Monday, October 31, 2011

5 things I learned at Agent Day with Mary Kole

SCBWI Tokyo hosted Mary Kole, Literary Agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency and the force behind It was an incredible day all around. I had a blast, and I learned a thing or two as well. Here's a quick look at some of the things that came up- some were reminders and some brand new.

1. Social media really does make a difference.

2. Half the time, you already know the answer to the question.

3. Maybe the UK is a better fit for an international writer.

4. You're the one picking the agent, and not vice versa.

5. Agents are real people, too.

I hope to be able to recap these in depth in the coming weeks.

It's Monday and that's what's on my mind. (That and the fact that I had an amazing time at a reggae event with actual Jamaican DJs last night, and got in to my house at 5 am. Two Sundays in a row my bed was a stranger. I'll have to fix that this weekend.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Kids got talent

Every year, schools from kindergarden to universities in Japan have a school festival. At kindergarden and primary school it's called "Gakushuu Happyokai"- Presentation of Learning. From Junior High up it's "Bunkasai" - culture festival.

The festivals differ at each level. But one of the basic tenets is "look at what we can do".

Last weekend was the bunkasai at my junior high, and here are some of the talents of my kiddles. I was amazed by the amount of English running wild.

 The Bunkasai poster - a collage of Post-It size pieces. The slogan on the yellow sign says, " Gateway, let's advance to a new future."
 Some colour by numbers that I did with the Special Ed.
 The 2nd years'  crafts.
 The 2nd years had to do a PR poster. This one is about saving the environment.
 I LOVE this! Starting below the exclamation point it says, "Makeruna Nihon!" It means "Don't Surrender, Japan." Almost cried at this one.
 One of my best English students' in the 2nd year.

 She also won the District area dental poster competition. The slogan is 80 years - 20 teeth. (Older Japanese people have really bad teeth, so there are education campaigns from Kindergarden up.)
 Another entrant who drew with an English slogan.
 This is another of the PR posters. This one for club activities.
 And another.
 This is a PR poster for literacy/libraries.
 And this one is for the band.
This is for setsuden. It  says "Setsude shiyou, Mirai no tame ni." Let's conserve energy, for the sake of the future. Since the March 11 earthquake, my part of Japan is on "Setsuden" - energy conservation measures.

Don't my babies rock?
(PS, is it just me or can the average Japanese draw/paint way better than the average Westerner? )

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Scaredy Cat - Publishing

It's the final Scaredy Cat post. Today I'm talking about some of my publishing fears.


I'm afraid of never being published. I think it's a legit fear for all aspiring writers. But I still think I'm kind of unique in it. See, I'm not really that worried about not getting an agent or a publisher. And I know that sounds ridiculously egotistically when so many awesome writers out there struggle/have struggled with getting a foot in the door.

But the fact is that I have a niche that isn't being catered to. When most people submit, they are competing against thousands or millions of others in their genres. I have no idea how many people write Caribbean contemporary YA, but I've never seen any. Which means I'm possibly competing with like 10 people. But more probably 0.

Even after 3 first drafts, I still don't have a polished manuscript. Sometimes it's really really hard to actually go after things, even if I really want them. This is how I only do things that come naturally. And how I've failed/nearly failed every class that ever required me to study. So my biggest fear in this area is that I will just never complete the full publication-worthy manuscript process.


Another reason I have difficulty getting further than the 1st draft is the fear that I will suck. I write all my first drafts in nanowrimo, which recommends ignoring/ embracing the suck as you gleefully race through 50,000 words in 30 days. 

I don't feel that freedom on a second draft. I constantly see how bad it is. I get stuck in a loop on the same bit, or I just stop writing altogether.

Combine this witth the fact that I feel like the Caribbean YA market is wide open, and I'm worried that I'll put something horrible out there and my name will be attached to it forever, and I'll have to move to Mars to hide out.


Man, I have so many agents and editors related fears. Even though I'm not the sort of person that is naturally agressive to other people, I'm terrified I'll say something online that will majorly offend someone and get me blacklisted for life. I don't feel I can come back from that. I mean, I can't really say, Oh yes, I grew up in Barbados and live in Japan, but I'm totally not related to that other writer who's also named Claire and insulted an agent horribly.

I'm also worried about not holding up my end of the deal. Agents/ editors trust writers to play a certain role, and then they take it from there. What if I suck at directed editing? What if I can't come up with big picture changes requested? What if I can't get to the desired results?


Beastly creatures. I literally don't work well with them, and don't work well without them. If you give me a deadline, I feel like it's breathing down my neck every time I think about the project. No matter how far off it is. Like I might think, I want to apply to an MFA program in September 2012. That's almost a year from now. Yet every time it crosses my mind, I'll hear the ticking clock.

That's because come August I will probably not have lifted a finger towards that goal. And it will be a mad dash to the finish which will result in me sending good (rather than great) work at 7 minutes to the absolute deadline.

On the other hand, things often just don't get done without a deadline. If you say in a big mystical fuzzy way. "Claire, can you write me an article on YA literature set outside the UK/US/Australia?" I'll tell you sure. And every now and again, I'll say to myself, Self, you should probably get cracking on that article. And it will take way longer than it should. And you'll probs not be very happy with me.

As much as I hate them, I've started to ask for deadlines for the things I care about. But this writing world runs on the back of deadlines. How on earth am I going to survive in it?


I'm one of those people who believes in mushy Disney ideals. It was worth it if one person in the world loved it. (I mean that figuratively - pretty sure publishing companies wouldn't be very happy if only one person loved it.) But I still prefer to affect somebody more than the money. I'd be happy if people would come up to me and say, "Thank you, Claire. Your book really made me feel [insert feeling here]."

I'm afraid that won't happen. I'm afraid that everyone will read my work and feel lukewarm.


