Wednesday, September 2, 2015

IWSG: Last Month's Ups and Downs

Today is IWSG day, a monthly event Alex Cavanaugh started. On the first Wednesday of the month, writers are invited to reveal their insecurities. Sometimes on this day we just fill the blogosphere in on what we’ve been up to. 

Yesterday, I was blitzed by dozens and dozens of writers. A big thanks to author DL Hammons, founder of Blog Blitz, a program where a writer gets selected to be surprised with visits from other writers. This week, DL selected me as the lucky writer. Thanks to everyone who had stopped by my blog! August had its ups and downs, and receiving a collective hug from other writers was quite comforting. 
  
Let’s start with the ups: Our family visited Kauai for a few days with friends, and it was an AWESOME trip...And recently, my son started at a new preschool and my daughter started first grade. Both seem to be adjusting well.

Now, a down: Shortly after we returned to California, a speeding car crashed into our minivan on the freeway. Thankfully, my husband and I were okay and our children weren’t in the vehicle when this happened. But it was still a scary experience. At the time, the driver of the speeding car admitted he was in a rush to get somewhere and he apologized for damaging our minivan. But later, he did a 180 with insurance and lied about what happened. As of now, we're still trying to sort things out with insurance. Argh!
  
And more downs: It just seems that in the last couple of weeks, more frustrating stuff have been piling up on me. All I’ll say is that I can do the right thing, and sometimes people would still let me down.

These downs have been distracting me from my writing. But I’m hopeful that September will bring better things, and that I can finally finish up my novel-in-progress.  

How are you doing?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

IWSG: #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter

Today is IWSG day, a monthly event Alex Cavanaugh started to get writers sharing about their insecurities and other things. On the first Wednesday of the month, a bunch of us gather on the blogosphere to share...I'm not here to discuss an insecurity today. Instead, I want to acknowledge that sometimes writers get understandably annoyed with stuff people say to them. On Twitter, I recently found #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter. 

A couple of my favorites came from writers I follow on Twitter, Medeia Sharif and Mark Koopmans:



Medeia and Mark, if you're visiting here, I want you to know I hear you! =)  *Fist pump*  (And Mark, that's such a cute picture you posted!) 

Although I didn't participate in the hashtag fest, I could certainly think of a number of things people have said to me that caused my eyes to roll internally, such as...Since you got that rejection, why are you still writing? Yes, someone actually said that to me.

Can you add to the list #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Revisiting a Classic: DAUGHTERS OF EVE by Lois Duncan

Lois Duncan's DAUGHTERS OF EVE is one of my favorite YA reads. It’s also one of those rare books I could read more than once and with each reading, I can gain a new insight about what I think Lois is trying to say. (Side note: I just skimmed through the “modernized” version of the book. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Updating a book is unnecessary. Giving a classic a makeover is like plugging a helicopter into Van Gogh’s Starry Night.)                 

The book is about a group of high school girls who join a sorority called Daughters of Eve, led by a charismatic and matronly advisor named Irene. Irene influences the girls, having varying experiences with the boys and men in their lives, to distrust and hate men. Only the reader knows that Irene’s bitterness stems from her own personal disappointments.

Irene successfully manipulates the girls to “fight back against oppression” through anonymous acts of violence, which begin with a brutal gang attack on a boy.

DAUGHTERS OF EVE is about one group justifying its questionable behavior with the argument that they are fighting for respect. The book also shows that one can make a heroic show of standing up to bigotry and promoting a cause, all while being a despicable person at the same time. This is not a feel-good revenge story but a warning tale about a self-serving leader and her naive followers. 

The original book was published in 1979 and its portrait of mob mentality still rings true today. I would even go as far as to say that reading DAUGHTERS OF EVE in my youth helped cultivate this tiny bit of self-awareness: I can wholeheartedly support a cause but not be a fan of an Irene-like individual or entity that has postured themselves as a leader of the movement. I can also be in disagreement with the approach followers of a like-minded cause take to handle non-supporters when it involves bullying or hypocrisy masked as “standing up for the right thing.”

What books, fiction or non-fiction, have raised your awareness about the dangers of Irene-like leaders and their followers?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Author Interview with Dianne Salerni

It’s been awhile since I posted an interview. This month, I bring to you Dianne Salerni, author of THE EIGHTH DAY series (HarperCollins) and a number of other books.  I’ve been following Dianne’s blog for some time, so I’m stoked to have her here on my blog. Dianne is a native and resident of Pennsylvania. She is an alumna of the University of Delaware, where she fondly remembers calling her mother to come pick her up when she didn’t feel like eating at the dining hall. Having studied Elementary and Special Education at UD, and then arming herself with a Masters in Language Arts Education from the University of Pennsylvania, Dianne taught fifth grade for 25 years. Imagine all the juicy story ideas she must’ve gathered from observing this age group! Dianne retired early and now writes full time.  

