Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Also want to share a great review from Cliff Garstang, a former resident of Korea and author of What the Zhang Boys Know:
As a former resident of Korea (I was a Peace Corps volunteer there in the 1970s) and a student of its language, history, and culture, I enjoyed this book very much. It tells a story that is often overlooked, about the brutal Japanese rule before and during WWII. We're all familiar with the concept of "comfort women"--the sex slaves that the Japanese forced into service from Korea and their other "colonies"--but this book puts a face on that atrocity, as well as the conscription of young Korean men and the abuse of Korean patriots.
The story is told by three narrators--two Korean boys and their mother--beginning from just before the start of the war. It's a harrowing tale, and one definitely worth reading.
Monday, December 17, 2012
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Monday, November 26, 2012
Monday, November 19, 2012
That changed last week.
He got his driver's license last week, and he asked if he could drive one of our cars to school. I said, "If you can wake up on time."
As we watched a showered young man pull out of our driveway way ahead of schedule, my husband said, "It's a matter of finding your motivation."
How true. Whether it be waking up to get to school on time or writing your novel.
Having just finished Blossoms and Bayonets, and being busy with marketing and talks, it's easy to slip into a routine of not writing. Of being "too busy/too tired." So I've pasted these words on my office wall: Find Your Motivation!
Monday, November 12, 2012
This Saturday, filmmakers Rae Chang and Adam Tow will be showing their movie, Autumn Gem. This lovely film follows the life of China's first feminist, Qiu Jin, who lived in the late 1800s. The showing starts at 11am at the Chinese Culture Center on Kearny St in San Francisco. I will be there, as well, signing books of My Half of the Sky. I hope to see you there.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Monday, November 5, 2012
I asked her if she got online.
Well, yeah, she has to for research....but then she gets lost and then the day is gone.
I suggested she avoid getting on the internet until she had done a certain number of pages each morning.
How do you balance your internet usage? How do you avoid getting sucked into the void?
Saturday, November 3, 2012
I never did find the source of this juicy tidbit.(I really wanted to see an army official addressing a flock of pigeons.)However I did find an interesting debate on the difference between U.S. and Chinese
governing style. Whereas an overwhelming majority of the audience went into the debate thinking the U.S. style was preferable, many switched their opinion after listening to the debate.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
I'm currently at the midwestern regional conference of the U.S.-China People's Friendship Association. Last night we had two speakers, General Chennault's grandaughter Nell Calloway, who is in charge of the Chennault Aviation & Aeronautics Museum, and General James Whitehead Jr. Both of them spoke of the Flying Tigers, a group of pilots who the Congress wasn't interested in during a time when our country was pulling itself from the Great Depression,but who President Roosevelt signed an executive order to support. A group of pilots who protected the Chinese landscape against Japanese invasion during WWII. One story stuck out for me:
General Whitehead talked about an air-bombing raid mentioned in my new novel, Blossoms and Bayonets. Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle organized a raid over Tokyo in 1942, one of the first attacks on Japanese soil. His pilots planned to raid Tokyo and then fly to safety in Chinese fields. Of the sixteen pilots, 11 were killed or captured by the Japanese who were scouting for them. The remaining crew were rescued by the Chinese. As punishment for their rescue efforts, the Japanese killed 250, 000 Chinese.
Said General Whitehead, "During the war, 95% of pilots shot down were rescued by the Chinese, and they returned to fight again." He said an amazing bond was formed during the war, one which involved incredible trust and sacrifice on both sides. "How can we not work to bring back this friendship that was?"
Saturday, October 20, 2012
The time is 1942, the place is Japanese-occupied Seoul, Korea. Fifteen-year-old He-Seung is full of fire, ready to take on these Japanese...if only he could convince his father, a Christian minister more concerned with saving his flock in a time when Emperor-worship has become mandatory. Since occupation, the Japanese have eradicated the Korean language, names, even the country's flower. Now they are seeking Korean boys as volunteers for their army. When his father is arrested by the Japanese, He-Seung must swallow his hatred of the enemy. Even harder, he must leave his mother and baby brother He-Dong to fend for themselves.
