were a video game, I would have the high score. Worldwide.

I got myself thoroughly lost on Sunday night. Going to the hostel that I've stayed at like 8 times. Sad.

The hostel's in Asakusa, Tokyo. Asakusa is convenient because it's at the end of two subway routes, Asakusa line and Ginza.

Train stations in Japan usually have several exits. And coming out the wrong one can severely throw you off. In Sapporo station, there's like a mile between the Northernmost and Southernmost exits. Ginza line, Asakusa Station is particularly tricky, since it's the end of the line, and you can come in on either track, and have different exits depending on which track you pull into.

So I get off the train, and there's the stairs for Exits 5 to 8 right in front of me. I'm only familiar with exits 3 and 4 on this track, but I have to go against the flow of people- not fun in Tokyo- to get to those stairs. So I just take the ones in front of me. I'll figure it out. Right?


I come out in another train station, which I had never noticed before. The next day, I see the building and realise that if I had come out of any of the other 3 sides, I would have seen something familiar. Of course, I came out the 4th side.

I hate looking lost. Especially in places I should know. So I just kinda picked a direction and headed in it.

Let me paint a quick picture of Asakusa for you. Asakusa is right on the Sumida River. One side of the river is Taito-ku (like a township), the other is Sumida-ku. The trains are all in Taito-ku, right on the river. My hostel is in Sumida-ku. There are like 5 bridges that you can see from the Asakusa Station (Asakusa Line). Each is a different colour. Once you find the river and can see these bridges, you know exactly where you are. And you can't lose a whole river. Right?


As I walk past Asakusa Shrine- which is freaking huge, and I'd never see at night, and is all pretty with lights, but too far off to take a good pic- I realise I'm going in the wrong direction. But I hate to look lost. So rather than head back to the station and coming out another side of the building, I decide to double back by tatking two lefts. One left in, I find a map. Confirming that I'm going the wrong direction.

But where I thought I was headed away from the river, I had actually been walking parallel, and now I am actually headed away, and I have no choice but to turn around. I find myself at the river. At a bridge I've never actually seen before. But I can see the two bridges I'm familiar with off in the distance. The sensible thing to do here would be to walk along the river and cross either the Azumabashi (red bridge) or the Komagatabashi (blue bridge and a straight shot to the hostel), but I continue across the blue-green bridge, Kototoibashi. I figure it's crossing the river parallel to the others, it must come out in the same place. Right?


When I reach the other side of the river, I'm on a flyover and I can see the road I want to be on, but I can't get there. Then I find some stairs, but they go down into this dark park. And while crime isn't a problem here, who wants to walk through a park with no lights? I'll just keep going and take the first right, it has to lead back to the road I cross on the way to the hostel. Right?


I've been walking for a while, thinking I should be seeing something familiar by now, when I pass a building with Higashi Komagata 1 on the side. Yay! My hostel is in Higashi (East) Komagata. You know how New York is a grid with all the streets running one way, and all the avenues running another? And if you're on 9th, you're a road away from 9th, and so you just have to figure out which way and go a road over. Tokyo's kinda like that, only in blocks. The good thing is that if you find yourself in the right district, you can only be a few blocks away. The bad thing is that since it's a square, Block 5 might be North of Block 12 and nowhere near Block 6. But I figured if I keep heading this direction, I'll get there. Right?


Suddenly the buildings say Honjo instead of Higashi Kamagata. I start wondering if the Honjo is the name of the yellow bridge which is one over from the blue one. But I can't turn back, because then I'd look lost. Never mind there's noone on the street to see, because it's 10 o' clock on Sunday night, and even though the next day is a bank holiday, the few people that are out and about or on the Taito side of the bridge, which is the happening side.

I'm pretty sure by now that the road I'm on has somehow circumvented my hostel, and take a right turn. It's surprisingly dark. Japan has this thing against street lights or something. Unless a road is going to have heavy traffic on it at 2 am, they don't seem to think street lights are necessary. I'm still in Honjo, but due to the Block system, I can't tell if it's worse or better. Oh, a sign for Komagatabashi (blue bridge). Thank God! I take another right. Can't go wrong with the sign. Right?