While I don't really care about money (look how I'm arguing away my own advance before I've even queried), I know that there's a bottom line. I'm worried that I won't sell enough to break even. That this market of Caribbean teens all through NYC, Florida, London and of course the Caribbean, is all in my head. Or that they're broke. Or that they'd rather read the US/UK stuff they've grown up on. And we've all heard what happens to authors who don't sell. Change of name or of profession.


I don't measure myself in money or prestige. But other people do. And while they may not be judging me, I'll feel like they are. If all my friends can go on cruises, and I can only afford a weekend in the beach house that's a 5 minute drive from where I live, that will hurt. I'm afraid of someone ever saying to me, "You could do so much better if you'd let go of this writing thing." I'm afraid that they'll mean well, and it will break my heart, just as much as I'm breaking theirs.

So those are the publishing fears foremost in my mind at the moment. How about you? Do you have any publishing fears?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

JWC recap: Aliens

Two weekends ago was the Japan Writers Conference. I'm going to be highlighting some of the presentations that I attended.

DEVELOPING PLAUSIBLE ALIENS by Dale Thomas ( who writes as Alex Sivier)

I'll be honest, I went to this presentation because my presentation had been in the same room right before. But I'm glad I stayed. I probably learned the most for the conference at this presentation.And even though Dale was talking specifically about aliens, I felt like you could use his guidelines in developing any society/creature you imagine.

Dale talked about how we're fascinated with a bi-pedal humanoid structure, but really there's nothing innately special about it. It's just that's what we look like. While I'm obviously not a believer in Evolution as a creation theory, I could see how evolution theory would make sense in creating races on another planet. For example, giraffes developped long necks in response to trees being tall. Wouldn't it make more sense for the aliens to develop because of their environment?

He also spoke of different types of selection: natural, sexual, kin, etc. (At this point, he made the hilarious comment that "Peahens like big tails!") In sexual selection, weaker/less pretty individuals die off, because noone chooses them as a mate, and this is how the species becomes stronger and prettier. How does your alien race evolve?

He also spoke of diversity in alien worlds. Earth has at least 3 racial categories. Further to that, all of those have subsets. On top of which, there are continents and countries. People look differently and act differently. Yet, pretty much every alien planet in Star Trek sports one race who all look alike and all revere the same things.

But it's not just humans that need to be diverse. The planet should also be diverse. Different locales should have different traits. Plants should be diverse, as well as animals.

Dale also touched on the biology of changing the scale of creatures. It got a little technical here, but I'll keep it simple. (I only understood it simply.) Certain traits are dependent on surface area, and some on volume. Like heat loss, is all about exposed surface area, but heat generation is about volume. (Think about how skinny people are always cold.) So if you shrank a human down to the size of your finger, then they'd have to eat constantly to generate enough heat not to die.

Also, when you double length, you quadruple surface area, and end up with 8 times the volume. So if you make something twice as tall, then its weight distribution and it's weight are affected. But weight is a volume factor, so it's now 8 times as heavy, but it's feet are only 4 times the area. Chances are this creature would fall over or have some kind of arthritis or something.

Dale divided literary (and screen) aliens into 5 categories:

1. totally human
2. modified humans (think Superman)
3. modified animals
4. bio-inspired
5. totally alien

His parting comment stuck with me. Showing a collage of good and bad facets of human society,  he said something to this effect, "Alien culture should have things to be proud of and ashamed of."

Does your writing include imaginary races or societies, alien or otherwise? How do you go about constructing them?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My JWC prezzies

This year's Japan Writers Conference was held in Kobe City. I was really psyched about this year, because I was scheduled to present TWO topics.

My presentations were:

Into the Melting Pot: Writing the Multicultural YA


Brick by Brick: Building your blog

The MCYA (I so want to make a remix of the song YMCA with that) presentation was interactive. So the attendees worked to come up with their own definitions and lists.

First we defined multicultural YA. This is my definition:

Multicultural YA is literature marketed for a teen audience where two or more cultures interact. 

Why I went with this definition:

- not specifying that the interaction had to be in the book included books written wholly in one culture, but transposed into another- like Harry Potter.
- not saying that the cultures clashed, included situations where a protagonist is doing fine with balancing the cultures
- by specifying the word culture, I felt like I excluded stories about different races where race and/or culture plays no role.

There were two main premises of the presentation:

1. Multicultural stories are about differences and similarities. As you research and as you write, you need to consider how things are the same for the protag as in the culture you're writing for. And you also need to consider how they're different. From a YA point of view, some things you might want to consider are school, free time, family, after-school activities, styles, pop. culture, body image...

2. Writing a multicultural story is about balancing multicultural elements against all the other elements of the story. Too much muliticultural and you're a travel guide. Too little and you're a regular story which happens to live in one country, but which has no ties, and could move to another country at the drop of a hat. As you decide where on the multiculturalism vs. story graph you want to fall, then you also have to decide if to include things which would be familiar universally (like sushi in a Japanese story), touristy (like going to Tokyo Tower) or everyday things that are less familiar (like specialty KitKats).

I felt really confident about my blogging presentation. I've been doing this blog for 2 years, and I've earned quite a few friends and professional acquaintances through it. If I'm qualified to talk about anything, I'm qualified to talk about blogging basics. Thank you guys for the role you've played in that.

I was surprised to find the room almost full when I got there. I'd specifically applied to do a blogging workshop because I knew that noone else here does them, and because I love blogging. I did not expect the majority of attendees to come.

I started out with WHY you should blog. I gave all the reasons you hear everywhere, along with a few often overlooked, but really important to me: motivation and support, feedback, and a chance to write. Then I got into the nitty gritty of how to set up a blog: hosted vs stand-alone, money and tech issues (not deeply), and what should be in your side bar or your tabs.

In the final section of the presentation, I looked at content - how often, how long, audience, tone, etc -and comments/ traffic/ followers.

I wrapped it up with a few words on cashing in on your blog, professionalism, being obnoxious, and the fact that if you don't like it, then you should find another social media outlet. A bad blog is worse than no blog, IMO.