Friday, October 12, 2012
I just learned that Blossoms and Bayonets (Redwood Publishing) is "in review" on Amazon. I'm so thrilled. It's been quite a journey working on this story, a story that native Korean Hi-Dong Chai brought to me for editing one afternoon at a writers conference. I was quickly caught up in the story and the characters, and the two of us have spent the past four years writing it.
Said Caroline Leavitt, bestselling novelist of Pictures of You: Impossible to put down—or to forget—authors’ grippingly suspenseful and deeply affecting historical novel limns the lives of a Korean family under Japanese rule with astonishing grace and power.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
At one point, I was talking about My Half of the Sky to an interested reader, when another woman approached. I was about to start my explanation over again, when she interrupted: "Oh, I loved that book."
"Have you written your thoughts for a review?" I asked.
She said she hadn't....but now that I mentioned it, she'd be happy to.
The woman was Robin Levin, author of Death of Carthage. She not only shared her love of the book with me, but went home and put her thoughts on Amazon, Good Reads, and her own website.
That was a double highlight.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Saturday, September 1, 2012
But....I liked our old library with its well-worn chairs and dusty shelves. I knew exactly where the history section was, the adult fiction, the children's fairytales.
The other day I realized I had nothing to read. I had given my Kindle to my daughter so she'd have access to a never-ending supply of English-language books while in China. So I decided to give our shiny new library another shot.
I went past all the glitzy bars and snack area, the beeping terminals, the fancy computers and immersed myself in the shelves. Oh, so many wonderful books. The treasures I found. I'm now hooked--not on old or new--just on the books.
Book of the Week: The Girl with the White Flag by Tomiko Higa. 6-year-old Tomiko is the youngest member of a large family in Okinawa, Japan, in April 1945 when the war intensifies. Within months, she is left alone,wandering, trying to survive. It is a riveting--and amazing--piece of history.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
We stood there for at least an hour, comparing the size, weight, translations of each book. We left with two small books: one which translated English to Chinese in roman characters and one which translated Chinese characters to English.
When we arrived back at my brother-in-law's apartment, my son was awake and asked where we had gone. We showed him our treasures. He picked up his ipod, flipped on the dictionary (which not only reads characters but speaks them) and said, Why didn't you just purchase the app?"
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
I laughed more than I can remember.
Yet, at the end of it, I came away pondering the more serious themes that Hwang touches on--corruption (on both sides of the Pacific), the importance of understanding culture as well as language, the meaning of 'home.' It's a wonderful play, showing in Berkeley now through October 7th before packing up to make its debut in Hong Kong in March 2013.
Speaking of funny translations, what's the funniest one you've ever seen?
Friday, August 24, 2012
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
I had the whole afternoon planned out--have appointment, pick up dog food, meet sons for an early dinner. The appointment I figured would not take more than 20 minutes, tops.
While we were in China I had heard nightmares of people waiting for their appointments. A three-hour wait for a five-minute appointment. In fact, with the top doctors, healthy people made appointments and then sold them like scalpers at a concert to the highest ill bidders.
But we were back in the US.
At 4pm, though, we were still sitting in the waiting room.
The receptionist mentioned we were "next" and it would just be a "few more minutes" several times. I sat there thinking that the receptionists know my number and in fact call me in advance of an appointment to remind me to be there. Why can't they also call and say, "the doctor's running a bit behind today. If you have some errands to run--some dog food to buy-- you might want to stop and get it. Oh, and that date you have with your sons--one of whom is about to leave for college--cancel it."
When ten more minutes passed, and I realized my afternoon plan was crumbling, I turned to my daughter and said, "Please ask any questions you have. Tell him of any pain or concerns. I need to leave." I went outside, took some deep breaths, called my sons to tell them to eat without us, got some dog food, and reminded myself that at least I didn't have to buy my appointment time...
Monday, August 20, 2012
1. Don’t worry about the dog. Focus on what you’re doing.
(How many times do I get so worried about my kids, husband, other relatives that I forget altogether what I'm doing?)
