Friday, April 29, 2011

Hanami in Pictures

Well, it's that time of year again.


Hanami literally means "flowers look". It's a type of party that happens here in the spring during cherry blossom season.

Two years in a row, I went up to Hirosaki Castle Park to have a hanami with friends. Hirosaki Castle Park is one of the 3 most famous places in Japan for Hanami. It's about 2 hours North of where I live.

This is the actual castle. I've never been inside...

...because of this line.

Lots of people dress to impress for hanami in the big parks.

An important part of hanami is the liquor. (Yes, they've got a plastic bag tied around dude's neck. lol)

Getting drunk is sport of Olympic proportions in this country. And there isn't really a stigma attached :)

And then of course there's the food- one of the biggest reasons I love festivals in Japan. These are called dango- they're made from rice. (99.9% of Japanese food is made from rice, soy or fish.)

Of course, the best part is the cherry blossoms themselves.

Aren't they gorgeous?

Especially next to the water.

And their sheer numbers are mind-boggling.

I'm not that much for nature, but I can't help but smile when the trees match my sweater.

My neighbours and I are hosting a hanami tomorrow. Thanks to the two cold snaps recently, the cherry blossoms are 2 weeks overdue, and there is only when blooming tree in town. Oh well, thought that counts, right? lol

Also it's Golden Week. Today (Fri) is a holiday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are holidays. They owed me a comp for working last Sunday, so I took Monday off, and I took a vacation day next Friday. My next day of work is Monday, May 9th. And that, my friends, is why Japan is hawt!!!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Winner, Review, Giveaway 17

(I've just thought that I should number these. Might make my life easier...)

The winner of Giveaway number 16

a copy of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist



Congrats! I loved your response to the question too :)

Today up for grabs is:

Serving Crazy with Curry by Amulya Malladi

A couple weeks ago, I stumbled onto the Colourful Chick Lit challenge on Goodreads. Man, am I glad I did. I've been to Black Atlanta, and the Philippines, and SERVING CRAZY WITH CURRY took me to Indian America.

First, the title. I picked this book out of the list purely on the title. Apart from being awesome, it's actually very representative of the book. Devi attempts suicide, only to be saved by her mother. As she recovers she stops talking. To replace her voice and drown out her thoughts, she starts cooking up a storm every day.

Because Devi isn't talking, we must wait and discover things with the family as the real story of what happened unfolds. But the story isn't only about Devi. There are two failing marriages, women struggling to uphold or rebel against Indian culture, people struggling to reconcile the Indian bits of themselves with the American bits.

One drawback: sometimes the head-hopping happened and you didn't know and you were left wondering why one character knew something she shouldn't. But the wonderfully written Indian-based food more than makes up for it. Don't read on an empty stomach!

The rules:
Answer this: If you couldn't talk (or write), what hobby would you take up to express yourself?
Comment before next Wednesday May 4th 11.59 pm EST
You must be a follower to win. (Remember next week is the first of the month and open to everyone.)

Good luck!

(PS, Remember how I'm supposed to be staying away from Amazon? Well somehow I ended up in the free Kindle books. They're free, so I'm not technically breaking the ban? Thank God they're free. I have 52 new books on my Kindle! I'm going to be reading classics for the next decade!)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Writing the Other

Almost every week, I come across a blog post or an article requesting more stories starring Blacks, Asians, Gays (or anyone else in the LGBTQ group), fat people, developmentally-challenged etc, etc. (For the purpose of making both our lives easier, I'll call these populations The Other from here on.)

But before you rush out and do the noble thing of writing about one of the populations, let me tell you something that every Black, Asian, Gay, fat person, etc, and all their friends know. There really is no worse disservice to these populations than a stereotypical character.

I don't profess to be an expert. I don't think that, because I'm black, I have more knowledge on this topic than anyone else. But I am innanely fascinated by the way people work, so I'd like to give you a few things to consider.

1. The Other is not just The Norm, but with a twist.

A few weeks ago, I read a blog which referenced a post on writing LGBTQ characters. One of the schools of thought was that these characters should be written "just like any other character, but gay". I agree with the blogger that this is entirely not true.

The Other is always different, as long as they live in a society where The Norm is revered/more accepted. A character is not totally unaffected by the fact that she is fat. If there's a beach party, she will probably be more reluctant to come out in a bikini. I remembered thinking about this recently, as I re-watched Dawson's creek. Joey was in a bikini every episode. A fat character would never do that. Growing up on a coast/creek/lake or in a community where everyone has a pool must be a nightmare for fat teens. (Little kids care a lot less.)

2. What it means when The Other acts like the Norm

Maybe you know someone who doesn't act like The Other; doesn't seem to have the same hangups of people in their group.

If you want to write characters like this, you need to know why they act like The Norm, and to understand what it means to them to act that way. Is your Black character not like other Black characters because, like me, she grew up in a non-stereotypical Black community, where she had Black role models and access to education?