Once again, I was surprised by the response. People came up with almost 15 minutes of questions to ask. And that was only because I stopped them so the next presenter could set up. Afterwards people kept coming up and thanking me and saying they'd never thought of some things I'd mentioned. Someone asked a social media question in a subsequent presentation, and  was directed to me as the resident "expert"! Even after the conference the next day, a lady came up and asked me if I'd done the blogging presentation. She'd had to work on Saturday and said her friend had told her she'd missed a good one.  I've even gotten emails telling me about things people have adapted on their blogs or asking more questions.

And the best vote of confidence is that I've been asked to re-package both presentations: the multi-cultural one as an article, the blogging one as a longer presentation for a workshop.

2 more reasons why I need to work harder on bringing a novel to market.

Big thanks to the attendees of JWC for being such a fantastic audience, and to the conference organisers for giving me the opportunity. Tomorrow, I'll offer a round up of some of the other presentations at this year's JWC.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I break trains

The winner of INSANITY!!! Day 5 is Katharine Owens!

Lucky you! You can mail the name of your book choice and your address at muchlanguage (at)gmail(dot)com.

I'd like to say a big thank you to all the participants. You guys are awesome, and I loved your responses all week. With nanowrimo next week, and vacation (and Kindle giveaways) in December, I think it's the last INSANITY!!! for the year, but stay tuned, you never when some more INSANITY!!! might jump into the picture.

So, this weekend I had a crazy, crazy 48 hours which involved working both days and partying both nights, with a total of 4 hours sleep in 3 instalments. lol.

Saturday night's party mission started out pretty interesting. I leave the teacher's staff party in the City North of my town the minute it's finished to race to the station for the last train (one disadvantage of living in Japan's backbush is the private line with last trains at 9-something). I hop on the train, and we make it 2 stops South. Then the driver comes over the intercom. I didn't catch all of what he said - partly because he's speaking keigo, the super-formal and totally different form of Japanese, partly because I'm half-asleep - but I did catch these bits: "train before us", "oil", "tracks", "slip". And I think I don't want to know any more than that. The important thing was that we were delayed at the station until they figured out how to solve the problem.

Perfect for me, since I already know my weekend would not involve much sleep, I curl up and get to it. An HOUR later, I wake up to a conductor (who hadn't been on the train when I went to sleep) asking me how far I was going. I should be suspicious. I'm too busy being sleepy.

I can't get back to sleep. But it doesn't take them long to announce that they've given up moving the train tonight, and they're going to put us in cabs to our destinations. Whatever is up must have been pretty bad for them to put me in a cab for a journey that takes over an hour by car. When we get into Morioka, the meter is  over $200 USD!

This is not the first time I've had a rail fail. Last year, the train had to stop for a while because of mud on the rails. And it took 2 hours for the usually 1 hour trip. But my best rail story happened 2 years ago.

I'd gone to a goodbye party for a friend up North. I live on the North border of Iwate, so I'm closer to the next prefecture (Aomori) than I am to my prefectural capital. But my train line runs out to the East coast oof Aomori and he lived on the West, so it took some doing to get there. Nonetheless, I get there and we have an awesome weekend. A little too awesome as it results in a friend breaking her arm. Btw, hospitals have business hours here. It's hell to find one open on a Sunday.

So after all of that mess, I'm in Fujisawa later than I meant to be, and I decide to hop in the minivan with some people that drove from Tokyo. They have to pass through my prefecture on the way back. I figure I'll just have them drop me off at the expressway exit in my town. But then it turns out the Tohoku expressway splits and half goes East, while the other half heads West. I'm on the wrong bit. So I call a friend who lives in the town where they merge and ask if I can crash there. I do, and she even drives me to the train station in the morning. I think that's the end of my travel adventure.


In the morning I get on the train, and we make it to the same station we got stuck at on Saturday night - a mere one stop short of my destination. I realise that we're stopped a lot longer than usual. Then I see driver dude get out, and jump off the platform in front of the train!

He goes into the station talks to the attendant, and the attendant comes out and looks under the train. They talk for a while, before he gets back on the train. We won't be moving any time soon. There is A HUMAN TOE under the train, and they have to wait for the police to come and investigate it.

Of course, my first thought is that my Japanese is horrible, and I completely misunderstood. There's a teacher from the elementary on the train. I ask her. Yes, he said human toe.

To this day, I have no earthly idea how this dude saw a toe while he was driving the train. Nor do I know what the resolution was because the teacher called the school and the Vice Principal came and picked up me and the 2 teachers on the train.

Real life is so much stranger than fiction. I'm a train-breaker. Now you know. It's Monday and that's what's on my mind.

Friday, October 21, 2011

INSANITY!!! Day 5- Grab bag edition

It's the final day of INSANITY!!! and what a week it's been (ridiculous amounts of overtime on my end- for a teacher anyhow). But before we get into today's prize pack, let me announce the winners for Day 3 and Day 4. Also thanks guys, for your thoughtful comments on yesterday's post.

Day 3 winner is....

Iffath! (so not attempting to figure how to write the heart at the beginning of your name. lol)

And the Day 4 winner is...


Shoot me a mail at muchlanguage(at)gmail(dot)come with your real names and addresses.

It's 13 hours past midnight JST, but it's like I always say, It's never too late for INSANITY!!!

Since it's the final day (and I doubt I'll have time for another INSANITY!!! before next year, we're going out with a bang.


Yes, you read that right. 6 books: the most I've ever given  to a single person at once. (shudders to think of the next INSANITY!!!)

The books I have pictured are some of my faves for the year.

Chasing a semi-friend across the country, Lillian and Josh explore their almost-relationship. This book struck a chord for me because it lived on the line between friendships and "more".

The only reason I picked up this book was because I follow Beth's blog. I'm not a sci-fi fan, and I was convinced I wouldn't like it. I'm glad to say I was wrong. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE sent me on a mission  to find more character-driven sci-fi. 

I found FAIRY TALE FAIL purely by accident.The name pulled me in, and I'm glad it did, because I got a great book, and an awesome tweep (twitter friend) out of the deal. FTF is an adult book for people like me, who still love a fairy tale, and would rather live in that world than the real one.

