Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Tomorrow it's June!!!

And I'm ridiculously excited. Wanna guess why?

Apart from the fact that I don't need a reason to be excited. lol.


It's about to be out of cold weather season. Right now we've got 5 degree (celcius, 41F) mornings and 27 degree days (80). My inner thermostat is going crazy. I'm sure when the temperature hits 40 (104), I'm going to be wishing for Spring, but for now, bring on the summer.

June 15- 6 more months 'til I turn 30. I may be the only woman in the world that is insanely happy about this- barring people who thought they were going to die before 30.


I'm entering a proposal to present at the Japan's Writer's Conference. They say you just have to be published (anywhere) to enter. I've got a bunch of non-fic knocking around the world, and a few poems. (My most successful publishing endeavour was funeral poems. It happened quite by accident, some neighbours saw a bookmark poem I did for my grandmother's funeral and the next thing you knew, business was booming.)

I'll let you know if I get in. I thought about submitting a proposal about blogging. I think I give pretty good value for your time here (and let's face it, one of a writer's most valuable resources is time.) But then the SCBWI Tokyo crew encouraged people to submit proposals with YA themes, and I was like why not? I write YA. Incessantly. So I've decided to talk about something I bring up fairly often here: multicultural YA. Then I realised you could submit multiple proposals and could kick myself in the head for agonising over a non-choice. lol.

3. AMAZON!!!
Remember how I banned myself off Amazon back in April? Well today is the last day of my ban! In an attempt not to ever buy more than 30 books (for myself) in amonth again, I'm going to be trying to make my book purchases at the same time I order books for weekly winners. Theoretically this means once a week. Wish me luck!

4. Socnoc!
50,000 words. 30 days. I was tempted to do Halfnoc (25,000 words) since I actually have other crap to do. Japanese exam the first weekend in July and another one sometime between now and then, "learning" 800 kanji, trip to Tokyo, Jpop concert, black tie charity event. And I actually have to go to work. But half isn't really my style. I'm an all or nothing type- and I'm not really feeling nothing-y...

5. YA Contemporary Month

The kool kats over at The Contemps have declared June to be YA Contemporary Month.

In honour of the awesome known as YA contemporary, I'm going to be choosing all of my June giveaways from this category. As usual, they will all be open internationally. And because I really want to spread the love, this month only (I sound like an as-seen-on-tv ad) non-followers are eligible all month long. (Please leave an email so I can find you though.)

Happy June, folks!

Monday, May 30, 2011


No, I'm not talking about Boston University, although they do use that acronym/slogan- isn't it awesome?

I'm talking about self-appreciation.

Recently, a friend on facebook posted two links: one to Asians having operations to look more Western and another on how dark-skinned blacks are treated by light-skinned blacks. Meanwhile Japanese people line up for skin whiteners. Yeah, I know, they're already whiter than white people.

Personally, I think they're all a little ridiculous. But they're trends, which means I'm clearly in the minority. And that's sad, because what's wrong with being yourself?

I'll be honest. I don't have a lot of issues with my physical self. I've said before that I'm obese (I wear it well, but that doesn't change the facts). I could stand to be taller and sometimes my hair is a nuisance. But generally I have a healthy self image.

I struggle with being me in other ways, though. There are certain things our society likes for people to acheive: wealth, status, stability. And I'm not really big on any of them. For a long, long time I tried to make myself fit this mold. I 9 to 5'ed like I was suppose to. I attempted to stay in one country like normal people. I got up at a reasonable hour of morning and went to bed at a (semi-) reasonable hour of night.

(Chinese Proverb: Imitating blindly, you lose sight of yourself.)

It wasn't a good fit, but not doing it felt like failure.

Eventually, I gave up. It's not me and being bipolar, it made me feel like stepping under a bus. All the time.

These days, I do a job I love. For now. I haven't set anything in stone the way that society seems to like. I'm not a 'career teacher'. I teach. For now. I live in Japan. For now. When I finish here, I'll go back to Barbados. And I'll probably leave again when I've had my fill. I don't know if I'll ever own a house. Right now, I'm not even particularly inclined to own a car. And I love waking up when I feel like and that can range from 4 am to 2 pm. (Obviously the 2 pm only happens on holidays and weekends.)

I'm not "successful" in the typical sense of the word, but I'm happy. And I matter more to me than a million people I don't know.

That's one of the reasons you'll see me come out so visciously against universal rules. It's why I'll always advocating being the writer you are, and not the writer someone says you should be. Why I'll always say that you should find your own process. If you need to swim 50 laps before you can write a chapter, that's fine. If you need an outline more complex than the security plan for the Royal Wedding, that's okay. If you have only a spark of a whiff of an idea and fly through 80,000 words in 15 days, that's cool. They only thing that matters is that it works for you.

Should you never tailor you to the rest of the world? Of course you should. If it was up to us, we'd all be "selling" unwieldy first drafts, because the first draft is the pure un-adulterated you. And in our personal lives, we'd all be more abrasive, hurting people that mattered, doing things only in our best interest.

(Oscar Wilde)

And I'm also not saying you shouldn't change who you are- physically or otherwise. Heck, I plan to have pink hair the minute I'm out of a government job. But if you have to change and tailor for the right reasons and within reason.

Looking at white women blow drying and fluffing their hair into high-volume styles and then watching black women chemically alter theirs so it loses volume and lies flat, tells me something. What you're starting with, whatever that is, is working for someone. And if it's who you are, it should be working for you too.

B. U.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Caribbean Context: CXC's

Last week, I talked about the 11 Plus exam, that most of the children of the English-speaking Caribbean face. This week I'll be talking about CXC's.


CXC is actually the name of the examining body- Caribbean eXaminations Council. Remember Harry Potter's O.W.L's? O.W.L. stands for Ordinary Wizarding Level. CXC is one of many bodies in the world that grant Ordinary Level certificates. CXC's are literally OWL's without the Wizarding.

Like OWLs, CXCs are generally done after 5 years of secondary school.


There are minor variations from school to school, so I'll explain how it went at my school. At the beginning of 4th form (14 years old) you made a choice. English Language, English Literature and Maths were mandatory, and you could pick 5 on top of those. At my school, you had to keep a language, a science and a social science (Geo/Hist) and then you could do whatever with the other 2 choices. In 5th form (15/16 years old), these were the 8 CXC's you'd take.


SATs are additional to your high school career. You can get a high school diploma for existing.
CXC's are part of your school career. We don't have any form of school leaving certificate. (That's Barbados, but maybe other countries have one.)

The only SAT that people generally care about is SAT 1: Maths and English, basically.
CXC's come in lots of subjects: French, Business, Office Procedures, History, Physics, etc.

