Thursday, March 13, 2014

Writing characters beyond the stereotype

An amazing auditorium full of students showed up at Evergreen Valley College yesterday. They listened enthusiastically... and were eager to ask questions. Each student would first state his/her name, personally welcome me to the college, then ask a question. Some students even stood up to do all this. In an age of casual head nods and tweets, this ritual was impressive. I loved all their questions, and want to share some.
Do your children help your writing? Does your writing help your ability to parent? (I loved this question as it indicated writing as a process...rather than just a one-shot activity. My children definitely inform my writing. And I think that writing helps me navigate the different phases of being a parent.)
Do you consider yourself a feminist? (Yes)
Is it important to read? (Yes, and preferably beyond a text message, facebook or blog post.)
How does someone start writing? (Just start...and join a writers group. In California the best one I know of is the California Writers Club.)
What do you want readers to get from your books? (Hopefully a better understanding of the world...and of themselves.)
How can we write characters which are not stereotypical caricatures?
(It's a matter of digging. As my children are quick to point out, stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. The trick is not to avoid mentioning that the old man drives down highway with his left blinker on or that the helicopter mom hovers at the edge of the soccer field with a juice box or the ghetto child walks down the street with a baseball hat on backwards and his pants sagging. The trick however is to dig deeper than the outer appearance. Who is that old man? Is he suffering dementia and his daughters have asked him many times not to drive? Is he in a rush to get to the hospital to meet his first grandson and thus not really paying attention to his driving? Who is this woman? Who is this kid? Dig deep into their personalities to make them not just stereotypes, but human beings who happen to display some stereotypical qualities.)

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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