If your fat character puts on a bikini, it means something different than when a 90 pound character does. Maybe she's supremely confident and self-assured. Maybe she's tired of being bothered about what other people think.

3. How does The Other react when in a situation where The Norm is King

Things don't go as right for The Other as they do for The Norm. The Other is often discriminated against. We're used to the 'big discrimination': not getting jobs, not getting promotion, not being picked for teams/clubs in school. But The Others can also experience small acts of discrimination. People don't smile at them as much. Fewer people want to be their (girl/boy)friends.

People react to the discrimination (real or perceived) in different ways.

There are some people who take it as a personal affront and blame everything that goes wrong on it. ("It's because I'm Black, ain't it?)

Others refuse to fit the stereotype. They aspire to reach all the places they're not supposed to.

Others ignore the expectations.

4. How do The Other's micro-society's standards fit with those of the society at large

This is a big consideration for people who grow up in Jewish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Indian, etc, families. They may be expected to get all A's at school, whereas their friends are allowed to just pass the classes. They may be expected to have an arranged marriage, while their friends get to choose their partners. The may be expected to marry their first SO, while friends can date casually.

Some people deal with this like it's just a fact of life. For others, it's a severe trial.

5. New-found Other status

Life is also significantly different for those who grew up in a situation where they were not a minority.

What's life like for a recent immigrant? Who must suddenly deal with getting strange looks and people who ridicule their customs or insult them? What's it like growing up in one of the niches of America where minorities aren't minorities (San Francisco, Atlanta) and then moving to somewhere else?

These are just a few of the things that pop into my mind on this topic. If you're going to be bold enough to write an Other character, be sure to consider all the ways in which being an Other may affect him or her, and, just as importantly, how it doesn't. Think it through. Do your research. Find an Other (or, in the case of some developmental-disabilities, someone close to an Other) and talk to them. Ideally, let them read your work and give you feedback.

(Hilarious blooper. "I don't think that, because I'm black..." originally read, "I don't think because I'm black" Thank God for proofreading! lol. I know some black people who would so not have not been thrilled with me.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Happy in the new new millenium

This post is a continuation of last week's, HAPPY music.

HAPPY, Ashanti, 2001.

HAPPY, Ayiesha Wood, 2006.

HAPPY? Mudvayne, 2005. (explicit)

HAPPY, Jenny Lewis, 2006.

HAPPY, Saving Jane, 2006.

HAPPY, Hilary Duff, 2007.

HAPPY, Natasha Bedingfield, 2007.

HAPPY, Liz Mcclarnon, 2007.

HAPPY, Leona Lewis, 2009.

Even the Japanese got involved.
HAPPY, Koharu Kusumi, 2006.

HAPPY, Bump of Chicken, April 14, 2010.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Where's the love?

I'm sick. Not dying or anything. But the cold is doing it's best to make my life (and my breathing) difficult.

Even though I'm sick enough to warrant the mask (Japanese people wear it from the first signs of sickness, I don't nother unless I'm sneezing, or coughing a lot or have a sore throat) I went to work yesterday (yes, Sunday). There were demo-classes that the parents could watch, a PTA meeting, and a drinking party with the PTA. So I didn't get home til after 9. Did I mention it was Sunday?

So, all my teachers are off as a comp day, but I have a meeting in the office. But I could probably get around that, if I really wanted to. I guess I'm at work because I don't mind. Because I actually love my job.

I mean I've been doing it for 3 years- and that's like a millennium for me. Also, my job neccesitates being on the other side of the world from the grand majority of important people and things in my life. If I didn't love it, I wouldn't still be here. Because I love it, it's easy. Or at worse, doable.

Even in October, when I work every weekend and 2 weeks of late nights. Even when I have to spend a small fortune in drinking parties during the graduation-teacher transfer season. Even when the teachers and supervisors spring stuff on me at the last half a nanosecond.

It's easier when you love it.

Same applies to our work as writers. Writing novels is a long process. Drafting, critiquing, planning, revising/editing, submitting, more revising/editing, etc. It's a long long loooooong road.

There will be times when you work every day, weekends included. There will be late nights. There will be days you'd rather be with family and friends. And your writing addiction will eat money. For one reason or another.

The writer's life is a life of sacrifice.

But if you love something, it's worth it.

That's not to say there won't be hard days. But when they come, take a break or do something fun or take a deep breath.

Then remind yourself:

I love this job!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Winner, Review, Giveaway

The winner of last week's craft package giveaway


and a copy of WRITING & SELLING THE YA NOVEL is...

Natasha M. Heck!!!

Congrats Natasha! Email me - muchlanguage (at) gmail (dot) com, with your address.

Today's review:

I started this book at 7.30 am, while waiting on the bus to Tiny School. I went to school, taught, got a cold, took medicine, slept, went to movie night with my friends, and still, the book was such a page-turner that I was wrapping it up at midnight.