Right! And about damn time too. I'm still grumbling at myself for not going back to the station and starting over, since I don't know I'm on the right road yet. And I'm wishing I could see the "Great Flaming Turd" because that would be a great landmark, if it wasn't on the shortest building in the area. Suddenly I'm on my corner. But by now, I'm so offset, I decide to go to the hostel bar.

The "Great Flaming Turd," on top of the Kirin Beer building. It can only be seen when you're on the river, so it's pretty useless as a landmark. But it's great as a laughingstock.

Turns out pretty well. I chitchat with a bunch of workers from the hostel chain (5 properties in Tokyo) and even make a facebook friend!

And of course, as I make my way home, it occurs to me all the ways this is applicable to writing.

1. When you write your first draft (for pantsers) or your outline (for plotters) you sometimes end up a little off the beaten track. But while you're out in the boondocks, you just might discover a really cool shrine, and decide to come back and visit it.

2. As writers, sometimes it's tempting to include everything. To wander a mile to the East, without a reason to be there. But the reader is interested in getting back to the hostel. They're tired and have to be up early in the morning, and would rather see the shrine when they actually plan on seeing the shrine, rather than when they'd planned on being curled up with a Meg Cabot, nodding off.

3. Sometimes there's an easier way to do things. Do you need to have the MC enroll in a cooking class to show that he/she is a culinary connoisseur? Or could you show that in the obsessively detailed descriptions of meals or the fact that they eat at a different ethnic restaurant once a week? If you can have them come out the Azumabashi exit instead, then you'll only have to walk 10 blocks instead of 50. Your feet won't hurt and you'll be able to wake up on time the next day.

ULTIMATE MORAL: Writers should get lost. Often. You can't learn anything new in a place you know like the back of your hand. Readers are all about the destination. Don't get me wrong, they' love a pretty journey. But going from America to Canada via Mexico probably wouldn't thrill them. Unless there's a really really really good reason for hitting up Mexico first, and they'd actually planned on going there.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Cremation

I went to my first Japanese cremation ceremony on Wednesday. Actually, I've never been to any type of cremation ceremony before. A cremation ceremony is different from an actual funeral. The actual funeral is today.

The man who passed away is the father of one of the teachers at the Junior High. He's actually my favourite teacher outside the English department. He's hilarious. And he speaks English. But only when he feels like. Like one day it was just us two in the staff room and two phone lines rang simultameously and he went down on one knee and shouted, "Claire, help me!"

So I went to the cremation partly because I wanted to see it, and partly because it was HIS dad.

In Japan, most people are either Shinto or Buddhist. But you'd never know which they are until they get married or die, because noone is a devout anything here. And people seem to have no problem with upholding customs from several religions at once.

I'm not sure if what I saw was a Buddhist cremation or Shinto. I want to say Shinto, because the monk was wearing something like what the monks wore at the Shrine we went to at the festival (Buddhists have temples, Shinto has shrines) but maybe the buddhist monks look like that too.

The crematorium was in the middle of nowhere. I got a ride with my Principal. You're supposed to put money in these special envelope things and give it in at the reception. Of course, I didn't have an envelope thing. Nor did I have the $500!!! that the guidebook recommended you give in the event of a parent's death. So I just signed the book at the reception. And they gave me a gift.

The card on the gift.

The "Sincere Message" on the box.

The packages inside.

I'm actually not sure what it is, since I haven't opened it, nor made any attempt to decipher the kanji. (Oh the joys of semi-literacy!)

Then we all stood around in the room with his Dad's altar. I'd been warned by my neighbours that the old cremation ceremonies involve passing the bones that didn't burn between chopsticks. (This is why it's considered rude to pass food between chopsticks. It's part of the funerary rites.) But we didn't do that.

After a while, the funeral director (I assume) told us to get into three lines. When I reached the front, I bowed to the picture of the deceased. Then then I took some makko (ground up incense) between my fingers, raised it to my forehead and sprinkled it in the burning side of the container. Then I bowed again. Then I turned to my left and bowed to the teacher and his family. The teacher stepped forward and told me thank you. And for all my practice, I couldn't get out the Japanese word for condolences. To be fair it's a really long word- goshushosama- and sounds rather like gochisousama which is sort of like, "that food was delicious." I kept thinking I'd say that instead. All the while there was a monk chanting to the right of the altar.

