Friday, January 20, 2012

Just Wait a Minute

I needed to get to a family service in Ottawa, Canada last Saturday. I flew out Friday morning with connections in LA and Chicago, planning to meet my sister on the last flight.
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

Climbing the Mountain

Over the holidays, we went on our annual trip to Lake Tahoe. There was absolutely no snow, other than that manufactured by the resorts, which was fine by me as my idea of a good time is driving on dry pavement, not bundling up, and hiking around the lake with the dogs.
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

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