Friday, July 29, 2011

Congrats to the winner of



Sophia Richardson!

Congratulations, Sophie. It's on it's way.

Remember how back in January, I promised to have some multicultural offerings in the giveaways?

May I present Buxton Spice by Oonya Kempadoo, who has lived in several Caribbean territories as well as England.

From Goodreads:

Told in the voice of a girl as she moves from childhood into adolescence, Buxton Spice is the story the town of Tamarind Grove: its eccentric families, its sweeping joys, and its sudden tragedies. The novel brings to life 1970s Guyana-a world at a cultural and political crossroads-and perfectly captures a child's keen observations, sense of wonder, and the growing complexity of consciousness that marks the passage from innocence to experience.

I honestly don't read a lot of books by Caribbean authors. Lots of Caribbean books seem to take the super-literary take itself too seriously route. And that's fine for some readers, but not for me.

The thing that most stands out to me in Buxton Spice is the portrayal of sex. I'd never really thought about how the facets of sex are different in the Caribbean than how I've seen it portrayed in mainstream books. In some ways, sex is always just below the surface here. Many of the calypsoes (songs) have a double entendre, with other words used to cleverly (or not so cleverly) take about sex. There's an old calypso, where a man and a woman are dancing together and the women says to the man, "Something in ya pocket keep sticking me," and the man responds, "It's a ripe plaintain."

Kempadoo also provides a look at politics and corruption in Guyana. When you say corruption, I think of Guyana. Guyana has just about every natural resource I can think of: gold, diamonds, bauxite, lumber, a little oil, etc, etc. It should be one of the richest countries in the world. Instead it's one of the poorest countries in the English-speaking Caribbean. In my view, that's mismanagement and corruption.

Buxton Spice also shows so many of the "characters" in a Caribbean neighbourhood. Things are a lot more "Americanised" than they were in the '70s, but there is a lot that hasn't changed.

There is one caveat. The book uses a lot of dialect. It's not particular hard to understand, but it does take some getting used to. I suppose it's not so much dialect as a Caribbean style of speech. For example, instead of using "very" we repeat a verb for emphasis. "After a long day of work, I tired tired tired."

Make a comment to enter.
Contest open til 1159 pm EST Wednesday.
Followers only.

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Firstly, let me apologise semi-preemptively. I didn't post yesterday. That's because when I should have been writing a post, I was out with my neighbours for our last lunch, and then I was out with one of my schools for an end-of-term-1 drinking party.

Summer is pretty crazy for me. Staff drinking parties. Goodbye parties for ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) returning home. Welcome parties for new ALTs. New ALT orientations (Tokyo and Morioka). Taking off to Hokkaido for the Sapporo summer festival (and hopefully a self-imposed writer retreat). Write On Con. Biggest Japanese drum parade in the world in Morioka, my prefectural capital. And my town festival, for 3 days, the last weekend in August.

Just typing it all is exhausting.

I'm telling you that because it involves a lot of not being in my house, or even in my town. Which means I can't really guarantee the 3 or 4 posts per week that I usually do.


As a writer, I keep a few notebooks, each with a different purpose.


Ideally a sparkbook is tiny. It can fit in your smallest purse. This notebook is just right for jotting down single sentences or phrases to remind you of some spark of an idea that you had. I tend to jot down one or two lines about an idea, and then leave it in my brain to ferment. The way I figure it, if it can't keep my attention for a few days/weeks, then there's no way I can keep engaged enough to write it.


The Incidentals Notebook is a book full of bits and pieces from real life. That party anecdote about the time one of the kindergarteners was over-enthusiastic during a performance of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, and flipped right off the stage. (Yes, it happened.) Interesting comments that you see on Facebook. Quotable things you say or hear. Jobs that sound interesting. The perfect name for a future character. Interesting stories you read in the newspaper.

The Incidentals notebook can really be a set of more specific notebooks. For example, if you write humour, you might have a Incidental Humour Book- filled with hilarious things you've seen or done, one liners, and stories you've heard. You can tailor-make the Incidentals Book(s) to your needs.


Writing fiction requires a lot of research, especially if the book's characters and plot have little in common with you and your life. MS3's MC wants to be a forensic pathologist. All I know about forensic pathology I learned from MURDER, SHE WROTE and CSI. Jazz is the sort of person that knows everything about anything she's interested in. Which, for me, means I need to know as much as I can without ever setting foot in the field.

In the research notebook, I write down important points. It's not about writing out the entire theory behind forensic pathology. I just need to have information all in one place. If I need more depth I can return to the source.


I'm a character writer. (I scream this from the rooftops every other minute, so if you didn't know, I guess you're new. Welcome aboard!)So my characters get notebooks. This has evolved to the point where every POV MC gets their own book. I write out a stack of questions and then answer them from the MC's perspective. Some of the questions are physical (features, coke or pepsi, favourite colour) and some are abstract (best memory, dreams, things they feel guilty about) and everything in between. As I re-read and prepare to edit, I also add pictures of things that are important to the MC, and a pic of the MC herself/himself.

Major secondary characters go in two to a book. I like to know my secondary characters almost as well as my MCs, because the MC interacts with them a lot. All the other characters get a page in the last character notebook. I write their full names, ages, their connection to the MC, job, etc.

MS Book
The final notebook that I employ is the MS (manuscript) book. All the other tidbits that don't go in the research or character notebooks, but are specific to the MS are in here. MS3 takes place mainly in a school, so in the MS Book, I drew up a daily schedule to keep track of who had which classes with who, and what days the classes were on.

Other things you might put in an MS book: plot points, macro and micro settings, pictures, etc.


The books I've listed above are the ones I keep, but you can add or subtract as you see fit. I'm a character writer so I have a crapload of character notebooks. If you're a plot writer, you may want to keep a plot book. If you're writing SF/F (Science Fiction/Fantasy), you're building a world pretty much from scratch, and you may want ot keep the details in a setting notebook.


When you write in the notebooks is entirely up to you. I mentioned for example, that I add pictures to the character books AFTER my first draft. I'm a pantser who's not much for visuals, so it works for me. If you're a plotter or a very visual writer, you'll probably want pics from the start.

Also, as a pantser, the only one of my MS-specific notebooks that has a lot of info before I start writing is the character book. The research and MS books get info after the first draft. Then I commit all the info to my brain, and start on my re-write.

If you're a plotter, you may prefer to fill up all these notebooks and more before you type/write a single letter.

Your call.


No, they don't actually have to be physical notebooks, with the exception of the Sparks book. You'll want your Sparks book with you everywhere. Granted you could just use your phone and text/mail yourself, but it's easier to have a tiny notebook.

All the other 'books' can be files on your computer, or huge wall-sized butcher paper if you prefer. I personally like notebooks and I think the act of physically writing it out helps.

Do you, as a writer, keep notebooks?

Monday, July 25, 2011

I can't sacrifice

A little while back, I read an article on Yahoo! about women cheating.

One lady really loved swimming and surfing and all things to do with the sea. Her boyfriend didn't. So when she visited her family on the coast, and met a guy who was sweet AND loved the sea, she ended up drawn to him.