And then, the Principal asked a question and when he got his response we left. I assume there wasn't much more going on and those that hung around were just waiting to talk to the family.

Unfortunately, I couldn't go to the funeral, since I'm at a different school and it just so happens to be the super busy one.

And, on that rather morbid note, I'm headed to Tokyo for the Japan Writers' Conference. I have 10 minutes to read someone else's work tomorrow night. I haven't decided what I'll read yet, but I strongly suspect it's going to be a DUFF/PARANORMALCY/PERSONAL DEMONS mashup. And Sunday and Monday are two glorious days of lectures and workshops. (Monday's a holiday here.) Hanging out with writer people. HAPPY!!! See you guys Tuesday.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Obviously, the fact that I posted a schedule meant that I would get sick and not be able to follow it. lol.

No worries it's nothing bad, just allergies. Making things like sitting up and opening your eyes fell like circus work since the dawn of time. And let's not get started on my scary sneezing.

It's October which means it's closer to impending doom ie winter. But which also means it's almost time for nanowrimo. If you have enough writing savvy to be hanging out on the blogs, you've probably already heard of nano, but just in case you haven't, here goes.

NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month.

It started about a decade ago when Chris Baty and some friends out in Cali decided, "You know what would be fun? Writing a novel!" So they figured out a word length (50,000 words) and gave themselves a month to do it.

So the challenge is to start a project on November 1 and cruise past 50,000 words by 11.59 November 30th. You don't have to finish the book in November, but I've found that if I don't it takes eons to get back to it.

For thirty days, you'll have writer buddies encouraging you
You'll be writing so fast you'll have to ignore the suck factor
You'll complete a first draft (or 50,000 words towards it)
You'll have lots of practice at things "real" writers do: not sleeping, not eating, forgetting that there is life outside your writing room
You'll write every day (or most)

You can find more info at
If you're already a nanner, my username is muchlanguage. Friend me, and I'll see you in November.

I'll be going dark this weekend. I'm going to the Japan's Writers Conference!!! I'll try and have a post for you tomorrow, and I hope to be back in time for one on Monday. Yay Conference!!! Psyched!

Oh, and one last thingie. I've got a sekrit project :) I've been hearing so many of my bloggy friends say that, and couldn't wait for the day I could say it myself. Don't worry though, I should be able to share it before the end of the month :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

On Tolerance

To all the new faces around here, welcome.

I just wanted to let you know how we roll here.
Monday- Monday on My Mind (what I'm thinking)
Tuesday- Time Travel Tuesday (usually media)
Wednesday- Write Away Wednesday (writing stuff)
Thursday- Talk Back Thursday (interviews)
Friday- Far Out Friday (Japan and travels)

That's not set in stone. Interviews, for example, don't happen very often. And while Wednesday is writing topics, the other days tie in with writing more often than not.

So, tolerance.

I'm starting with this, because more and more, objectors are coming from this camp.

First off, let me say I'm a Christian. Obviously that colours my perception of right and wrong. But I don't get Christians who are up in arms, protesting things and banning things and burning stuff and persecuting people.

That does not add up in my mind. Some extremist religions make sense. I know that sounds crazy, but stay with me for a second. Of course, I disagree with the extremist actions of suicide bombers and the like. But if your religion and your holy materials say that other people should be blown up, and you blow those people up, there is logic there. The underlying premise may be totally wrong, but still this person has reached a logical conclusion given the information they started with.

Not so with Christianity. Christianity and Judaism have the same roots. And the differences between the two (other than the main- JC or not JC) are things like being chosen versus choosing, being forgiven because you asked vs being forgiven because you offered something, etc. So I don't see how you can declare that you follow a God that forgives and asks that you forgive, a God that offers you free choice, and still want to impose your will and your punishments on others. To my mind, THAT is not logical.

One root of prejudice and intolerance is stereotyping. For example, not all gay people are "flagrant." Not all gay men wear pink eye shadow and try to jump everything with an Adam's apple.

Also, we (the levelminded) also have to remember not to stereotype the intolerant.

