Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Write those thoughts while they're still hot

Yesterday I was walking with a friend who mentioned she had to write an essay. "As soon as my brain started thinking up ideas, I had to write them down." (Nevermind she was in the midst of a group of people.)
If we all were so attentive to our thoughts.
I used to wake up in the middle of the night, when hit by a scene or an image, tiptoe to my desktop, and release those thoughts onto the page.
These days getting those thoughts down requires a bit more persistence. For, while turning on the computer, I get distracted by my phone, catching up on the latest political fiasco or reading urgent mail. (Maybe even playing a few moves in 'words with friends.') By the time I sit down in front of the screen, the burning idea inside me has been diluted by thoughts of a foolish comment by a presidential nominee, concerns for parents who have lost children in a senseless shooting, worries about exactly how much time I have to finish editing stories just sent to me. That initial idea that had pulled me toward the computer in the first place--that fire--has dwindled to a few cold embers.
So, when your mind is churning--and your heart heats up--get those thoughts down while the feeling is still hot.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tell Your Story First....Then Write It

My aunt told me a joke once. "This man walked into a bar and began swinging his dog around his head. Do you know why?"
"He was cruel?"
"No, no. It was a seeing-eye dog." She laughed. "And he was having a look around."
 I scratched my head. "Wait, it was a blind man?"
The next time she told that joke she remembered to describe the man as blind up front. The more times she told the joke --it was unfortunately an old favorite--the description was more and more embellished, with him feeling for the door handle of the entrance, etc. Although it was a pretty lame joke to begin with, the more practiced she became at telling it, the better it got. So, she wasn't the only one laughing at her joke.
As I watch my daughter worry over SAT writing tests and English essays, I tell her to practice by talking. Tell me a story a day. Take an event--no matter how trivial--and create a story from it, using important description, tension, a climax. Then, when faced with actually having to write something, the process will come with more ease. Give it a try.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

To Not Take a Risk...

My daughter, a junior, is new to the 10-player-strong varsity basketball team. All of the players are talented. However, from a (relatively) objective viewpoint, the juniors--the newer recruits--bring more energy to the floor. Granted, I don't get to watch them often, because usually the coach plays her core group of seniors--the starting group plus one or two others. But when the juniors get out there, they tend to jump higher to block passes, circle more tightly to guard, race around with greater enthusiasm. This past week, they played a team they had beaten handily once before. Unfortunately, the starting group of players was having a bad day, missing their shots over and over, as if a hex had been put on them. Instead of putting in the rest of the talented team, the coach kept hoping the hex would lift. It never did. We lost by one basket--a basket I imagined one of those juniors easily making. My husband said, "The coach doesn't like to take risks. She doesn't know the newer players as well. But then to not take a risk...that's a risk in itself."
That thought resonated with me. We tend to go with what we know. To do the things we are comfortable with. To stay with what is safe. But to not branch out, to not try new ideas, to not give voice to our thoughts, to not take those risks....that's just as big a gamble.
So choose to take a risk.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Had a great time discussing My Half of the Sky at this October Book Club. While I didn't know anyone when I arrived, I felt as if we were old buddies when I left...and I realized that we shared (at least) two common friends. The world seems so large, and yet is mysteriously small.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book Signing

On the 8th, I'll be at the History Park at 635 Phelan Avenue, San Jose, 
signing copies of Blossoms and Bayonets. 
Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

#Essence of Good Writing

One of my pleasures is judging stories. What makes them work. What doesn't.
One trend I've noticed is the tendency for a writer to have his/her protagonist moving through space and time solo--not interacting with anyone. Not the person on the park bench next to him, not the man who has just stolen her suitcase, not the people in her workplace. There's almost this bubble of silence around the main character that might be filled with texts ("God, I got stuck next to the stinkiest old woman." Or "My boss screwed me again.")
Okay, so maybe this is not a new trend. New writers have always been hesitant to get their characters to talk much. That requires understanding the backstory, mood, goals of each character. So troublesome.
But human interaction is a mystery to us all--and one we want to read about.  #Ditch the bubble of silence.

What People Are Saying About My Half of the Sky

My Half of the Sky was the BookSense Pick for August 2006 as well as a Forbes Book Club Pick.

"McBurney-Lin tells a wonderfully entertaining story with the traditional coming-of-age theme (which is experienced universally)...weaving in the cultural challenges of growing up in China's rapidly changing social system."
Mary Warpeha, co-President of the Minnesota Chapter of US-China Friendship Association
March 2010

"The novel ...includes many of the tales and the folk ways of the people living in the rural areas of South China, still followed provincially. The story takes place in current China, but could relate the dilemma of any young woman in rural China through the ages."
Kitty Trescott, National Board of the Midwest Region of US-China Friendship Association. March 2010

"A lot is expected of a young Chinese girl. My Half of the Sky by Jana McBurney-Lin is the story of Li Hui, a young girl who has just achieved marriageable age. She seeks to make the most of herself, but the expectations all around her make it difficult, as her parents seek to use her as pawn to their advantage, she is faced with what she believes to be true love. She must balance career, romance, and family, all to somehow make everyone happy, a tough endeavor indeed. An engaging and entertaining read from beginning to end, "My Half of the Sky" is a poignant tale of the modern Chinese woman, and recommended for community library collections.
--Midwest Book Review November, 2008

“It is a rare women’s novel that sensitively describes the life of a young educated woman in modern-day China in its full complexity, without resorting to unnecessary sentimentalism. Jana’s deep knowledge of the realities of life in China and Singapore makes the reading extra rewarding. In fact, with every new page the novel gets harder to put down and you find yourself gobbling it up before you know it. Finally, the author has given a voice to the Li Hui in all of us, as we struggle for the golden middle between tradition and the modern momentum of our world.”
Isabella Sluzek
Friends of the Museum Book Review 2008

You'll be rooting all the way for Li Hui as she struggles, ahead of the curve, to be her own woman in an emerging, modern China. Jana McBurney-Lin's My half of the Sky is a beautiful, witty, touching debut novel.
Thomas B. Sawyer
Head Writer TV Series "Murder, She Wrote,"
Author - The Sixteenth Man

A complex and mesmerizingly original tale of a young Chinese woman caught between the modern world and the pull of her ancient culture. McBurney-Lin’s intimate portrait of China sparks with insights and is peopled with characters so rich and alive, they seem to breathe on the page. Dazzling and unforgettable.
Caroline Leavitt,
Author - Girls in Trouble

McBurney-Lin's debut novel is a gift. Li Hui is a memorable heroine, a young woman torn between her heart and her culture.Her daunting journey is a trip into China's complicated soul, and a deeply moving exploration of love, honor, duty, and loss." Frank Baldwin, Author - Balling the Jack

My Half of the Sky is a wonderfully-crafted story that was obviously written with a piece of McBurney-Lin's heart. A masterpiece."
Lee Lofland, Author - Howdunit: Police Procedure and Investigation

My Half of the Sky heralds the arrival of a fantastic new storyteller. With artistry and precision, Jana McBurney-Lin's clear-eyed prose takes the reader on a new journey into a past world that speaks to a modern sensibility, a modern world, a modern woman. This is a book to be treasured.
Emily Rapp, Author - The Poster Child

Through vivid descriptions of sights and smells, Jana McBurney-Lin's My Half of the Sky is a haunting, emotional journey of what it means to be an honorable female in modern China. Jill Ferguson, Author - Sometimes Art Can't Save You