At the end of the article, one of the guidelines was to think about the things you can't sacrifice. Here's an example from my personal life. I have this thing about tall, bony guys. Seriously, 6 foot 6 and thin as a rake will give my palpitations. To the point where I have struggle to let my brain stay in the driver's seat.

I once had a boyfriend who was 2 inches shorter than me. I told myself it didn't matter. I mean it's just height. But I felt like I ran into it at every juncture. If we took a bus together, and I wanted to lean on his shoulder, I couldn't. When we kissed, I didn't have to tiptoe. I tried to bury it, because frankly those are silly (and shallow) reasons to walk away. But, when it finally ended for unrelated reasons, I decided I didn't want to be with a short guy again.

Sometimes, I think it's unfair. I mean, he didn't make himself shorter than me. He shouldn't be judged for things he didn't choose. That's what one part of me believes.

The other part knows I'm just being realistic. That first dude couldn't help not liking the sea. So there's a sacrifice to be made somewhere. Either he sacrifices himself and goes with her (sometimes), or she sacrifices herself and doesn't go (much). Like the article says, it comes down to what you can and can't sacrifice. Would you rather have this thing, but not exactly as you want? Or would it be better not to have it, if you can't have it with that special condition?

I know I love freedom and variety, in thought, literature, movies, friends, cultures, locations, etc. I feel like it's something I can tone down, but not give up. My life will always involve different countires and different languages. I know that it's important to me that my books be available worldwide. Because I grew up outside the big countries, and hate the words, "Offer available only in..." I feel like these are things I couldn't give up. There are other things (like tall men), and I will definitely have to make a list to save myself the heartache, but I feel like these are the most important for me. In life and in publishing.

How about you? What sacrifices are too much for you?

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

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review and Giveaway- 29

Don't forget to email your list of 10 books every writer should read, for your chance to win.

Great zombie stories from last week's entrants. I've never seen Shaun of the Dead, though. *Hangs head in shame.*

Last week's winner

of Carrie Harris' BAD TASTE IN BOYS is...


Congratulations, Diana. Send me your full name and address and I'll get that right to you.

Today up for grabs is WRITE GREAT FICTION: PLOT AND STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell

So far, this book is my favourite book dedicated to plot. And I think that's mainly due to the concept at the centre of the book: the LOCK system.


Lead- You start with a character. Who is he/she? What makes them interesting?What do they do? What do they love? Who do they love?

I love that Bell lets character take such a prime role in plot, because really plot and character are intertwined. Think of your fave plot-heavy mysteries, procedurals, etc. Sherlock Holmes stories, CSI, Murder She Wrote, Miss Marple... they all work because of their characters. I think plot and character are intertwined. The best plots fall flat without the right characters. And characters only get to show themselves and their qualities if the plot allows.

Objective- What does the character want?

Confrontation- What stands in his/her way?

Knockout- The final blow to wrap up your story.

Apart from the LOCK system, Bell goes into to detail on how to structure your story, how to get ideas, how to build scenes, how to fix plot issues, common plots within certain genres, etc. I loved this book, and would recommend it to anyone who struggles with plot, wants to fix plot problems, or wants to take their plotting to the next level.

I've mentioned several times that plot is the weakest of the "pillars of writing" in my arsenal. I don't plot beforehand, because it kills my interest in a story, and so far, all my stories end up with plot holes bigger than my country.

For your chance to win, tell me: What's your relationship with plot and/or structure?
This contest is open to followers only until Wednesday, 11.59 pm EST.

The Most Important Thing

I got to wondering the other day, what's the most important thing to concentrate on when you're writing? I decided to look at this thing logically- go through all the big issues, and then see which matters the most.

Plot is the "what happens" in your story. It needs to go at a quick enough pace to keep the reader interested, but not be so fast they feel exhausted or confused. It has to be full of unexpected twists, but not feel contrived.

I like to think that most people are attached to other people moreso than to things or events. So characters are responsible for pulling us into a story. Characters are the ones readers identify with, love, hate. They are the ones who make us laugh and cry and want to beat up imaginary people.

The hook is probably the first thing a potential reader will hear about your book. If they ask a friend "What's that book about?" the answer will be your hook. A girl who lost her mother. A girl who's best friend dies and she stops caring about life and starts workin in a strip club. A boy who discovers he's the chosen one to lead his people out of opression. A hook is probably the reason someone picks up your book in the first place.

Theme is a big picture concept behind a book. For example while the hook for Hunger Games might be something like, "A girl enters a fight-to-the-death, in order to protect her sister," the theme(s) would be things like war and capitalism.

This is the locale where your book takes place. In contemporary books, this is a current city or town. It also includes the political and social climate, as well as the physical environment. In fantasy, this includes the rules of the world (magic, dragons, poisonous creatures), the history, the government, etc.

Unless you roll in hard-core reader circles or writer circles, you probably won't hear anything about the writing in a book before you read it. Writing needs to be accessible to the reader. Done well, it pulls a reader into the story, and makes them experience all the right emotions at the right time, and stays with them after the last paragraph.

So which of these is the most important? Well, the importance of the individual facets of a book change with the genre. For example, in YA- especially paranormal- I think characters are at the top of the pyramid, because plots can be similar and because teenager-hood is so much about identifying and fitting in. Mysteries are heavy on plot. Literary fiction boasts beautiful writing. Fantasy has intricate settings. Dystopians have lofty themes.


That doesn't mean that you can sacrifice characters in your dystopian. Or plot in your literary fiction. Or characters in your mystery. Because regardless of genre, a bad plot, paper characters, a hook that doesn't live up to it's potential, a preachy theme, a poorly-painted setting, or poor writing will still pull a reader out of a story.

So what IS the most important thing?

The most important thing is to keep your reader connected with your story. And to do that, you need to develop ALL the facets of your writing to a certain level.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

5 things about HP 7.2 in Japanese (no spoilers)

Floating on air cuz I watched Harry Potter and the new Ghibli Kokkuriko-zaka kara (From up on Poppy Hill) today. I watched them in Japanese. It's always weird watching English language films in Japanese for me. Whatever language I watch a movie in first is the RIGHT language. To this day, I can only sing "Dille Che L'ami" (Italian) instead of "How Does She Know" from ENCHANTED (COME D'INCANTO). So Harry Potter 7.1 and 7.2 will probably always sound weird in English.

Anyhow here are some random thoughts about seeing Harry Potter in Japanese:

1. Most of the Japanese voices do a fair job of sounding almost exactly like the English or capturing the spirit of the character. Except Hermione. Hermione sounds vaguely Minnie Mouse on helium, so it always take a few minutes of giggles to get adjusted.

2. Harry Potter in Japanese is pronounced funny. Ha-RII PoTAA. I scoured youtube for Japanese voice overs but I can only find the trailers with subtitles. :(

3. 分霊箱 (Bunreibako) confused the heck out of me for the first 30 minutes. Eventually I figured out it meant "horcrux"- literally "part-spirit-box". Horcrux isn't exactly in the dictionary.

4. For about 90% of the movie I wondered why they kept talking about 机 (tsukue)- desks. I kept saying to myself, I can't remember there being this much talk of desks in the book. Turns out they were saying 杖 (tsue)- wand. Wand makes so much more sense than desk. So much more sense. Definitely should have looked that one up before hand.

