Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Humongous Christmas Present

This Christmas was a weird Christmas. For the whole month I was home all day every day because of my knee injury. With short-term disability, I can't work. And the orthopedic surgeon said it'd take nine months to let the torn meniscus heal. With no worker's compensation, no income, and no unemployment benefit as a self-employed interpreter, I looked for sources for "income." I checked out a couple of emergency funds for writers sites and found myself unqualified: writers who would get help must be published authors. I had some publication credits, but that's not enough. Then, through Fidelma at Artist Trust who gave me an e-address. It turned out to be The Dramatist Guild in NYC. I used to be a member, but currently I'm not. So I wondered if I was qualified but gave it a try anyway, sending Sue a letter and a copy of my artist's resume. I got a response asking me to fill out the form. I was still not sure if I'd get it.

Yesterday, December 26, I received a letter from the Guild. Before I opened it, I suspected it was a rejection letter. To my surprise, it came with a check! I wanted to cry. The grant became my biggest Christmas present I'd ever received. The help I received did not only touched my heart but also encouraged me to keep writing. I will.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Gainful Loss II

It's been the fourth weekend since I was laid up with my knee injury. I was so active before the accident: I went to my interpreting assignments by bus and on foot, braving all kinds of weather--95 degree heat, gust, pouring rain, cold, and the combination of some of these, such as cold with rain and wind. Now I don't have to go through all this for a while but stay home and work on my writing. Writing full-time is what every writer yearns for. So, Wes said my injury is a blessing in disguise. I myself strongly believe this must have some sort of meaning, and something good will come out of it; as to what it is, I can't predict.

For the past four weeks, I've put Chinese philosophy and Buddhism into good use. I'm grateful to my illiterate mother for having given me an education that gave me the ability to not only read ancient Chinese books but dig deep into Chinese philosophy.

And, I can't end this without saying thank-you to Wes for all his support.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Gainful Loss

Three days before Thanksgiving I had an "accident" between my interpreting assignments--a trip and fall on the sidewalk--which left me with a badly injured knee. I considered that Monday my personal black Monday; ironically it was in the same week of Black Friday. Unlike Black Friday, my black Monday would turn my bank account into red, not black. The reason? I am self-employed as an on-call interpreter and thus I am not covered under worker's compensation, nor can I apply for unemployment benefits during the period of having a short-term disability.

My loss of income did cause me concern. However, I succeeded in turning the misfortune into my advantage. For three weeks, I've been productive in writing. Before long, I'll have my work sent out to writing competitions. For me it's a gainful loss. There's a gain in a loss, and there's a loss in a gain.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Not Escapism

When Wes told me The Road, the movie, didn't have a wide release, I was surprised. Based on a best-selling novel and a Pulitzer Prize winner, the movie wasn't open in most of the theatres. After giving it some thoughts, I came to see why. Its gloominess doesn't fit the mood of our time. It's not a movie that people would want to watch to lose themselves in the fictional world for a couple of hours. Although it deals with courage and love, the image of what our world would come to is too bleak, and too horrific.

However, The Road, the book was a best seller. When the book came out in 2006, the unemployment rate wasn't above 10%. Timing is everything.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Something To Be Thankful for?

The movie The Road based on a novel--a post-apocalyptic tale--opened on the eve of Thanksgiving. I found the timing interesting. Did it mean to say we humans have something to be thankful for surviving the end of the world? Thanksgiving Day is a day we tend to find something or someone to show our gratitude. In real life, surviving an accident, an injury, an economic hard time, anything that flings us out of our normal state is something to be thankful for.

The scenario of the end of the world is scary; no wonder some movie critics view it as a horror film. And apocalyptic theme seems to fascinate some writers and movie makers and will probably continue to do so. I was wondering how many more books will be written and published on the same theme, and how many more movies will be made based on those books.

Wes and I planned on seeing The Road on a big screen on Thanksgiving Day. With a knee injury, I can't go anywhere for at least a while. So, we'll wait till it comes out on DVD. The experience wouldn't be the same, though.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

To Prologue or Not to Prologue, That Is the Question

A prologue to a novel is like an appetizer to a meal. Some writers like to have a prologue and do it well, but not all readers would want to read the prologue. Once I talked to someone who said she and some of her friends picked up a fiction book with a prologue, they skipped it and came right to Chapter 1. As a reader, I read everything. As a writer, I know those writers who do prologues have a good reason behind it; in other words, a prologue is necessary. For example, in Sherlock Holmes, and later, in the TV series Law & Order, the crime scene that opens the story/drama is equivalent to a prologue. Therefore, to prologue or not to prologue is up to the writer, and it also depends on the genre. Certain genre works better with a prologue. My work-in-progress fantasy novel has a prologue, and I know it is needed.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Certified Writing Coach?