The SAT is a single day.
CXCs have lots of parts. Most have them have both a multiple choice part and a long answer- often on different days. Some have in-school portions called School Based Assessments (SBA's). They're like regular assignments which your teacher marks and then (I think) they're second-marked by a CXC marker.

SATs are usually only relevant to education.
CXCs count for everything. You wouldn't need a good SAT score to be a policeman, but you need at least 3 CXC's.

SAT scores matter.
With CXC's (Grade 1-6, 1 being highest, 1-3 being a pass) the actual score doesn't matter as much as the number of passes. You could have 11 CXC's at Grade 3 and you look and sound better than someone with 9 CXC's at Grade 1.


Universality. Like I said, there are differences from school to school. But CXC's are done throughout the English speaking Caribbean. And O' Levels are done in much of the British Commonwealth. So when I say to a Trinidadian "I have 10 CXC's" or to a Pakistani "I have 10 O' Levels" they know exactly what I mean.

Single Point Focus.
School transcripts don't matter. What this means is that you can (like me) faff about all day, wander around in town when you're sick of school, daydream your life away, and still succeed. I'm not a good term student. I have the attention span of a gnat. So this system worked for me. On the flip, kids who prefer classwork to exams suffer. During the 11 Plus, one of my primary school bff's whose parents had put a lot of pressure on her, broke down and sobbed through the entire exam. Reactions are less drastic at CXC level, but there are still people who don't handle it well.

End of an era. Most schools finish after CXC (in Barbados). Only 4 of 22 secondary schools have a 6th form. After these exams, some people are finished with their school life. Some go on to transfer into a 6th form school (competition is tight). Some go to The Barbados Community College (Academic qualifications- usually Associate Degrees, and a few MFAs) or SJP Polytechnic (technical qualifications). And some get into university.

From a YA writer's point of view, I could have a character who's 16 and working, without being a dropout.

School has less of a say. Even though our schools are sorted by exam scores, anybody can succeed at CXCs. In a transcript system, a crap teacher or a teacher who "hates" you, can make a significant impact on your academic record. In the CXC system not so much. I just could not see eye to eye with my French teacher. After an exchange trip to Martinique I came to love the people and the culture and got a 1 at CXC- all the while ignoring the teacher.

Another difference from YA. Students in America who are going for academic success probably try to keep on their teacher's good sides. Teachers were often in my "ignore" file. (Man, I was a bad student.)

CXC's are a major difference between growing up in the US and growing up in the Caribbean. And it makes a big difference when we read YA. There are lots of books starring carefree 16 year olds. And while I was kind of carefree- I can't help it- 16 is another point where the rest of your life can be decided.

What was your education system like? If you're in the US, was it a lot like what's often portrayed in YA and movies? If you're outside the US, did your system depend on external exams or transcripts? How else was it different or the same from what you see in books?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Winner, Review, Giveaway 21

I loved last's week's definitions of love.

Especially Sana's "Love is whatever feels like home."

Simplicity is beautiful.

Now off to random.org and ...



Congrats! Shoot me an email with your full name and mailing address.

Today I'm reviewing THE LOVE GODDESS' COOKING SCHOOL by Melissa Senate.


According to her fortune-telling grandmother, Camilla, Holly's great love will be one of few to like 'sa cordula'- an Italian delicacy made from lamb intestines. After a string of heartbreaks, Holly moves to her grandmother's to take over her cooking school. But Holly can barely make a marinara. And her four students are more interested in Camilla's 'love lessons' than in Holly's ravioli.


Do not read on an empty stomach!

The book is filled with beautiful aromas and tastes. And since Holly is just getting the hang of this cooking thing she spends a lot of time in the kitchen. You'll find yourself craving Italian the entire time.

There's also a wonderful element of magical realism. (Magical realism is really hard to define, but I like to think of it as the magic in real life. That old woman who lived on the corner of your childhood street and always wore black? Remember how you never actually saw her do anything, but swore she was a witch anyway?)Camilla is a fortune-teller in a tiny island community. The island's inhabitants all think she's a witch and think there is magic in her food and in taking her class. Even though Holly isn't sure about the fortune-telling bit, the novel walks a thin line between reality and the infinite possibilities of the supernatural.

Since this mouth-watering novel revolves around food, simply tell me: What's your favourite ethnicity of food?
Enter by Wednesday 11.59 pm eastern.
As always, open internationally.
Only followers are eligible. (Come back next week for a contest open to all!)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Query first

The scariest word in the un-published author's vocabulary? Query. Today I wanted to show you a few ways in which you can refine this savage beast. And even make it work for you.

Welcome to the Query First Theory.

I know I'm not the first person to say it, but there's a benefit to writing the query before you write the novel. Especially for pantsers like me.


Many of us pantser-types resist having an outline or a synopsis before-hand because we feel that the level of detail will sap out all the creative juices. A query, on the other hand, is not really about details. It's more about generating interest in the concept behind the story.

By writing a query first, you can check back in periodically on ensure that the manuscript is staying in tune with the big picture. It helps keep your story about dealing with grief not turn into a story about auditioning for a reality tv show. (Fellow pantsers, you know this happens.)


Writing your query before the first draft can be a way to discover voice, especially in YA. Consider this example from the back cover of Twilight:

About three things I was absolutely positive.
First, Edward was a vampire.
Second, there was part of him — and I didn’t know how potent that part might be — that thirsted for my blood.
And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.

I think this captures Bella's voice perfectly. It also fulfills the first requirement of directing the story- every part of the first book of the Twilight saga is concerned with the fact that Edward is a vampire, that he must resist the urge to have Bella a la Cullen, and that Bella is totally hooked.

Also, consider this excerpt from Karsten Knight's query for WILDEFIRE:

Ashline Wilde never received an instruction manual on how to be a 16-year-old Polynesian volcano goddess. If she had, it might have contained helpful warnings such as:

Dreaming about your (thankfully) mortal boyfriend may cause your bed to spontaneously combust
Oven mitts should be worn at all times during heavy make-out sessions

Wildefire hasn't been released yet, but the voice- even moreso than the story- makes it a must-read for me.


Much of the query-writing pressure is actually time pressure. You write a book, you want to get it out there, but you have to stop and boil down it's essence in a witty way. ARGH!

Writing a query beforehand means you can come back to it periodically through the whole process- first drafting, second-drafting, critiquing, editing, etc. It means you can tweak the query if you need to change your story. You've got months to find the perfect words to show your story. And when your manuscript is ready to go, your query's already chomping at the bit.

Any other reasons to write the query first?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

We're important because you are

Every so often someone will start up on how useless YA writing is, or how YA/Children's authors write in their fields because they're not good enough for adult literature. Then there's a spate of articles popping up around the web in defence of YA, MG and picture books. All supported with valid arguments of why what we do is valuable.