THE EIGHTH DAY is about a 13 year-old orphan named Jax who discovers a secret extra day of the week. On this day, it appears at first glance that the rest of the people in the world have gone missing. But Jax learns soon enough that people do exist here, and he gets caught in an ongoing war between two groups of people.

When I first heard about THE EIGHTH DAY from your blog, I daydreamed about what I would do if I discovered there was an eighth day where seemingly, only I existed. I decided I could spend that day working on my novel and catching up on pleasure reading. What would you do on an eighth day where only you existed?
If I had a secret day all to myself, I’d spend it visiting places that are normally so crowded you can’t enjoy them properly.  Maybe not Disney World, since no one would be there to operate the rides. But I’m recalling my visit to Versailles two summers ago when I was pushed and shoved and trampled by the crowd – and how after that experience I didn’t even bother trying the Louvre. Those are two places I would love to see with NOBODY else there!

Jax, your male protagonist, reminds me of many boys I know. What was your process exploring a boy’s POV in your writing?
This is where all my years of teaching fifth grade helped a lot! I’ve spent a lot of time around boys about Jax’s age. I know how they talk, how they think, and how they try to wiggle out of trouble. There’s one particular spot in THE EIGHTH DAY where Jax lies to his guardian, Riley, about something important. Some adult readers have questioned whether it was realistic for him to do so, given the stakes in that situation. But no tween reader has ever questioned it! They know as well as this teacher-turned-author does that most boys in that situation would lie, trying to keep themselves out of trouble above all else.

I thought it was clever how you were able to weave Arthurian legend into your story. How was it like to take an existing story and put your own creative spin on it?
I loved taking the legends and stories and twisting them into something different. I ended up borrowing not just from Arthurian legend (for the Transitioners) but also from general Celtic mythology (for the Kin). This connection continues in the other books of the series, and occasionally I find something in the legends that makes a surprising parallel with what I’ve already written. For instance, when I named the race of people trapped in the eighth day “the Kin,” it was originally only a place-holder name, until I thought of something different. But I never did think of a better name, and the book went to print with Evangeline and her race called the Kin.

Much, much later, I was researching Celtic legends for Book 3, and I came across the Tuatha de Danann, a legendary race of people gifted in magical powers who arrived in the British isles in ancient times and ruled there awhile. Eventually they were defeated and driven away to a secret, hidden kingdom where they lived extended lives and were never seen by humans again. Kind of like the Kin in my story.

But here’s the part that was just a little freaky. Tuatha de Danann translates as the people, the nation, the tribe … or … the kin.

Can you tell me what is coming up for THE EIGHTH DAY series?
THE EIGHTH DAY is the first book of a 3-book deal, but there is an option clause for two more. When HarperCollins acquired THE EIGHTH DAY, I was asked to plan out 5 books, but to make sure the series could end on Book 3 if necessary. That seemed a pretty daunting task at first … and then I figured out how to do it. (Yay!)

In Book 2, THE INQUISITOR’S MARK, Jax – an orphan – discovers that his late father lied to him about who they were. Jax actually has an extensive family, including an uncle and an aunt, grandparents, and many cousins. Unfortunately, they happen to be members of the Dulac clan, the organized crime family responsible for killing everyone in Riley’s family. These people are anxious to meet Jax and give him a home. But they also want him to turn Evangeline over to their custody – and when they discover Riley escaped their previous assassination attempt, they want to fix that mistake as soon as possible.

In Book 3, THE MORRIGAN’S CURSE, a prison break at the ancient Welsh fortress of Oeth-Anoeth results in the escape of the Llyrs, a Kin family with such a powerful talent for working with weather, they were once treated like weather gods. Now free after centuries of imprisonment, they seek to break the Eighth Day Spell, and they have a secret weapon: Evangeline’s little sister Addie. Jax is determined to rescue her … but it seems like Addie doesn’t want to be rescued. She’s chosen her side of the conflict: the wrong one.

Any upcoming projects you’d like to share about?
I’m afraid I can’t talk about some of my projects, but I can tell you that I’m working on a synopsis and sample chapters as part of my proposal for the optioned books in the Eighth Day series. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Which books/authors did you like to read while you were growing up?      
My first love was mysteries, and I quickly passed beyond the books meant for children (Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators) and on to my mother’s collection of Mary Stewart, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Virginia Coffman. I also loved ghost tales and stories about madness and the bizarre. Think Shirley Jackson. Later on, in high school, I fell in love with fantasy and science fiction, tearing through books by Roger Zelazny, C.J. Cherryh, and Douglas Adams.

I think my writing as an adult, from WE HEAR THE DEAD and THE CAGED GRAVES to the Eighth Day series (not to mention various manuscripts that are, as yet, unpublished) shows the influence of all those authors! I don’t know if you are what you eat, but I believe you write what you read!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pre-Reading Thoughts for Harper Lee's GO SET A WATCHMAN

Years ago, I read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I loved the book. Harper Lee's GO SET A WATCHMAN, set 20 years after MOCKINGBIRD took place, is released today. It is said that WATCHMAN was written before MOCKINGBIRD. On top of that, rumors of a third book have been circulating. 