In an attempt for the review not to be a total fan-girl gush, I'm going to review it in music!

One of the coolest things about the story is that it takes place over one night only. (Jennifer Hudson)

Another thing is the representation of gays in the novel. I am not a champion for a gay rights by any stretch of the imagination, but I hate feeling like every "issue" person in novels has to be struggling with that issue. All Blacks are in turmoil over the fact that they're black. All Asians are struggling with being Asian. Gays are fighting not to be gay or to be accepted. You can't just be Black/Asian/Gay and cool with it. You can't just be like, "This is who I am!" (Jessica Andrews)

Music is so interwoven with this story that it's a theme, a setting, almost a character. The two main characters meet on account of music, and they have music in common. (Rihanna)

Both Nick and Norah's ex's have roles to play in the tale. And both their previous relationships were dysfunctional for different reasons. And both Nick and Norah struggle to come to terms with that.

A personal pet peeve of mine is the prevalence of books which deal with topics through the same lens as the topic. The language of a love story must be beautiful. If a story is about death, it has to be a tearjerker. But this novel is set in the punk-rock/queer core NYC music scene- not exactly a setting that makes you think of wedding marches and honeymoons. I love the juxtaposition of these two things, because you don't have to be a sappy, romantic (like me- lol) to fall in love. Sad stories happen in happy places and vice versa. It's like Singing in the Rain. (Gene Kelly.)

This weeks rules:
Open til 11.59 EST
Open internationally
To win, tell me, what single night (or day) most changed your life?

Good luck!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

First draft journey

In this week's giveaway, I asked about your creative paradigm. Since we're on the subject I thought I'd tell you a little about mine.

The first thing that happens is that something comes to me, knocks on the door of my imagination and has a hissy fit in a high pitched voice:

"We wants to be writed. Now. Last week."

I'm not the type that has to go looking for ideas. In fact, I have a word document (Novel Concepts) that is pretty much all titles and/or 2 or 3 line summaries of ideas.

I'm not a plotter, but I'm not as hardcore a pantser as I could be.I think of my paradigm of an asymptote- I'll probably continue to get closer and closer to how plotters function, but I'll never really be a plotter.

In my brainstorming stage, I roll over the characters and plot in my mind. One of the things I hear about my writing is that my characters feel real. I think it's because they live in my head so long before I write anything. They're like my friends because I know them. (Sadly the brainstorming thing doesn't seem to have much of an effect on plot. I'm working on it.)

I've completed 3 manuscripts. They've all been for nanowrimo. Seems I can't write a novel unless I go out in a blaze of guns and glory. The process of actually getting my story down on paper (or on hard drive, really) is all about flying through it as fast as life (and my fingers) will allow.

So that's my first draft journey. The things that come out well in my first draft are voice (I get lots of compliments on it) and character. According to both critiquers and my own opinion, the thing I need to work on most is plot. I think I only do settings well when I make them up. My hooks aren't all that hooky. And I'm working on making my theme's less like Slughorn's memories (screamy and overpowering).

Btw, I've started on the earthquake novel. Cranked out 3,000 words yesterday and it's barely 2 hours in!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy until 1999

It's Time Travel Tuesday!

When the going gets tough, the tough listen to happy music :) According to the wiki peeps, there are more than 20 songs named Happy. (I haven't featured them all.) I'm posting until the end of the last millenium today, and the rest will be up next week.

HAPPY, The Rolling Stones, 1972.

HAPPY, Jackson 5, 1973.

HAPPY, The Carpenters, 1975.

HAPPY, Rick James w/ Teena Marie, 1982.

HAPPY, Surface, 1987.

HAPPY, Bruce Springsteen, 1992.

HAPPY, Travis, 1997.

HAPPY, Sister Hazel, 1997.

HAPPY, Alexia (Italian singer), 1999.

HAPPY, Lolly, 1999.

Alright then, who's happy?

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Perks of Banning

No, I'm not talking about banning of books. While I suspect there's a certain visibility that it offers a book, that's not my point today. I'm talking about banning as a means of self-discipline.

The cold, hard, nasty, grimy, tear-worthy facts:

I've bought 41 books in the last month. 38 of them have been for Kindle.

So, I've banned myself off Amazon (other than buying the books for the giveaways, if the winners are in the US) because apparently moderation is not a word in my vocabulary. I'll be staying away for overlord of all things "e-" until the end of June. I'm not even going to make any pretense about going past that. Firstly, there's no way I'll miss out on the summer releases. Secondly, I just won't last that long. A reasonable goal is always better for me. If I know a goal is unreasonable or will require a supreme effort, I often give up on it before I really get started.

As writers, we often have to ban (and bribe) ourselves to get anything done.

- No tv except on weekends
- No snacks until I finish this chapter
- No internet or background programs while working on my MS

and et cetera and so forth...

What have you had to ban yourself from to acheive your writing goals (or your credit card's life?)