But there is one argument I've never seen:

We're important because you are.

Our Western society values a university education. We've come to realise that it is possible to acheive great success without a degree- as proven by billionaire dropouts like Microsoft's Bill Gates, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, TV mogul Ted Turner, toy tycoon Ty Warner and even drug lord, Pablo Escobar. That doesn't mean we're not still grateful for the leg-up it can give in today's world.

But if a university education is important, then a high school education is important. You could be the most brilliant person in the world, Cambridge is not going to let you in with just primary level education. And could you imagine turning up at their gates, trying to argue your case never having taken an exam in your life? "I swear Mr. Vice-Chancellor, Sir, I'm smart. Never mind I've never had any schooling whatsoever." Let me know when he stops laughing.

That's not to say that primary and secondary level education don't have their own merits. But we could argue forever on what they are. What I don't think is debateable however, is that if an end has merit, and that end can be reached only or mostly through a specific path, then the path must have merit too.

This is how I feel about the arguments which try to extol adult fiction but put down children's literature and it's writers.

How many readers do you know that never read as a child or a teen, and suddenly woke up as a 20 year-old with a hankering for Hemingway? That's not to say it doesn't happen. But it's rare.

Most adult readers were read to as toddlers. They graduated to reading whatever early reader books were available at the time, and as teens they moved into books about romance or foreign worlds or magic or everyday people with extraordinary obstacles.

And then they graduate to the "worthy" adult books.

When you consider how many other ways there are to entertain yourself on your own these days- with the internet to be surfed and the PlayStation to be conquered, it's kind of miraculous that we're able to convince anyone to pick up a book. And when you factor in how many things have been added to our plates as adults, it's not hard to imagine that someone who didn't make time for books as a child won't bother to make time for them as an adult.

A love of these...

...leads to a love of these.

(Look at me being all multicultural with my 6-country, trilingual bookstack. Btw, do all French books write the spines backwards- reading down when the book is standing up?)

If adult books are important, then childrens books are important. If we stopped writing tomorrow, and children could no longer found things geared toward them and opted never to read, then the publishing industry would be done in about 50 years.

Not diminished. Just done.

And where would adult literature stand then?

I thought so. Say thank you.

It's not a day job

All over the bloggosphere, I hear authors (published, pre-published, agented, un-agented) saying that you get so much further in this writing world when you start to think of it as a job.

I'm quite sure that works for them, but I doubt it would work for me.

See, they're assuming that the word day-job means certain things: sticking with it, doing it when you don't feel like, producing a certain output every day...

And day job means none of that for me.

I've been working full and part time for almost 14 years now.

I spent two years, while I was still in school, part-timing on Saturdays and in vacations at the largest department store on the island. Maybe that sounds all responsible to you, but I basically did it to make pocket change and not have to convince my parents of the worthiness of my purchases.

Then I was in the Coast Guard for two years. I got tangled up in that world because it involved a college scholarship, and I figured what the hey. My Mom and Dad met in the military. My godfather was in the military. It's been my lifestyle since before I was born.

Then I spent 2 years full-time and 3 years part-time being a submarine co-pilot/ tour guide. That was quite accidental. I never applied to work on the submarine, but the boss was like, you've been in the Coast Guard, why not? (Because I'm claustrophic, silly! But apparently you can get over phobias. lol) I stuck with that because it's really cool when you're introducing yourself. Everyone else is all, I'm a doctor, I'm a lawyer. And you're like, I'm a submarine co-pilot. And that's just the end of the conversation. lol.

After that I worked in a call centre as a supervisor/language specialist. I was hired for Spanish, but ended up taking the occasional call in Italian and French, and even Farsi (clearly that failed) and I had a blast. They were paying me to do something I'd do for free: walk up and down daydreaming until the opportunity arose to speak Spanish.

The last thing I did before I came out to Japan was teach. I went through temporary posts at 3 secondary schools, teaching English, Social Studies, Maths, Reading (for slow learners), French and Spanish. The kids loved me because I was that teacher. You know the one, the kids come talk to her when they have problems with school and other teachers.

And now, I'm here, teaching English as a foreign language to kids 3-16 and adults up to "many years ago 20".

All of this is why I refuse to think of writing as a day job:

I want writing to be forever. I've been employed by 8 different employers in 5 fields. I can't even stay in a field, far less a specific job for longer than 5 years.

When the going gets tough, I get going. I guess normal people struggle through the hard parts of their jobs in favour of paying the bills. When a job stops being fun, I walk. Sure, I find a legitimate excuse, like going to university or moving to another hemisphere, but the end result is the same.

When I'm not feeling it, I'm not feeling it. There comes a point where I operate at bare minimum. I'm a smart girl. It means I don't have to use much brainpower to get stuff done. So I just need to turn up, put in my time and go home. But writing's not like that. Just turning up isn't good enough.

There may come a day that my creative writing pays the bills. But I doubt I'll ever be the type that writes 5 days a week, or does anything remotely consistent-looking. If I write 25 hours one week and then do nothing for a month, that's fine by me. There will be days when I force myself to write, and days when I couldn't be bothered. Days when I'll have schedules and plots and be all organised and days when I'll go at it with the wild unbridled energy of an escaped filly.

The most important thing is not that this is a job and that I do it according to the rules of job-dom. To my mind, the most important thing is that I do it. And whether that involves a slow steady tortoise-like plod or spending most days faffing about and following up with a faster-than-Bolt sprint is inconsequential.

How is writing a job for you? How is it not?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Caribbean Context: 11 Plus

What it is:

We Commonwealthers often have a different education system to the US. Instead of just going from primary (elementary) education into secondary, we sit an exam comprised of Math, English and an essay. In Barbados, it was formerly known as the 11-plus, it's now called the Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination (BSSEE). Back in my day- I feel so old saying that- you could only sit the exam if you were going to be 11 by August 31. Now they've changed the rules so you can sit up to 2 years early.

How it works:

The secondary school you get into depends on your exam results. In my time, you put schools on a list and the Ministry of Education would run down your list until they found a school that you had good enough marks to go to. It's a little more complex now. There is partial zoning- so you can only choose from schools 'in your area'. Except you get two freebie choices for Spots 1 and 2.

If you don't get into any of the schools on your list, the government gives you a bursary which will cover the tuition at all but the super-expensive private schools. (This gives rise to an interesting case where going to private school can actually be a negative.)

What it effectively means:

There are several ways that the existence of the 11 plus changes the school landscape from what we read in US YA literature.

