Thursday, June 30, 2011

I'm In Control

Recently, my younger son was struggling with grades. I wasn't sure what the problem was. He's intelligent. He's capable. So, why all the missing homework? The low test scores?
I kept asking him, "What's the problem here?"
"It's nothing," he kept saying, "Don't worry, Mom. I'm in control."
I trusted that elegant pronouncement....for a long time. Then I found a place called All Minds Matter.
The first question the Academic Coach, Caitlin Hoffman, asked was, "Does you son have a cell phone with him when he studies?"
"Of course," I said. "But you know these young people. They're so capable of multi-tasking."
"No, no, no," she said. "Take the phone away when he studies."
The first time I took the phone away, it was like taking opium from an addict. But I wrenched it from his hand. I put it downstairs near me. I was doing some research.
Bzz. Bzz. Bzz. The thing went off.
I found my spot again and continued reading.
Bzz. Bzz. Bzz.
I was interrupted mid-sentence and forgot what I'd just read.
Bzz. Bzz. Bzz.
That damn thing went off--with someone's text--every five minutes. The noise alone made me lose focus. I could just imagine my son attempting to study anything. Unless it only took four minutes to do, it wouldn't happen. It was an eye-opening experience. And I came away wondering about my own forays away from the page. The occasional click to check e-mail or look at ratings.
It's nothing, as my son would say. I'm in control. Or am I?

Books of the Week: Lost Names by Richard E. Kim--Kim writes of a young boy growing up in northern Korea during WWII. He takes you through the injustice, the fear, the hunger, the sorrow of growing up in an occupied nation as a young boy, and the exultation yet concern of being suddenly set free with the end of World War II as a teenager. It's a lovely story, and I only wish he'd kept going to deal with the moments when North Korea became a state in its own and yet another war broke out. Oh, wait, he does. But, it's another book. (The Korean War) Goody.
Rescue by Anita Shreve-- This more recent book of Shreve's is of an EMT who falls in love with a woman he rescues, and then must deal with the fall-out of that disastrous relationship. The writing is beautiful, of course. It's an interesting read.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Yes, and...

Tina Fey in her book Bossypants, which I've already lent out so I can't quote from, talks about tricks she learned doing improv. She'll stand on stage and her partner will say, "Hey, Mom, I just realized I'm from Mars." Instead of saying, "No, sweetheart," she'll say, "Yes, and isn't that a wonderful realization?" In fact, the rule of thumb in improv is that you don't use the word,"No." You accept any and every suggestion which is thrown at you, and move with this new body of information.
Just for fun, I started counting the times I say (or think) No to someone else's ideas, beliefs, suggestions. (I decided improv would not be a good profession for me.) Seriously, though, it hit me this week, as I was struggling with my manuscript, that one of my critiquer's ideas --to add another character's voice-- was just what I needed. When she had initially suggested this six months ago, I thought, "No way. She's nuts." If only I'd read Fey's book earlier.
So I've decided the Fey approach might be the key not only to improv...but to writing, to life in general.
Books of the Week: On A Night Like This by Ellen Sussman: The main character of Sussman's book discovers she has cancer and is going to die very soon. She is a mother of a teenager, and has no other family around. I kept thinking, "How can this story end well?" This is going to be maudlin and mushy and sad. It wasn't. While there were a few too many forays into discussions on love and dying, it was an interesting and meaningful read. One that will stay with me for a long time.
Bodysurfing by Anita Shreve: The book reads like a poem--throwing out images rather than holding my hand and guiding me in the right direction. I, at first, thought this would get tiresome. Instead, I stayed up half the night wanting to know what happened next. Shreve has a way of placing you right there in the middle of the action--and lots of it. I hated for the story to end.

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