Thursday, August 16, 2012
There's a lack of water available for play--no jet skiing or scuba diving or canoeing or swimming. The waterways we saw were dirty.
Bargaining (except in department stores) is the nature of life. The seller goes high. I go low. We meet in the middle, theoretically both satisfied.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
When we eventually found the museum, it was not air-conditioned.
"It's to preserve the style of the building," my husband said.
Like I said, I don't remember too much. There were a lot of quack doctors in the beginning, but the science got serious and many discoveries were made in the last dynasty.
We left the oven--I mean museum-- and went into a dispensary where people were huddled on the ground next to a bin of ice water. I saw this one child drink a cup full. I shuddered, thinking there's no way that water is clean. Then another woman did the same. What was wrong with these people, and why was this cholera magnet in the middle of a dispensary?
I looked closer and the people were getting hot cups of tea from a container and then cooling them in this bin of ice water. What a lovely idea. We all quickly did the same.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Wherever we went in the city, there were always large signboards espousing different values: Be kind to the elderly; be environmentally conscious; a girl baby is as precious is a boy; no spitting; be polite and honest; no smoking in public, etc. Given that the government had allowed an investor to ruin the beaches in Fujian, people spit so often that at least two of us had been accidental targets, and we chose restaurants based on which one had the least smoke, I'm not sure the signboards alone did the job. But it seemed a great idea. And I wandered by one, "Be happy in what you do," and was immersed into self-reflection. Perhaps we could use some of these signboards....
Saturday, August 11, 2012
"You need my passport?" I asked, thinking this isn't international travel, just a ride around the lake.
The woman said I could just write down the passport number and that would be good enough. The kids frowned. Nobody could remember their numbers. I quickly made up a sequence of passport-like numbers. It wasn't as if we were going to run off with these bikes.
Later, when we tried to return the bikes to the same kiosk it was a fiasco. Although she was standing right in front of us, she insisted she was closed. I would have left our bikes and gone on, but I kind of wanted my deposit back. She said we could return the bikes somewhere else. We went there. That kiosk was "closed" too. So we tried a third one. The third one was the charm. Not only did the lady return our deposit, but she returned most of the daily-use fee. Instead of $17, she only charged us 1.70.
What was that about? My brother-in-law said that we'd met a kind kiosk woman, someone willing to treat us as locals rather than take advantage of our foreign status. He said the passport issue is common. Some amenities (like bus passes, store ownership, reasonable prices) are only granted to Chinese citizens.
Friday, August 10, 2012
The only downside to second class, was that it was overbooked. People would get "standing" seats, and then as soon as I vacated my seat for any reason, I'd return to find someone else sitting there. Although people were always nice about returning my seat, it was awkward. First class (which was only a few dollars more) was an entirely different story. In fact, the one time we rode it, we were almost the only people in the car, a waitress came by with a free snack, and, oh, the quiet.
By 2015, China plans to have 24,850 miles worth of track, the system connecting every city in China with over a half million residents. What a marvel.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
We all had visions of sandy beaches, warm water, a wonderful afternoon.
The roads once we got off the mainland were dirt, the going not clear. My brother-in-law stopped several times to ask where the beach was and each time got a different answer. So we went this way, then that. Whenever my brother-in-law stopped, he really stopped. He'd get out, ask directions, offer the person a cigarette as thanks, then chat about who knows what. It was almost more fun watching him find his way than people-watching at the beach. (At least for me.) The kids kept asking, "Where is this beach?"
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
So we went to town and found a wire shop. Turned out the owner of the shop used to ride to high school each day with my husband. So the man not only gave us a good deal, but delivered the wire and let us borrow the shop's wire cutters.
Then we started building. Talk about 1001 opinions. I had images of an 8ft aviary. My father-in-law worried about his garden being ruined. My husband said just a small cage was enough. The children all had opinions--make it round, make it square. Dinner was called and my brother-in-law came in, took over, and just slap dash put something together. My father-in-law smiled and thanked everyone.