5. And my fave thing: The translation of "Marauder's Map" was "忍びの地図" (Shinobu no chizu) or literally "Ninja Map" !!! BEST. TRANSLATION. EVER. I mean who doesn't want a Ninja Map?

And that's my 5 randoms about watching HP 7.2 (and 7.1) in Japanese. Did you love it? Hate it? Not see it yet?

(P.S. leave a random word at the end of your comment and I'll incorporate it into a short story I wrte next week. I'll use at least 5 words, maybe more.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Little Adults- the teen edition

Last week, we looked at how children are just little adults. Today we'll take it up a notch and talk about teens.

Cast of The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants

Somewhere between then and adulthood, children begin to understand that life is not black and white. Teens won't say any of the things I've mentioned last week. So, what's the difference between a teen and an adult?

Keiko Kitagawa with co-star

Teenager-hood is a time that's notorious for bad decisions. Some adults act like that's because the teenager's brain is less developed. I'm not a neuro-anything specialist, but I don't think I "know" more since my teen years. I think I've experienced more. I have more examples of good and bad, and it can help me make better decisions.

Beverly Hills, 90210- the original

Another major factor involved in how adults perceive teens is emotion. In the teenage years, hormones increase to make all the changes for adult life. A side effect is increased emotions. The emotional teen is a sterotype to many adults. And they're often written off with a "This too shall pass." I appreciate that message, and sometimes it's neccessary, but it can come off as patronising. Sometimes. the message a teen really needs isn't "Deal with this, until it gets better," but just a simple acknowledgement. "I know it hurts."

Emotions can influence bad choices. Teens do things to stay in favour of the people they think matter. And to align themselves with the things that they think matter.

Jaden Smith

Firstly, peer pressure is not a teen thing. Peer pressure exists among adults, too. The pressure to have the best job, a good spouse, 2.5 kids, etc. Even on a micro level, to do/have certain things that other people in your field do/have.

The difference with teen peer pressure is that we tend to care about peer pressure only from our group. As an adult that means a few very homogenous communities: work, neighbourhood, maybe church. As a teen, that's a school full of different groups, and diverse people.

Not all teens even have this issue. I was never an "everybody else is..." kind of teen. This may be because a series of events that lead me to withdraw from the world and do what the heck I felt like, but the fact remains that peer pressure didn't cause me to smoke or drink or what have you.

Cast of Saved By the Bell


Children and teens understand more than we give them credit for. You still have to make decisions for little children, but left to their own devices, they do a pretty good job of right vs. wrong.

As for teens, I tend to think that a well-educated (in the world and in school) 16 year-old has all the tools he/she needs to make decisions. And I tend to think that adults should stay (mostly) out of the way as much as possible and let the teen figure out what bad decisions are and their consequences.

That's not to say you should watch a teen get involved in a gang war, but there comes a point in everyone's life where they have to make their own mistakes. It's easier when that point comes at 16, when mistakes are forgivable. As opposed to at 24, when there may be larger implications and setbacks, including financial and legal.

I have faith in children. After all, they are little adults. And if they can't do it, then we're all damned to Hell anyway.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Interview and Giveaway -28

In Today's TMI moment, I have a ridiculous rash. It's everywhere except my stomach. Face, arms, legs, feet, palms? soles? Yeah, I didn't know you could have rashes there either.

But back to bizz, the winner of Mina Esguerra's FAIRY TALE is...

Sana Castellano!

Congrats! It's on the way.

Today's giveaway:

BAD TASTE IN BOYS by Carrie Harris. And she's been nice enough to come over today!

Carrie Harris has a purple blog and writes about zombies. In a previous lifetime she researched Mad Cows, qualifying her to produce entire theses on brain-eating monsters.

Thanks for stopping by Talk Back Thursdays, Carrie. Seems like you made it safely past the undead watch-dogs.
YOU HAVE ZOMBIE DOGS? ZOMBIE DOGS CRACK ME UP. I’m one of the only people who saw the Resident Evil movie four times in the theater and giggled maniacally every time.

Well then, that's rare. lol. So, zombies in high school? Where did the idea for BAD TASTE IN BOYS come from?

My books are less AN idea and more a BUNCH of ideas all mashed together like an algebra equation gone out of control. So I started off thinking I wanted to do a book about the dead football players from Beetlejuice. And I wanted to do a book about a rational person who became convinced that zombies were attacking her town. And I wanted to write a book in which the geek saves the day. And I think mad scientists are awesome. So you put all those things together, and the result is BAD TASTE IN BOYS.

Your blog is so chock full of humour that you once earned the title of “Grand Lord Snarf Zombie” on a prestigious (ahem ahem) industry blog. Can we expect the same fall-out-of-chair-roll-under-table inducing writing in BTIB?
I still love that title. LOVE.

Personally, I tend to gravitate toward really campy horror. If I’m simultaneously hiding my eyes and snarfing things out my nose, I’m happy. So I did try and write a book that was funny but still had lots of zombie mayhem. I also wanted to add random photos of my head on David Hasselhoff’s body, but for some reason, my publisher wasn’t down with that.

Professionally, you’ve done a little bit of everything. What made you decide to take the writing plunge?
Yeah, I’ve had the prerequisite writer’s wonky job history, DEFINITELY. But I’ve been freelance writing since I was in college. I’ve always enjoyed it, but I figured it would just be a hobby. But after having three kids, my husband and I decided I’d stay home for a couple of years and give the writing thing a try. If it didn’t work, I’d find a job once the kids were all in school. And I don’t have to do that! EEEEEEEEEEEEE. I’m so so soooooo lucky.

How would you describe your publishing journey? Slower than Frankenstein on a treadmill? Sparklier than merpires? More brain-devouring than football zombies?

Slower than Frankenstein on crutches using a treadmill. My first book didn’t quite make the cut, so I was on submission for over a year straight, even though BTIB sold pretty fast. And it will be two years from the offer until the book hits the shelves! Not that I’m complaining, because I’ve had a lot of time to learn about what to expect, and what to do, and things. I’ve had a lot of time to write more books and get better at it. I HATE feeling rushed, so I think the slow and steady thing has really worked for me.

Finally, as an aspiring author, I’d like to pick your brains. Any words of advice?

BE YOURSELF. I spent years attempting to write Serious Books about Serious Issues, and they sucked some serious suckables. But I kept at it, because I wanted people to take me seriously as a writer, and who’s going to do that when you keep sticking your head on the Hoff’s body all the time and writing treatises on why all paranormal creatures deserve sparkles too? But I finally decided that I should just be myself, and if people thought I was certifiably insane, so be it. And really, isn’t self-acceptance a Serious Issue? I think there’s something pretty cool about a person who waves their Freak Flag proudly, so I always try to do that.

I think that’s really important in a profession like this, when you’re always hearing that you need to follow this trend or that one. Sure, it’s good to know the industry, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth leaping on bandwagons all the time. Be YOU. And write YOUR books, and then learn to write them BETTER. Even if that means waving a Freak Flag.

I love that advice!

Thanks for stopping by, Carrie. Er- *looks outside* - it seems the zombie dogs have picked up your scent. Guess you won’t be leaving any time soon. Mummy in a blanket?