1. Great minds think alike.

Many YA MCs are either the top of their class by miles, or really falling behind. This doesn't happen as much for us. All the people I went to school with got 85% or up on an exam as 11-year olds. I've never worked it out, but I think about 90% of my class went on to college. And the only people who didn't graduate - at either 16 or 18 (must remember to explain that as well)- either transferred or passed away.

Any situation in today's YA created by a massive differential in intelligence level is just unlikely in my world.

Also since classes were so homogenous, you didn't really have to worry as much about kids not challenged enough, or kids who were thoroughly lost.

2. Anti-motivation

All of the kids I went to school with were top of their class in primary school. I'd never finished a term at less than 3rd in class. So imagine how it feels to suddenly be middle of the pack. I guess it must be like being a C student at Harvard or Cambridge. If you've gotten into those schools, you've probably heard a rumour of this letter grade called 'C', but you've never seen one up close.

If you're motivated by being first in class/competition, chances are you suffer in this system. If I'd stayed in a system where I could have been top of the class, I probably would have done better.

Even more unfortunate is the F student, who would be getting A's anywhere else.

On the flip of this, mid and low-level schools gave students who would never have had the opportunity otherwise, a chance to be at the top.

3. The People in Your Neighbourhood.

Going to school by grade meant we weren't going to school by location. This gave rise to having two sets of friends: a neighbourhood group and the group at school. And I suppose this is one of the things that helps the school social scene not be as much pressure as the ones I read about in today's YA.

Reading the (ridiculous volume of) YA that I do, it's painfully obvious different things are for us in the Caribbean and how sadly underrepresented we are in literature. Maybe I'll help fix that one day.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Winner, Review, Giveaway 20

The winner of last week's giveaway of



Marsha Sigman!!!

Congrats, Marsha!

Today's giveaway is OTHER WORDS FOR LOVE by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal.

In a literary world filled with 23-oz steaks, cherry-red Corvettes and Main Street USA parades, OTHER WORDS FOR LOVE is a night curled up with your favourite movie and a cup of hot chocolate. It's simplicity is both it's beauty and it's curse. I've had this book on my Kindle since it was released in January, but have only just got around to reading it.

It's about a girl's first love, but it is so much more. Maybe it wasn't meant to be, but the name drew my eye to all the different types of love in the book- and there were a whole battalion of them.

The Boyfriend: Ari doesn't think herself worthy of the boy she's crushing on. He's almost too good to be true. But he does have a major flaw, something that cripples him and pushes him towards bad decisions. (I actually loved this. Some books/movies would have you think that perfect, nice guys don't have issues. Everybody has issues.)

The brother-in-law: When the book opens, Ari has a major crush on her brother-in-law. She's jealous of her sister's relationship, and even though she'd never dream of doing anything, a rabbit can dream, right? (Another winner. People do things they're not supposed to all the time. Having a crush on a sweet, off-limits guy? Who could resist?)

The best friend: Ari's bff is a bit of a twat, to be frank. She's the type who wins a crown by climbing over the other contestants. But Ari loves her to pieces.

The new friend: When Ari switches schools, she make a new friend, Leigh. It's hard to explain their dynamic without giving away too much of the plot, but it's another thought-invoking one.

The sister: Ari spends a lot of her spare time helping out her boisterous, but easily-depressed, never-thankful sister.

The mother: Was your mother the type that always knew when you'd been out at the coffee shop with friends when you claimed you were studying? That's Ari's Mom. And she is one tough nut. She's constantly on Ari's "failed" sister's back, making Ari feel sorry for her sister and pressured not to be like her.

The father: Tough, but detached- not the hugging type. But Ari loves the way he steps up when it matters.

And that's just the beginning. The other characters all have complex relationships with each other and their own friends and family. It got me to thinking about all the things that are love.

Comment by Wednesday, 1159 pm EST and answer this question: "What is love?"
Open to followers only.
As always, open internationally.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Agent Charming

Finding the perfect agent is like a fairy tale. When it all comes together it's a beautiful, magical, mythical thing.

1. Take Your Time.

I read somewhere that publishing's motto should be "hurry up and wait". That's true of a lot of parts of publishing, but there are lots of times we can make it better. Look at Snow White. From the minute we meet her, she's waiting for her Prince to come. But she's not just sitting there. Even when she runs away, she occupies her days taking care of the dwarves.

At no point does she stop everything to go look for her prince.

Writing a novel, and editing it, and having it critiqued, and editing it again... it's a long process. Yet people find themselves waiting until after they've constructed their query to look up agents. They you race through the process because it's holding you up.

No matter what stage of the writing process you're at, start your search now and you give it the chance to be organic. You don't have to stop everything to go look for an agent. You can come across agents and make a note of matches instead of spending hours combing books, forums, and websites.

2. Search, search, search.

Of course there is the possibility that the names of 5 to 10 perfect agents won't just fall into your lap, no matter how much time you give it.

Time to go Aladdin- a la Walt Disney. Princess Jasmine has to be married, and to a Prince. The Sultan uses all his resources and leaves no stone unturned in the search for the perfect suitor.

There are lots of places to find agent names and genres.

There's the Publisher's Marketplace listings, which you can browse for free.
Or you can find agent lists on forums like Absolute Write or Writer's Digest community.
There are also genre-specific communities that can help you find agents. In the YA world, there's YALITCHAT- which, like Publisher's Marketplace, has a free level and a paid level.
SCBWI, once again in the children's community, also has discussion on agents, but in the members-only area.

In print
Check out the (insert year) (insert field) market series.
I haven't really looked at any of the other series out there, but I find it hard to imagine anyone else could be more comprehensive. They range from general writing to novel/short story to children's to songwriting. They're also available from Book Depository- which means free shipping for us not in the U.S. Except Pakistan. Condolences :(
If you're looking to publish in the UK market, you may want to have a book tailor-made for you. The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook is just what the doctor ordered. I own a copy of the Children Writer's edition. It has wonderful lists of agents, and informative articles from the big fish of British publishing- Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling, to name a couple. I recommend that if you're looking at the UK market you definitely pick up a yearbook. The UK market isn't as online as the US market. And there are entire agencies thta you just won't find online.
(Insert year) Guide to Literary Agents is just what the name says. It offers advice, explanations and listings of both American and foreign agents.

In person
I'm a people person. I'd probably do a better job of talking myself into a 3-book deal than writing/querying myself into one. Conferences, workshops, regional writing group meet-ups are great places to meet agents. And having a chance to interact with them and ask questions can make it feel less like they're are some holier-than-thou ruler-of-the-universe and more like a business partner.

3. If the shoe fits.

It's tempting to think that because an agent reps your genre, they're a match for you. That is not necessarily the case. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are both fantasy, but they're wildly different.

