Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Great Book Launch

This weekend I attended my friend Becky Levine's book launch of the Writing Critique Group Survival Guide . Oh, what a party it was--with so many people, cupcakes and even a raffle. But more than the party atmosphere, I was impressed by Becky's words about writing and critiquing.
1) As for writing, she talked about how it's important to be open to more than that which you're focusing on. When she went to a writers conference in Ohio a few years back to be part of an editing panel, she pitched an idea to one of the other panelists--an agent with Writer's Digest Books. The agent wasn't interested. After the panel, in which many audience members asked about critique groups (how to form them, what's the point of joining one, how does one do a critique) Becky approached the agent again--what about a book on critique groups, she asked. The agent paused.
Hmmm. Well, show me a table of contents.
On the airplane ride home, she blasted out the table of contents. "Obviously, I'd had this book simmering in my mind for a long time and didn't even know it."
2) As for critiquing, she said it's important to have R-E-S-P-E-C-T. When you give a critique to someone, respect that this person has slaved over every word, was bold enough to bare all, trusts you to care as much about the writing. When receiving a critique, respect that the person is doing his/her best to bring your work to a higher level. Their opinion might be different than yours, but might also hold great value, a new truth.
If you've ever thought of joining a critique group, but aren't sure how or why --or even if you've been in critique groups but aren't sure you're getting the most from them--this is a great book to have.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Logic is Just A Part of It

Last week, at the Swap Meet, I came home with several treasures-- a talking hotdog for our D.C. Dawgz fundraising, a set of duck-shaped candles, and the fun book Wild Designs by Kate Fforde which prompted me to check out three more of her titles to read as soon as our electricity came back on.
I was driving home alone in the darkness with these books, as well as ten gallons of water to fill our cups, our dog & cat bowls, to wash dishes, to flush the toilets. (It's amazing how many ways we need water.) Suddenly I heard a man's voice. Strange, as I was listening to music on the radio. I turned down the radio. The voice was gone. So I turned up the music again.
Perhaps the radio had been tuned to two stations. But no. The station seemed clear enough. That man's voice sounded again.
I thought of the numerous e-mails forwarded me about safety for women in the city. How men sometimes hide in unlocked vehicles waiting for their prey. But I'd locked my car. Hadn't I? Oh, please. I shut off the radio and waited.
Moments later, I heard:
"Hotdogs, hotdogs. Ketchup, mustard, relish. Get your fixin's here."
The hotdog toy we'd found at the swap meet last week, and which was obviously being pressed on by gallons of water, played all the way home.
I got a kick out of all the explanations I'd come up with for that voice--some of them totally illogical.
Which reminded me of fiction. Your characters don't always need to think logically--that would be asking too much. Wouldn't it?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Attention Writers

A dear reader mentioned the Amazon Novel Contest and I thought others might be interested. Apparently they are accepting the first 10,000 novels they receive and will choose one winner. The author will receive 15K and be published by Penguin books.
For writers who prefer short stories, there's an upcoming contest for new writers.
By the way The Southbay branch of CWC has a great website. Just click on the SBW Journal to the right side of the page and you'll be taken to news, contests, classes and more.

Reaching for the Lights

Due to heavy winds and storm, we were without power and water for three days. Despite this, my son invited his band over to practice after school one day. An acoustic practice. But they were hungry first and raided the cave (which is what the kitchen, piled high with dirty dishes, seemed like even in sunlight).
"All you have to do is push it down," I heard my son fussing around.
Curious, I entered the cave to see what food needed pushing to eat.
He and one of his friends hovered over the toaster, my son offering a lesson on how to use the machine.
"What magic do you think that thing possesses," I asked as they banged on the toaster trying to make the button stay down. "That allows it to work when the rest of the house is without electricity?"
Oh, yeah.
But while my son and his friends were certainly the funniest, we all repeated this exercise. My husband plugging in his laptop, my daughter asking if she could watch tv, me reaching for the lights in the middle of the night.
As I explore in my novel, My Half of the Sky, traditions are difficult to change. As was evidenced by us all this past week, even the silliest little ones--like expecting electricity--provided a stumbling block.

Ice Soldier by Paul Watkins is the story of a man--William Bromley-- who is sent on a mountaineering mission during WWII. He fails, and resolves never to climb again. Then a mountaineering pal of his dies, forcing William to make one final climb. It is an amazing tale for its description--of sights, sounds, smells--however I often felt as if we were trudging through waist-deep snow: one step forward, breathe, breathe, look back, ponder, rest.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Just keep digging

Last weekend I attended my first swap meet. I'd never heard of such a thing. The idea is for people to bring their gently used treasures for whomever wishes to take them. People set up their goods on a table and then are free to roam about and search for treasure. On first glance, I was struck by the number of items people had saved: old candy boxes, a random pile of magazines, a bag filled with mismatched socks.
"Mom, we already have those," my son said.
If I'd just been a casual consumer, I might have left with a ho-hum feeling about the event. But I stayed all afternoon as part of the D.C. Dawgz, a parent/child fundraising team raising money so their children can participate in the 8th grade school trip to Washington, D. C. Each hotdog customer came with a story of treasures found. One young man, whose girlfriend had just moved in with him and had lost one of the books in her Harry Potter collection, came out with that exact edition in hand. Another couple came out elated to have found a steam cleaner for their floors. Another plopped a plastic hotdog on our table as a donation. When pressed, the plastic dog would call out "Hotdogs, Hotdogs. Ketchup, mustard, relish. Get your fixin's here."
I was reminded of writing and of the little fish in Nemo who sings, 'Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming." Only in this case, it was "Just keep digging. Just keep digging." Often the best dialogue, the nuggets of a story are crowded by mismatched socks. You need to stick around all day long, culling the treasure out of your story.
Book of the Week: Oh, but I had fun this past week. Not only did I get some great ideas from readers, but I ran into one of my Book Gurus at the Swap Meet. She always has a good book for me. "This is a light read," she said, picking up a book from one of the tables.
Wild Designs by Katie Fforde is the story of a divorced mother of three teens who has just lost her job. She's been contemplating a career change (from school secretary to garden designer), and thinks this might be her time. On the downside of this whole plan, though, is the fact that the greenhouse she's been using to house her plants has just been bought up by a handsome man and his young girlfriend. I felt as if I were watching a British sitcom--the dialogue is witty, the story is fun.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Step At A Time

This past week I went to my critique group. They're always full of great ideas--lots of them. I needed to change this character's name and re-do that scene and add more tension to that conversation. I went home and was sitting with my notes in my lap, overwhelmed, when my eldest daughter called from university.
"I'm already stressed," she said. "We have a ton of books to read. There are all these labs and huge lab reports. We have to--
"Wait," I said. "Just hold it."
"It'll be okay," I said. "Just take it a step at a time."
She paused. Took a deep breath. Laughed.
"Yeah," she said. "A step at a time."
When I got off the phone and looked at my critique notes, I laughed too. Yeah. A step at a time.
Books of the Week: Help. I need a good book. Give me some ideas. Please.

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