Friday, December 31, 2010

A Writer's Resolution

On New Year's Eve, many people make resolutions. As a writer, for the past years since I started writing after graduation school, I made plans. Still waiting for my stamina to fully return, which may happen later next year, I think it more reasonable to make resolution that is part of my writing plan.

I'm resolved to write one sentence each day, at least five days a week, in addition to my writing projects. That one sentence I'll be writing for the coming year is a literary sentence modeled on writers, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Joseph Conrad, Joan Didion. By the time I resume work on my novel, probably in August at the earliest, I'll have practiced quite some time for the literary writing. My novel, speculative fiction and also called genre fiction, defines me as a genre fiction writer. If I can write with style, which, I believe, can be trained, I will become a literary genre fiction writer--my resolution, my goal, my ambition.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

To Follow or Not to Follow, That's the Question

The trend of vampire novels has saturated the market, and readers turn to some place else for something different, or refreshing. From what I read, what will be the next trend is the near future and the post-apocalyptic fiction, such as The Road. It does reflect today's mood--uncertainty everywhere we turn. Not a fan of this grim outlook on our world and our civilization, I myself won't follow the trend for two more reasons:

1) I have found my unique niche as a writer.

2) I am not a fast writer. I tend to take time to work on my writing and along the way enjoy the process to my heart's content.

I think writers who like to jump on the band wagon, nothing is wrong about that, are fast writers who churn out 50,000 words in one month because the trend comes and goes like waves of the sea, only fast writers can ride with them.

Here comes the question, a famous Hamlet's line in different wording: To follow or not to follow, that's the question. If you like the concept of near future and post apocalyptic stories and are a fast writer, hey, what the heck, give it a try. You might end up getting a nice deal with a large publishing house. Well, you may argue: I hate to follow the trend, I prefer to write what I want to write. Certainly, I agree with you 100%. And you may even argue that you want to create a trend. I, too, agree with you on that. I believe there's nothing unachievable under the sun. If we, human beings, can send men to the moon; we writer, too, can reach the moon. It's a matter of luck, timing, and hard work. Whatever the choice you make, it's your own decision, and no one else's business.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sudoku and Writing

i picked up Sudoku months ago and was hooked. Ever since, I've spent fifteen to thirty minutes each day on the game. I like solving puzzles not because they help sharpen my brain, but because I love "mystery."

As a writer, I like to draw parallels to writing from things I do or watch. Here are the things I've learned from playing Sudoku that can be applied to writing and rewriting:

First, see what is there, and what is not, and what is missing.

Secondly, spot the problem early. Don't wait until you get stuck.

Thirdly, if you get stuck, look at the big picture.

Fourthly, don't hesitate to move things around.

Fifthly, put one right number in the right place, one at a time, and everything will fall into its place.

Sounds simple? Not really. Like writing, it takes practice, and it takes time to be good at. And like writing, if you do it every day, you'll savor the fruit of your persistence.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Back to Life

I know my blog has been screaming for an update.

Three months ago today at around midnight I was admitted to Northwest Hospital's emergency room for pneumonia and a heart failure. That night I was treated at the ICU with a ventilator because my oxygen level was only 85, and my heart function was only 20 %. I could have died.

Fortunately, after standing on the verge of death, I returned to life.

Altogether I stayed at the hospital for eight days: three days at the ICU with no food and a little of water for the medications; five days at the CCU--Critical Care Unit. For seven days, I was on oxygen twenty-four hours a day, and sometimes I had to wear the mask when the oxygen I got from the tube was insufficient to keep me breathing normally. For the whole time, Wes was with me except at bedtime. I was happy and blessed to have him there for me.

Since I resettled in America in 1985, I've never been hospitalized. The pneumonia that knocked me down just hit me like lightning. It might have sent me some warning signs, but I didn't see them coming. Like a blitzkrieg, the sudden illness almost subdued me. I fought back with the help of equally rapid treatment. I survived.