BAD TASTE IN BOYS has been devouring teenage brains since July 12!

For a chance to win a copy, tell me:
What's your favourite zombie story?
Open internationally, followers only.
Open until 1159 pm EST Wednesday night.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Not Writing

A writer writes.

This maxim, like all the others, makes sense sometimes. I read somewhere yesterday, that 1 in 13 people in the US want to write a book. The only way to seperate the sheep from the goats, as we say at home, is to consider whether they write or not.

And then there's another type of "writer". The writer who doesn't neccessarily write but spends hours researching on the internet, goes to writers' events and book conferences, hangs out with authors and authors-to-be. All this with no definite plans of putting words on paper before "some day". Better than type 1 in some ways, but from the perspective that you have to write to be published, this writer is no closer than the first.

There is one more type of writer who isn't writing: the one who has written before and is not writing now. Call it writer's block, depression, burnout, life; that's not important.

This is where I'm at right now. I've got 3 "complete" MSs under my belt, but I'm not turning out anything new right now.

It's easy to be in this stage and think, "A writer writes. Holy crap-burgers, Batman! I'm no longer a writer!" Then you spend a couple days, months, weeks trynna beat yourself into writing, or even wanting to write. As opposed to wanting to want to write. But it doesn't really work.

That's okay. I'm here to remind you that there are few absolutes in writing.


It's okay to take a break. A lawyer doesn't stop being a lawyer because he takes a month off and lies on a beach in St. Lucia. Don't feel like you're not a writer, because you need a week or 6.

The other thing is that lots of professions allow you to punch out, both on the clock and in your brain. Some professions which use your brain (lawyer, teacher, etc) are conducive to work following you home. But you can usually check out at some point. When your writer brain is on, it's on 24-7.


Editing is a completely different process from drafting. Drafting is about putting together, while editing is about pulling apart. In drafting you create, in editing you destroy. If you're not up to writing, re-read older work and see what needs fixing.


Social networking is a wonderful distraction. It gets the blame for tons of hours wasted by people meant to be doing something productive. It's especially bad for writers, who do most of their work on computers and the internet, and are practically required to do some social networking anyhow. It's like an alcoholic working in a liquor store.

But even though social networking gets a bad rap, it's a good thing (in moderation). If you're not writing, why not take the time to make some new friends on Twitter or the blogosphere?

Also, these people go through the same things you do. And they may be able to help you get through it. I follow about 60 writers' blogs and almost every single day, there's a post that I feel was written specifically for me.

If you have the opportunity, go to a writers' event in your area. Maybe even a conference. Meeting other writers is fun. And writers' events always inspire me. Maybe you'll even feel like writing again.


If you're a crazy 15-day drafter like me, then maybe you don't have the time to read while you're writing. But you need to read: to keep abreadst of trends in your genre (I don't just mean marketing trends, but stuff like books getting longer/shorter, etc.), to keep in mind the kinds of books you love, to keep yourself grounded in the field.

There's no better time to dig through that eternal TBR list.


This last is not something you should actively force yourself to do if you're having trouble with writing.

One thing that most, if not all, writers have in common is the ability to think differently, to see possibilities. If you don't feel up to thinking about the project you were/will be working on, then just allow yourself time to imagine nsa (no strings attached). Letting yuor imagination play may be just what the doctor ordered.

Or you can imagine your characters from the current project or scenes from the next one.

And your thinking doesn't have to be in your head. If doodling or mapping or anything else involving pen and paper will help, feel free to do that.


One fallacy of the maxim is the implication that the actual writing is the only part of writing. It isn't. It's still the most important thing, but writers still need to read, and brainstorm and network. And like all other (non-Japanese) humans, we also need a break once in a while.

Don't worry about it too much (unless maybe it's been more than a year or so). When the time is right, you'll be back.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Should you blog for writers?

Before I get down to the meat and potatoes of this post...

Huge congratulations are in order for bloggy bud, Natalie Whipple. She sold her first book! I don't usually announce sales, but I had had had to announce this one. Natalie's is either the first or second writer blog I started reading, about 2 years ago. (The other one in the top two is Marsha's.) So I'm rather attached to Natalie. (No I don't stalk her. But only since I live in the wrong hemisphere! Joking. Sorta.) Plus, she's been at this writing thing really long, and she's had some crazy ups and downs, so I can't think of another writer who deserves it more!

I first saw this on Natalie's blog. I decided to do it to bring back the love for writing. I penciled it into my blog schedule - yes, I have one- and it just happens to coincide with Natalie's book deal.

Here's how it works. You give me 5 words (1 per commenter), I write a story, employing those 5 and 500 to 1000 others. When Natalie did it, the words got stranger and stranger every week. So I'm implementing 2 rules.

1. 10 letters or less.
2. 4 syllables or less.

I will not be writing stories about myxomatosis. Also if I get less than 5 words, I'll choose random some at random from the dictionary.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming, should you blog for writers?

I keep hearing you shouldn't blog for writers. I imagine that the reasoning behind this claim is that you should be aiming your blog towards the audience of your book- your readers. That's a sensible assertion, especially if the main purpose of your blog is a. to connect with your readers, or b. to sell books.

For me, the problem is not as simple as it seems, especially pre-publication.

There are two reasons readers come to writer blogs.
1. The name. If you're not J.K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman or Stephenie Meyer (or at least a published writer), noone cares about what you had for breakfast if they don't already care about you. (If you ARE J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman or Stephenie Meyer, thanks for passing through my blog!)

2. A non-writing platform. If you build a platform in something completely un-related, then readers will find you on that platform. If you write and sell a book, then your blog readers can become your book's readers. We see this happen all the time in non-fiction and humour. But it's also possible in other realms. Like if I had a Black Hair blog, and then wrote an urban romance, there's a large likelihood that the demographic for my blog and my book are the same (Black females), and I can convert at least some of my followers into buyers.

But if you aren't building a non-writing platform and you don't already have a name, then potential readers aren't going to just stumble in.

Even the most read-aholic of my non-writer friends isn't on the bloggosphere. Most people who read more than a handful of blogs every day are themselves bloggers. Reading blogs is a serious time investment. The average reader just doesn't have that time to put in.

You'll find average readers on Facebook or Twitter; the easy 5-10 second type of social media. The type that tends to give updates in 420 or 140 characters respectively.

The average reader is looking for a book. As an unpublished writer, you don't have a book. And the average reader isn't going to sit around anxiously rubbing their hands together for the next two years while publishing slowly grinds its gears to make it happen.

(Book bloggers don't fall into this category. They're an seperate- and awesome- species.)

I really don't know how people started assuming that the two activities are mutally exclusive. I've been told the average number of books read per person in America in a year is 1. I'm told it's 7 in Canada. My writer friends on Goodreads have read between 30 and 98 books already this year. Not only do writers read, they read more than all but the most well-read of readers.

Even though I'm not in the same league as many of my awesome bloggy-buds who've been published or sold or are agented, a lot of what they say really strikes a cord with me. And if I fall in love with your blog, I am going to buy your book. And chances are, I will probably do a review/interview and give away a copy of your book.

I can't imagine I'm the only one who latches onto wrters in the trenches and ends up buying their books years down the road.

