Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bobbing Coconuts

I was reminded of an event which occurred in Indonesia many years ago. Last week, a friend was visiting from the east coast, so we took her to the see the beach near Santa Cruz. My kids played with boogie boards in the water. My friend and I walked along the shore. Suddenly, my friend stopped. She had heard a woman say something. That same woman ushered her children—and all the children in the vicinity-- out of the water. What was wrong?
“Shark,” she cried.
I raced down the beach to where my children were jumping over waves and splashing one another, oblivious to the danger. By the time I got to them, they were the only ones left in the water.
“Get out,” I wheezed. “Of the water. Now.”
“What's the matter?” my daughter asked.
“Shark,” I said. “A lady spotted a shark.”
“Sick,” my son said. “Where?”
It was about this point that I was reminded of a similar event that occurred on Bintan, an island about an hour away from Singapore. While our family went off swimming in the coral, our neighbors stayed back at their hut, singing and laughing and drinking heavily. When we came back to our hut to shower off for dinner, one of the neighbors—Mrs. Suzuki-- came rushing up to us. Had we seen her husband? He went for a swim and never came back.
We joined the search for Suzuki-san. By this time, the shores were empty of people, everyone else having gone off to shower and get dinner. Then one of the men spotted Suzuki-san.
“Look!” he said, rushing into the water in his clothes. “He's way out there. Only his head is visible.”
Wow! We all stood along the shore—at least a dozen sober adults—while the friend swam to meet him.
“You can do it,” we called out. “Come on. You're almost there.”
I'm almost where?” A voice rang out from behind us.
After waiting at the restaurant so long for his buddies to show, he was walking back to see what the holdup was. He wasn't drowning in the middle of the dark waters. So who was out there? The friend swam the extra yards to rescue the person. He reached out and grabbed onto nothing more than a bobbing coconut.
Needless to say, there was no shark. When my son asked me where the shark was, we all scanned the waters.
“There it is,” my daughter said. “There are two of them.”
“See,” I agreed. “There they--
“And they're normally called dolphins.”
Another bobbing coconut.
“Oh, mom,” my son said, sinking to the sand. Please tell me you didn't run down the beach yelling 'shark.'”
I hadn't. Thankfully. I had left that job to the shark spotter. But I empathized. I can spot sharks—or bobbing coconuts—wherever I go. Especially in my writing life.
What if I sit down to write and can't think of anything?
What if I get all the way to the last chapter and can't finish?
What if I finish and my agent doesn't like it?
What if my story is published and no one wants to read it?
If I let myself go, I can imagine my waters dark, scary, infested with all kinds of terrible creatures. The trick—which I must remind myself over and over—is to go step by sandy step, watch the water lapping just in front of me, and don't listen to the shark spotters. Because most of the time, those sharks...well, they are normally called dolphins.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Already Plotting My Escape

I must apologize for starting up this blog and then disappearing, but I'm just awakening from what feels like a dream—the end of the school year award ceremony after ceremony after ceremony. It just went on and on and on. It's not that I don't appreciate jobs well done. But on the other hand, well, it kind of depends on the job.
I remember when we first moved here from Singapore—a very parochial school system in which my children were caned for wearing the wrong color socks or having hair which surpassed regulation length. A place where you never got an award. I was so appreciative of the loving atmosphere of the American system.
Then there was beach clean-up day.
This event was talked up for over a month. We shepherded the kids to the beach where they picked up garbage for about a half an hour, then ate lunch and played in the sand. The following day, each child was presented with a gold-bordered certificate which proclalimed “Community Service Hero.”
Since that time, I've been a bit wary of awards. I try to avoid the ceremonies as much as possible, congratulating the recipient when he/she comes home sporting a gold medal for jogging 10 laps or carrying a million-word-reader certificate or bearing a trophy for the player with the sweetest smile. Still this year I managed to get roped into three awards ceremonies, as well as one new one: a high school graduation.
While I think the awards ceremony is a tradition gone berserk, I'm certain the graduation ceremony hasn't changed since the 12th century when it was invented for graduating monks. And perhaps back then only ten people were fortunate enough to be so honored. The reading of their names was a regal moment. Those names would be on the lips of everyone in the village for days, years to come.
The way it worked in our situation, after several of my children and I had spent six hours reserving our seats in the 90-degree sun, was that four hundred and fifty students came out four-by-four to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance. This tune, I learned, was written in 1901 certainly for another group of ten graduates. It's not a difficult—or long—song. So it was repeated ad nauseum (and it still echoes through my brain days later.) Then we listened as each of the four hundred and fifty graduates had their names pronounced—or mispronounced—or drowned out by air horns. Granted it's hard to clap for ninety minutes straight. But the small spattering of applause here and there with the reading of each name was so uninspiring. So deathly dull. Is there some law that says graduations must be this way? Is there some significance to this event that I'm missing? Cause I'm already plotting how to avoid the next three graduations. :)
On a more exciting note, my dear friend, Becky Levine, is holding a contest to give away a copy of one of the first paperback copies of My Half of the Sky. The paperback will be released July 1st. Yeah! So be sure to stop by her blogspot ( .

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