I always thought a writing coach is a writer who's had enough publication credits to be qualified. But recently I "discovered" something interesting. One day I went on a writer's blog (whose name I've forgotten), and one sentence caught my eye: "So and so (the writer's friend) is a certified writing coach." Immediately, it raised a question in my mind: How is a writing coach certified? I know how to become a certified interpreter: A would-be interpreter goes to a state-sponsored agency, takes a two-part test--oral and written--in English and the native language, if passes, he/she will become a certified interpreter. But a certified writing coach? I wonder how. It's something "new" to me. Does a would-be writing coach do the same thing an interpreter do to get certified? Going to a writing program and taking the test, if passes, he/she will become a certified writing coach?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Writing Fantasy

I like fantasy and I've been working on a genre-blending novel that mixes fantasy with mystery and history. It's a lot of fun because writing fantasy allows my imagination to run as wild and as far as it can go, even the sky is not the limit. I like fantasy because it reveals a part of the human psyche; namely, when we're in danger, we want an immediate exit. That wish is fulfilled in fantasy as the character wraps himself in a cloak and he disappears. However, some people consider fantasy low-brow and don't take it seriously. In truth, a writer can say something very profound in her fantasy novel other than good versus evil, something that can be as profound as that in literary fiction. In addition, even Shakespeare's great tragedy has fantastic elements in it. Read one and you'll know what I'm talking about. So, what a fantasy writer needs to do is to fantasize her fictional world populated with interesting characters and writes a fantastic story that fascinates the reader.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Genre Blending or Genre Bending

Years ago, I learned the term "genre blending" from articles in writing magazines. I found it very interesting and thought it a good way to write a novel. At the time I was writing plays and kind of ignoring it. Years later, in 2007 when I started writing fiction, I gave "genre blending" my serious thought.

To my delight, Jonathan Lethem did just that for his first novel in 1994, according to last week's The Seattle Times book reviewer Mark Lindquist. Mr. Lindquist wrote: " . . . was a weird blend of science fiction, hardboiled detective and literary fiction. "Genre bending" is how it was often described. I was a fan but didn't expect Lethem to find a wide audience. I was wrong about that." Mr. Lindquist used "genre bending" to describe a novel that combined two, three genres. In truth, both terms "genre blending" and "genre bending" say the same thing: mixing genres.

Because I like "genre blending," I combine three genres in my work-in-progress novel: fantasy, mystery, and history. And, of course, before we do so, we need to know each genre well. How many genres are there altogether? More than ten, fantasy, detective, romance, to name a few. If you like the idea, pick two, three genres you're famliar with or you love and write your "genre bending" novel. According to my own experience, it's a lot of fun writing "genre blending" fiction. Try it and you'll know what I mean.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Changing Faces

A big fan of figure skating, when the sport is in season, I seldom miss an event watching it on TV. Since I watched it in the early '90s, I've seen change. By that, I don't mean the change in the scoring system, but the faces on the podium. At one point, the Russians dominated in almost every category in the international competitions, such as the Grand Prix and the World Championship; then, winners from America, Canada, France, and the other European countries alternately took the medals. When we marched into the Twenty-first Century, skaters from Japan and China emerged. The Chinese pairs and the Japanese women and men respectively got on the podium. Even South Korea is catching up. Besides, on the American team there're Chinese and Japanese Americans. I consider the change of faces in the sport a version of globalization. When it comes to globalization, many people tend to think of economy. If we look outside that box, we'll see different versions of globalization.

As I said on Facebook, I can draw parallels between skating and writing. Like writers, skaters need to pay attention to detail. They also have to heed transition, flow, and other things. It takes lots of skills and practices in both skating and writing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On Writing: Strong Characters

What makes a story great? There're numerous ways. One of them is to create strong characters, especially the P and the A. So, it's important to populate our fictional worlds with strong characters. A strong and memorable character that comes to my mind at the moment is Scarlet O'Hara. What makes her strong and memorable? If you've read Gone with the Wind or seen the movie, you get the idea. I read the book once years ago and saw the movie several times. Every time I saw it, I enjoyed it just like the first time I watched it.

I'm glad to have let my fantasy novel cool down for a few months. During this period, I read books outside the genre and discovered that I have a lot of thinking to do before the next revision. The down time has served me well.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On Polygamy

I like to poke fun at the world. When America had a shortage of flu vaccine in 2004, I had to go to Canada for a flu shot. Afterward, I wrote a ten-minute play Invading Canada to make fun of it. When America had a presidential election focused on "change" in 2008, I wrote some haiku to commemorate the unprecedented event mockingly. When I penned a memoir essay about my polygamist father, I wrote a limerick to ridicule polygamists in general, my father in particular. Here's the limerick:

"A middle-ager who was a polygamist,
had a dozen women on the mailing list.
Every night he had to choose,
every ounce of his energy oozed.
And he bragged about womanly conquest
being a polygamist."

Well, my father would probably frown on it and rise from his grave and shout: "How dare you poke fun at me!"

What do you think I should say to him? Any suggestions?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

On Our Firsts

Do you remember your first day at school? I don't remember my first day at a Chinese language school, nor do I remember my first day at an English language school in Cholon, Vietnam. But I remember, part of it, my first day at Kishwaukee College in Malta, IL in 1985. It was very exciting! A brand-new life, a hope, and a dream burst in front of me!

As a writer, I remember the first time I received recognition for my play. It was the first play I'd ever written in my life and I wrote it at age forty-two and with no previous playwriting experience. I was awestruck when I saw my short play being a finalist of George Kernodle Playwriting Competition in 1991 along with my professor's. It was a playwriting competition open to playwrights all over America.

One thing I got out of this is: you're never too old to start writing. Unlike athletes who, after reaching a certain age, will have to stop playing, no one will or can tell me that I'm too old to write as long as I remain mentally sharp and know the crafts and arts of writing. Look at some of our best-selling authors, such as David McCullough, Jimmy Carter, and J. R. R. Tolkein's son, are all over eighty years of age. Writing is one of the professions that know no age discrimination. Boy, am I not delighted to be in the right business.