The next morning when my husband and I got up before 6am to revamp some of the corners, my father-in-law had pre-empted us. He'd been up for hours and had already fixed everything just to his liking. I had to smile. He hadn't protested the creation, but had returned when noone else was there to "help," and fixed the cage to his liking.
Monday, August 6, 2012
When we left Japan, it was onto to China. We arrived in Fuzhou (southern China) not only to a soldier saluting each and every deplaning passenger, but to my brother-in-law who had come to pick us up. We chatted a bit, but it was late and I soon fell asleep. The next thing I knew there was pounding on my window.
"We're at the restaurant," he said. "Aren't you hungry?"
We all agreed that we were not. We were just really tired. So, he got back in the car and took us to his home. I must tell you something about this home. It is six stories high. I once asked my brother-in-law why he'd built such a huge house.
"There's a floor for each one of my siblings," he explained. "So you always have someplace to return home."
We trudged up the steps to the third floor, showered, were ready to climb in bed, when there was my brother-in-law again.
"Dinner's ready," he said. "You must be hungry."
All we wanted to do was lay down and sleep, but he had gone to such effort. So we went down and had noodles, and lychee the size of ping-pong balls. An official --and delicious--welcome.
Friday, August 3, 2012
"Here." this woman said, handing the umbrella to my daughter. "I don't need this. You take it." And with that she rode off.
Umbrella became our code word--for being kind. When the kids would bicker over something, I would remind them of the selflessness of this stranger. I would just say, "Umbrella."
Thursday, August 2, 2012
In the ten days we roamed hither and yon in Japan visiting friends and relatives, we came away with several images:
**Nobody ate while walking, driving, sitting on the train, biking. In fact, eating was a kind of ritual (done at certain times of the day.) Nobody was fat.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Friday, July 27, 2012
I said, "It is safe, isn't it?"
Friday, July 20, 2012
They took us to an amazing onsen in the mountains. We soaked for hours, then were treated to a meal that was more like an art piece. Dishes of every shape held different delicacies (six green beans in one dish, three pickles in another, two pieces of fresh fish in a third.) Halfway through the meal, we were asked to go to the window of the restaurant. Outside the window was a mountain and halfway up the mountain was a stage. The owner of the onsen danced "Life is a Dream." It was a dream.
The following day, we went to see bull-fighting. Well, not really. They weren't fighting the day we went. But it was the place where bullfighting originated (thousands of years ago), back when there was no television, movies, entertainment of any kind.
In 2004, the county suffered a huge earthquake. In fact our friend said he was lucky to have been off with his family visiting their summer home. Otherwise they would have been stuck in town where there was no electiricity or water for three weeks.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
They took us to Iidabshii to visit a special shrine which is all the rage in Japan--a shrine where you pray for the power of love. It was filled with young women, and my two sons were two of the only men there, much to their embarassment. They weren't quite sure what to do and weren't quite sure how this shrine differed from the other one we had gone to. I wasn't either, except that this one didn't have the bamboo circle.
At the first regular old shrine, there was a Tori gate at the entrance and our friends were all excited to see this large round circle made of bamboo. It was large enough to walk through, and there were directions right next to it. Bow, walk in to the left and circle back around. Bow again, walk through to the right and circle back around. Bow again, walk through to the left and circle back around. Bow and walk forward to make your prayer.
For some reason I kept thinking of the Hokey-Pokey. Walk around to the left. Bow. Around to the right. Bow. Do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around. I asked our friends what this was all about--they had no idea.
I said, "Perhaps it is a practical joke to see how many people will just follow the directions, no matter how silly they seem."
Oh, no, no, no.
One of our friends asked a person working at the shrine. Apparently it is for purification, and by doing the left-right-left dance you become pure before meeting God. They only put it out twice a year. So we were lucky to have had this chance.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
At the onsen--a public bathing area--men and women go to their respective areas, shed their clothes, wash off under spigots, then soak in various hot baths which are created from hot springs. My husband said we were going there with uncle and aunty, and even a male friend who was planning to stop by to meet us after his work. My eldest son picked up his bathing suit.
"Oh, you won't need that," my husband said.
My son's eyes grew wide. "I don't think I want to go," he said. "I'll just wait here."