I don't know what to say about WASTED, except that the concept still haunts me. A boy decides to flip a coin and abide by whatever it decides.  Deep stuff.

I can not even put into words how much I love this book. I've spoken about my uncomfortable relationship with sex before. What I love about this book is the way it deals with sex. Often, we see YA with beautiful relationships involving sex, and almost as often it is the root of some evil. But it's rare in YA that sex just is. And sometimes, that's the way it is.

Now if you've been counting, you'll notice that's only 5 books. No, my brain isn't that fried from school festival preparations. The 6th book is WINNER'S CHOICE. $20 US limit and available on Amazon (for the US and Pakistan) or Book Depository (for everybody else).

To win:
I've been saying it all week. Today you win by sending me your list of 10 books for the 100 books every writer should read.

Open internationally
To everyone, follower or no.
Open until SATURDAY 11.59 pm EST
The winner will be announced on Monday if I wake up after my crazy weekend.  lol.

Good luck!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

INSANITY!!! Day 4- The October Edition

The winner of INSANITY!!! Day 2 is...


Sana!! (Also very interesting and detailed comment.)

I really enjoyed all the comments to this post, and as a YA writer, I think it's a treasure trove of things to write about. :)

So I'm supposed to write a "Scaredy-Cat" post every Thursday. I missed last week due to the cold, and my 4 presentations. But I'm back. Today's fear:


This probably sounds crazy, but I'm afraid of going home. There are lots of reasons, and I'd like to share them (brutally) honestly with you today.


All my Super-Mummy readers are probably puzzled by this. If I go home it means being a mother to my 7 year old son. It's weird to admit publicly that I'm scared of that, because Mummy's are supposed to be invincible creatures that will overturn 10-ten trucks to free their babies. That's not me.

Somehow, for the majority (if not all) of my son's life, my parents have been his main care-takers.  For the first 3 years, I was in university. Then I was working 2 jobs and had no car- which involved a crap ton of ungodly hours, including getting home at 1 am two mornings a week. Then I moved to Japan. I considered bringing him, but from a practical standpoint, there are 2 things in the way. The fact that my house is sub-zero (celcius) for half the year. And the fact that he doesn't speak Japanese.

Additionally, I kind of don't feel very motherly. My nature is such that I'd rather do fun things than practical things. If money weren't an obstacle, we'd be gallivanting all over the world. It's probably not the best idea for a child to spend every year in a different country because his mother felt like. This sort of attitde extends in less disruptive ways to everything in my life. I don't feel very adult. I don't act very adult. I don't know what that will do to a child.

Finally (for this point at least), I struggle with being a single mother. For a million reasons, I believe in the institution of marriage. And from a practical standpoint - namely that I suck at being practical- and an emotional standpoint- I still feel guilty about a child out of wedlock- it's a hard thing for me to handle.


I've gotten very used to living on my own. I make my own hours. I leave crap where I feel like. I I've gotten used to my mother nagging me for an hour max and then hanging up the Skype and going to sleep.

All of that will change when I go home. Thanks to the way I live, I'm in no position to be on my own. Especially when you factor in not having (and not really wanting) a car, and single parenthood. And I really don't want to deal with the "joys" of living at home again.


The unfortunate side effect of going to the top school on the island is that most of my friends have masters and PhDs, are doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, and make a boatload of money. I, on the other hand, am a broke teacher (for now) with a BA. I love my friends, and I know they love me back, but sometimes, it hurts to think about who they are, and how far they've gotten in life.

Out here (or in any other corner) of the world, I don't have to think about it.

Don't get me wrong, I know I'm amazing. (And modest.) I know lots of people think that me speaking 5 languages is cool. And wish they could have seen 6 continents as well. And that living in Japan is a dream lots of people will never acheive. And I know that even though I'm not very far along on my writing journey, I've published a few shorts and that's something.

But I'm not at all traditional. Being here allows for that. Being home doesn't really. It just reminds me how short I fall by tradtional standards...

Today's giveaway is the October Edition- a collection of YA novels released this month.

Carmen, a teen violinista, aims to win violin's most prestigious prize, while trying not to fall in love with the competition.

 Mary usually has her feet firmly on the ground, but after everything in her life starts going wrong, she decides to try things she never would have. She decides to fly!

A re-telling of Tristan of Isolde: Izzie a young witch means to set up her girlfriend, but accidentally uses a love potion on herself and falls for Tristan.

To win:



Today's giveaway is open until 11.59 pm EST on Thursday.
Open internationally.
Followers only.

Don't forget, the only chance at tomorrow's crazy grab bag, is to send a list of 10 book for the 100 books every writer should read.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

INSANITY!!! Day 3- The Other Edition

The INSANITY!!! Day 1 winner, according to, is...

Entrant # 4...


Congrats, Sidrah.

In literature, there's a certain type of character that appears more often as the protagonist. In YA, that's a white, female, who's at least fairly fit and heterosexual. Any MC (and to some extent it also applies to secondary characters) who doesn't fit that norm is Other.

There's a lot of talk, especially in YA circles, about our responsibility to write the Other. I think writing stereotypical Other characters or ones you're not passionate about is worse than no Others at all. Before you write an Other, think about what that will really mean.

How does being Black/ Asia/ LGBTQ/ fat/ short/ developmentally-challenged/ academically-challenged (etc) affect your character? Go deep, don't just think about the surface ways. What does being fat mean for going to parties? What does being Black mean for college choices? What does being gay mean for which countries a character dreams of visiting?

Today, for INSANITY!!! Day 3, it's the Other Edition. Up for grabs, some of the books I've read this year featuring an Other MC.

 One of the best things about this book is that Hanna's (the MC) struggles with who she is aren't the main focus. Because not every Other character spend s all day thinking about their Other-ness. She's half Finnish and half-Black, but the strange, paranormal goings-on in her town in the American South are the bigger issue.
 This book is as multicultural as they come. About a Muslim girl, torn between not letting her school friends know that she's Muslim in the midst of all their post-911 issues and really enjoyng many of the facets of her Muslim heritage. Also, it's set in Australia.