Friday, April 15, 2011


The employment system in Japan is weird. Every so often for no particular reason, people get switched from working at one branch of a company to another. For teachers and people in government this happens in April.

Here's how it works, as far as I can deduce, since noone's ever bothered to explain it. Not because they are actively trying not to explain. Japan just isn't as exposed to the rest of the world, and they have this way of assuming that things that are run-of-the-mill over here are also the norm in other countries.

My colleagues and I are employed directly by our town, so we can't get transfered. But every March when we say our goodbyes to the teachers at graduation, we leave in fear that when we come back all our favourite teachers (ie the ones who speak to us instead of running away) will be gone.

The teachers know about their transfers before graduation, although I'm not sure by how much. At that point it's a "secret". ie, it's not public knowledge. But everyone in the school knows. Except the ALT (me). This year was a strange case however. The earthquake/tsunami combo happened on the last day of school. The transfers had already been sorted. They were supposed ot be announced on March 18th, but they weren't announced until March 28th. We theorise there needed to be some reorganisation for the schools and teachers that didn't make it through.

I went to the Entrance Ceremony at my Junior High School last week. I put my bag in the staff room and headed up to the gym/auditorium. As I walked I glanced through the teacher list, trying to guess at the readings of the new teachers' kanji. Then I realised I hadn't seen one of my English teacher's name. Wait a minute, where's the other one? And where's that crazy teacher's name? The one who was alone with me in the staff room when two phone lines rang simultaneously and he screamed in English, "Claire, HELP ME!!!" They'd transfered 8 of my 18 teaching staff, and had managed to take all the ones who were even remotely close to being friends.

Except the one that lives near me. And it seems to me -once again just from living here for 3 years, because noone told me- that they can't/don't transfer teachers who are just back from maternity leave.

I felt like crying. Who would i talk to in the staff room and at enkais (drinking parties- this culture is weird: it's pretty much mandatory to go out and get drunk with your bosses here)?

When I got to my big elementary school, I discovered that the God Principal was gone. He found an excuse to dress up as God, complete with halo and angel wings at least twice a year. I'm not sure if he retired or if he was transfered. And he loved Mount Gay Rum- the oldest rum in the world and a product of Barbados.

Then yesterday at tiny elementary,it was the super-cool vice principal who has the same favourite colours as mine: pink and purple.

But somehow, it's not been so bad. My new English teacher is amazing. She gives me more freedom than my last English teachers. And even though I miss them, I realise that it's easy to get comfortable. And then you never do anything different. And you don't push yourself. Or those around you. You just cruise.

Maybe I do understand why they have the transfers after all. All the teachers that have been switched around, and all those who've been here and will welcome them, won't be able to settle into a rut. Both the English teacher and I will have a chance to grow. That kind of makes me happy.

Plus she let me play Hangman for half the class.

Winner, reviews, giveaway- Craft books




Congrats! Email me at muchlanguage (at) gmail (dot) com, with a name and mailing address.

Thanks to the unavailability of internet last week, I didn't do a giveaway, so I'll be making it up with two books this week. Also, this is the first giveaway this month, so it's open to everybody and their sister!

Today I'm giving away 2 craft books:


For me, the reading was a little dry and it took a while to get through it. (I'm not a big fan of non-fiction.) Also I wasn't totally sold on the types of scenes listed in the book.

I thought the book was really thorough. It showed a few highlights of the business side: whether or not you need/want and agent, what the agent does, what happens all the way to publication. And it took me through the entire creative process from first draft to final edit. I especially liked that Ingermanson and Economy described (and showed benefits and drawbacks for) a set of creative paradigms:

Edit-as-you-guy (like seat of pants, but with pauses to edit periodically)
Snowflake (start with big picture and fill in more and more details)


One of my fave things about WSTYN is that Going never acts like the way she describs is the only way. She points out possibilites and even the repercussions in some cases. (For example, of course you can have sex in your book, but be prepared that some people are nto going to like it.) Going also includes teen feedback on simple questions like "Who's your favourite character and why?" which is useful if you haven't been YA yourself for a while and would like to find out more about what teens today like.

Personally, I was quite thrilled to find that she builds her stories idea-character-plot, as it seems that many people go idea-plot-character. Nice to know I'm not alone.

1. Entries are open to everyone, follower or not.
2. You can enter until 11.59 pm EST on Wednesday.
3. Entries are open internationally.
4. To enter, tell me what's your creative paradigm? How do you attack a first draft?

(PS, Thanks for the love on my Sad News post.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Somewhere out there

I remember reading somewhere (several places actually) that once you build a fan base- and you start from the moment you put yourself out there, whether with a published book or a blog, etc- that you should try to stay in whatever vein you were in when you started. That's not to say you can't evolve. The warning's against having your first book be a story of rainbow fairy unicorn princesses and your second about a serial murderer who leaves the toilet seat up.

