Monday, February 23, 2009

The Best Way to Ski

This past week was “going to the snow” holiday we went to the snow. However, while I grew up conquering black diamonds and getting lots of air, while I taught my kids how to ski as soon as they could bear to wear those clunky boots and fall in the snow without thinking this was some bizarre torture, I’ve lost my passion for the sport.
It started a couple seasons back, the worrying. What will I do if I break a leg? Or worse, an arm? How would I write? I thought all this paranoia was too much caffeine in my diet. But the next year when I was down to drinking hot water instead, I was still hemming and hawing.
I realized I enjoyed the chairlift ride more than the actual skiing. That instead of reveling in the “jump-age” (kids’ word) and excitement, I prayed I’d just make it down in one piece. I realized that the kids I’d taught to ski were leaving me in the powder spray (and had moved on to snowboarding the black diamonds.) Oh, sure, we always met up to do one run together, but even then I could tell they were really humoring the “old lady” (kids’ word).
So this time, while I brought my skis just in case I had a sudden craving to return to the good old days and race down the hill crying, “ye-ha,” I also brought lots of books.
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos is a book I avoided because of the title--it sounded like a Harlequin Romance. But when a friend of mine said it was great, I plunged ahead. While the book has an abundance of beautiful people, the ending is happy and somewhat predictable, and it is a romance, the voices of her characters are strong and witty, the dialogue is amazing, and the story is fun. I enjoyed reading it so much I picked up her second book, Belong to Me (another yucky title).
Home Was The Land Of Morning Calm by Connie Kang tells of Korea’s history during the 1900’s through the voice of a woman and her family. It’s fascinating the twists of fate dealt this small-but strategic and highly-coveted--island country, and hearing these facts through the real history of family makes it even more interesting.
So I had a wonderful going-to-the-snow holiday, and I did venture out into the snow, on long walks with the dog, on hikes to the local store, and while shoveling out our car which I’d run into a snow bank (long story). But this snow --except for the snow bank incident--felt safe and friendly. I didn’t hem and haw once. I came away thinking it was the perfect “ski” holiday and why hadn’t I done this earlier? But then the best editor I’ve ever known once said to me, “Just because a character realizes something, doesn’t mean he or she will immediately act upon that realization.“ A thing to remember in fiction as well as life.
**I’m doing an author chat this week on Library Thing. It’s an interesting site with lots of events going on, so stop on by.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fun with Language

I love listening to non-native English speakers. Their words put a twist on the mundane and offer a refreshing look at life.
Author Phyllis Mattson who wrote War Orphan in San Francisco, a fascinating story through letters of how she and her parents were separated during WWII, mentioned that the word “become” in German means “to get or receive.” She said it took her a long time to stop “becoming” an artichoke or piece of bread when she was just asking for some. But what a neat concept--the you-are-what-you-eat mentality.
My youngest daughter’s Russian piano teacher once said, when my daughter had forgotten to keep the beat, “You do not like to remember to count.” Exactly. How many times do we forget because we do not like to remember?
My Chinese husband doesn’t provide as much raw insight anymore. This past week though, I thought he‘d given me a new one. He was in Thailand on business and had stopped to see some old friends of ours who recently moved to Bangkok.
“We went to a restaurant called Cabbages & Condoms,” he said.
I was sure that this was an interesting language issue.
“You heard me correctly,” he said. “There were condoms on the walls and dripping from the trees.” (Actually he didn’t use the term “dripping,” but I could just imagine.)
At the end of the meal, which he didn’t describe as he was so busy telling me of the ambience, they brought the check and fortune cookies? No. Dinner mints? No. You guessed it.
Apparently, C&C is a non-profit whose aim is to combat the lack of Family Planning assistance and promote safe unions.
But back to language. Most recently my eldest daughter called from college, procrastinating. She had to write a paper on Democracy and Capitalism.
“Ughh," I sympathized.
“It should only take a couple of hours,” she said.
“That’s it?”
“Oh, well this isn’t the final paper,” she said. “It’s what my teacher-- who’s from Serbia-- calls a Discovery Draft.”
The Discovery Draft. How hopeful and inspiring without alluding to the garbage it will become. How beautiful.
Have you heard any interesting uses of language? Please tell.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hiker Friends for the Journey