Marcelo is somewhere on the autism spectrum. This is the story about a boy who sees the world in a different way, but is being forced to interact with it.

To enter, tell me in the comments:


Open until Wednesday, 11.59 pm.
Open to everyone - international and non-followers as well.

Don't forget the only way to win on Friday is to send me your 10 books every writer should read.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

INSANITY!!! Day 2- Issues in YA edition

When I was in secondary school, a group called MADD released a calypso called Saturday Night. MADD is known for it's comedic tunes. but this one was a lot heavier than usual. It was about a 15 year old boy and his 13 year old girlfriend. They go to a fete (party) and someone steps on his toe (or was it him stepping on someone's toe). They almost fight but a friend holds him back. The guy waits for him outside the club, and it turns into a bloodbath.

A section of the public got up in arms over the song. They ragged on the relationship between the boy and girl. And the "glorification of violence".  And some of them said that it should never be on the radio because things like that don't happen.

I wondered where those people lived. Yes, Barbados is a tropical paradise, but we have crime too. And we definitely have teens engaging in sexual relationships. I was a teen at the time. I'd seen it with my own eyes.

Here in Japan, I do a huge detailed medical every year. It's mandatory for every government employee. They test things I don't even understand in English. But they don't test for AIDS. My neighbour last year says it's because Japan likes to pretend there isn't any here. Same deal with homosexuals. Ask the average Japanese citizen, there are no Japanese gays. I know way too many gay foreigners with Japanese boyfriends to believe that.

What do these 3 things have in common? For me, they are reminders: Just because you pretend something doesn't happen, doesn't make it any less true.

Every once in a while, someone- a parent, a school board, a committee- will try to ban a YA book on the grounds of some horrible circumstance in the book. I don't like the circumstances any more than they do, but the fact is that these things happen. And people need to know that. And the people they're happening to, need support.

Today, I'll be giving away two books.

Jay Asher's Th1rteen R3asons Why- I feel like this book affected me more than any other book. Ever. It deals with the aftermath of a suicide, and highlighted one thing above all else in my mind: you never know how bad someone else is hurting.

But i Love Him by Amanda Grace (Mandy Hubbard)- What I loved about this book was the reverse chronology, aimed at stopping the reader from judging the protagonist who is abused by her boyfriend.

To win simply comment and tell me:


Open until 11.59 pm EST Tuesday
Open internationally to followers and non followers alike.

Don't forget to send your list of 10 books every writer should read to enter the Friday Grab Bag.

Monday, October 17, 2011

INSANITY!!! Day 1- The Elana Johnson packet

Today's my anniversary, folks! 2 years for POINTS OF CLAIRE-IFICATION. I'm so happy you guys have supported me. And to thank you, we'll be having INSANITY!!! this week. All week long, you can stop by for daily giveaways! Be sure to check the rules at the bottom. Each day's drawing closes at 11.59 pm EST. 

Also,  the only way to enter for Friday's grand grab bag is by sending your list of 10 books for 100 Books Every Writer Should Read. So, get to thinking about your lists. And good luck.

Today, amazing Elana Johnson is joining us. 

Hi Elana! Welcome to POINTS OF CLAIRE-IFICATION. I loved POSSESSION. (My readers may be sick of me saying this by now.)  Can you tell us what sparked that novel?

I’d been writing for about four months when the idea for POSSESSION hit. I’d just finished reading my first dystopian novel (UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld), and I didn’t even know what “dystopian” was, but I knew I wanted to write a novel in the genre.

So I got busy figuring out what dystopian was, and then I started drafting POSSESSION. I wanted someone who didn’t want to be bossed around, and who was searching for what they believed in. Vi and my brainwashing society evolved from that pretty authentically.

POSSESSION is literally “Goodies” vs “Baddies”. For me the names brought  back memories of playing with my brother as a kid. Lol. They turned out to be one of my favourite things about the novel, though. Using these names made the book not only about control vs freedom, but the overarching theme of what is good and what is bad, and whether anything is completely good or bad. What made you go with the simplicity of goodies and baddies?

For exactly that reason! I wanted my MC to really think about what is good and what is bad, and why. Are things good because someone else tells you they are? I wanted Vi to be able to critically look at what she’d been told and then decide for herself, without labels. And “good” and “bad” are the most simplistic labels, and often we have justifications for what we believe is good and bad, but in POSSESSION, Vi didn’t. So I wanted her to examine the things in her life from the most basic perspective.

 I have to admit that I’m wearing a little thin for YA love triangles. So I was refreshed by the Vi-Zenn-Jag relationship. Vi is sure of who she wants, but she’s not sure that is where she should be. How did you go about building this intellectual (as opposed to the usual emotional and angsty) love triangle?

I’m with you. I think sometimes the love triangle detracts from the real plot. I was hoping to make the relationships between Vi and Zenn, Zenn and Jag, and Jag and Vi more plot-based instead of a romantic sub-plot, which is sometimes what we see. So maybe that’s how? (Ha! I wish I knew for sure!)

 Normally, I’m not a fan of endings (writing or reading them), and they’re especially hard to do in dystopian where you have to balance out the implications of the bad in the good. But the way POSSESSION wrapped up  was bone-chillingly perfect. How did you go about crafting that culmination? Did you always know where the story would end?  How did you drag my soul out and leave me literally unable to enjoy another book for days?

I’m so glad to hear you say that. The end of POSSESSION came to me as I was writing it. I don’t outline or even really know where the story is going until I get there.

So as I was writing the climax, I realized where this had to go to be complete. To be authentic. To make sense for the rest of the book. And that’s the ending that I wrote—almost feverishly.

From there, I had to go back through the first 46 chapters and make sure that everything in them was leading toward this (in my mind) perfect ending I had just written. That’s where the real work was.

