Monday, May 18, 2009

The Process of Writing

This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak at We and Our Neighbor Clubhouse . The clubhouse, built in 1910 to deal with issues affecting the community, is about to celebrate their centennial birthday and is busy renovating. The two hostesses were very apologetic about the looks of the place. Would I mind speaking in the Dining Room?

This wasn't just any old dining room, though. A quarter of the room was once walled off and used as the first branch of the Santa Clara Free Library system. It was so cool to stand there surrounded by the energy of books from years past. As several people came up to me after the talk saying they were inspired to go home and write, perhaps they felt the same energy. We discussed the Process of Writing:

1) Writing is a Never-Ending Process: The quote "Each time I strive for perfection, I realize it's a moving target," can be applied to the writing process. Each time I think I'm done, someone--editor, friend, critique group--points out an area that needs fixing and I realize there's more that I can do. As one writer pointed out, there comes a point when you just must stop.

2) Writing is ever-changing: What works for one story may not be the best method for the next story. Don't be afraid to experiment. A story doesn't always need to start on page one.

3) Writing requires a routine: I need to figure out a schedule and stick with it, so as not to be pulled away from the project--to check e-mail or take the dog on a walk or clean a spot in the rug. Regular journal writing is a trick I use to slide into "the real writing" of the day. Once I get going writing about the events of the previous day, it's not so hard to switch gears just a bit and keep typing.

What thoughts and additons do you have?

Book of the Week: The Honk and Holler Opening Soon by Billie Letts centers around a wheelchair-bound Vietnam Vet who owns a restaurant in a lily-white area of Nebraska. It's not a thriving business--opening only when the first customer arrives--until an American Indian woman shows up needing a job, then a Vietnamese immigrant fix-it man arrives. The themes that stood out were racism, religionism, fear of others. It's a fun--and funny--read.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Re-Writing til it's Right

It's coming down to the wire--before the kids' school vacation when all semblance of a writing routine disappears. So I'm writing and re-writing, hoping to get my manuscript ready before that mid-June deadline. I saw a great quote the other day, which I thought could be easily applied to the writing process: "When you aim for perfection, you realize it's a moving target."
For each time I think--oh, this is it. This is perfect--I realize, "Hmmmm. You could flesh that character a bit deeper or add a few more smells to this chapter."

Any great quotes to share?

Book of the Week: Blowback: the Costs and Consequences of American Empire by Chalmers Johnson
Johnson, author of over a dozen books, is a retired Professor of Asian Studies at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego, as well as a former consultant to the CIA. While at times I felt like I was drowning in information--I would get halfway down a page and have to start over, gasping for air after each sentence--the picture Johnson portrays of America's presence and policies in Asia after WWII is frightening. The continuing presence of American military in places like Okinawa, Japan, and South Korea when the Cold War is no longer an issue is mind-boggling.
Blowback is apparently a term the CIA use to refer to unintended consequences of policies kept secret from the American people. In this book, published in 2000, Johnson predicted disasters to come (like 9-11), as well as the horrible economic mess we sit in. It's a sobering read. And once I've gotten my breath back (meaning read a book of fiction) I'm diving into the next book in his series: The Sorrows of Empire.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Never Just One Viewpoint

Last week, I got an e-blast from a parent at the elementary school about a strange car which followed the school bus the previous day. The male driver and a small boy had stopped behind the bus at each stop. The two had watched as the children got off the bus, the man smiling and waving at the kids in such a creepy manner that the bus driver took down his license plate number. The note ended by giving us a complete description of the sicko and his car, and mentioning that this information had been handed over to the school and CHP.
A few hours later I got another e-blast from the same parent. An apology for making us all concerned. Apparently, the CHP had gone to the sicko's residence to question his behavior. It turned out that this man's son was about to start riding the bus home, and this dear father was showing the boy the exact route the bus took.
I loved this. How one moment the man was a child molester, the next he was Father of the Year, depending on the believed intent behind his behavior. This incident served as a reminder--not just in real life but in fiction--that no two characters will ever view a situation in the same way.

Book of the Week: Only A Girl by Lian Gouw takes us into the lives of the Lee family in Indonesia during one of that country's most dynamic periods (1932-1952). Gouw brings the struggles of that time to life, as the Lee family grapples with which rituals to follow when the world beneath their feet changes year after year, from Dutch control to Japanese control to Indonesian control. It's an amazing piece of history, a fascinating story.

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