Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Disneyland Approach to Writing Expectations

Today on NPR MIT Professor Dick Larson--a.k.a Dr. Queue-- spoke of "Queue Rage":How people get irritated--sometimes violently so-- when they have to wait in line for a long time.

Dr. Queue mentioned that part of the problem is expectations.

Disneyland knew this when they made their serpentine lines. Not only did they make those lines fun, but they posted ETA signs. And they fudged. Yes, Disneyland discovered that if they advertised a longer time than it actually took, people got really excited. As in, "Hey, we got through the line really fast."

I've decided to apply Disneyland's rule to book writing.

When I was writing my first novel I can remember explaining the concept and the plans to family and friends. They were all excited...the first year. Maybe even the second. After that, at the word "book" their eyes would glaze over. I could hear them thinking, "She's still doing revisions?" I'd start thinking to myself, "I'm still writing revisions?"

But family gatherings should be much more fun (and I won't stress out as much, either) now that I'm armed with my sign: "Estimated Time til End of Book: 20 years"

Books of the Week: I'm not one to suggest a book that I haven't finished reading, but I'm really enjoying The Help by Kathryn-Stockett. She does an amazing job with dialect, dialogue, and bringing us into the conflicts in Mississippi during the 60's. I'm loving every word.

I enjoy fairytales, and whenever I travel one of my first questions of the locals is "Tell me a story." When I first moved to Japan a new friend said her favorite tale was "shin de lay la." I settled down, anxious to hear.
"Once upon a time," she said. "There was a young girl whose mother died. Her father remarried a mean woman with two wicked daughters. Every day, the wicked stepmother made the young girl do all the work-- "
"Wait, wait," I said. "This sounds like--did you mean Cinderella?"
"Yes, yes, shin de lay la."
This week I came upon two wonderful Japanese tales right up here in the mountains of Los Gatos: The Magic Ear and The Fox's Kettle are told by Laura Langston--with beautiful painting-like illustrations by Victor Bosson.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stick to Level Ground

This past week was a ride from the earth's highest peak to its darkest deepest crevice. I've been honing my latest manuscript...and getting opinions from friends, relatives, critique members, and professionals. I went from having a fine author offer to give a pre-publication blurb to a fine critique member tell me there are way too many Points of View. From a colleague saying it was one of a few books she'd remember the rest of her life to an editor confessing confusion. What to do with so many valuable opinions? As my spirits spiraled up then down, then up then down, down, down my husband reminded, "It's your story. Listen to the words of others--both praise and critique--but remember it's your story."
I know this.
Of course I know this.
But it was good to be reminded--and that's why I'm passing it on. Now I'm back on level ground. It's boring--there aren't any peaks or valleys. But on level ground I can still see the highs and lows from afar. More importantly I can still see where I--and my story--are headed.

Books of the Week/Blogspots: A Walk on the Beach by Joan Anderson. This is a quick read on life and living. Joan Anderson, while walking on the beach, met a lively old woman who happened to be the wife of Erik Erikson, the psychoanalyst. Joan discovered, through their friendship, new ways to look at life, new ways to be. She shares those gems of wisdom in this book.
Check out the Killer Hobbies blog. This week is a Writing Workshop with a different writing topic every day. One commenter from the week wins a copy of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Latest in Technology?

I'm always coming to technology three steps late. At least. In fact, when my husband and I were first married twenty years ago we were given a huge translation project by one of the big tech companies in Tokyo. My husband would translate from Japanese to English, and I would smooth out the English. One night I read his copy which said "Open a new window."
"What are you talking about," I asked. "A window is something you open to let in fresh air. Surely you're mistaken about this."
As I said, at least three steps behind.
At any rate, a couple weeks ago I mentioned a haunting book by Masha Hamilton. Just yesterday I discovered the latest (for me) in technology--a trailer about the book. What a fun way to hear more about books.
Books/Blogsites: Coming Back to Me by Caroline Leavitt is the story of a young man who finds the family he's always wanted....and then loses it in a medical mystery. I'm sure the producers of the tv show House found inspiration here, although to make the comparison is to take away from the literary prose that makes this such a great read.
Last week I spoke about finding time, the talented Jill Ferguson sent me the following link to one of her poems.
Upcoming Events:
An avid Kindle reader just informed me that My Half of the Sky is now available as an Ebook. Please pass the word.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Make Writing A Tradition You Refuse to Let Go Of

A dear friend, author and therapist Martha Clark Scala, recently sent me her monthly newsletter which talked about the struggle we all have giving up routine. When we go to the gym we want to use the same locker, the same sink, the same hairdryer. When we have a family feast we expect there to be acorn squash with the turkey. She suggested we learn to compromise--to let go of some of our "traditions."
Although I couldn't relate to the gym..or the acorn squash..her piece reminded me of a course I used to teach overseas to newcomers called "Settling In Singapore." One of my exercises was to ask the group, who had just spent a couple of hours sitting in one location, to get up and find someone new to sit with. Some would bop off to a new location, leaving all their bags behind. Others would gather up everything they owned (fearful of losing anything) and move. Some refused to budge. It was said that those who were willing to move at the drop of a hat--with nothing at all in their hands-- would have the easiest time adapting to their new surroundings. I don't know how true it was, but symbolically it made lots of sense.
This morning--after the never-ending Halloween weekend-- I was struck by how this clinging to the familiar also affects our ability to write. It's scary to wander down the unfamiliar path of writing--bumping into strange characters and dealing with new surroundings. It's much easier to stay put and work at a routine job or chore (or seek out the same sink at the gym.) I can't tell you how many people I've met who have a story to tell....if they could just find the time. And before you think I'm sounding a little too uppity, let me clarify that I'm always in danger of choosing the familiar over a morning of bumping around in the dark, especially after a long Halloween holiday. Or near a holiday. Or even after a weekend. Or near a weekend.
That's why it's important to declare to the world (or at least yourself): This is my writing time. I will write for X amount of time or X amount of words/paragraphs/pages each day. It's important to make writing one of those traditions you refuse to let go of.
BOOK/BLOGSITE of the week: I finally opened Reading Lolita in Tehran. It was a story I avoided, as I was sure it would be bizarre, unbelievable, depressing. It is all of those things, but definitely worth the read.
On a similar note author Masha Hamilton pointed me in the direction of the The Afghan Women's Writing Project. These women have amazing stories to share. One of my favorites this month is My Sister's Golden Hair.

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