Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rejection--just a shutter-snap.

"We are all working in the dark these days as none of us has ever experienced a market like this one!"---Top New York Agent

I've been dancing around the 'lost camera' issue. This week, in view of the ever-dipping market, I thought it a good time to discuss that particular loss.
This summer we spent a week in Japan, where my husband and I had lived for six years. I took hundreds of pictures, of the kids at their first "onsen" hot springs, of catching frogs in the rice paddies, of old friends and new. Then we went onto China, and again I took hundreds of pictures, of the new baby bunnies (born the day we arrived home in the village), of grandpa, of the kids 'walking on water' in a plastic bubble-type contraption.
One day, my husband took the camera to church--a province-wide choral gathering. Then he brought it with us to a restaurant. Then we went on to a friend's apartment, in separate taxis. The next time either of us thought of the camera was when we were going out to dinner.
Had we left it at the restaurant? In the taxi? And, by the way, whose fault was this?
My husband went back to check the restaurant. Our friends called the cab company, which I might add was so high-tech that we were able to give the street address and approximate time of the ride, and they could search up on their GPS the exact cab I was in. None of this produced the camera.
It was gone.
It felt like a cold wind had blown through my body and sucked away part of my life. Two special weeks that would never come again.
"We can take more pictures, Mom," the kids said. "We'll just get another camera."
But what about those special shots I'd already taken?
"We have the memories," my husband said. "That's the most important part."
I cried myself to sleep anyway--thinking of the effort I'd gone to to take this shot and that cute pose. I dreamed that someone came to our door the next morning bearing the camera.
That didn't happen.
That next day I had no desire to move. I was defeated. But then my husband took me to get a new camera. At first I only took the few obligatory shots--of friends. (Why expend effort that might be lost again?) But soon I was back to snapping away.
I've gotten to the point where I don't usually think about the lost camera anymore.
The only reason I mention it now is because I recently read that book buying is down 18%. My experience with the camera reminded me of a similar experience: rejection.
When an agent/editor says, "Thanks, but no thanks," that cold wind blows through your body sucking not just weeks, but months, years, decades off your life.
"What am I doing?" you think. "My writing's worthless. I'm worthless."
"It's okay," a friend, partner, writing buddy will say. "You can write another story."
They just don't get it, you think.
"Did I have a bad editor?" you obsess, trying to find fault. "Was my story too long/short/funny/sad?"
"It's okay," a friend, partner, writing buddy will remind you. "Just keep writing."
But it's not okay. Nothing about it feels okay.
You dream that the phone will ring the next day. A happy person on the other end will say, "Sorry, there was a mix up. Of course, we'd love your story."
That doesn't happen.
"It's okay," a friend, partner, writing buddy will continue to urge you, until you sit back down at the writing desk. Tentative at first. (Perhaps it would be better to refurbish the cabinets or get a job at the library.)
Before you know it, you're writing again,though--- that bitter cold,life-sucking rejection a small shutter snap in your world.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pick up the Brush

When I returned from China, my to-do list was still waiting. (For some reason, I'd hoped it had disappeared like many of the other things during our trip--swimsuit, backpack, camera.) One of the things I'd promised myself was that I'd stain our decks.

Oh, gosh, but I didn't want to do that.

Power-washing the decks is great. Rolling stain on the bottom planks is easy. But the meticulous staining of each piece of wood on the railing is a (sometimes futile) exercise in sanity-control.

There are hundreds of those pieces. No, I didn't count. My shoulders felt the constant up and down, up and down, up and down.

Once I got started, however--and it took some real mental persuasion to get started--I found myself in a rhythm. I could do this. I could finish. Besides, it looked good.

Each day, I made a goal for myself. Each day I tried to beat that goal. By the time I was done (hallelujah!) I didn't even mind going over parts I'd missed. (For of course my engineer husband managed to find parts I'd missed.)

This chore took me back to writing. It's so easy to say, "I'll start on that project tomorrow." Then tomorrow comes and the last thing in the world one wants to do is actually sit down and type out the beginning of what seems like an endless project. It's not necessarily messy, but it's painful and frightening. However once you get into the rhythm, you can start to see a form--hey, this might even be worthwhile--and you see the end in sight. You don't even mind going over parts that your friends, critique-group members, editors think need more work. So, pick up the brush.

**For inspiration, amazing editor Becky Levine will be doing a teleseminar on Professional Memoir Writing this Friday. Be sure to join in.

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