What an experience to see Death so close to me! When I was discharged from the hospital, I was extremely weak with a heart function of 40% and had to continue taking the antibiotics for eight more days for the vicious pneumonia and medications for the broken heart syndrome. Despite the frailty, I was overjoyed to be alive, feeling as if I were reborn.

Now I'm homebound recuperating. It'll be months before I can resume my normal life. As I'm feeling better, I've returned to my writing since the 1st of this month, writing for half an hour at each session, two sessions a day. I look forward to being able to write three/four hours in one sitting; it won't happen any time soon.

But, when Yin is on its way out, can Yang be far away?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


July is over. Why am I talking about firework? Am I really talking about the firework displayed to celebrate 4th of July? Of course not. I'm talking about the firework in writing. I learned it at graduate school. When my playwriting professor first said it, I scratched my head. I knew what firework was in real life, but not when it was used metaphorically. Later, when a classmate commented on my play, she said, "Where's the firework?" Omnigosh, I had a vague idea of what she was asking for. Happily, I finally got it. It took me sometime to understand firework in writing.

Without firework, our writing will be dull, and will have no life. I'm glad I finally grasped the concept and put it into use.

Tomorrow, August 12, Thursday, at 6 pm, I will read from my novel at Ballard Branch Seattle Public Library for It's about Time Writers' Reading Series I will read a chapter of my novel, which, I believe, has firework.

Friday, July 30, 2010


When you see the word "combo," you would probably think of the plate at Panda Express, a Chinese fast food restaurant, which allows you to have a combination of chao mein, walnut shrimps, and sweet and sour pork; the list goes on. Well, I'm not talking about Chinese fast food here, I'm talking about combination of genres in writing. I wrote about this topic before; now I revisit the subject because a movie came out recently and caught my attention. It's a box-office hit and still playing. I haven't seen it, though. Due to my knee injury, sitting without raising my legs in a theatre causes me pain, which will aggravate my condition--a knee with a never-healing damaged cartilage. Since November, Wes and I haven't been to a movie theatre. We see "new" flicks on DVD.

What movie is it that I just mentioned? Inception. In its ad in The Seattle Times, it says "'Inception' dreams big. . . . It's James Bond meets 'The Matrix!'" That's what I mean "Combo." To write a novel that combines genres, we can have Jane Austin meet the vampire. Unfortunately, some authors have already done that. I use it to illustrate my point. Got the idea?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Voice

A blue jay usually, but not always, heralds its arrival every time it comes to our deck for food in the summer. Its distinctive voice is being recognized right away. I don't have to be close to the deck to hear its coming. Another bird that has a distinctive sound is a crow. When it caws, we can tell immediately that it's a crow. While talking about a distinctive voice, I naturally think of some actors, whose voice can be identified in an instant, and every time I hear them speak in a movie Wes watches at home without watching it myself, I know who is speaking. Such actors are Al Paccino, and Tom Hanks, and of course, the deceased John Wayne.

So far I seem to be talking about the vocal sound. But am I? Absolutely not. I am using the birds and the actors to illustrate my point--the importance of the voice. For an actor to be born with a distinctive voice is a gift. For a writer to write with a distinctive voice is a talent. If you think you don't have a distinctive voice in your writing, don't be disheartened. You can get it by practice.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Simple Story

It seems that a simple story suits a short story because a short story is short. Not so. We can find a simple story in a novel and a movie as well. In truth, a simple story can be not only interesting, but gripping, and powerful. And it is usually quiet. Being quiet doesn't mean it has no power; on the contrary, it has its own unique quiet power. What I mean is that a simple story draws the attention of the reader/audience from beginning to end without relying on those sensational thrills, which, I believe, you know what I'm talking about. And surprisingly it works equally well in a movie.

