Monday, April 27, 2009

Always another village

I heard a great saying this weekend written by Chinese poet Li Bai (701-762).

At the end of the mountain and the end of the river, when you doubt there is a road beyond...there's another village nestled in the flowers and bushes.

In other words, in difficult times, don't give up. There's always another village...another road.
Do you have any sayings to share?

Books this Week: I had the misfortune of reading Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, a novel about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress Mamah Borthwright. I enjoyed the historical tidbits about Wright's life--but oh the dialogue (I mean monologues), the lack of editing, the point of view switches , the tedious detail about things like their dog's fur. What a disappointment--made more so as the book is a "New York Times Bestseller."

Monday, April 20, 2009

In My Cave

Last week, a dear woman asked why I haven't been speaking lately. What a thrill. To be honest, I've been holed up in my writing cave in a mad dash to finish my latest manuscript before summer vacation. (During the summer--when children are out of school--life slows, creativity beyond camping trips vanishes, time slips faster than a setting sun.) I'm pleased to report that Draft 1 is completed, and I'm in the process of editing: my favorite part of the writing process. The piece is there; now it just needs to be massaged, massaged, massaged.
I've been asked to come out of the cave for a day. On May 16th I'll be speaking about the writing process at We And Our Neighbors Clubhouse in San Jose from 1-3pm. If you're interested, please join us. (RSVP Carolyn Newt at

Book of the week: Forbidden Family was like reading a letter--full of secrets, humor, gossip--from a friend. Margaret Sams, who went to the Phillippines hoping for an adventurous life got more than she could have ever imagined. Her husband of the time was sent off to join the Bataan Death March, while Margaret and their 3-year-old were rounded up and told to bring "enough supplies for three days." They were taken to Santo Tomas Internment camp in Manila where they lived for three years.
During that time Margaret met and fell in love with another prisoner, Jerry Sams. Their affair shocked the sensibilities of the camp (even amidst all the war issues.) She writes about being shunned (and Jerry being punished), constantly worrying about being shot for hiding a contraband radio, scrounging for food so they wouldn't starve, attempting to escape. It's a fascinating history, an amazing story.

** Someone noted the book links no longer go to the amazing Kaleidoscope Books. That wonderful store--to our great misfortune--is no longer.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A week of fluff

Famous pranks. Fun parties. Hundreds of activities to choose from.
Am I already signing children up for summer camp? No. This was the contents of college tours I went on last week with my eldest son. I noted that the Cal Tech tour guides/admissions officers repeated the same prank story over and over, suggesting pranks might not be top on their list of important school activities. Still, I was amused to see such an emphasis on fun.

I had fun taking spring break and reading fluff.

Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich--I always put down an Evanovich book feeling happy, but not sure why. (The same way I feel when watching a sitcom.) The scenario is crazy--bounty hunter female gets involved in ludicrous situations and is aided by hot-looking special ops lover or boyfriend cop. The dialogue is funny and upbeat.

The Winds Come Sweepingby Marcia Preston is more serious. It's part mystery, part romance, part literary fiction about a young woman who left her farm and her daughter to go to the big city to become an artist. She returns to the farm after her father dies. She attempts to save the farm from bankruptcy by using modern technology, much to the anger of the neighbors...She attempts to find her daughter.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Search & Rescue of Ideas

Last week I did a search and rescue of a backpack...
"You better take daddy," my son (the owner of the pack) said. "And a flashlight. And a ladder."
I drew the line at the ladder. I wasn't planning on scaling any 8ft fences...although the school where we headed was surrounded by them.
My son has been traveling all over the Bay Area this year with his soccer team, because some joker in a pick-up did donuts on our school field. Last week, we went to a huge, well-locked school in the city. (For the game we accessed the soccer field by sneaking through the gym where a volleyball game was in session.). In the excitement of a hard-fought win, my son forgot his backpack.
When my husband and I arrived in the dark,we were in luck. That gym was still open (some poor kids were still playing volleyball at 9:30pm) and we snuck through to the field. As soon as we exited the gym, though, CLICK, the doors locked behind us.
We searched over every blade of grass. No backpack.
“Let’s go,“ I suggested, heading back towards the gym. I hoped that there would be some straggling volleyball enthusiasts who would answer our frantic knock.
“We came all the way out here,“ my husband said. “Let’s just look a bit more.”
I followed--not with much hope. We walked through the basketball courts, the playground, past several more locked entrances, by several classrooms. No backpack. We continued to a huge entrance, obviously locked, the whole time laughing about how this security was unbelievable. Perhaps we should have brought that ladder.
Just as we reached the gate, a car pulled up. My first thought was that unlike our school where derelicts do donuts, this school probably had cameras. Surely police had been alerted to two suspicious trespassers.
A young woman emerged from her car. But instead of barraging us with questions, she unlocked the gate.
“I’m just here to pick up some work I forgot,” she said, as if WE deserved an explanation.
‘That was amazing,” my husband said when we were walking, free at last, back to our car.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “All that security. It felt like a prison.”
“Not that,” he said. “When we needed to get out, a woman came out of nowhere to the exact gate where we stood.”
The search and rescue of the backpack reminded me of the search and rescue of writing ideas. I’m often struck by how when I’m totally lost about where to go next in my story, the answer comes. It’s not necessarily inspiration. I still have to check every blade of grass, walk through playgrounds and basketball courts, and reach the point of exhaustion (or pass it). But the gatekeeper eventually appears to set me free.
What's your experience?

Books of the Week:
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
This took a while to get going, as it's an unusual voice. You feel like you're attending a one-man show, as the character describes the setting, what the other characters are doing, etc. The story is of a Pakistani Princeton graduate who is offered a top position in the New York business world. Then 9/11 happens, and this perfect world he's been invited to join reveals cracks...too many of them. It's a fascinating story. Once you get started, it becomes an all-night read.

Raise Rules For Women by Jill Ferguson and Laura C Browne.
I'm ashamed at how fearful I was to read this book--it's been on my shelf for months--as if the contents would reveal that I really wasn't that strong and modern. Rather than shaming me (although at times I cringed,) the pointers offered gave me insight and information I can carry about getting the monetary validation I deserve. A helpful read.

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