Thursday, April 30, 2015

The 40th Anniversary . . .

Today April 30th, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. I stayed behind for a decade before I could escape Communist tyranny. In 30 years after I rebuilt a life in America, I have achieved what I couldn't have done back in my native country the Republic of South Vietnam, now vanished from the globe.

In 30 years, I earned an MFA in English and Playwriting; I received recognition for my plays, my Japanese Short Form Poetry, for which I was awarded a grant by 4Culture for my book Lotus in the Flood: One Woman's Big Dream, and lately for my screenplay.

In memory of this monumental historical event, I created a page on Facebook. The above link.

For this tragedy, Rory Kennedy made a documentary "Last Days in Vietnam." I highly recommend that you watch it if you haven't seen it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Writing What You Don't Know

Usually, but not always, we write what we know. From my own experience, it is educational to write what we don't know. Why so? Because we need to do research on the subject we are going to write about. The result of our intensive research is rewarding: we learn something "new." It may be something old to those who already know it; for us, though, it is a learning experience.

In my opinion, a writer should be a life-long learner. Someone might say, "There is nothing new under the sun." Well, a saying remains a saying; there is some truth in it. But look at the categories of books in a bookstore, how many subjects do we really know? Just look at the titles for Dummies. It would take me a long time to read them all if I chose to do so.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Be a Better Writer Every Day

It's my goal to be a better writer every day. Happily I am moving into that direction. How do I know? You may ask. Simple. Reread your old stuff. If you can see what doesn't work or what needs a rewrite or a change, you know that you are getting better than a while before.

Sometimes, I see it just after I turn off the computer.

To improve our own writing, we can learn it from three different sources: 1) a good editor, 2) an experienced reader, 3) other writers' work or advice.

I will have a presentation on February 21st: Here is the link

Lotus in the Flood

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Your Signature

As a big fan of figure skating, I can't help but think of the connection between writing and this athletic and artistic sport. The two do share some similarities. For example, skaters hone their skills, so do writers. Skaters dream, so do writers. Some skaters, do one thing more than their fellow skaters - they have their signatures - which means they either make themselves a power jumper, or known for the fast spin at the end of his/her skate, or show their flexibility, or do a lyrical performance, to name a few. Their signatures do not only set them apart from the crowd, but also make themselves identifiable and memorable. I used to tell Wes that I missed the performance of so and so when that skater had retired.

What's your signature as a writer? With the arrival of the new year, spend a little time to think about it. It'll be the time well-spent.

Happy New Year! Have a productive 2015!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Own Favorite Poems III

Here again I would like to post some of my own published poems.

like a tray
of dry sand
the family I grew up in
has made me
an atypical loner

(GUSTS NO. 17 Spring/Summer 2013)

gravel path
I kick at the pebbles
so small
yet, quietly carrying
our weight

(GUSTS NO. 17 Spring/Summer 2013)

my first Thanksgiving
I'm having a feast at a friend's
don't worry about the snow, ice
and frost I face here

(Chrysanthemum 14)

All three tanka share one feature: telling a tiny story about me.

The first one says something regarding my character--an atypical loner. What has shaped me with such a personality? Apparently, a highly dysfunctional family. Moreover, the poem also hints at something deeper about me.

The second one implies that I am strolling alone--another way to say that I am an atypical loner. In addition, it suggests something about one of my character traits--a person who enjoys being alone and loves to meditate plus something deeper, which is unsaid.

The third one tells where I am, how I am treated by people in my adopted country and how I feel. I really like the mood of this tanka because it says a lot about my being so far away from home and being a new comer to a strange country. I am sure it resonates with quite a few people worldwide, who leave home for one reason or another. The experience is universal.

Story-telling is not only for novelists, playwrights, and screenwriters, but also for a tanka poet. So, what makes our writing intriguing is: story, story, story.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Figure Skating and Writing

I touched on this topic before. Today I look at it from another angle.

When a figure skater takes the ice, she wants to give a good performance. However, she doesn't nail her first jump that sets the tone for the whole program. She, of course, continues to either fight to pull it together or let it fall apart for various reasons. (Which is unfortunate.) The audience watches her till the end of her skate and applaud.

As a writer, though, we don't have that kind of luxury. I call it luxury because once a reader picks up a book and reads, if the story and/or writing fails to hook her, she will put down the book and go text-messaging friends, or Googling the Internet, or "working" on her iPhone. Those are a few of activities that are competing with people's attention, readers included.

After missing a jump, a figure skater can go on with her performance. After losing a reader's interest, we will lose her forever. So, hook the reader from beginning to end.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

All about Scenes

Scenes are the building blocks of a play, a screenplay, a short story, and a novel. There are various types of scenes; therefore, there are different words to describe them. Here are a few: scintillating, gripping, intense, memorable, funny, scary. What we as writers want to avoid is the scenes mentioned below:

1) a long scene
2) a talky scene
3) a static scene
4) a clichéd scene

I'd like to talk more about a clichéd scene. I have come across a lot of articles about avoiding clichés in our writing; however, I have seen many clichéd scenes in movies, TV series, and Web series. What are they? The first kind that comes to my mind is the car-chase scene. It has been overdone. What is the fix? It has been turned into a subway-chase scene. That, too, has lost its glamor. The second kind of a clichéd scene is the sex scene. Nine out of ten times, if those scenes were cut, they wouldn't hurt the story. Interestingly, although they are deja vu all over again, they haven't gone out of favor. What I have seen in those scenes is a lot of flesh but nothing fresh.

Yes, fresh. We should aim at writing fresh scenes.