Of course, Cinderella will help us with this one. Prince Charming had her shoe, and knew that when it fit, that was the lady he was looking for. Did other people get their foot in the shoe? Yes. In almost every variation of the tale, someone manages to squish their hoof in there. But it's never a good fit. Realisitically speaking, there'd probably be more than one woman in a whole kingdom who could fit the shoe. But that doesn't mean Prince Charming should marry anybody in possession of a foot.

A while back the venerable Nathan Bransford spoke about spaghetti agents- agents who sign anything with a modicum of potential and then throw all the MSs at editors and see what sticks.

I don't want to be a spaghetti querier- querying every single agent who reps my genre, in the hope that one sticks.

So how do you find the girl from the ball?

This is where time comes in. Anytime you come across a book in your genre that makes your skin crawl, make a note of the agent. An agent usually only works with what they LOVE! So if they loved it, and it makes you want to gouge your eyes out, then you maybe have different tastes.

On the flip, if you absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVED a book, make a note of that agent too.

Making an agent list ahead of time gives you the opportunity to check out books that an agent has repped if you hadn't previously read any of them.

Also, lurk around the bloggosphere. You'll pick up little tidbits from agented writers about their agents style. Of course, they'll be more professional than to air their qualms on the internet, but you can find out whether an agent is editorial or not, what their process is like, and whether they'll call to wish your dog happy birthday.

I'm not saying you need an agent who remembers your dog's birthday. But if that's what floats your boat, the best way to find out is from their clients.

4. Is it the real thing?

In Studio Ghibli's Princess Mononoke, the humans disguise themselves in the skins of the dead boars in order to attack. When you mistake foe for friend, the effect can be devastating.

Real agents want you to succeed. Your success pays their mortgage. But there are oodles of fake agents out there who just want your money and care nothing about your success.

Always check it out if an agent asks you for money. I do know of a few agents - all the ones I can think of offhand are UK-based- who offer paid critiques completely seperate of their agenting business.

Check the Association of Authors' Representatives. As far as I know this is completely foolproof, BUT they require an agent to have been agenting for 18 months. New agents fall by the wayside. (Being included in any of the resources in the search section is also a validation.)

Look for connections to a reputable agency. If other agents in the same agency have AAR certification, the agency and therefore all it's agents are legit. There are certain big name agencies that have been around forever and also pretty much guarantee legitimacy: Curtis Brown (US/UK) and Conville and Walsh (UK) for example.

Affiliations with reputable conferences. If they've given a workshop at The Festival of York (UK) or SCBWI Summer Conference (LA), then you know they're legit. The same goes for being members of the large writing/publishing associations: SCBWI, RWA, etc.

Poke around author websites. If J.K. Rowling says on her website that person is her agent, then they're legit.

If you haven't encountered them in anywhere you'd stake your MS on, check them out on Preditors and Editors.

Good luck finding your happily ever after!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Announcing SocNoc!!!

Hey hey!

Yesterday, I mentioned that I came to the world of "serious writing" through nanowrimo. You've probably heard of nano. It's taken the writer community quite by storm and there are those of who swear by it. (Of course there are others who'd love it rot in hell. lol)

But maybe, probably you've never heard of SocNoc. SocNoc is the SOuthern Cross NOvel Challenge. The Souther Cross is a constellation only visible in the Southern Hemisphere, and it's on the flags of both Australia and New Zealand. As implied by the name the challenge is headquartered in New Zealand.

SocNoc has the same basic rule as nano- 1 month, 50,000 words - but it differs in lots of ways.

1. It's in June. If you're in college, or you're a teacher, instead of prepping for exams like you are in November, you'll be wrapping them up or all done.

2. It doesn't restrict your project. For nano, you're supposed to start a project on November 1, and complete 50,000 words towards that project. Socnoc doesn't care what you write towards- it could be an MS you started in January, but didn't get back to. It could be a collection of short stories. Or words towards several novels.

And if you think 50,000 words in 30 days is unreasonable, or impossible, or pointless, let me introduce you to HalfNoc. It's the same rules, but half the word count. 25,000 words in 30 days. That's about 850 words per day. Totally doable.

My name is Claire Dawn on there as well, but I'm not sure if you can friend ppl like you can on nano. I hope you'll join me.

(Right now I'm signed up for both SocNoc and HalfNoc, because I have the decisive abilities of a pendulum.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thank God for YOUR Fleas

Firstly, welcome to everyone who's joined my madness since the last time I welcomed people who'd joined my madness. lol.

A quick run-through of the Points of Clarification program

Mon: Monday on my Mind
Tues: Time Travel Tuesday (music)/ Tell it Tuesday (new! info or writing)
Wed: Write away Wednesday
Thur: Talk Back Thursday (interview)/ book review, contest
Fri: Far out Friday (international)

Nothing is set in stone. You'll see eventually that me and stone aren't very good friends. :)

Thanks for joining us!

Have you ever heard of Corrie ten Boom?

She was a German lady who used to hide Jews during the Holocaust. When she was discovered, they threw her into a concentration camp along with her friend
Betsy. Concentration camps were not 5-star hotels, but their dormitory was especially grimy. And it was flea-infested!

As they sat there constantly getting bitten, Betsy decided they should pray for all God had given them: the dorm, the fact they were still alive, the fleas even. Corrie disagreed entirely.

Why on Earth would you Thank God for the fleas?

But Betsy won out and they prayed.

Months went by, they didn't have any contact with the outside world except for the guards who brought their food. Finally, they were released and it's only then they hear the horror stories.

Beatings. Murders. Rape.

How come noone troubled them?

Any guesses?

It was the fleas! The guards refused to come anywhere near their dorm for fear of being bitten.

Right after high school, I went to a military academy. It is the hardest college to get into in the US. And getting in is the easy part. Staying in is a whole different matter. You've got to maintain a good G.P.A, a high fitness level, and do all the regular military stuff.

That's a lot of balls to keep in the air.

I couldn't do it. Eventually I was dismissed for my fitness level.

It seemed like the end of the world. While I was struggling with trying to stay at the academy, I was diagnosed as bi-polar. I went into a deep depression. When I went home, I was house-sitting for my aunt. With noone else to bother me, I rolled out of bed when I felt like, ate, showered, and went back to sleep.

I did that for about 6 months. Then I went back to my hockey team. I found a job, co-piloting a submarine (to this day, that still sounds SO COOL!!!). And the following year, I went back to school at the local (and free) campus of the university.

I graduated with a BA French and Spanish, Lower Second Class Honours. And one afternoon, in the Student Services Office, I mentioned that I'd love someone to pay me to travel.