Also, writers are supportive in a way readers aren't. If they can, they'll buy your book. If they blog or tweet, they'll tell others. They may give your book as a Christmas present. In terms of sales, one writer-follower can be worth 3 or 4 average-reader followers.

(I totally learned how to use that structure in Japanese yesterday *grins*)

Actually, I don't think that is the question. Yes, your blog need a focus. And you need to know who your audience is. But the most important thing on any blog (in my opinion) is not where you direct it, or what you write, but HOW.

Your blog needs to capture who you are. The essence of your voice. Things you're passionate about. A boring blog following all the rules and written specifically for writers/readers will probably have less followers/regular readers than a passionate one written for sheep farmers.

Blog for who you feel like, but most importantly, blog for you. If people enjoy it, they'll read.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Little Adults - the Little Kid edition

This one time, on Facebook [catch the reference? lol], a friend of mine said something about thinking people should have grown out of certain behaviours by our age. And why were they being so childish?

Let's leave out the implications of the word "childish". Hopefully, I'll deal with that in another post. My response to her question was this:

Children are just little adults.

From an early age, there are things that children grasp as well as (sometimes better than) adults. That certain age is usually earlier than we realise.

Photo Credit

(Disclaimer: I've seen these all over the web with different names, but the same ages. I assume they were taken from a real study, but the names were changed.)

Kids on love:

“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.”
Rebecca- age 8

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
Bobby – age 7

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Chrissy – age 6

Ask an adult to define love. They can't. But each one of the definitions above is true. Why are kids better at defining love than adults are? I think it's because life isn't about the big picture so much for them.Love is many things. Faced with the prospect of defining it, an adult wants to include all of them. For kids, life is about little, tangible things.

Photo Credit

So where does a child fall short? Why don't we let little kids run their own lives? Limited knowledge.

My 4-year-old son was up in a tree in our backyard one summer afternoon. From his vantage point, he could see over the fence and onto the road that ran beside our home. After a few minutes, I heard the jingle of the ice cream truck making his rounds for the first time that summer. I braced myself for my son to come running in for some change, but what he came running in for sent me to the floor with laughter. "Mom, mom!" he screamed. "It's the sing-along mail guy!" It then occurred to me that he had no recollection of ever seeing an ice cream truck before, but he was very familiar with the comparable little white mail truck! --Rebecca Cleary, Kingsland, GA

Faced with something new, we compare it to what we already know. As a child what we already know isn't that much, so our comparisons have large tendency to result in hilarity.

Photo Credit

Several years ago, I returned home from a trip just when a storm hit, with crashing thunder and severe lightning. As I came into my bedroom about 2 a.m., I found my two children in bed with my wife, apparently scared by the loud storm. I resigned myself to sleep in the guest bedroom that night. The next day, I talked to the children, and explained that it was O.K. to sleep with Mom when the storm was bad, but when I was expected home, please don't sleep with Mom that night. They said OK. After my next trip several weeks later, my wife and the children picked me up in the terminal at the appointed time. Since the plane was late, everyone had come into the terminal to wait for my plane's arrival, along with hundreds of other folks waiting for their arriving passengers. As I entered the waiting area, my son saw me, and came running shouting, " Hi, Dad! I've got some good news!" As I waved back, I said loudly, "What's the good news?" My son shouted very excitedly, "Nobody slept with Mommy while you were away this time!"

Another thing that seperates a child's understanding from an adults is shades of grey. Things like nuance and connotation don't feature. It's a denotative life. Words mean what they mean, and only what they mean.

Photo Credit
When I was six months pregnant with my third child, my three year old came into the room when I was just getting ready to get into the shower. She said, "Mommy, you are getting fat!" I replied, "Yes, honey, remember Mommy has a baby growing in her tummy." "I know," she replied, but what's growing in your butt?"

Suffering at the hands of honesty, is tact. Eventually, we learn to phrase some things in ways that minimise damage, avoid saying other things, and outright lie about the rest. It makes for less conflict in the world. But at the end of the day, you kind of have to wonder if a child's opinion is worth more than an adults. Limited though it may be, it's the absolute truth.

Photo credit

Adults often feel the need to explain things to children or not tell them for fear that they don't understand. I am not implicating that a child will understand every single thing you say, but I still believe they're further along than we give them credit for.

Have faith. Give them a chance to work through it on their own. Help them if they need it. But they are capable. After all, they probably learn more in their first ten years than they will in all of their life. They learn- and pretty much master- their first language(s). They learn the underlying mathematical concepts that they will use for computation as long as they live. They learn the basics of family and society: how to love and be loved, what's appropriate where and when, the basics of problem-solving.

If they can understand all that, then surely they can understand that little thing you're tempted to explain. After all, they are little adults.

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

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tanabata- Wish Upon a Star

Tanabata is the 7th day of the 7th month. I like to think of it as the "Wish Upon a Star" Festival.

Orihime (織姫 Weaving Princess?), daughter of the Tentei (天帝 Sky King, or the universe itself?), wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (天の川 Milky Way, lit. "heavenly river"?). Her father loved the cloth that she wove and so she worked very hard every day to weave it. However, Orihime was sad that because of her hard work she could never meet and fall in love with anyone.

Concerned about his daughter, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (彦星 Cow Herder Star?) (also referred to as Kengyuu (牽牛?)) who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. When the two met, they fell instantly in love with each other and married shortly thereafter. However, once married, Orihime no longer would weave cloth for Tentei and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven.

In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers across the Amanogawa and forbade them to meet. Orihime became despondent at the loss of her husband and asked her father to let them meet again. Tentei was moved by his daughter’s tears and allowed the two to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month if she worked hard and finished her weaving.

The first time they tried to meet, however, they found that they could not cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet.

From Wikipedia.


For Tanabata, you write your wish on a strip of paper and tie it to a Wish Tree. I'm not entirely who's supposed to grant it.

At tiny elementary school we had a Tanabata party. All the kids and a few parents and grandparents gathered in the gym durring 4th period. The students put on a play telling the story of Tanabata. Then we all read our wishes out loud. (I kinna felt bad because the other teachers' wishes were like "I want to make this school the best it can be," and mine was, "I want to write books for children.")

Then we had a quiz with 3 student teams, a parents team and a teachers team and random star/Tanabata questions. The teachers came second! Woo Hoo! The parent's came last. lol. I got two questions right for the team :)

After the parents had gone home, we had a picnic style lunch in the gym. There was a star-shaped croquette and star-filled jello.

The biggest Tanabata festival in Japan is in Sendai. (One of the questions I got right- I even wrote the correct kanji!) There are a few others around the archipelago as well.

Tanabata is my favourite "holiday" that we don't actually get a day off for. It's the holiday I really identify with. I kind of feel like if Disney had to sponsor a holiday this would be it. (And y'all know how I love all things Disney and Fairy Tale.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Interview and Giveaway - 27

The winner of last week's SIGNED copy of ORCHARDS




Today, I have an interview with Mina Esveguerra, who wrote one of my favourite reads of the year, Fairy Tale Fail. Let's give Mina a friendly Points of Claire-ification welcome.