This is kind of a scary thought for me, since my entire life is characterised by not staying in one place and not doing the same thing. So, I've been trying to find a broad enough thread to link my stories. Let's look at Stephen King, for example. What's the unifying thread in all of them? Everyday supernatural horror. He's taken everyday things that people are often afraid of (the prom, clowns, small mostly-deserted towns) and woven them into these supernatural horror threads.

I couldn't find anything in my stories like that.
WIP1: about two girls growing up in a bad neighbourhood and their exxperiences.
WIP2: set in a world where dark-skinned people rule and are prejudiced against the light-skins.
WIP3: about a girl who loses her mother in her second to last year at secondary school.

The only thing they all had was a lead character under 20.

Enter Takashi Miike.

I was watching another odd Japanese movie, Zebraman, earlier this week. As usual, I looked it up to see if I could find a plot summary. (My Japanese is decent, but sometimes I understand most of what is said, and still miss what's going on. Although this might be due to the movie. Sometimes I watch Japanese movies with subtitles and still have no clue what happened.)

Turns out the director was Takashi Miike, who also directed a movie I rented last week. I looked him up at that point and it turned out he's directe 5 Japanese movies I've watched. Since I can't even name 5 movies by any other director, I think that makes Miike my fave director in the world. But something else in the article caught my eye.

Dark. Humour.

Dark/black humour/comedy is a subgenre in which a serious/scary topic (often a taboo one) is examined in a not-so-serious way. It ranges from laugh-out-loud sort of funny to Damn, how could they write such things?

Some examples:

Addams Family: A family of monsters who love one another. While this is more to the comedy end of the spectrum, the Addams family uses a scary base (monsters) to examine the concept of family. Even though they are monsters, they love one another, and are not at all dysfunctional. In fact, lots of real families have a lot to learn from the Addams. Another interesting fact with the Addams is that they don't realise they freak other people out. My moral of the story: no matter what you think of a family looking in at it, it's fine if they love one another and are living in each other's best interest.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian: A native American goes to an all-white school and finds he doesn't fit in there or at home. With it's cartoons, and self-degrading voice, it looks at racial issues. It's not a straight-out comedy either, but comedy plays a role.

Catch-22: I haven't actually read this yet. (I know, I know. It's on my Kindle. Promise I'm getting to it.) This is the other end of the spectrum- where things are funny in more of a "Hmm" way than a "Haha" way. Catch-22 looks at the madness that is war.

The perk of dark humour is that it spans 2 extremes. I love issue books, but after a good book about death or suicide or rape, you just feel so depressed. And I feel less fulfilled reading slapstick comedy or light cheerleader stories with scarcely a moral in sight. Dark humour is the bridge. My way to deal with an issue in a way that doesn't make me (or my audience) want to sob.

It won't be easy- it's a small, difficult, often-banned niche- but it's better than being miserable about what I wish I was writing.

All of that to say this: Just because you haven't found it (your niche, your voice, your agent), doesn't mean it isn't out there. Keep looking. It'll come.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sad News

My neighbour (with mike) and Monty at karaoke in Tokyo, August 2009.

You've probably heard me talk about missing friends recently.

Monty Dickson was reported as missing after the tsunami of March 11. One of the first images we saw when power returned here was the town of Rikuzentakata. Watching, as the wave devoured the main city area, I said to my neighbours, "That's Monty's town. I hope he's alright."

Information was slow coming out of Takata, as we call it for short. Eventually we heard that Monty had spoken to his girlfriend right after the quake. He told her he'd evacuated to the 3rd floor of the City Hall, as he was supposed to. That very night, we saw an interview with a woman from Takata. She'd been at City Hall and left to go to the library and get her daughter. When the wave hit, they were pulled apart. Then they showed a picture of where the City Hall used to be.


Last week Tuesday (Monday on your side of the world) they found a body fitting Monty's description. His girlfriend went to identify him.

As per usual, we found out on Facebook. This is one of the biggest cultural differences I've experienced here. In the West, information goes out as fast as you can get it out. In Japan, there's a chain of command to everything. All the right people have to be informed first and what's not. So I read the article on World Blog before it was officially announced here. I understand this now, but it took some getting used to.

I first met Monty in Tokyo almost 2 years ago. We're both participants on the JET and I went down to Tokyo as a 'sempai' (=senior) JET from Iwate to orientate the newbies. Monty and I weren't close friends, and since we lived at opposite ends of the biggest mainland prefecture, we really only met up at official prefectural events. (A prefecture is like the American equivalent of a state. Only much, much tinier.) Monty had an amazingly subtle sense of humour. My neighbour absolutely loved it.

He also had the most incredible Japanese, something which I really admire. (Even though Japanese is my 4th foreign language, it does not come easy. And while I get by in any situation you throw me into, I'd never tell you I'm fluent.) A fact that no doubt contributed to the fact that he was practically a superhero in Takata. Monty integrated so well into his community that the last time I saw him was in February, when my neighbour opened up a Japanese travel magazine and was shocked to find Monty smiling out at him. 流石, Monty-san, 流石.