That's how I found out about this program in Japan.
I came here and fell in love with this beautiful country, culture, people.
I met Stephanie, who introduced me to nanowrimo.
Nanowrimo involved me in this beautiful writer community, and Nathan Bransford's blog.
The writer community and NB's blog motivated me to try at being a pro writer, not in the "fuzzy, some day, maybe, I might" sense but in the "actively pursuing it" sense.

My life would be very different if I hadn't flunked out of a military academy. I would have graduated with a Management degree instead of Languages. I would have spent (at least) 5 years being an officer in the Barbados Coast Guard. I probably would never have heard of the JET program, and Japan would just be the country that makes all those cars. I would not have started my first blog (dedicated to chronicling the adventures in Japan) and I would not be the writer I am.

Almost everything I am, everything I have, I owe to flunking out of a military academy. And it was probably one of the most difficult points in my life. I couldn't have known then, and you can bet it almost killed me.

But in the end, it might just be the best thing that happened to me.

Thank God for my fleas!

It's Monday, that's what's on my mind.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Winner, Interview, Giveaway 19

The Winner of Alex J. Cavanaugh's



Sophia Richardson!


Email me at muchlanguage (at) gmail (dot) com with your real name and a mailing address.

Today's offering: THE SUMMER BEFORE BOYS by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Julia and Eliza are best friends, spending the summer together. Julia's mother is serving in the National Guard and Julia spends all of her time trying not to think about what could happen. So the girls lose themselves in their summer, hanging out at the resort where Eliza's father works. But when they meet a new boy, neither one of them is prepared for what it does to their friendship.

Honest truth: I read this because I had access to the ARC. I did not expect to like it. Julia and Eliza are 12. And even though I read YA, middle grade is hit and miss for me. But I don't even think of this book as being middle grade. I think of it like Shrek: existing on 2 levels. As a kid, you see one thing. As an adult you see another.

I really identified when the boy started to come between Julia and Eliza. Not because I've done that, but because I've been guilty of putting my priorities in the wrong place, and letting others down. I think we all have.

Another thing was that this story is intertwined with a narrative about Julia's mother, who is fighting in Iraq. I'd never imagined the ambiguity of feelings. Julia wants everyone to remember her mother's in Iraq, but she doesn't want them to bring it up. She wants to be able to cry, but she doesn't want anyone's pity.

THE SUMMER BEFORE BOYS was a wonderful offering that might take you back to your pre-teen days or might teach you a thing or two about the world, or even yourself.

To win, let me know: have you ever priotised wrong and hurt someone?

Contest open until Wednesday 11.59 pm EST.
Followers only.
Open internationally.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

You'll catch no fish with just a hook

I was poking around on Goodreads the other day -are you on Goodreads? If you're not you so should be. Find me as Claire Dawn and friend me!- and I saw a review which really struck a nerve.

"It just did not live up to it's potential."

What they really mean by potential here is "hook". A hook is, simply put, anything that's going to grab your reader.

The best (or worst, depending on how you want to look at it) example of a great hook gone to waste is the movie THE LAST AIRBENDER. It's hook (as is the hook of many movies these days) is that it first had a large following in another medium- in this case a cartoon called AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, in my opinion, the best non-Japanese anime-style cartoon ever made. They started with a great plot, and a huge fanbase, and somehow managed to make a movie so bad that I found myself thinking, "Damn, this screenplay is aweful. I could do better!" DURING the movie. If you have time to think about screenplay (other than being a film student) during a movie, that is not a good thing.

Some books have hooks so individual that they sell on hook alone.

Many memoirs fall into this category. For example, if someone turned up a stack of previously unread letters by George Washington, and they were put in a book, it would be a best seller. The hook is that George Washington wrote them and it doesn't really matter if they're about his daily diet or his favourite vacation spot. The hook is that strong.

But there are also novels which work on hook alone.

- Some hooks work on originality. Twilight, when it was new, was a rare find of a teen falling in love with a vampire.
- Some hooks link a new tale to an older, more well-known one. Ella, Enchanted is a re-telling of Cinderella.
- Some hooks cater to a niche market. MG series tend to do this well: Baby Sitters' Club (for girls who babysit), Saddle Club (for kids who like horses), Royal Ballet School Diaries (for girls who do/like ballet).

But there is a danger in having a really good hook: the temptation to let the hook do all work.

I find it's most common (and even accepted) in niche movies. I love dance movies, but when I watch a dance movie, I suspend the part of me that cares about plot and character development. The same is often true of sports movies. But every once in a while, one will come along that does everything and it will be so, so good. (Watch THE BLINDSIDE if you don't know what I'm talking about.)

Ways to correct this problem:

1. Ask yourself- Would anyone like this book if:

the Love Interest were a regular guy and not a werewolf-fairy-ghost-of-Henry-III?
they didn't know beforehand it was based on Star Trek?
it wasn't about (insert obscure niche here) that never gets the time of day in novels?

2. Careful scene-by-scene editing.

A hook is a very high-level, overall concept. It is featured at every level, but is usually only the star when looking at the work as a whole. Keeping your individual scenes tight means you're not depending on hook alone.

3. Plot and character development.

There are several ways to do this. You can draw out the plot arcs, write out the major plot points, summarize every chapter, etc. You just need to make sure you have a plot, and it's not mundane or predictable.

For characters, you want to make sure they are more than pieces on the chess board. If your hook is that it's a re-telling, make sure that they bring something new to the page.

4. Add something unrelated.

Holly Thompson's ORCHARDS is about a girl trying to deal with the guilt of knowing that she might have been able to stop someone from committing suicide. But that's not all that is going on. Kana, the MC, is half-Japanese, and her mother sends her to Japan to reflect after the suicide. By adding this, ORCHARDS is no longer just another book about suicide.

What other ways can you think of to ensure that you're not just dependent on hook alone?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Hard Part

Getting up early,
Going to bed late,
Working while
Others play,
No time to cook,
Grab a granola bar,
That’s the hard part.

Switch off the tv,
Unplug the phone,
Pull out a pen and paper,
Turn the laptop on,
Stare at the blankness
Until the words start
That’s the hard part.

Plugging on
When you know it sucks
Going for birdies
Coming up with ducks
Someday, this garbage
Will. Be. Art.
That’s the hard part.

Characters yakking
In your head for days
Building a plot,
Finding the perfect phrase
Sending your baby out
Breaks your heart
That’s the hard part.

Claire Dawn-Marie Gittens
10 May, 2011

What's the hard part for you?

N.B. Birdy= 1 stroke under par in the sport of golf. Duck= Getting out without scoring any runs in the sport of cricket.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Taking Time

Happy Belated Mothers' Day to all my blogging Mamma's. Hope you all had a great day!

