Wednesday, February 4, 2015

ISWG: Going to Bed Angsty

Today is IWSG day.Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about writerly insecurities and other things. My post is up a little later today.

Growing up, I sometimes had trouble falling asleep at night. Part of this was attributed to my asthma and the other part of it had to do with how, sometimes at bedtime, my head would be supersaturated with the following: random thoughts and ideas, what-if questions, stuff I was studying about at school, analyses over both recent and not-so-recent incidents, and hindsight over what I should’ve said or done in an incident, even one that could be quite trivial, but was still keeping me up nonetheless.

And before you ask….no, counting sheep didn’t usually work.

When I got stuck in this cycle, I would try to coax myself to let it go and sleep it off. Sometimes I succeeded. At other times, the later into the night it got, the more irritated I got with my busybody mind for ignoring my physical exhaustion. 

As an adult, I usually sleep much better nowa-nights (a word I just made up). But there are still exceptions.

In the past few weeks, my mind fought sleep during two nights. The trigger for the first miserable night came from the ongoing analysis of a situation, and for the second night, an echoing what-if question. The good news it that before drifting off on both these nights, I made a quiet pact with myself to take action the following day. The results of my “taking action" have been positive.

The bad news is that the hours I wasted mulling over these things took its toll on my body. As I'm typing this post, I feel a cold coming on. 

When was the last time you had trouble sleeping at night? What was going through your head then?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Author Interview with Phoebe North

For my first interview of 2015, I bring to you Phoebe North, author of the YA science fiction books STARGLASS and its sequel, STARBREAK (Simon & Schuster).  In the first book, we learn that Terra’s forebearers left Earth 500 years ago so that the future generation, one that Terra belongs to, can find a new home planet. So the only world Terra has known is one inside a small city contained within a spaceship.  

Terra’s mother was murdered years ago. Her father is cold and uncaring.  She is engaged to a boy who is aloof and unaffectionate toward her. What Terra has going for her is an apprenticeship where she learns about plants, and she brings knowledge of this subject with her when the spaceship lands…  

Where were you born, and where do you live now?  I was born and raised in New Jersey, and now live in New York State, after sojourns in both Florida and Northern Virginia.

How did your MFA in Poetry that you received from the University of Florida influence your fiction writing?
The MFA I received in poetry was the first step toward seeing myself as a professional writer. I'm very grateful for the time and dedication of my professors there, even if the experience was mostly instructive in teaching me the kind of writer I'm not--namely, a literary poet!

Was there a part of your childhood or adolescence that you weaved into your writing of STARGLASS and STARBREAK?
Sure. Like Terra, I lost a parent when I was young. I was also prone to falling wildly in love with boys who were all wrong for me. It wasn't until I met my now-husband (like Terra, at a fairly young age) that I realized that love should be healing, rather than damaging.

The vivid setting of STARGLASS and STARBREAK came with parents having children through artificial wombs, telepathic dreaming, and a planet of interesting plant life. What tips do you have for effective world building?
Do tons of research, but don't feel obligated to let it all show. Reveal your world slowly and deliberately; readers will fill in the gaps, and your universe will feel much richer for it.

I’ve heard industry professionals say they’re not interested in books with religious content. As for myself, I liked the way you wove references to religion into STARGLASS and STARBREAK because it gave the story additional depth. How did incorporating Judaism into STARGLASS and STARBREAK affect interest of your book among agents and editors?
It seemed to be a real draw, in part because many professionals in New York publishing have Jewish backgrounds that are somewhat motley, like my own. Of course, I wouldn't call either book in the Starglass sequence "religious" per se. They're not preaching or trying to teach a lesson. But the religious background of the characters is grounded in real life religious identity. That sort of complexity of approach really helped make my books stand out, I think.

Who were your favorite authors/books to read while you were growing up?
I loved books with messy girls: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.

Are there upcoming projects you’d like to share about?
Too soon to say! :)

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Whenever there are many "rules" coming from different voices governing how a certain art form should be performed, it opens up an abundance of opportunities for an artist to “make mistakes.”

Whether they’re stated or implied, rules are dished out for all walks of art and creative genres…. Dancers need lean figures. An action movie must have at least one high-speed car chase. A fancy meal should be garnished with fresh herbs when plated.  Female protagonists ought to be likeable, be relatable, and always make smart choices.

Sometimes what a person calls a rule, I just regard as a suggestion. And sometimes what critics regard as a mistake is what I see as the artist experimenting, taking a risk, and/or making a genuine and good faith effort to do the right thing. 

So just because someone deviates from the rules, it doesn’t mean that the outcome of their work must necessarily be bad.

Recently, I read an article about a woman who once tried knitting a winter hat for herself, and she unintentionally left a hole in the back of the hat. Long story short, she put her ponytail through the hole and wore her hat out this way to “amuse” her family. Then, people around her began asking about getting a hat similar to hers, and a business was born.

So this woman’s success stemmed from her boldly showing the public her “mistake.”

Yes, sometimes a creative endeavor can lead to unmistakable mistakes...There’s another article I read about a woman celebrating not-so-successful crafting projects by launching a website and creating a book. On what the author describes as her “friendly fail site” are images of neat and polished finished projects that one might see on Pinterest, and images of how such a project someone attempted actually turned out. From her interview, it appears this woman wants to help people find humor in their mistakes, and to think about how to improve.

I like this idea of a safe haven for people to go to where they can show off their mistakes. I wish there were more safe places like this out there, especially on the Internet. 