Rest In Peace Eternal.

NB. 流石 is pronounced sasuga, and means "just as expected".

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why didn't I think of that before?

Hey guys,

Sorry for the break in transmission. Life is a little unreliable here. I missed a book giveaway, so I'll be announcing the winner of CHASING HARRY WINSTON on Thursday. Also, I'll give away two books to make up for the missed week (and the fact that I'm a hot mess in general.)

I've mentioned how I've been struggling with all that's going on: missing friends, so many people who've lost their lives and possessions, pressure from worried friends, trying to keep track of all the info, guilt, uselesness, stress etc.

I took Monday and Tuesday off last week to veg. I just sat in the house and did nothing. It was pretty restful. And for the rest of the week, I had opening ceremonies at different schools, so all I was required to do was listen to speeches. But I'm still a bit worn out.

And then it hit me. The perfect way to deal with everything. And I don't know how I didn't think about it before. I mean, I AM a writer, aren't I?

I'm going to write a book.

I've decided against non-fiction because I don't read it, and there are tons of people with Japan quals. I just live here. So I'm writing a fictionalised account. It's meant to be therapeutic- and I also plan to experiment with a style I haven't used before. At this point, I can't say whether I'll ever try to sell it. But I don't think there's ever been a book I NEED to write as much as this one.

How about you guys? Ever felt like there was something you absolutely HAD to write?

Friday, April 8, 2011


safe after 7.4 quake. Without power. Love my kindle. Tired of shaking earth.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Perfect as can be

Don't forget to send your 10 books for inclusion in the 100 Books Every Writer Should Read. (See the ridicky looking jpg over there?----->>>>)

I'd like to thank author, Debi Alper, for being A.MAY.ZING. After the earthquake/tsunami combo prevented me from heading to York fo r my conference, the awesome Debi Alper- who I wasn't even signed up to meet with, but who knew me from the Festival forum- offered to look at the work I'd sent in.

Thanks, Debi!

Anyhow, this most recent critique has got me to thinking about perfecting your writing. I'm not really talking about the individual manuscript level. I mean as an author. I've 'completed' 3 manuscripts, and while the 3rd is leaps, leagues and light years better than the 1st, many of the same flaws exist.

According to Writing Fiction for Dummies, by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy, there are 5 pillars of fiction: Style (which I think is what we hear of as voice), story world, character, plot, and theme.

In my (very humble, unaccomplished)opinion, these things sell a book:
Something tiny,
Something huge,
Someone to feel,
Something to do.

In other words, hook, theme, characters, plot. The other two elements that a book needs (but that won't sell a book all on their own) are setting and voice.

So now, we've got 5 or 6 things that you need to polish. I think anyone interested in writing is probably good with 1 or 2 of these naturally. The rest we have to work on. But how do we know which is which?


1. Self-examination.

As writers, we're often pre-disposed to seeing our work as all unicorns and rainbows (unicorn-covered rainbows or rainbow-covered unicorns) even. On the other hand, we also swing into 'everything I touch turns to rust' territory pretty often.


Noone knows your work like you. Pick up an MS you haven't seen in at least 2 months, and re-read it. You'll immediately know which elements are hitting the mark and which make you want to drown yourself in a Strawberry Sundae.

2. Critique partners/beta readers

It's always recommended that you get other writers to look at your work. But in this case, I don't think that's absolutely neccesary. Yes, your friends won't know what to look for, and they won't want to hurt your feelings. Just ask what their favourite things were and what didn't gel so well for them.

You'll probably get answers like:
"I really like how the MC..." (character)
"I thought that it took too long for..." (plot)
"I love that it was about..." (theme)
"I felt like I was in..." (setting)

If you're fortunate enough to have writer-critiquers, then analyse their feedback and see where it fits. If all your criticisms are in the same area, then you've found your weak spot.

3. The pro's

Partial critiques

It's not that hard to have an industry professional do a partial critique of your work. There are lots of opportunities to win on agent and author blogs, you just have to keep your ears to the ground (or web). Also, if you're interested in conferences (which I think you should be- but don't listen to me, since it seems to be impossible for me to leave Japan for a conference), then look for ones which include a chance to have an author/agent/editor look at your work.

Full critiques

These are much harder to come by for free. Still, be vigilant on the web, and you may see a few ops. If you're willing to pay, there are thousands of freelance editors. Please check to make sure they are reputable, and that their credentials are relevant to you.

1. Literature

There are a million and one craft books out there for writers. It's good to get your hands on a general craft book, and probably also one for your genre. But you'll also want to read up on your weak spots. There are two wonderful-looking series on Amazon (ordered a few, but haven't read them yet): Write Great Fiction and Elements of fiction writing.

