Monday, May 24, 2010

Give Yourself Time...Enough to do your best

My daughter's school has an extra program called The Autonomous Learner Degree. It's not an official degree, but something the students can do and be rewarded for upon graduation. To earn this degree, the student needs to demonstrate proficiency in all areas of life--community service, art, research, politics, etc. My daughter who wants to do everything, and who naturally did all of these "autonomous" things--wanted this extra degree. The only problem: she had to provide all documentation by a certain date (which was last Thursday). She kept putting this part off and putting this part off and putting this part off.
The night before the due date we were ALL up til after midnight helping her film her role play of a gifted individual, helping her find pictures for a timeline, helping her figure out a software to make an animated lesson....all things that she could have spent days on. She woke up early Thursday morning to cram in a few more things.
When I went to pick her up after she'd seen the leader of the ALD program, she seemed relaxed and resigned.
"I didn't get it," she said. The teacher had told her that her animation project was too simple and to come in to fix it, but "if she stopped me on that project, she's not going to approve the others."
Whereas I was ready to have her run in and make that last shot toward the gold medal--or whatever the award was--she was the one who stopped me, saying "I didn't give myself enough time."
I felt in the presence of a guru (albeit a miniature guru who also cried and screamed in frustration).
I always think if I push hard enough anything is possible. Anything. She reminded me otherwise. She also reminded me of my own ALD--my writing. I was reminded that it's tough to make choices between all the wonderful opportunities available--lunch with friends, a walk with the dog, reading a good book--but when it comes to my story, my manuscript, I need to reserve enough time to do my best.
Book of the Week
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen is as captivating as reading one of her old essays in Time. She has that same down-to-earth voice which made me a fan of hers for years (In fact I used to subscribe to the magazine long after it morphed into a version of the Enquirer, just so I could read her column.) Every Last One is the story of a Mother dealing with her three children and husband and their individual issues--some of which turn out to be huge. It is written in present tense (which is always a bit jarring)-- but once you get past that it's a gem. If you're a parent, you'll find yourself smiling, giggling, nodding...and crying.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I just want an "aha!"

This past week has been miserable, as I stumbled around in the dark trying to get my characters on the next part of the lighted-path. I kept thinking....
"This shouldn't be happening. I'm revising. This should be easy."
It's not.
I tried doing more research.
I tried reading books to jumpstart different techniques.
Yesterday, I spent the whole day doing totally unrelated but creative things--making greeting cards, calendars--in the hopes of finding a spark.
Nothing hit me as an "aha!"
(What I got was a more boring return to old pages to refocus this and refocus that--kind of like getting a sparkler which fizzles halfway down.)
How do you get your creativity flowing? How do you get past a dark patch in your writing?
Book of the Week:
I don't have one. I started --then abandoned--a whole bunch, as they weren't offering the right spark. I'm sure they are good books, but I'm in hyper-critical mode right now. Next week should be better.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Is Today Mother's Day?

There seemed to be a lot of confusion over Mother's Day this weekend. On Saturday, my husband came home with a dozen roses. My youngest handed me a poem she'd written at school. "Is today Mother's day?"

Mother's day can be loosely tied to ancient spring celebrations in Greece honoring Rhea, the Mother of Gods. Or to celebrations in England honoring the Christian Mother Mary (Mothering Sunday). But our present holiday is thanks to one ordinary woman--Anna Jarvis-- an unmarried, childless woman who cared so much about her mother that she went about creating a day to honor mothers. Three years after her mother's death, she held the first mother's day on May 10, 1908. The idea caught on, and eventually (1914) Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday.

Yesterday, while my eldest son prepared a feast, I went to hear Anne Quindlen discuss her latest book Every Last One at the
Commonwealth Club. A mother's day treat for myself. She discussed her writing process, saying she often felt as if she was channeling the feelings of another person. That she was just the conduit. Often she'd sit down to write and get so involved that when she looked up at the clock, several hours had gone by.

One shouldn't be watching the clock, counting the pages, the words, the letters.

I thought, yes, when the stars are aligned and all goes right.

Just like one shouldn't be watching the date. When it goes right.
Every day is Mother's day. At least it should be. Right?

But then the magic isn't always there.

This morning, I took my son to school. He turned on a rock station, the guitar notes making my eyes twitch. I turned the radio off. He turned it back on, switching stations to a no-less jarring tune. He gave me an impish grin.

"Whatever happened to Happy Mother's day?" I asked.

"That was yesterday."

Here's hoping that magic happens--in your writing and your life--more times than not.

Books of the Week

I am Nujood Age 10 and Divorced< by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui
Escape by Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer

By coincidence both of these books are about women who, due to religious and cultural constraints, were forced into arranged marriages with men many times their age. One of them was from Yemen, and one of them was from the good ole U.S. of A. Both stories-although not literary gems- are fascinating.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Good Morning To You

All year long my youngest has been asking for a surprise party for her birthday--which is later in May. It's all been very funny, especially when her older brother points out
"If you ask for a surprise party, what part of it is a surprise?"
But I thought I'd try.
So I booked a campsite this last weekend, told her we were going camping and invited all her friends.
There was only one issue. We weren't doing a cake (but smores), so there would be no candles to blow out.
"Where did that tradition come from anyway," my husband asked.
We stopped packing the van to find out. Apparently blowing out candles on your birthday cake originates from the ancient Greeks. Every sixth day of the month, the Greeks celebrated the birthday of the Goddess of the Hunt (Artemis). Each household made a honey cake in her honor. In ancient times, people believed the Gods came to attention when you lit a candle. Thus each month, they lit a candle and made a wish to the Goddess. Once she received the wish, the candle was blown out. Over the years, we've adopted a similar idea with our birthday cakes.
Once I started researching on the subject of birthdays, I couldn't stop....
The birthday song originates from a kindergarten song written in 1892 by two sisters Patti and Mildred Hill. Patti Hill was a kindergarten teacher (who incidentally laid the foundation for the standards of kindergarten education in public schools.) She wrote a song called, "Good Morning To You." Later the words were changed around--and we got Happy Birthday To You.
It's a good thing one of the birthday guests called to remind me of the original goal--a surprise party--and took me away from this gold mine of information.
The party turned out to be a great surprise. We sang the Hill's birthday song. Then we all held candles and blew them out, figuring whatever wish my daughter had, she would need her friends (as well) to help her make it come true.
Book of the Week
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is set in the 1940's and is the story of a young girl whose given up into the foster care of a German family sympathetic to the Jews. It is told fascinatingly through the voice of death. I loved this book, and then passed it onto my 8th grader. He's devouring it.

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