Me? I just vegged out like I've done all week. My son called to tell me he had a 'secret' present for me that he'd give me when I came home. He then proceeded to interrogate himself until he disclosed said 'secret'. lol

As I said, I've been vegging out all week. It's been fabbers! I don't know what it is, but I need a good veg once in a while. One of the reasons I hate 9 to 5's and strongly suspect I will not ever stay in a job that requires me to get up and go somewhere every day of the week, is because of my need to veg. Every once in a while I need a weekend or a week of doing nothing. Every 3 or 4 years, I need a couple of months.

Do you realise how hard it is to just relax these days?

Depending on the society and education system you grow up in, you may be in schools from the age of 3. In my system, this is how it goes. In primary (elementary)school, you're working hard, going to after-school lessons and all, to gain access to the best secondary schools. In secondary school, you're working to get passes in a large number or CXC's and A'Levels (exams which I'll probably explain in depth in another post.) Then you're in university working hard for the highest class of degree so you can eventually go to Master's school or get the best job. When you get to that job, you're always working to keep it/move up the ranks.

And for the rest of your life you'll have between 3 and 6 weeks of your own.

Which often aren't your own. You may have to share them with family and friends. And you may go on 'vacations' where you can't really relax, because what was the point of flying all the way to the Virgin Islands, if you were just going to lay in bed, or on the beach and not go see the sights?

There isn't any time built in for rest. Not the real, all-encompassing, soul-deep type, at least.

I mean, when was the last time you really relaxed?

It's Monday, that's what's on my mind.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Golden Week Shenanigans

This week was Golden Week. April 29 is a holiday. May 3, 4, and 5 are holidays. This is what my week looked like:

Fri, Apr 29- Showa Day (Showa is the last emperor)
Sat, Sun- regular days off
Monday- Comp day for working last Sunday
Tuesday- Constitution Memorial Day
Wednesday- Greenery Day
Thursday- Children's Day
Friday- took a vacation day
Sat, Sun- regular days off

Normally, people (especially foreigners) travel during Golden Week, but I hadn't planned anything because I was supposed to be in London in March, plus the entire transportation system was a hot mess after the March 11 quake, and we only got shinkansen service to Tokyo back on Friday.

What I got up to:
Hanami party with the English Adult class.
Saturday was our cherry blossom party. It was a little sad with one tree with a dribbling of blossoms, but whatever, we had fun. I took pics of the spread, but it seems I ate them, because I can't find them now :(

The park, which we'd never been to for some unknown reason, offered an awesome view of the central part of town.

After eating we (= not me, cuz I suck at it) played badminton

A peace monument

A senotaph for those who died in the Ruso-Japan war

Then we played a game where you had to blow a balloon up and burst it by sitting on it. Hilarity- you should try this :)

Then a strange mutation occured: balloon badminton.

Followed by an egg-and-spoon-esque race with a balloon and a badminton racquet

On Sunday, we went to a "flea market" that one of the ladies told us about at the hanami. Only when we got there, it was more of a craft workshop. It was held at our Goshono Jomon Park. It's mostly agreed that the Jomon people invented pottery, and they lived right here in my town!!! They're actually trying to make the park into a world heritage site- only noone will come anyhow. Who's going 600 km out of Tokyo just to see the place where the people who invented pottery lived? Just the pottery-ologists, and they're probably already coming.

Anyhow, we got to try our hands at making fire with these spinny wood tools. No pics, because I thought I forgot my cam- turns out it was in my bag. lol.

Here are two keitai (cellphone) straps I made.

Then I "made" an Okarina. really all we had to do was draw our own designs on them. This is my horrible attempt at drwing Sailor Moon.

On the back, I drew Anpanman. He's a superhero. His name literally means Sweet Bean Bread Dumpling. :) I'd be tempted to play you something, but the Okarina is second only ot the dog whistle in pitch. Still, maybe someday.

My favourite piece of craft for the day was this bamboo snail!

I vegged out for the rest of the week. I had some kitchen adventures (rum+Japanese oranges+lamb) and watched the Sailor Moon live action. The only productive thing I did was to write a 30-page Farewell to Arms summary to help a friend back home study. Monday, it's back to work. Ugh :( Good thing I actually like my job. lol.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Winner, Interview, Giveaway 18

The winner of last week's


Sana Castellano!!!!

Congrats! email me at muchlanguage (at) gmail (dot) com with your address!

Today, Alex J. Cavanaugh, author of CassaStar, stops by to chitchat. You can win a copy of Cassastar by following the instructions at the end of the interview. And trust me, you want to win- CassaStar was great (and I don't even read sci-fi)!


Welcome to Talk Back Thursdays and thank you for agreeing to have a chat with us.
Tell us, where did the idea for CassaStar come from?

I grew up with Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica and really dug the idea of space battles. I wrote the first manuscript when I was a teen. When I pulled it out again a few years ago, I decided the story was lame but the characters were strong. I wrote a new story from scratch and the result was CassaStar.

As a sci-fi novel, where much of the world is your creation, what preparation and research did you do before putting the proverbial pen to paper?

My science fiction movie/TV habit and experience with fighter jets turned out to be a big plus. I also talked to fighter pilots and did some research online while writing.

There is no love interest in CassaStar- something I found strange, but is probably fairly common in sci-fi- but there is an incredible friendship between two males. What made you decide to forego romance in favor of bromance?

I think you just coined a new term! I guess I just wasn’t comfortable tackling romance yet. And the focus of the story was friendship, something that’s important to me. However, I have inserted a lead female character into the sequel…

Tell us a bit about your writing journey?

I wrote some when I was younger, but it was never a big dream of mine. When I found my old, partial manuscript, I challenged myself to write a full novel. I sent out many queries before landing a small press. I’ve been pleased with the response, especially from women readers. That really surprised me! Now that I’m working on the sequel, the pressure’s on to make it even better.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Never give up, never surrender! Oh wait, that’s from Galaxy Quest.
Consider all angles of your story.

Thank you for joining us today, Alex. We appreciate that you took time out of your busy schedule.

Thank you, Claire!


First giveaway of the month, so it's open to everyone, non-followers, followers and international.

To WIN, simply tell me what's your favourite sci-fi book (or movie or tv show)?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Artist Responsibilty

The last time this came up, it was caused by Twilight.

The 4 views presented back then:

1. Edward is a poster child for spousal abuse and extols the wrong values in a relationship.

2. It is the artist's responsibility to present the truth and consider all repercussions of their work.

3. Some of the responsibility of raising children is the parents, but society is too quick to let others off the hook.

4. It is unreasonable to expect an artist to be responsible for every possible reaction to their work.
(Which one do you think was me? lol)

This time it started over Tyler Perry. A friend on my personal facebook posted this article.

The basic premise is that Tyler Perry always portrays professional Black women in a bad light.