I'm a fairy tale-aholic, so I loved your novel Fairy Tale Fail. Can you tell us a little about the book and where the idea came from?
Fairy Tale Fail is about Ellie, a twenty-five-year-old living in Manila. She's fascinated with fairy tales, to the point that she stubbornly tries for "happily ever after" with the guy who breaks up with her, even though everyone else in her life is telling her to move on already. The story was inspired by something that happened to a friend, but I used the fairy tale template to give it structure.

The book is set in the Philippines. Did you make any special considerations to tailor it to the international market?
Surprisingly, not that much. There's a growing demand for English-language chick lit/women's fiction in the Philippines, so I wrote it for that market originally and didn't rewrite when I released it on Amazon. Whether it's accepted as is internationally, it's a toss-up. Some people can tell right away that it's not the usual America- or UK-based story, others don't notice until the few foreign words come in. Some mind that it's set in an unfamiliar place, others don't.

I hope though that people who wind up buying Fairy Tale Fail learn a little about what it's like to be a certain kind of woman in the Philippines. Maybe some experiences are the same, and hopefully whatever's different will be interesting anyway.

You were traditionally published for earlier books, but you now self publish. Would you like to share the reasons behind the switch? What are the pros and cons for you of traditional publishing and self-publishing?
In a way, I haven't made a complete switch yet. I still submit manuscripts to my traditional publisher. The way it works in the Philippines, if you want to reach more readers within the country you'll still have to work with a publisher who can offer nationwide distribution. Amazon's Kindle Store isn't that popular here yet, mostly because you need a credit card to buy, and many people here don't have one. But even people who have credit cards and Amazon accounts, many of those I've talked to don't really know what's up with the Kindle Store. Usually I end up explaining the Kindle store, the free Kindle apps, how to buy other formats at Smashwords... and that's a bit overwhelming for someone who just showed some interest in reading my book.

When I started the self-publishing experiment, I found out that my audience for that was global, rather than local. So now I try to do both: develop some stories for a local audience (to be submitted to my traditional publisher) and some stories I let loose onto the world via self-publishing.

Can you give us a quick idea of what to expect in your new novella, LOVE YOUR FRENEMIES?
Love Your Frenemies is about Kimmy, beautiful, twenty-seven-year-old manager-in-training, who isn't very well-liked because she's brash and headstrong. But then her wedding is called off humiliatingly close to the date, and it shakes her enough that she escapes overseas to regroup. The novel opens with her return to Manila, having decided that all she needs to make it work there again is to make some changes in her life, and get away from the people who got her in that mess to begin with.

Any pearls of wisdom to share with us, the aspiring authors still in the trenches?
What held me back for so long was a lack of confidence, and I didn't even really have it when I finally got published. For me it was a series of moments when I felt brave and just decided to go for it -- to finish the novel, to let someone else read it, get it published. Usually there's crushing regret and doubt immediately after, but at least I moved forward bit by bit. So if I were to share anything it would be that: write often, and then when the moment comes and you feel brave enough to put it out there, do it.

Beautiful advice. Thanks you for joining us, Mina!(Btw, Mina means 'everyone' in Japanese, so it feels weird every time I say it. lol.)

To win your copy of Fairy Tale Fail, just tell me:
Have you ever clung to a fairy tale instead of reality?
Open until Wednesday at 11.59 pm EST.
Open internationally, to everyone.

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Getting it out of my system

Entertainers are sorta notorious for being moody, and being a little crazy, and saying things they maybe shouldn't. But the more I hang around the industry, the more I realise that authors have an eternal gag order. It's more of an issue after publication, but it's still a factor before you even query.

Recently, I've seen a few authors come out of the literary closet on how hard it was/is to query/go on submission/wait for their pub date/be mid list, etc. And I sympathised. Then I thought: Some day, that might just be me.

So I've decided to write letters to myself. Because, as we say in Barbados, I don't like to hide my mouth. And because I'm strong, but I'm a sensitive artistic soul as well. And it's probably going to hurt when I get there. And I probably won't be able to talk about it. But if I've got these letters here, then I can always come back here and know I've declared my hand for the world to see.


That story rocks. I know you've polished and polished it til it sparkled like a merpire. You read and re-read 'til you mixed up your imaginary scenes with your real life. You've passed it around for critique and taken it with a grain of salt, and made the novel the absolute best-est you have in you.

I know it's hard to wait until some agent deigns to look at you. Even though you know that they are just regular people who bleed red and read even more than you do, it's hard not to feel like they've got all the power. Not to feel like you're nothing. Not to feel like you're worthless. Not to feel like you'll never take the next step.

You will.

You're awesome!

And you thought grabbing an agent's attention was hard. The channel just gets narrower and narrower every step of the way. Sigh. And you know editors are busy, but, seriously, why is this taking so long? And don't they know you're dieing inside? Your agent loves my book. You know it's good. Maybe you're crazy. Maybe you both are. Because editors know their stuff and if noone wants it, it's pretty bad.

I know you want to curl up and crawl under a rock, but don't forget this industry is slower than chilled molasses. The wheels may be turning, even if not at the pace you want them to. And even if they're not, even if this one won't be the one that you get to claim "real writerhood" with, this isn't a board game. If you mess up on one turn, you don't have to wait until all the other players get their turn, 'til you can go again.

Take a break. Do something you love. And work on the next project. You may need it. Because the other option is giving up. And that's not really an option.

Not for awesome people like you, anyways.

They told you that time travel was impossible. They said time couldn't move backwards. They were wrong. Because no matter how long you wait, your pub date isn't here. It's been forever since you got THE CALL. And since the bloodbath that was edits.

Still, nothing.

Time is scientific. Every second the same length. Perception on the other hand is eviller than Cruella DeVille. Perception makes you swear that the clock ticks backwards, but it doesn't. And soon there will be shiny ARCs with covers and you can take pictures doing ridiculous things with your new almost-baby. And then there will buzz at conferences and on whatever new forum of social interaction is the new Geocities. And then your book will burst forth into literature-dom!

Yay YOU! You are still awesome.

Having a good head on your shoulders means nothing. You know. You know that 1 in a million- literally- gets to be the next Rowling or Meyer or King. 1 in a million gets to have every literate person in the world know their name. 1 in a million gets to buy a mansion in The Heights or The Hills.

You were kind of hoping that one would be you.

It isn't.

You've know the odds were against it all along, but you still hoped. You still dreamed. It's okay. It's your job to dream. It's not exactly like you hoped it would be. Maybe you don't have millions flocking to your website. Or lining up at midnight for your releases. Or dressing in costume for your films - which were never even optioned.

But you know what you do have? A byline. Your name. On the cover of a book. Shouting for all the world to hear.


You're still awesome.

With Love,
Claire Dawn

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

MBTI and Writers' Weaknesses and Strengths

I'm a little obsessed with psychology- personality theory in particular. In my last foray into MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), I thought about what implications these dichotomies might have for writers.

MBTI is a preferences scale. It's all about which of two ways of operation you like better.

The dichotomies are
E: Extroverted - more in tune with and energised by the outer world
I: Introverted - more in tune with and energised by the inner world.

S: Sensing - concentrating more on hard, cold fact.
N: iNtuition- concentraing more on ideas.