Also, blogs are not to be discounted. There are lots of authors who are amazing for offering free advice on their blogs. A few of my faves: Shannon Messenger, Angela Ackerman, Elana Johnson and Natalie Whipple.

2. Classes

If you prefer interactive learning (or live in an English-speaking country or a country where your daytime is not the middle of the night in the West) then you can take a class nearby or online. I recommend the Writer's Digest University. Classes are more expensive than literature (up to 10 times as much) but then, they're are more personalised and give you feedback.

Your call.

3. One-offs

Workshops, webinars, conferences etc. There are lots of events ranging from 1 day to 1 week, where you can focus on the elements of writing. Most conferences include a workshop on plot, one on character, one of theme, one on hook, etc. Some-times one-offs are more expensive than classes, sometimes they're less expensive. They are generally larger and less personal.

4. Write

Having identified the problem factors in your fiction, you can actually solve a lot by writing. Every element of your writing gets better with practice. In fact, you can not improve unless you write. (Please remember this and don't become one of those writers who lives on blogs and has read every craft book, but doesn't have a single complete first draft.)

Voice/style, moreso than any other element improves according to how much and how often you write. But with a little thought, and a whole lot of practice, you can improve any of the elements.

And, just in case you wondered, my strongest element- the one I am always complemented on, no matter how bad everything else sucks- is voice. Number 2 is character. Plot is a total washout, and I've never made any effort whatsoever with setting. (Sad, but true.) The next craft book I'll be reading is Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.

Happy Fixing!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How do I Kindle? Let me count the ways!

Don't forget to enter this week's giveaway.

Also 100 Books Every Writer Should Read now has a .jpg ------->>>>>>>
YAY! Clearly self-made. What? This is why I'm a writer, and not an illustrator.

I've promised myself to do a post on the awesome that is my Kindle. I love my Kindle to peeeecies! His name is RB (after a character in my first novel and the two awesome real-life people that character's based on) and I'm tempted to marry it. I mean, they let a guy here marry a video game character last year, they'd probably let me marry RB...

5. Travel

It's so easy to travel with RB. He's a Kindle DX, which is like B5 size, almost like your regular printer paper. It's heavier and bigger than most electronic readers. But it's still lighter and less bulky than 3 or 4 books, which is what I normally travel with.

4. Free books
If the copyright for a book is out, then it's available for anywhere between free and $2.00 from Amazon or Project Gutenberg. That's how I ended up reading The Secret Garden and What Katy Did. I also got A Christmas Carol and Wind in the Willows for free. And I've just added The Scarlet Letter.

3. Japan

As you know, I live in Japan. I don't read enough kanji for Japanese books to be anything but study material. The bookstores here have tiny English sections. And the nearest of the big chains is an hour away by train. It all adds up to my pretty much HAVING TO buy all my books online.

Even since I discovered the free-shipping site, Book Depository, I still face a couple of issues. Firstly, Book Depository doesn't always have the books I want. It's rare, but when it happens, I order from Amazon and have to pay almost twice as much when you factor in shipping. Secondly, I am not a permanent fixture in Japan. This program has a 5 year max. Eventually, I'm going to have to take all my crap home. Every time I buy something, I must keep in mind that I will either have to pay to ship it home or throw it out in the next year or two.

2. Emergency Internet

I've mentioned this before. After the earthquake, all the infrastructure was down in the 2 epicentre prefectures. I couldn't use the phone, there was no power. Heck, I only got my home internet back 2 weeks later. If it weren't for the Kindle, friends and family would probably have worried themselves into a few more gray hairs.

Even in smaller emergencies, RB comes through. When I was home for my secondary school reunion in December, I misplaced a poem I was supposed to perform, and I was able to pull it up on Kindle.

I will concede that Kindle internet is some of the slowest, molasses-running-uphill internet in the world, but it comes through in a pinch.

1. Revisions

I don't hear this mentioned a lot among writers, but it's a big perk for me. I can't seem to re-read my entire novel on the computer. Most of us don't read entire novels on backlit LCD screens. And printing 250 pages is giving a tree somewhere a heart attack.

These days I simply save my novel as a .doc file, and email it to RB. And I can re-read the whole thing just as easy as anything else.

The other intrinsic perk of this is that my novel is now sharing a space alongside books by Beth Revis, Stephanie Perkins, Kiersten White, and Louise Rennison. Kindle makes it feel like I've written an actual book.

So, it's still Monday (Finally, I'm finishing a Monday post on a Monday- except it's Tuesday in Japan, but whatever) and that's what's on my mind.

Do you use an e-reader? What do you like about it?

Also stop by Amazon and check out the Cloud Drive. 5 gigs of FREE online storage- sounds like a great way to back up completed MSs.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

3 Days in the tsunami area

Thanks to all who've already contributed to the 100 Books Every Writer Should Read . Keep spreading the word and sending your lists of 10. (Btw, there are already patterns emerging. The first 3 lists all contained a particular book which I haven't read. lol)

As you know, I headed out to the coast on Monday to help in the tsunami. I went through the town church.