Of course the argument on facebook became whether or not he did portray them as such, whether or not that woman exists, how prevalent she is...

Only a tiny corner even considered the fact that it's entertainment.

Here's my (exasperated) point:

Why are artists supposed to accurately portray the world? If you want accurate accurate portrayals, watch documentaries and read memoirs. Fiction is about having a kernel of truth and telling a story in a way that people enjoy it.

As a YA writer, it comes up a lot, our responsibility to our audience.

There's a lot I could say to concerned parents. I could make the point that some teens need the books you want banned. I could make the point that some teens are doing the things you think are inappropriate in our books. Or that reading such books could give a teen the insight and strength to help a friend before it's too late. Or that we do take responsibility and we want to portray truth without sensationalisation when it comes to "issue books".

But I won't say any of that. I'll just let you in on a little secret.

If there are 10 people in this world who got through their teen years not doing a single thing that a good parent wouldn't be proud of, that's a lot.
Teens will do the wrong thing regardless of how well they're raised. That's what being a teen is for: pushing boundaries, test-driving the new you.

All any of us, as parents, can do is to raise the kids the best we can and hope that teenage mistakes are small enough that they make it out alive.

As for the Tyler Perry melee, I'm reminded that the responsibility card is also often played in niche communities.

I'm from Barbados. Rihanna's from Barbados. Either the first or second time Rihanna came home after making Billboard, there was a picture of her in the paper. She was wearing a swimsuit (one-piece with a belly-out) and a pair of jeans. And people got up in arms about the skanty clothing and the image she was giving Barbados. (Funnily enough she was across the road from the beach. I think they should be happy she had on jeans!) Her costumes are skanty. But she's a pop star. That's how they roll on stage. Noone expects Lady Gaga to walk around her house in a meat dress. Or... er... well... Maybe Lady Gaga is a bad example. lol

Still, why must people take everything that artists do as a personal affront or an attempt to corrupt the world? We're just telling the stories we have inside. We want to entertain you. Many of us also want to educate you. Many of us want to tell you that you're not alone. Many of us want to help you find strength you didn't know you had. We want you to cry and laugh with us. Hate with us. Love with us. We want you to come away from our products feeling, "Wow!"

And then we want you to put our books down and remember there's a real world. Maybe, if we're lucky, something we wrote will affect you enough that you transcribe it into your lives. But we know you are not characters in our novels. We just wish you knew it.

Noone is forcing you to read our books. The same way that noone forces you to listen to hard rock lyrics about stringing up your girlfriend.

You asked for stories, we're just giving you stories.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Updated 100 Books compilation/contest

Just because I'm crazy, I assume the whole word is crazy with me.

I should have known it was impossible for anyone but a superstar to compile 1000 responses (or even 200) to anything in a month and a half.

So, I'm pushing back the 100 Books Every Writer Should Read.

I'm now collecting book lists until December 31st. With all this extra time, I'm going to make an effort to get more imput from the business side of the publishing industry: editors and agents. I'm also going to try to get more responses from authors and aspiring authors. Hopefully, I will be able to make 1000 respondents. The more I think about, the more I'd like this to be a fairly scientific endeavour and not one of my usual half-baked whims.

And to apologise for the inconvenience I've caused you, my awesome-sauce readers, you can now enter the "spread the word" contest an unlimited number of times, by commenting on the original post. And I will now be giving away the top FIVE single volumes, instead of the top 3.

If you didn't get to send in your list of 10 before, you've still got time. Check out the original post.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Learn to laugh

On average, babies start laughing between 2 months and 6 months of age. You've been able to laugh for the overwhelming majority of your life. But can you laugh?

Much of humour is funny at someone's expense. We watch comedies on tv and laugh at all sorts of things ranging from witty insults to women walking into important meetings with their shirts tucked into their bras. We laugh partly because it's funny.

And partly because it's not us.

Two fairly funny (=embarrasing) things happened to me in the last few days.

Firstly, at the PTA drinking party on Sunday:

Japanese is my 5th language. So while I can understand English or French or Spanish even when I'm not paying attention to what's going on, that's a lot harder in Japanese.

Last Sunday night, I was sitting at a table, totally day-dreaming as they went through the programme. We'd already done the kanpai (Cheers!) and so I had a plate full of Sweet and Sour pork, yakisoba, sushi, and karage (fried chicken). I was a happy camper.

And then I heard the word "Sensei" and saw other teachers going up to the front. I walked with them. The Vice Principal shouts, "Claire, iranai!" (Literally, Claire we don't need you) which sounds rude in English, but isn't rude in Japanese.

I was mortified. They were introducing the new teachers, which I might have known had I been listening. I spent the rest of my night being embarrassed. It didn't stop me from chitchatting or enjoying myself- there was fried chicken (I know I'm such a stereotype) and sake, how was I not supposed to have fun?- but it stayed in the back of my mind.

Fast-forward to Tuesday:

I was running a few seconds late for class. The teacher I team-teach with was already in the classroom. I stepped through the back door and the bell started to ring, so I ran to the front of the classroom. Bad idea. Japanese school floors are waxed to within an inch of their lives. And I was wearing my Uglies.

I love Crocs and wannabe Crocs, but I really bought these for the brand name!

Let's just say if the Yankees needed me to slide home, they would have won the pennant. The way I slid-tackled the board/wall, you might have thought I played football! (The real football. Not of that throwing sport in the USA that has about 1% to do with your foot.)

At first I couldn't even stand up. It's not that I was hurt. I was just laughing too hard. The kids were all laughing too. The teacher looked a little worried. I managed to sputter out the word "okay" in between bawling hysterics.

I giggled all the way through the rest of class. (Maybe I shouldn't laugh at myself. Once I get started, I'm a basket-case.) Even as I write this I'm shaking with held-in laughter.

But when I think about it, the fall was probably just as mortifying as the listening error. Probably more. Why could I laugh at one and not the other? Is it because I pride myself on being a linguist? Is it because I don't have much faith in my motor skills on a good day? Because one was in front of parents and the other in front of kids?

I have no idea. But I do know this. There is enough to stress over without us looking for more. So whether you accidentally say "Vancouver, Cannibal" or attempt to step over a fence picket and get it caught up your school uniform, or clothesline yourself between a stop light and shop window with your own hockey stick, LAUGH.

Because all the bad stuff? And embarrasing stuff? And ridiculous things you kind of wish you didn't do? They're easier to deal with when they're funny.

Can you laugh?

(In case you wonder, I have said, "Vancouver, Cannibal" (on a submarine tour to besides!) and got a fence picket stuck up my skirt and clotheslined myself with my hockey stick. I am the intersection of daydreaming at all the wrong times, making bad decisions and enough physical coordination to fit on the left big toe nail of a flea.)