I’m thrilled you couldn’t enjoy another book for days! That’s a huge compliment for an author, and while I sometimes wish POSSESSION ended differently, I know it ends the exact right way.

Tell us a little about your publication journey. How did you connect with Michelle Andelman? Was POSSESSION your first attempt at novel-writing?

Ah, my publication journey is a long and winding road. POSSESSION was my third written novel, and the second one I queried. So I have one shelved novel and about 10 more that aren’t even worth opening to work on.

I connected with Michelle through a cold query and invitation to read my book. She requested it, read it quickly, and wanted to know what else I had on my hard drive.

After a few months of back and forth, revisions, and phone conversations, we signed together. She sold my book very soon after that, and I love working with her.

You’re a part of the awesome-ness  of WRITEONCON – which might just be the most amazing thing to happen ot YA writers online in EVER – can you tell us a little about that?

WriteOnCon is this amazing beast that has sort of taken on a life of it’s own. It started way back in 2010, when I was doing a series of “pay it forward” events on my blog to celebrate my book deal. I’d asked my blog readers what I should do for July, and the fabulous Casey McCormick commented, saying she had an idea she wasn’t sure about.

I jumped on that, and basically forced her to tell me her idea—which was an online children’s conference. From there, we assembled a team, contacted agents and editors, and held our first conference in August 2010.

This past year, we basically did the same thing, bringing on The Reading Room, a graphic designer, a web person, and a team of forum experts. It’s amazing the stories we hear from people who’ve made a connection from WriteOnCon. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of. (Big shout out to Casey McCormick, Lisa and Laura Roecker, Shannon Messenger, Jamie Harrington, Dustin Hansen, Nikki Katz, and Carolin Seidenkranz!)

Finally, most of my readers are writers. Any advice for those of us still in the pre-query, pre-deal, pre-pub stages?

Never give up! Never surrender! (That’s from Galaxy Quest, BTW, a fabulous movie.)

No, but seriously, don’t. Work harder. Write another novel. Polish it; make it the best you can. Send it out. Write more. The only way you’re sure to fail is if you quit. But success? Success could be just around the corner. 

Thanks so much Elana for joining us, and being fantastic in general!

So today, up for grabs we've got Elana's debut novel POSSESSION, as well as 2 books Elana recommends:

To win, tell me in the comments: 

Open until 11.59 pm EST on Monday
Open internationally
Open to followers and non-followers alike

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I have not forsaken thee

Hi Honey Suckles,

This is just a quick note to let you know I still love you all. I was out of town at a work conference for two days. When I came back, I 'd contracted a "not-cold", and had to resort to drugging myself to sleep last night, I'm still hopped up on Conta-C. Tomorrow night, I head down to Kobe where I'll present two workshops at the Japan Writers Conference. My workshops are "Into the Melting Pot: Writing the Multicultural YA" and "Brick by Brick: Building Your Blog".

Wish me luck!

Don't forget INSANITY!!! is next week. Every day there will be opportunities to win 2 or more books. But each contest will only be open for until 11.59 pm EST the day of. We start out Monday with an interview with the amazing Elana Johnson. Also, a heads up, the only way to enter the Friday contest will be by submitting a list for the 100 Books contest. So get to thinking about the 10 books you'd recommend every writer read. And yes, if you've already submitted a list, you are also eligible to win.

C u next week!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Purple Hat Theory

The winner of the UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER is Shari Green!

Congrats, Shari!

There was a chain mail that made the rounds a couple years ago. There are several versions of it, but it was about a female's view of herself, and it went something like this. 

Age 3: She looks at herself and sees a Princess.
Age 15: She looks at herself and sees an Ugly Sister (Mum I can't go to school looking like this!)
Age 25: She looks at herself and sees "too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly" - but decides she doesn't have time to fix it, so she's going out anyway.
Age 30: She looks at herself and sees "clean" and goes out.
Age 40: She looks at herself and sees "I am" and goes wherever she wants to go.
Age 55: She looks at herself and reminds herself of all the people who can't even see themselves in the mirror anymore. Goes out and conquers the world.
Age 60: She looks at herself & sees wisdom, laughter and ability, goes out and enjoys life.
Age 70: Doesn't bother to look.
Just puts on a purple hat and goes out to have fun with the world.
I like to think I've skipped a couple stages and hit the purple hat early. Despite who I am now, I wasn't the Princess type as a kid. I didn't do the Ugly Duckling bit either. I was wildly confident in my looks as a teen. I'm not a mirror person. There are days when I leave the house without looking in the mirror.(Dear God, I am so backwards!) I've decided that if I'm going to be doomed to have bad days, I might as well have fun on the good ones.

Or at least that's what I tell myself.

The other day a girlfriend of mine hailed me up. She lives a couple towns over, but we make a supreme effort to hang because we're both from Caribbean islands. And it's great not to have to rein in the way I think or the things I say because people won't understand. Anyhow, she asked me if I had any books to loan. I kind of loathe that question. Books are like air to me, so I own a zillion of them (these days more on Kindle than physically) but I read mostly YA. And maybe YA is catching on among adults in the UK and US, but in the Caribbean it's still very much, "What are you doing in the children's section?"

I guess it doesn't just apply to books either. If a 20 year old CHOSE to be a virgin, many people would think of that not as a commitment to her ideals, but simply as being immature. It might have to do with African tradition and the reverence for what is over what could be. Or a leftover from slavery, where there wasn't time to indulge in things not practical. But the fact is that certain things are adult. And all adults should do them. By extension, certain things are NOT adult, and adults should not do them.

Theoretically, as a disciple of the Order of the Purple Hat, all I needed to say to my friend was, "YA is what I like." Instead, I started to reason why I liked it. And the thing is you can't argue a subjective topic objectively. And even deigning to argue made me feel like I was agreeing with my friend that YA was somehow of less merit and that I should spend more time in books directed at my age group and with more literary merit. That's not how I really feel. Although it is an insecurity that I have. And one that I suspect a lot of children's and YA writers, if they're being honest, also share.