"Don't be a wuss." Younger brother said. He was at a hot springs two years ago and got to be the voice of experience.
All the way there, nervous voices asked what was going to happen. But, once we got there, we couldn't drag the kids out. Is that a familar bath story?
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
"What's the matter?" I called.
My brother-in-law looked up, concerned.
"Are you alright?" I called again.
"My retainer," she said, tears forming. "I don't have my retainer."
She had left her retainer in a napkin on the table in the restaurant at the airport.
Oh, gosh. We'd never find that. Never.
My older daughter said, "I think you better translate this debacle, cause he thinks she just doesn't like the juice."
Monday, June 25, 2012
Friday, January 20, 2012
I figured my ticketer knew what he was doing when he suggested various flights. However, after the pilot left late from LA, I got in the air and realized I had but twenty minutes between flights.
Perhaps the gates were right next to each other.
"No," the guy sitting in the aisle seat--a native of Chicago--chuckled. "You'll never make it."
He did root for me, however, offering me his seat for the last ten minutes of the ride, and practically pushing me off the plane as soon as the bell rang signalling this big bus had reached a full and complete stop.
I had 14 minutes.
I ran through the terminal like OJ Simpson (in his Hertz rent-a-car days) to the shuttle which would take me to the next terminal.
I had five minutes.
"Just wait a minute," a guard said. "The shuttle will be here soon."
A whole minute? I don't have an extra one of those. I called my sister. "Can you ask the flight to wait? I'm almost there."
"Don't worry," she said. "It's been delayed."
It was amazing. I was so relieved to have that time. Just time. Time to breathe.
It made me think of writing. We're often under an imagined deadline. I need to finish this by my 50th birthday, by the end of the year, by summer vacation. It makes us do silly things (like jump over suitcases and push others out of the way.) It's good to have a deadline, a goal, as long as the goal doesn't overwhelm your writing. When it does "Just wait a minute."
Thursday, January 12, 2012
While the kids snowboarded on icy patches, my husband and I decided to hike to the top of the bare mountain. It didn't look hard--surely we'd be back down in time to meet the kids for lunch. We looked for a path and, not immediately seeing one, just bulldozed our way through a patch of bushes, over a bunch of rocks.
It got rockier and rockier. The top seemed further and further away. Whereas my husband was surely a mountain goat in some past life and jumped from rock to rock, I was brought to my bottom as I held precariously onto one wobbly rock after another. I kept thinking, "Was this supposed to be fun?"
I decided I'd rather hike on flat pavement and went back down the mountain. A few joggers ran past and I asked, "Is there a trail nearby?" There was--just down the road. Oh, the beauty. A nicely carved trail, a direction to follow.
I was reminded of the writing journey. How it seems so easy--to just write a book--and I bulldoze through, getting hung up on rocks and scratched by branches, landing on my butt more times than I can count--and wishing to be like a mountain goat. While there is no "trail," I've found several markers helpful:
1)The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine. She writes about the importance of critique groups, how to find one, how to critique. My critique group is my major lifeline, pulling me back when I wander off -or can't even find--the trail.
2)The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master by Martha Alderson. She takes the nitty gritty words and forces the author to look at the big picture. What is the plot? How does it evolve? It's a great help for people (like me) who bulldoze ahead and get stuck on a pile of rocks.
3)Occasional amazing teachers, like David Corbett. He is the author of numerous adventure stories, including Do They Know I'm Running? Done for a Dime, Blood of Paradise, and The Devil's Redhead. He'll be teaching a class Arcs & Acts at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Saturday, February 4, 10:00 am-4:00 pm and Sunday, February 5, 10:00 am-3:00 pm. See details
4)Good books. The book of the week is Deep Down True by Juliette Fay, the story of a middle-aged mother who tries to pull her family and herself together in the wake of a divorce from her husband who left her for a young Chinese immigrant. I enjoyed Fays's first book--Shelter Me--better. However, as in that book, I loved Fay's voice. I would read anything by this author.
What People Are Saying About My Half of the Sky
"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
"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.”
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