My neighbour, P, always says, "I hate being on the same side as an idiot." Everyone will think you're an idiot too.

So please remember if you happen to know an idiot who's a Christian, a New Zealander, a tennis player. That not all Christians, New Zealanders or tennis players are idiots.

If you doubt this, think of all the people you've considered idiots over the years. You went to school with some of them, lived in the same country as some of them, were in clubs with them, etc. If all members of all their groups were idiots, then you'd be an idiot too.

THE MORAL: Don't judge a person by an idiot he or she happens to have something in common with.


Like I said, people from extremist religions doing extremist things is perfectly logical. Not right, but logical. But I don't see why people think extremism would fly in Western society.

I don't get why people think that if you don't restrict something, people will do it so much it will kill them. A greater percentage of drinkers died from alcohol during prohibition than now that it's legal. And it's practically a scientific law that if you tell a teen NOT to do something, they'll find a way to do it. Probably every day.

I come from a monotheistic (one religion) country, which causes my neighbour no end of amusement. But most of our laws are pretty open. Abortion is legal, but that doesn't mean that girls just get pregnant willy nilly and abort every other month.

On the other hand, illegality doesn't seem to do anything to affect people getting their hands on things. Marijuana is illegal in Barbados. I've never smoked, but I know lots of people who do, and illegality is not a kink in the supply chain.

So in the end all extremism does is make people dislike you.


I don't get why people can't just avoid the things that bug them. Think certain books destroy the minds of young readers, don't let your kids read them. If they're just being available in your district might result in your kid reading them, then that's really a problem for you and your kid. Let me quote some Jay-z for ya.

"If you having [kid] problems, I feel bad for ya, son,
I got 99 problems and [my kid] ain't one."

That thing that you're so hellbent on taking away from someone, it just might be their lifeline. And maybe, you think they'd be better off dead. But it's not my decision whether you live or die. And it's not your decision whether they do, either.

And that's what's on my mind this Monday (except that it's ticked over to Tuesday most places in the world.)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bijou to Yajuu (Beauty and the Beast)

I owe you guys some winners.

The two winners of the Banned Books Packages are:

drum roll , please...




Congrats guys. Hit me up at muchlanguage(at) gmail (dot) com with mailing info.

Last weekend, I went to see the musical, Bijou to Yajuu (Beauty and the Beast) with two of my neighbours, P and his wife, W. The best feel-good thing in the world is a musical, so I was on a high for the rest of the day, skipping across roads and stuff. lol.

Here are a few of the highlights. I don't have of the earlier shots because I wasn't sure we were allowed to take pics. The guy next to us was doing it though, so I figured it was safe.

Here's Gaston singing about himself as the swoony triplets and the rest of the town look on.

Trying to convince Belle to go to dinner. From Left to Right: Lumiere's girlfriend, Chip, Wardrobe, Mrs. Potts, Belle and Lumiere.

Be our guest! I love this song and it works so well on stage.

This song is not in the Disney movie, and I've never seen the English stage adaptation. The forks and spoons (and the kids in pyjama-looking things) are all elementary school kids form the area. 4 of my kids were in the play.

Beast fights off the "jazz wolves" and saves Belle.

Pretty much the entire castle was on stage for this dance number. (I'm so sorry I have no photos of the first number with all the villagers :( )

Mrs. Potts sings Ai no Tobira (Love's Gate). The English version is Tale As Old As Time. One of the sweetest songs ever written, IMO.

The Sugar!!! See the tiny person on the right. When Chip frst came out, he offered Belle a cup of tea, and asked if she wanted sugar. And out runs this 3 yr old. He was the cutest thing ever. The entire audience went, "Aw!"

Curtain call. Up front, Beast, Belle and the Prince before/after being Beast.

We ran into Mrs. Potts outside. She had the Sugar!. Isn't he a sweetie?

Kill the Beast!

Beast is human again. (If you've watched the Disney movie as much as I have, the Japanese won't stop you from understanding. lol) I love that he didn't notice Belle wasn't there until he asked her to look and see their true forms.

The finale! There's something about the end of a musical that makes you feel like you can fly. And the awesome song doesn't hurt either.