Sunday, January 25, 2009

No More Dragons

Explosions come from all around. The air is so smoky you can hardly see five feet in front of you. The night sky is filled with lights, bursting and dripping through the air. It's Chinese New Year.
I've only been back to China twice for the New Year. But each time the firecrackers went from dawn til midnight. The fireworks exploded more than the 4th of July. The story behind firecrackers and Chinese New Year is a wonderful symbolic one I think of often...especially during the New Year.
According to legend, there once lived a dragon. He came out of his cave once a year, forced his way through the village gates and kidnapped a young virgin in his thick, hairy hands--like a guest picking up a toothpick.
The villagers were terrified of this dragon.
The village priest suggested building the village walls higher. Setting a bonfire. Making a fake dragon. None of these methods worked.
Then one year as the dragon approached, a child lit a pocketful of firecrackers, one by one. Kaboom. The dragon jumped back on his haunches. Kaboom. His scales turned bright yellow. Kaboom. Kaboom. The dragon turned and ran away, never to be seen again.
I love this story, because we all have dragons: Dragons who say you can't accomplish this or try that, dragons who breathe their intimidating fires, dragons who make you afraid to follow your heart. Imagine the sound of firecrackers. Kaboom. Kaboom. Kaboom.
Happy Year of the Ox. May it be one of Happiness and Prosperity...and No Dragons.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Find Your Piece of Ground

Last week, I took my youngest daughter (9) to see Brian Copeland speak. He's the author of Not A Genuine Black Man, this year's Silicon Valley Reads, and he was doing an opening interview in Campbell. I'd heard Mr. Copeland speak several times. We both presented at East of Eden, and then again at Book Group Expo. It's not that I expected to hear new material. But I wanted to be there to support the opening of this great book, the story of a young boy growing up black in the 99.9% white neighborhood of San Leandro. (I've given away more copies of this book than any other.)
It was like a girls' night out for my daughter and me, as we went to dinner beforehand and played several games of uninterrupted tic-tac-toe. When we got to the theater and sat down, I marveled at how wonderful it was to be there, sharing this moment with my daughter. I enjoyed the back-and-forth between Mr. Copeland and his interviewer. Then I felt my little one tug on my sleeve. "How long does this last?" she asked.
Later when we sat down for a bowl of ice cream, I asked, "What do you remember about the talk?"
"Uh," She lifted her spoon to her mouth, as if to think. "He has three children."
Well, that's true, I thought, wondering again at how our world is shaped by what we hear or think we hear. And how she might grow up one day to tell her friends how she got dragged to this theater to listen to some man talk about his three children. How everyone in the city had come to hear about those kids.
What I remember of the talk is the story he told of how he got started writing. He was talking to his friend, Carl Reiner (producer, The Dick Van Dyke Show) and bemoaning the fact that he didn't know what to write about. Mr. Reiner said, "You have to find the piece of ground that you alone stand on. Then write about that." Copeland realized that nobody else could tell the story of a boy growing up in the heart of diverse California and at the same time experiencing segregation and racism as though he lived in Mississippi. When he figured this out, it was as if the gates had been opened. He had found his voice.
What is your piece of ground? What unique dish do you bring to the table of life? These words echo in my mind when I am at a loss for which direction to turn in my own writing...or even in my life.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Milpitas Treasure Chest

"Now said a good book unto me.
Open my pages and you shall see
Jewels of wisdom and treasures fine
Gold and Silver in every line
And you may claim them if but you will
Open my pages and take your fill”
(Excerpt, Michigan’s Poet Laureate, Edgar Guest)

An indispensible friend to every cook in need of a recipe, author Lynn Walker, asked to hear about the Opening of the Milpitas Library this past Saturday.
The Milpitas Library , a 10-year-dream in the making, is twice the size of the old library where it was often so crowded you couldn't find a seat, where the checkout line was longer than that at Costco.
What I found most wonderful about the new library, though, was that it incorporates a special building: the first Milpitas Grammar School. The Grammar School was used to educate from 1916-56, then it became City Hall, then a community center, then a senior center, and now it is the auditorium and reading room for the library.
I found it so heartening that the people of Milpitas adapted the old school to meet the needs of the community.
So, while I’d been asked to talk about my current writing project, I was inspired by Milpitas’ dream to talk about my first dream, My Half of the Sky. My dream took longer--12 years which often felt like FOREVER--and was about a village, unlike Milpitas, which couldn’t adapt to the changing aspects of the world around it.
The afternoon was fabulous and memorable--with music, dancing, speeches and tours. It was an honor to be there with Terri Thayer, author of four murder mysteries, to help open this lovely treasure chest. If you get a chance, stop by and admire their jewels.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Give Yourself Time to Do Enjoy

Happy New Year. I hope you enjoyed the holidays. We had a house of twelve, relatives from the midwest and southern CA, and we enjoyed so much--endless games of Scrabble and Charades and Ghost--that this morning everyone left the house as though going off for a lethal injection.

One of our interesting trips was to San Francisco. Initially, I wasn't planning to go. I had a thousand other things to do (send off Holiday cards, read a manuscript, figure out dinner.) However, my favorite sister-in-law insisted I join. As we were a big group (11) we took two cars, and I told my husband we should just meet the rest of the crew for lunch in Chinatown and then come home.

I had forgotten what a vortex Chinatown is. There are so many things to see (people were playing ancient instruments on the street the day we went). So many shops to browse--the fresh vegetable shops, the medicine store (we needed our cold medicine 999), the inexpensive luggage place, the Chinese New Year store, etc.

We didn't stay as long as we wished and we still got home later than our relatives. In fact, by the time we got back, they had fixed dinner.

I had to laugh at myself. I'm always doing this. Most often with writing. Often I just want to get the day's writing done, done, done, as I have a dozen other things on my plate. I don't allow myself time to enjoy and explore the scene or the character, instead rushing in with "only enough time for lunch." I end up feeling cheated ...and still late to pick up the kids from school.

So, in this New Year, lets give ourselves time to do the important things well. And to Enjoy.

**One great book I read over the holidays was Fortune Catcher
by Susanne Pari. The story focuses on what happens when life as you've come to know it becomes illegal, immoral, a reason for your death. Laylee, a woman born in Iran but raised in both Iran and the US, returns one year with her Iranian fiance to marry, and the country they knew and loved had disappeared and been replaced by religious fanatics. A fascinating read.

**Hope to see you at the opening of the Milpitas Library this Saturday, 1pm at 160 North Main Street, Milpitas. :)

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