We've all got something that we're royally insecure about, some way in which we feel defective. One of mine is the fact that I'm not an adult in anything other than the fact that I'm over 18 (or 20 or 21 as the case may be) . Sure, I've got some adult traits, but just the ones I've always had. I was very mature as a child. I just don't feel grown up now. I feel like I'm a 6 year old walking around the house in Mummy's high heels. ( Unholy hell! I think I'm an emotional Benjamin Button!) Most days I'm fine with that, and I wear it almost as a badge of honour. I put on my purple hat and do what the heck I feel like. But there are days, and not as few as I'd like, where I'm absolutely terrified that someone will find out who the real me is. And they'll revoke my right to be an adult. And they'll put me in a cardboard box on display in the zoo, with the label "Pretend Grown-Up".

Deep inside I know. The true sign of adulthood- of maturity- is not being what every one else thinks you should be. Even the air-head cheerleaders in every 80's high school movie can do that. No, the true sign of adulthood is being the adult YOU were meant to be.

So I guess the only question left is this:

Are you wearing your purple hat?

It's Monday. That's what's on my mind.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Scaredy Cat - Same song over and over

First a reminder:

I'll be celebrating my 2nd blogiversary on October 17th. And where there's Claire and celebration, there's INSANITY!!! (That's not me going over my exclamation mark quota again. They're part of the name.)

What's INSANITY!!!?

It's a week of contests. 2 or more books up for grabs every day. And man, do I have some books for you guys!


Anyhoo's, it's the month of all things Hallow, and even though my country doesn't celebrate it, Japan is big on all the visible aspects of American holidays. So, in honour of the creepy crawlies, I thought I'd share a few things I'm afraid of. First up: Staying in one place.

I change my mind a lot. Or rather, change my heart. I'm not driven to do things by what I think about them, but by how I feel. My biggest fear is picking something that I like at the time, and getting stuck with it when I stop liking it, or having to NOT like other things because I chose that one.

This has lots of effects in the real and practical world.


Behind Door number 1 is employment. Even though I'm fortunate enough to always find employment within weeks of deciding I feel like being employed (yes, there are times when work seems like it should have gone out with the old millenium), I'm never anywhere near having a career. Like I teach right now. This is my 5th year of teaching. But I never think of myself as a teacher. And when I leave next year or in 2013, I doubt I'll go back into teaching. The same when I worked on the sub. I didn't think of myself as a tourism professional or a submarine copilot, it's just what I was doing to pay for the fun stuff.And because it's kind of fun to be a submarine co-pilot. And as a submarine co-pilot,  you kind of always have the coolest job of all the people in the room. lol.

But some day, I'd like to be able to say, "I'm a [something]" and not " This is what I happen to be doing right now. "

Somehow, I can't make that decision. Well no, that's not really true. I know I want to be an author. And I have another job title in mind that is even less attainable and more far-fetched than that. (It's so ridiculous that I'm even afraid off saying it here, where I bare my secrets all the time.) It feels great to have made that choice, but authors tend to need dayjobs. And I'm really not inspired to make a career out of one.

Which leads me to Door number 2...


I love learning, and being in school, and debating in classes and all that. ( I don't like assignments in general though. lol) But society (and my mother) has this thing about there being like a point to education. I can't just go to school for fun. Especially not at Masters' Level. People kind of expect you to put a Masters to work and stuff.

Which means I have to figure out what job I want to do before I can head back into the classroom. Every couple of months, I change my mind about what I'm going to study: Translation, Linguistics, French, Spanish, French AND Spanish, Caribbean Studies, MFA Creative Writing (which pretty much always wins in yearning, and always loses in practicality and the fact that the Masters is supposed to find me a day job, not promote the writing "whims"), etc.

And that all gets tied up in Door number 3...


Here's where it gets freaky. Normal people want to live in one place. And maybe visit a few others. Claire wants to live in a new place ever 2 or 3 years. Seriously the US Military life is looking so ideal right now. Except I haven't been out long enough to forget the things I hate about military life in general. And about the US Military in particular.

I've got a max of 2 more years on this job. As I don't intend to be anywhere forever, I think I'll move on from Japan when I'm done. But I don't know where I'll go. I've got this thing about Brazil. Since World Cup 2014 AND Olympics 2016 are both there. And I think that's the first time that's ever happened. And it just sounds like a 2 year party to me. There's also France, and all the rest of Europe, French Canada, and South America. Notice how none of those places speak English? lol. I kind of hate tying myself to just one language. I know that sounds pretentious, so I don't admit it alot. And I like mulitilingual people around me. One of my best friends in Japan would have these trilingual arguments with me, thoroughly confusing everybody around us. I'd be pissed (clearly, I was arguing) but it was great!


Another casualty of my INTENSE desire for something over a super short time, followed by paying no attention to it, is relationships. My friends are used to it. I have a number of "best friends". And I'll be close to one for months on end, and then we'll hardly speak while I'm close to someone else. Boyfriends are not so happy with this arrangement.

Also, because I know how I am, I am superscared of eliminating possibilities. So I've turned down 9 marriage proposals. Some of them were from pretty cool guys too. It's just that for me marriage is all she wrote. Til death (or slow poisoning) do us part. And I know my feelings change. And what if they change and I can't imagine never being able to choose someone else? So, I just don't put myself in that situation.

And there you have it, my biggest fear: staying in one place. Stay tuned for more Scaredy Cat next week.

(The title is a quote from one of my fave movies, HARDBALL staring Keanu Reeves. He asks: What's he listening to? G: Same song over and again. )

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Nano, nano, bo-bano,
Banana-fana fo-fano,
It's October! Which means next month is November! WOO!!! HOO!!!
Okay. Now that I've used my yearly exclamation mark quota (as if that will stop me, MUAHAHAHA) let me explain to those of you who are confused. 