T: Thinking- Making decisions based on objectivity.
F: Feeling- Making decisions based on how they will affect people.

J: Judging- Using the Judging functions (T/F) in the outer world and being happier with order, and decisions already made.
P: Perceiving- preferring the Perceiving functions (S/N) in the outer world and being happier with flexibility when gathering information.
(NB, Many of these words have general meanings outside of their MBTI meanings. For example if you are an introvert on MBTI that doesn't mean you will shrivel at a party or that you can't give a speech.)

Here's the gist of what I just said, with the 4 letter personality combos.

E/I Weaknesses and Strengths

Extroverts love being out in the world and interacting with it. If you are an Extrovert writer, you will have lots of opportunities to gather material for your books. On the other hand, concentration can be harder for Extroverts, so you may be prone to distraction during long stretches in front of a computer. Also, it can be difficult to organise your thoughts without bouncing them off someone else or talking them out.

Introverts are very good at thinking things through, and at concentrating for long periods. An Introvert is more likely to be able to work on the same project continuously- staring at it all day for months on end. To my mind, Introverts are also more likely to be plotters, since they like knowing the end result before they move. If you are an Introvert, you may need to remind yourself to get out and interact with the world once in a while. You'll have so much more to write if you do. Also, remember that others can help you make your work stronger.

S/N Weaknesses and Strengths
If you prefer Sensing, you are more concerned with things as they are and not as they could be. You are probably very good at representing factual data in a concise way. This lends itself to non-fiction writing on technical topics. More than likely, fiction will be difficult for Sensers. If you want to write fiction, you'll have to train yourself to imagine- physically stop yourself and ask "what if?" over and over until you've got a story.

This chart was made for fashion designers, another creative field. Notice where the S's are...

S/N is the only dichotomy that is wildly skewed in the American population. (Sorry, I haven't seen data for other countries.) There are about 65% Sensers and 35% iNtuitives in the U.S. However, the large majority of people in any field of entertainment and most creative fields (including writers) are iNuitives. As I've said before, being a Creative can be hard in the real world. But iNtuitive nature is a perk in the Creative world.

iNtuitives prefer ideas and possibilities. Life is a series of questions, and we use our creativity to answer them. The hard part for an iNtuitive can be reconciling creativity and practicality. Publishing is a business. Even the most literary of books needs some audience. iNtuitives (and their often fragile egos) need to work on accepting that they have to make their work acceptable to others, when they'd rather just follow the dream.

T/F Weaknesses and Strengths
Thinkers prefer objectivity and fairness. A Thinker probably has a plot that is structurally sound and logical. For a Thinker, the difficulty may come with adding emotion to the story.

Feeling types tend to live life based more on their particular value system. Feelers are most likely very good at illustrating characters and themes. They may have to develop plot and structure.

J/P Weaknesses and Strengths

If you lean towards Judging, then you prefer knowing that the decisions have been made. Moreso than any other dichotomy, this represents the plotter/pantser. Judgers like making the decisions and are happiest working towards a known end. Trouble sets in when the story or characters don't want to go where you told it. If a story or a character is really struggling to do something against the plan, let them. If you really, really, really need to be following a plan, take a break, think it through and re-outline from the point of departure. It may lead you to a stronger piece.

If you lean towards Perceiving, then the adventure is in not knowing. Perceivers are natural pantsers. The best part of a story is discovering where it will end up. Perceivers tend towards very original stories with twists you don't see coming. There are two disadvantages to being a Perceiving writer. Firstly, editing is tough. You've lost the spark of the story being new and exciting. You know what is going to happen. The fun is gone. Secondly, Perceivers are not fans of decisions, and an ending is always decisive. Perceivers may be tempted to throw new things at the plot, in an effort to put off an ending as long as possible.

If you're interested in a "Free Myers-Briggs Test"* check out:
Personality Pathways
Human Metrics
* Only CAPT is licensed to give the MBTI, so these are technically MBTI-based tests.

Btw, I'm ENFP.
E- Loves being out and about and suck at concentrating
N- Love to fly through a first draft and hate editing
F- Voice and characters are my strength
P- I hate writing endings. I wrote 51,000 words of my first novel in 30 days. I wrote the next 5,000 over 3 months.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Keeping it PC

I don't like Political Correctness. There. I said it. So, shoot me.


*Peeps from behind hands*

*Smiles to still be alive*

*Ducks as car backfires outside*

Honestly, I've never really gotten the PC obsession. Take for example Native American vs. Indian. Meh. Okay, so they/you aren't Indian. India is a country in Asia. I know, I've been there. But you're not really Native to the US either. You just happened to be there when the White people rolled in.

Yeah, I'm not Native American, and someone out there is probably thinking I'm being horribly insensitive to the needs of what's now an American minority. But, I'll let you in on a little secret: I, too, am mis-named "Indian".

The English speaking Caribbean is known as the West Indies. We play together on a cricket team under that name. And even today, most mail, especially in the smaller islands (population wise) has the last line of address as "W.I."

We're all called Indians, and we don't care, because it's just a name. Noone ever gets confused between the East Indians in Trinidad and Guyana and the Black West Indians because of the misnomer.

Sometimes, (as with the term "Native American") the PC name for someone is not representative of who or what they are. For example, if I go to American, some well-meaning American will call me African-American. And I'm not. My ancestors left Africa several hundred years ago. And I'm sure Homeland Security would have a good laugh at my "American" status if I tried to just stay on US soil.

What do you call a White person from Nigeria, who just became a legal citizen of the U.S.? You sure as heck can't call them African American, can you?

   [ri-tahrd, for 1–3, 5; ree-tahrd for 4]
–verb (used with object)
to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede.

If I want to sell a fire extinguisher, I can't call it a flame-retardant without some watchdog agency jumping on my back. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration, but words existed before whatever (fairly arbitrary) connotations we give them.

The right words are so arbritary. Once upon a time, I would have been a negro. Then I'd have been coloured. After which, I was Black. Now, I'm African-American. It's easy for a well-meaning person who's unfamiliar with a culture to use the wrong word and offend someone.

I've never met a Native American. If I ever cross paths with one, I know the first thing I will do is call them "Indian". Not out of any desire to be disrespectful, but because we call people with the same roots "Amerindians" at home. And because we don't have "Native Americans" who care about the term. And because I'm Indian too. My mental process will be this: "Don't say Indian. Don't say Indian. Don't say- Dang it!" And I'll alienate my first potential friend of that race.

I don't like offending people. And because there isn't that much that offends me, I'm pretty sure I offend unintentionally. A lot. I try to play by the rules. But I fail. Japan is restful in this sense, because the rules are so relaxed among the foreigner population.

I'm not African American. I won't get offended if you call me that, but some people will chew your head off. I'm proud of being a West Indian. Even if I have no Indian heritage.

For me, the importance is in the meaning of the word and the intentions. If you call me African American and you're friendly, that's cool. But if you call me Black (my preferred term) and then proceed to act like I rolled out of someone's sewage tank, I won't be thrilled.

In my books, it's still the thought that counts.

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

Friday, July 1, 2011

Caribbean Context: Black Hair

I'm always flying the multicultural flag. Having grown up in Barbados and lived in the US and Japan, and being Black, multiculturalism is one of few things I consider myself an expert in (at least compared to those who've never studied cultures officially).

