Friday, September 10, 2010

Post a Guard in Your Writing Lot --Avoid the Sorries

One thing about having a Chinese husband—or at least my Chinese husband—is that we never travel too far unless it's to visit a relative. While on the one hand this means a lot of tourist destinations are out--cross off Bahamas and Cabo-- it does make travel twice as meaningful. You’re always getting an in-depth view of the place and visiting someone you haven’t seen in a long time. This past summer we got both tourist destination and family reunion visiting my cousins in Oahu.
On the third day there, we went to a small beach renowned for having a bunch of sea turtles. The concept itself seemed funny—that sea turtles would “live” in a certain area of the ocean. But it was true. As soon as I entered the water, a huge turtle (which I thought was a rock) bumped into my leg. Another swam over my head. Amazing.
All this beauty was punctured, though, when we returned to our rental car wet, tired and hungry and ready to go home, only to realize that someone had smashed the window of the car and stolen my purse.
Fortunately, I had two teenagers and my cousin all with cell phones.
The police arrived within minutes to document this “smash and grab.” Apparently, the crime is so common (especially in this particular parking lot) it had its own title.
“If it’s so common,” I wondered aloud to the officer and my cousin, “Why not post a guard in the parking lot? I'd pay a parking fee to ensure my car was safe.”
“The economy’s bad now," they said. "No money for guards.”
That didn’t make sense to me, but I was more intent on canceling my credit cards than worrying about this parking lot.
"But don't worry," the officer consoled. "Someone from VASH will be calling you soon."
Would they find the perpetrators so quickly?
Was this just a momentary inconvenience?
No, he explained, VASH stood for Visitors Aloha Society of Hawaii --volunteers who called victims of crimes to offer sympathy, counseling, etc.
VASH did call and apologize on behalf of the Island for this unfortunate incident. Did I need counseling? When I got home, they’d even sent a card…with a local island scene on the front and "thinking of you" on the inside. That’s when I got irritated.
Here were all these passionate citizens interested in maintaining the image of their lovely island. And they do have a lovely island. But their efforts were channeled into apologizing. I thought, if they volunteered as much time guarding the affected areas of the island (or sending letters to council members to suggest better protection), there wouldn’t be a need for all this aftercare.
As usual, this made me think of writing. Of how we writers are passionate and dedicated to our work. Yet, sometimes we're so eager to get a piece finished and out there, we don’t polish up those last few scenes or we ignore the gap in that character’s arc or (more importantly), we skim through that contract.
Then we end up apologizing. (“I really didn’t mean to send that draft.”)
Or just being sorry. (“Why did I ever sign that contract?”)
I’ve lost opportunities and been stuck in situations I still regret because I didn’t post a guard in my writing lot.
So, when you think you’ll just keel over and die if you have to look at that manuscript/contract one more time, sit back. Wait a week. Or a month. Visit a relative.:) By then, you probably can bare to peek one more time to make sure everything is as perfect with your manuscript as it can be, everything is as fair with your contract as it should be.

Book of the Week
Zoe Ferraris latest novel, City of Veils, is a sequel to her great first book, Finding Nouf. The story begins with a dead body, an American woman who dreads returning to live with her husband in Saudi Arabia, and a police detective who is trying to keep up with her new job and compete among the throngs of men. Each voice--and there are five-- is unique and brings a different perspective. I found myself thinking, as I raced forward to find out what would happen next, "This isn't just about Islam." (Or dead bodies.) It's about all our Gods." It's a fun--and fast--read.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Just Give it A Try

This summer my incoming freshman son perused the club offerings at the high school.
bicycle racing club --but they bike uphill too, he figured.
swimming --doesn't start til spring, he noted.
snowboarding club --too expensive, I put in.
"What about Marching Band," I suggested.
I must admit I didn't really know anything about marching band--but they did have a percussion section, and he's been taking drumming lessons since elementary school.
"Percussion is different than drumming." He continued flipping through the offerings.
"Marching Band is social suicide," his brother said. "Only nerds join."
Then he can be the first cool nerd.
"It's militaristic," his uncle said.
Come on. The British aren't coming.
"Just give it a try," I suggested. Pleaded. Begged.
Being a cool nerd, he did. And he was surprised to discover that not everyone was a nerd, that percussion was challenging to learn, that he actually enjoyed.
Still, it was a painful few weeks dealing with everyone's preconceptions and misconceptions of this world.
It reminded me of a recent discussion among the Womens' Bay Area authors--one author wondered if it was better to have your book known as "literary fiction" or "women's fiction." Wasn't "literary fiction" tantamount to boring? And "women's fiction" another term for flimsy fluff?
"Why is there even a category called 'women's fiction?' asked another. "There's no "men's fiction.'"
To be honest, I'd never even thought of that. To be honest, though, I never gave any of the categories much thought. It seems these categories serve only to push readers away. Why do we do this?

Books of the Week
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is required reading for the UCSB African American Women's Lit class--but don't let that category build walls. It's an amazing book about a teenager living in a fundamental Catholic family in Nigeria when the the world begins to crumble under a military coup. I was so entranced by the world Adichie wove, I've since ordered her other two novels, Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck.

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