From skimming early reviews, I've learned that MOCKINGBIRD'S beloved attorney Atticus Finch, who nobly sought acquittal for an African-American man falsely accused of rape, re-emerges in WATCHMAN now as a man who attends a KKK meeting and makes bigoted remarks about African-Americans.      


For this reason, people have not been shy to express on social media their apprehensions about reading the book. It's understandable that some Atticus fans want to preserve the godlike image they have of him. But I myself can often read about flawed characters, as long as they're well-written. What I am often curious about when I encounter such a character is why they are the way they are, even if I don't agree with who they are. I want to know how Atticus became Bizarro Atticus…Or has he always been this way? *Shudder*

What I find troubling are comments out there unfairly scoffing at Harper's "first draft," possibly her first book writing effort. Anyone who has ever tried to be a master at anything should be inspired to learn that the author of one of our great American novels didn't achieve this on her first try. She, like most of us, applied the "wash, rinse, and repeat" approach to her work. MOCKINGBIRD came from that.

I plan to read GO SET A WATCHMAN.

I don't know if I'll read the book as if it's a standalone or a sequel. I also don't know if I'd read the book with consideration to the rumor about a third novel. So I don't know if Atticus may be redeemed...in a future book.  What I do know is that uncertainties such as these stoke interest. 

Do you plan to read GO SET A WATCHMAN? If you know that a character you idolized in one book becomes a totally different person in another book, would you still read the book?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Tribute to the TV Show Revenge

It is IWSG day, an event Alex Cavanaugh started to get writers sharing about their insecurities and other things on the first Wednesday of the month. Here in California, it is around 11:30 PM on Wednesday, so I consider myself to have still “made it!”  I believe this is the latest I've ever posted my IWSG post. It has been such a busy summer. I sometimes feel like I'm behind on everything!

My husband and I finally finished watching the series finale of Revenge on our Tivo. While the show had its ups and downs for me as a viewer, the writers kept me hooked nonetheless. A brief intro to Revenge:  Amanda Clark (played by the talented Emily VanCamp) sought revenge on the people who framed her father, David Clark, for treason, and subjected her to a childhood of misery. At the top of her "you're going to be sorry" list were Hamptons royalty Victoria and Conrad Grayson, her father’s former lover and boss, respectively. Other targets were the corrupt judge and the district attorney paid off to wrongly convict Amanda's father, the author paid off to write his unauthorized biography, the therapist paid off to institutionalize Amanda as a child, the foster mother who abused Amanda, etc…

I admired Amanda’s careful execution of her plans, even the ones that failed. She planned ahead, refused to be intimidated by others, and kept working and waiting until she got her revenge.

I imagine some of you shaking your heads as you’re reading this. Dedicating your life to revenge is a bad idea. I don’t believe the writers of the show were promoting revenge as a pastime. But they were tickling the part of our moral center that aches to see justice served to people who seemed to have gotten away with their crimes. And don’t we writers sometimes write for that very reason? 

I also believe that creating or being an audience to a good revenge story can ease our insecurities about the world not being a just place. 

If you watched Revenge, what did you think of the show? The series finale?
What do you think is the appeal behind revenge stories?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Once Upon a Time

It is IWSG day, a monthly event Alex Cavanaugh launched to get writers sharing about their insecurities and other things. My post is late, but it's still Wednesday!

I work in the local media. Recently, I was assigned to cover an art class taught by a professional artist. While sketching characters like Mickey Mouse and Bart Simpson with simple shapes (the circle, triangle, and square) and creating a clay bust for my character (a pig that ended up looking like a dog with devil horns= Devil Pig Dog), I couldn’t remember the last time I did art like this. I was quite rusty, but I enjoyed the class nonetheless.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a professional artist- I wanted to write AND illustrate children's books, etc... In elementary school, I won poster contests. In junior high, I won more awards and was regarded the teacher's pet in my art classes. Outside of school, I spent weeks creating my own comic book; I spent a day binding all the pages together with a needle and thread. 

In high school, I took art classes as electives. Here, I wasn’t the student that teachers oohed and aahed over. I wasn’t winning contests anymore.

In college, I did a teeny tiny bit of art here and there. I got some compliments, some non-compliments too. By the time I was out of school, I'd stopped doing art altogether. 

Years ago, I was inspired to take up art again so I bought some paper, pencils, and a drawing board. That was around the time I had my second child. The drawing board, in mint condition, is still sitting in my garage.

But still….someday I’d like to take up art again.

What is/was your "Once upon a time" aspiration? Have you ever taken a long break from a hobby and then took it up again? Why did you take the break?