Today I'd like to talk about Black hair.

Last year, I was lucky enough to interview Linda Villarosa. In her book, PASSING FOR BLACK, she said something I will never forget. I don't remember the exact quote, because I'm not good with exact, but here's the gist. If two black women start talking, it's only a matter of time before the topic goes to hair.

Two-strand twist, pic from 2009.

You might be tempted to think that's some sort of vanity. Maybe there's some vanity in there, but the flat truth is that black hair requires a heckuva lot of care.

Up-do roll. Saturday, for a charity dinner. My hair is semi-locked right now. It's still at the point where I could decide I don't want locks and easily undo them. But it's far enough along that I leave it to it's own devices it will lock.

One thing that was shocking as a kid, and amuses me even know is when I see a White person wash their hair and just go. You could so not do that with Black hair.

Corn-rows/Cane-rows are plaits which lay flat along your skull. I've got corn-rows up front and the back is regular 3-strand plaits in this 2009 December pic. And we found that taxidermied squirrel in our office. No, I don't know why. Also, I'm a one antlered reindeer. I laughed at my neighbour because his Santa pants had a hole. My antler promptly fell off in response. Kharma.

If you wash Black hair, you pretty much have to condition it. You also have to grease/oil it, or it will dry right out and if you touch it, it will sound like a gravel driveway with a truck driving over it. I made the unfortunate mistake of assuming I could buy grease in Perth, Australia. Unfortunately, it seems all the Black people live on the East coast. 2 weeks of crunchy hair. Not fun.
At The Peak, overlooking Kowloon, Hong Kong. Two-strand twists pulled back in a bun.

Also when you wash Black hair, you can't just leave it. You have to blow it out or plait it, or something. Or it will become a giant mass of steel wool. No Black person would ever do this to themselves on purpose.

There are lots of ways to start locks. Basically if you convince Black hair to stay put long enough, it becomes locks on it's own. It can take 4-12 months before it will stay on it's own. I locked my hair, by corkscrewing it. When I undo it, it's curly for a couple of days.

I think it's because of this amount of effort and the fact that Black hair is always ready to break or drop out at a moment's notice, that prompts Black women to talk about hair styles and hair care every time they meet.

Corkscrews. You just twirl and twirl the hair until it stays. Oh yeah, Black hair does that. Stays. If you plait White/Asian hair, you probably have to put something on the end. You don't with Black hair. (NB, Many Caribbean Blacks are mixed, and not all mixed hair will stay.)

Living in Japan, hair care has moved more to the forefront of my mind. I'm not much for looks and fashion, so as long as my hair isn't falling out I'm happy. Last year, a group of Caribbean people got together here for a Jamaican event, and there was a room pretty much dedicated to plaiting and talking about hair.

Geek-achu, I call you! Boredom and a camera are a bad combo. Three strand plaits. 2008.

My hair is natural, and has been for about 15 years, but many black people process their hair. They use a chemical, affectionally known as straightener, that makes the hair straight. It also looks much longer, because natural black hair has a lot of kinks. And naturally black hair curls on it's own, getting shorter/longer with the weather and if you wash it.

Wavy "locks". A few days after undoing corkscrews, they look like this. Late last year.

Since I mentioned natural hair, I will pause here to show you the difference. When Alicia Keys first started out she had natural hair. Her "mixed" has a much higher proportion of white (I have white great-grand peoples) so her hair behaves a lot more like white hair. Also, check out this link if you're interested. It shows several different Alicia Keys styles, natural and processed.
Here you can see the natural curls and kinks of her hair.

These days, she sports a straightened look, and introduces curls artificially.

While we're on the topic of straightener, I should also touch on weaves, and their predecessors, braids. Many Black females, will change their hair/extend their hair length with artificial pieces or hair that's been cut from others. Braids are done by looping a length of the hair to be introduced around the client's hair and just braiding it in. Weaves come in rows of hair. You start with your hair plait flat against your skull, and then you sew or glue in the weave. Also there are pieces you can just clip/pin in.

Black hair takes a lot of time to do. Even if you want to go for a simple ponytail, unprocessed Black hair will not go happily. It requires (years of) brushing. Brush, and brush, and ... isn't it done yet? For corn-rows and twists, you're probably looking at an hour and up. For braids, somewhere around 5 hours- with weaves somewhere in between. But it can last quite a while. If you tie it down to sleep in corn-rows can last from a week and up. Braids and weaves usually around a month. When you take out braids or a weave, they can be washed and reused. Which reminds me, you CANNOT wash Black hair every day. It will break and drop out. I think most Black females wash their hair once a week or every two weeks.

Rocking the fro. November, 2008. This look requires a lot of combing with a big-tooth comb. If you leave it out like this too long, it becomes knotty and the last thing a Black woman needs is knotty hair.

I think hair is the nuisance of every Black girl's life. First, it takes so long to do. Can you imagine as 4 year old having to sit still for an hour? Even the day-long styles take a lot longer than ponytails: 5-10 minutes or so.

Secondly, because it's long, you can be guaranteed the child will "root" (wiggle), which will result in a quick smack in the top of their head from whoever's plaiting. Oh, and this so happens to adults, as well. Also if a Black female is braiding your hair, don't reach up to touch it. The comb is a dangerous weapon!

Thirdly, it's painful. Black curls like being curly and tangly. Combs are trying to convince them not to be. Combing a Black child's hair will involve a lot of crying and quarreling. Combing a Black adult's hair will involve a lot of grimacing.
Curly fro. Plait or corn-row hair for a day or so and then undo it. Black History Month Poetry Reading. Tokyo, 2010.

Remember RUSH HOUR, when Chris Tucker was all like, "Never touch a Black man's radio!"? Well, it's the same with a Black female's hair. You don't touch it unless she tells you it's okay. Black females go through a lot for their hair. There are even some styles so elaborate, that the wearers sleep in chairs to keep them perfect. It doesn't matter who you are: her boyfriend, her step-mother, her "loved like a play-cousin" friend, you just don't touch a Black woman's hair. I, personally, am totally not picky about it, but I'm just trying to help you all keep your hands.
Corn-rows at the front and twists in back. In India, after 2 weeks of building houses for Dalits. 2009.

Finally, if you want to learn more about Black Hair and if you're considering writing a Black female character, no matter how peripheral, you NEED to watch GOOD HAIR. It's a documentary by Chris Rock about the Black woman's fascination with "good" hair, and all the things they do to acheive it.
Brushed, and brushed, and brushed, and pulled into one. 2009. Also I'm something of a legend here for odd expressions in photos. And I don't even try to make these faces. I'm a natural!

Of course, I'm also happy to be a resource if you have questions about Black hair or you want to write a Black character. Also feel free to ask Black friends. I think most people prefer you to tactfully ask a question, than to keep assuming something silly.

This post was mostly about Black natural hair- what I think is the most versatile hair type on Earth. This is just because it's what's on my head, and I know it best. Maybe in the future, I'll do a post on other Black hair styles. Let me know if you'd be interested. All of my hairstyles on this page are done solely with the use of oil, brush, hairclips, and occasionally a comb.