Our first stop was a church in Miyako, a city about an hour and a half drive South of here on the coast. We spent most of the afternoon walking around the neighbourhood with the Tokyo YMCA spreading limestone dust on the ground in the roads and in some of the old folks' houses. The guys helped another old lady clean up her shop. The population in the countryside is over 33% senior citizens.


I don't even know how this car got in here. There were houses on all 4 sides...

70 footer parked in the midle of an intersection.

My neighbour after we'd finished spreading around the chalk.

Chalky me, pointing out the mark on the kindergarten van where the water went up to.

Overtaking a boat in the road.

Japan Self Defense Force hard at work.

After work, we headed down to the bay with the group from Morioka (prefectural capital) and Aomori, the prefecture above us. This two story building was flipped and broken in two.

These pics were taken from the top of the sea wall.

The road disintegrated in some areas.

This log landed on top of the sea wall ladder, about 30 ft above sea level.

Boats overturned and run aground.

Stitch.. Every time I saw a toy or doll I wondered about the kid who used to own it.

The seats in the lower left corner probably came from the baseball stadium in the upper right.

Piles of debris on the sides of the road. The crazy thing about Miyako is that you could draw a line between the devastated area and the unaffected area. Our driver told us as we got to the train station, "As soon as we cross this intersection, you will see the damage."

I joked that Toyota must be glad they got the high ground.

Bad joke. Mitsubishi, Daihatsu and Suzuki's other outlet were not so lucky.

Cars on Daihatsu's lot.

The girls spent the night at the kindergarten and the boys at the church. The area the church was in didn't have power back yet, though.

In the morning we had breakfast and set out for Kamaishi, passing through Yamada and Otsuchi.


Yamada was hit harder than Miyako. It was a tiny bit closer to the epicenter and it's a little lower elevation.

Devastated home store.

Boats on the side of the road.

We think the red spray paint was the army's markings, but we're not sure what they meant.

A boat on a store roof.

A house on its side in the road.

A section of the sea wall crumbled.

The river banks.

Dressed for a day of hard work. The hotel behind me had it's first 2 floors devasted, but everything above that was fine.


Debris mountains on the river bank.

The Mitsubishi sign, but no building and no cars.

The second story of a house. This was actually pretty common. I think the first story probably crumbled with the pressure, but the 2nd stories floated.

There was a stretch of impassable road on Route 45, so we took the expressway to Kamaishi.

The plan was to clean the church out so there'd be a place to store donated goods and for volunteers to camp out. There is still no power in the area and the bathroom doors all came off, which meant the girls had to use the porta-potties at the hospital next door. The stove was destroyed so we cooked on camp stoves with portable spray cans of gas.

The kitchen at the church after we'd been cleaning for an hour. The tsunami was much taller here. Even though we were a couple blocks in from the coast, water reached the second story of the building.

A car parked on top of a roadside fence.

The base of operations for Police and Red Cross. JSDF was camped a little further on at a Junior High School School is out right now. It's actually the end of the school year. The earth quake happened on the last day of school.

It is life as usual just a little further on. The devasted areas in the towns we visited extended less than a mile from the shore.

We spent the night at a church in Tono, which is inland of Kamaishi. (Apparently it takes 5 people to fill up the can with gas. We were travelling with cans of gas because of the ridiculous lines in gas stations. I think the priests and volunteers coming in from outside the area must have brought gas with them.)



We headed back to the church in Kamaishi after breakfast and a short Thanksgiving service.

Somehow I didn't notice this car wrapped around a pole on the first day. It was right across the road from the church.

The license plates of cars which had been removed. You may not be able to see it, but it also includes where they were found, eg. 'in a pole in front of the church.'

It was only after the second full day at the Kamaishi church that we realised that the stained glass was a depiction of the Great Flood. Eerie.

The kitchen after 8 hours of being cleaned by 14 or so people. (All the people in my volunteer group. They was also a group from Hokkaido, but they were working on the building next door. As well as a group of American missionaries who live in Nagano, who were working with the donated stuff.)

Final meal of the trip at a ramen shop just before getting on the interstate at Towa.

The trip left me with a weird mix of feelings. I don't think anyone could come through that much devastation without getting a little depressed. But I was also pleasantly surprised to meet priests and Christians from 5 prefectures (Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, Tokyo, Ehime). Christians represent less than .1% of Japanese population.

I was happy to see the spirit of the people in the area. Everybody was cleaning their homes or stores or helping someone else clean theirs. Everybody was smiling. Even though many of them had only the frames of their buildings left.

And even though I feel weird about it, I actually had a good time. You can't really spend 2 days scraping mudd out of the insides of pianos and organs and stoves and not make friends.

So, there you have it. My 3 days on the coast.