How do you handle mistakes, real or perceived? 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

IWSG: When a Writer Encounters Backlash

Today is IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about writerly insecurities and other things. 

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2015 be a fruitful year for you all.  One of my resolutions this year is to finally finish my novel. (Was that last year’s resolution too? Yikes, I don’t remember.)  

Update: I'm supposed to include an intro of myself for today's New Year IWSG here it is....My name is Cynthia and I'm a writer and reader living in California. I read all kinds of books- adult and kidlit/YA fiction and non-fiction. I'm currently working on a picture book and a YA novel. 

I am writing today’s Insecure Writer's Support Group post with an author in mind, someone whose name has been appearing on my Twitter feed.  Putting the pieces together, I learned this author recently set up a Kickstarter account to ask for optional donations so she could write a sequel to one of her books. Apparently, some people criticized her for this, and the author ended up taking down her Kickstarter page. 

I don’t know this author personally, and I haven’t read her work yet. Still, I feel bad for her. Her fundraising idea was clever, and not uncommon, as many (and I mean MANY) online campaigns seek donations for aspiring projects. I also imagine it’s not easy for many people to set up an online campaign seeking donations from the general public. It was a gutsy thing for this author to do. 

I hope that when the author recovers from the backlash, she would reopen her Kickstarter page, raise adequate funds, and write that sequel. I’d really hate to see someone put their publishing dream away because of others’ negativity.

What are your New Year resolutions? What motivates you to donate to a campaign or cause? 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Deja Vu Blogfest: Time Capsule Reflections

A big thanks to DL Hammons for hosting the Deja Vu Blogfest. From DL's blog: On December 19th, anyone who decides to participate will re-post their favorite blog offering from earlier in the year, or one that you believe failed to receive the exposure it deserved.

So here's an excerpt of something I posted back in July earlier this year....

Time Capsule Reflections

In my neighborhood, there is a library that will be having its grand opening later this summer. People have been invited to submit to a time capsule that will be stored away in the library's tower. Among the items requested are family histories and photos. The time capsule will be opened in 50 years.

I contributed to the time capsule on behalf of my family. The family history I wrote was fairly short, less than one page. But this is more than just a family history. It is a love letter from myself to my children, and possible grandchildren, to be unveiled half a century into the future. Although my husband and I tell our children we love them enough, maybe they'd need to hear it again in 50 years.

If I read the "love letter" to my toddler children now, they wouldn't get it. But perhaps 50 years down the road, if my children are around to see the time capsule open, I can only hope my words might offer them some comfort and validation, wherever they might be in their lives at that time. 

What would you put in a time capsule to be opened 50 years from now?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On Tolerance and Harry Potter Books

Regular readers of my blog know I LOVE HARRY POTTER books and I’m a huge fan of J.K. Rowling and I know many many many Harry Potter fans who are super neat people. So when a party I follow on Twitter recently posted a link to an article about how some recent studies are showing that readers of Harry Potter books are less prejudiced and more accepting of others, I had to stop and look. I felt giddy to see that the researchers, who might love Harry Potter as much as I do, took the time to conduct this Harry Potter-themed study, and I’m glad that their results showed the positive effects of reading the books.

However, while I read the article, I remembered something I saw in the news around 2005, when the Internet buzzed about which lucky girl would be cast as Cho Chang, Harry Potter’s first crush, in the GOBLET OF FIRE movie. The plum role went to the lovely Katie Leung, a Scottish actress with Asian ancestry. Unfortunately, some Harry Potter fans who were unhappy with the casting choice attacked Katie online with rude and racist comments and hate sites. So while I’m pleased that the aforementioned study has shown some people can learn tolerance from reading Harry Potter books, there is pre-existing evidence showing that not all readers and fans of the Harry Potter stories are free of prejudice.

My “other side of the coin” sentiments aren’t meant to be criticism of the researchers or the study itself. Because really, it sounded like a fun project. It’s just that…as much as many others and I love books and have experienced the comfort and enrichment from reading a good book, I'm also aware that not everyone will be affected or enlightened by what they read, even if the book is an amazing work.

So I tweeted back to the party and condensed these thoughts into two posts of 140 characters each. And then I thought about it and….I deleted my tweets. I didn’t do this because I was playing backsies with my tweets but because I realized that in order to fully articulate how I was really feeling about this topic, I should blog about it here instead.

Tell me about a book that affected or enlightened you. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

IWSG: What I'm Working On

Today is IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities and other things. 

Oh my, it’s December. Where did the year go? I can tell you where my year went- working, preparing to move, interviewing vendors, moving, unpacking, organizing, and getting settled in, planning a big Frozen-themed birthday party, transitioning one kid into preschool and another one into kindergarten, and driving everyone everywhere. I have tried to use whatever spare minutes I had to write. 

One thing I’ve been reluctant to do is to discuss in a public forum what exactly I’m writing about. An author who inspired me to share more openly about current projects is Julie Dao. One of many things I admire about Julie’s blogging ethic is that she shares freely on her blog about what she’s working on, from the subject matter to the title of her book. So Julie, if you’re reading this, I just want you to know you inspired me to write this! 

So here are two manuscripts I’m working on: KISS MY BUTTER is a young adult fiction novel about a Chinese American girl who enters a culinary competition. THE ORANGE SOLDIERS is a non-fiction picture book about the community activism that steered the building and opening of a new library in my city. 

And that's what I'm working on.

How comfortable are you about sharing what you’re working on? Which bloggers/writers have inspired you to stretch yourself?