November is nanowrimo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's international these days, but Innowrimo sounds like a disease so they suck with 'nano'. Nanowrimo is a novel-writing challenge. 50,000 words. 30 days. The principle, according to founder Chris Baty's book NO PLOT, NO PROBLEM is that the only thing standing between you and your novel is a deadline. 

I'm a firm believer in 'to each his own' so I won't swear that nano is the best thing ever for EVERY writer. But it is the best thing to happen to ME. 

I got this fuzzy idea about novel-writing sometime in my teen years. (Thank God that computer crashed. My novel attempts were painful.) The furthest I got on my novelling path pre-Nano was 15,000 words. I've already mentioned that my attention bounces around like a kangaroo on Speed. When I came to Japan, a French Canadian friend of mine introduced me to Nano. Who would have thought that all the way out in backabush Iwate, Japan there'd be 4 English speakers jumping into a writing challenge?

So I wrote and wrote and wrote. Sometime around the 20th, I took a break, and lost several days time. And then wrote insane amounts for the last dew days to 'win' within minutes of the 11.59 November 30th deadline. Even after 3 successful nano's, that's still my M.O. Last year was particularly bad. I missed the start for no particularly reason. Then I caught up, and fell behind again by Nov 7. I wrote 14,000 words on the final day. lol. 

Why do I love Nano?
 1. Commitment is not my thing. I get bored spending 3 years in the same country. There's no way a first draft is going to hold my attention for months and months. 

2. It's more exciting to figure it out as I go. I do a minimum of plotting. Every nano, I jump in with some characters, a few traits, and a premise. If I know too much about my characters, the bore me. I need to get to know them the same way I get to know real people, by hanging out with them. If I study them from notes like a history textbook, they feel just about as interesting. Ditto for plot and everything else.

3. The support system is amazing. If you spend a lot of time in the publishing blogosphere and Twitter, then you know the amazing network that is the writers world. Now imagine that sort of network 24 hours a day with forums. SWOON.
4. I started out with nano. This blog exists because of nano. That's where I first heard mention of Nathan Bransford, and hanging on his blog is what made me start this blog with writing as one of it's focal points. As a result of this blog and the people I met through it, I decided to go for publication- not in a whimsical, some day sort of way, but in a 'I have to do this or it will break my soul' way. Nano will always hold a special place in my heart for being the thing that converted me.

But there is one reason that I love nano, above all the other reasons. 

I have NEVER COMPLETED a first draft outside nano. 

If you, like me, want to write, but have never been succesful at staying committed to a novel - or you have a premise that you'd like to develop no strings attached - or you just like to jump in head, feet or bum first - come join us. 
My username is muchlanguage. Add me if you're in.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

100 Books - Win a Kindle!

Remember how I failed to give away a Kindle at the beginning of September? Well, they say everything happens for a reason. At the end of the month, Amazon announced new Kindles and price-cuts on all but the DX (my Kindle). So....

You may also remember that I'm trying to compile a list of 100 Books Every Writer Should Read.

1. Please send your list of 10 books every writer should read to muchlanguage (at)gmail (dot)com.
2. You don't have to, but I'd love if you included nationality in your email. If you do, I'll use that info to tabulate the number one book for Brits v. Americans vs. Australians, etc. (This hinges on your nationality being represented by at least 5 people.)
3. Please spread the word on twitter, your blog, facebook, in person, etc.
4. Please comment when you spread the word. There is no limit to the number of entries you can receive for spreading the word.
5. I'll accept lists until December 31, 2011 (11.59 pm EST as usual). I have less than 200 respondents, I may extend that.
6. I'll compile the list in early January (or a few weeks after I've stopped accepting lists) and draw 2 winners: One from the people who sent lists, and one from the people who spread the word.

ANYONE CAN WIN: New and improved!
Originally, I was giving away the top 5 single volumes from the list.

But now...

If the winner is in the US/can fandangle a US address: you can win your choice of:

the Kindle Touch 3G


the Kindle Keyboard 3G


the original prize of the top 5 single volumes from the list.

If the winner is not in the US:

the Kindle Keyboard 3G


the original prize of the top 5 single volumes from the list.
(Go grumble with Amazon about the Touch not being available for the rest of the world. In fact, if the Fire was available universally...)

If the winner is in Pakistan or one of the other few countries Amazon can't send a Kindle to:

the original prize of the top 5 volumes from the list.

(So long as Amazon, Book Depository or Japan Post will mail to you, I will send it.) In case you're lost right now, here's the bare essence.

2 Kindles up for grabs. 

Send me a list of 10 books every writer should read, you're entered to win Kindle 1. 

Spread the word, as often as you feel like, and leave a link at the bottom of this post, you're entered to win Kindle 2. 

Of course, if you've already spread the word or sent a list, those entries are still eligible. Thanks for helping! And remember, any time you want to get back to a 100 Books post, cllick the linky ----->>>

PS and Edit. Any book counts, just not writing craft. If you think every writer should read the Kama Sutra, then write that. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Story Land

Friday, September 23rd was a holiday here: Autumnal Equinox. I had just gotten back from Tokyo with my school trip. And I had to work (yes, on a holiday) for the Kindergarden sports. So when my neighbours/colleaguse asked what I was doing after sports, I said:

I'm going to read some books, watch some movies, and sleep.

I meant to do that on Friday afternoon, and for the rest of the long weekend. It's been a little over a week and I'm still doing it.

I get up on mornings at the absolutely last possible minute, get ready and go to work. I sit at my desk and read galleys (books before they've been released. One of my fave things about reading on the comp is that it looks like I'm doing work) until I have to teach. Then I teach a class or two, read some more galley, go home, eat some dinner, watch a movie, read a book, sleep.

I spend an absolute minimum of time on the internet. I don't make any of my work stuff any more complex than it has to be. And even so, my perception of work these days is that it's the amount of time until I can get back to Story Land.

Eventually, I'll probably need to return to the real world. Maybe. But for now, living in Story Land is perfect. :)

It's Monday, and that is, strangely, what's on my mind.