We have a beautiful dog named Scotch. She is a sweet dog, and one of many dogs on the road...some of whom are not so sweet. In fact there's a posse of six right up the road who will bark at a falling leaf, and whose ferocity brings out the "flight" instinct.
Still, Scotch loves being outside and wandering, and she'll often go on walks with the neighbors. Then she'll stop and say hello to the friendlier dog population. At night, she comes back home.
This past week, though, she went out early in the morning and she didn't come back. So I called one of our neighbors and asked if there had been a Scotch spotting.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "Saw her heading up past the corral with another dog."
I got in my car and went looking. I drove past the corral down towards another neighbor's. Just as I pulled into her place, she was driving out with Scotch in her car, ready to bring this guest home. It wasn't the first time.
My dear neighbor had a theory that Scotch followed hiker friends up the road, but then was afraid to go back down, "past the barrier" of six barking soldiers on our road.
It seemed a funny thing. I mean why would she walk past this menacing barrier a first time, but not a second? Obviously having the hikers by her side made all the difference.
This episode reminded me of my own writing. About my barriers: How will I find time to write in the middle of x, y, and z? How should I start? How will I get past the murky middle? What will my mother (sister, brother, husband, friends) think of this? These barriers are no less daunting even though I've passed them before.
And I definitely agree with Scotch. It’s necessary to have "hiker friends"--CWC, my critique group, my writing buddies-- along on the journey.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Things I Love

Yesterday, we were invited to a Superbowl Party. I have no feelings about football. It’s a foreign world to me that I don’t care deeply enough about to want to learn more--kind of like Sanskrit. My eldest daughter used to be on the Dance Team at her high school, meaning she danced football halftimes. I always timed it so I’d get there just for her performance. Except once--the homecoming game--my daughter said I’d better get there early or I wouldn’t get a seat. I went, taking a sweater along to knit as I whiled away the l-o-n-g minutes. I sat next to this elderly gentleman (in his 80’s) who had graduated from the school and never missed a game if he could help it. Although I didn’t ask, he began explaining the various penalties and plays. At one point, he took my elbow. “You must stand for the kick-off,” he insisted. I was impressed. He really wanted me to understand this world.
Although, thanks to that kind man, I’m a little more knowledgeable I’m still no big fan of the game. So fortunately last night, true to form, I showed up at halftime in time to hear The Boss.
Last week I was “tagged” by two dear bloggers: Becky Levine
and Nina Amir to answer questions about what I love. They’re both great writers. Becky’s an amazing editor, and writes Young Adult fiction as well as non-fiction books for writers. Nina does non-fiction articles on faith, her dancing son, cooking, and how to become an expert. They asked for between 7-20 things I love. I’ve chosen the number 8, a favorite number of mine as in Chinese the character represents “ever-increasing harmony.”
I take my family & friends as a given in this. I love :
1) Watching my kids participate. In swimming. Basketball. Dance. Music. Theater. If they were in football, I’d love that too.
2) Mornings when the words just dance from my heart so fast my fingers can‘t race across my keyboard fast enough.
3) The beach.
4) Traveling someplace new
5) Playing games--Scrabble, Worm, Charades, Cards
6) Hiking & Swimming
8) Hearing a good story or reading a good book…which brings me to my latest, a book I had no intention of reading. Last month I read the book Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, a non-fiction story written by a father whose wonderful son became addicted to methamphetamines. Tweak by Nic Sheff is the book his son wrote about the experience. I felt as if the father’s book was as much as I wanted to hear, but my teenager (who had also experienced the father‘s viewpoint) wanted to read Tweak.
I thought I’d best preview it. What if it said something like drugs were the most wonderful thing in the world? And it did….for the first 30 pages. But then young 20-something Sheff keeps talking (and it always felt like he was chatting, revealing secrets only a really close friend would)
Like the gentleman at the football game, he took me by the elbow and showed me his world, leading me through the darker side of the streets of San Francisco, defining the drug world that had become second nature to him.
He wrote bluntly about his struggle. How he would go days without eating, had no place to stay, spent hours trying to break into an apartment complex just to take a shower, crawled to the LA airport in his socks, as he’d lost his shoes, stole from his family, begged on the street corner, sold his belongings and his body. All because he’d spent every last penny on getting high. Many times he’d gone sober…and then relapsed. The ending brought me to tears….and I passed the book onto my son.

Oh, yeah, Now I get to do the tagging. I pick Lynn and Sara

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