Off the top of my head, the movie with a simple story I can think of is a Chinese movie The King of Masks. Even Wes enjoyed it, and we watched it twice. Months apart. The second time I watched it, I was drawn to it, just like the first time. A simple story that is not simple. Here lies the paradox. Anyway, we don't have to resort to all the sensational thrills to thrill the reader/ audience but write a simple story that illustrates a human truth; its quiet power would move the reader/audience much more profoundly than those "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Success is desired by everyone with a dream in every field. Success is perceived differently by each individual. I like what John Wooden said about success. He told his basketball players, "Success is to be the best you can be." To be the best we can be is not an easy thing to do because it means we need to maximize our potentials. I believe I'm doing just that. I've been honing the writer's craft, writing every day, and reading like a writer. Yes, there's a big difference between reading as a reader and reading as a writer. The former is mainly for enjoyment; the latter for a writer's craft.

You might argue: We need to dream big. Who doesn't? But, how many writers make it as big as Dan Brown? As Steven King? I'd like to sidetrack a little bit. The famous Chinese-American woman figure skater Michelle Kwan, who had won eight World Championships; however, her dream of winning the Olympic gold was never fulfilled. Could we say she wasn't successful? I'm sure she did her best in her every performance. So, to be happy but without losing sight of my dream, I like John Wooden's words: "Success is to be the best you can be."

Friday, May 28, 2010


Since I graduated with an MFA, I've been writing and have "trained" myself how to greet, how to receive, how to deal with rejection. Over the years, I've grown not only as a writer who writes but also as a writer who knows how to greet, how to receive, how to deal with rejection. Having thick skin is one thing; knowing how to receive it in a constructive way is another. Take the sentence in the form letter "This doesn't reflect you as a writer" or "This doesn't reflect your writing ability" as truth. This is what I mean to take it constructively. And I treat the rejection in two different ways: When I receive a form letter, I treat it as an acquaintance and tell myself, "Such is competition. You can't win all the time." Besides, I like the saying, "You win some, you lose some." When I receive a letter with the editor's handwritten comments, I treat it as a friend. If an editor takes his/her time to handwrite you something, what does he/she want to tell you? Unfortunately, such rejection letters don't come by often. Because they seldom come, welcome them, embrace them, treat them like good old friends who take the trouble, despite their hectic schedule, to pay you a visit.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Myth of Sisyphus

From the Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus derived his philosophy of the absurd. When I first heard of it in college, I understood his interpretation of the myth. Like any other myths, Chinese myths included, can be interpreted in various ways. Such is the strength and depth and the richness of a myth. The way I interpret the Myth of Sisyphus is not futility and absurdity as Albert Camus saw it. I see something totally different from his interpretation; I see three Ps: perseverance, persistence, patience. The three qualities a writer must have.

In his essay, Albert Camus concluded, " . . . . One must imagine Sisyphus happy." As a writer, I am happy because I have what it takes to be a writer: perseverance, persistence, patience. Since I started writing plays at graduate school, my patience has been tested and is still being tested. And, over the years, I've persevered and persisted. With so many odds against me--being a non-native English speaker, who didn't start writing until at the age of forty-one, and writing in the third language, and not many theatres across America having Asian actors--I continue to write for American theatre up to today. Rejection has frustrated me but has never intimidated me. I keep writing and keep sending my work out into the world.

If, according to Albert Camus, Sisyphus is happy, forever pushing the boulder up a mountain but the rock keeps rolling back down, I am happy doing what I've been doing since 1992 to be a playwright/writer.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thirty-five Years Later

Three more days, it'll mark the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Thirty-five years ago, I tried to escape with the frantically departing Americans but failed. Thirty-five years later, I'm striving to make a name for myself as a well-established writer in America.

Looking back, my ten-year living under Communist rule has left a painful mark on me that still gives me flashbacks but at the same time has enriched my life because now I know first-hand what it was like living in a dictatorship, a dictatorship in general, a Communist dictatorship in particular. A political system that had affected people in half of the globe. And Vietnam shut its door for ten years. During those ten years, the government oppressed and persecuted us--people of the South. When most of us--the unwanted--left the country, it opened its door. Now the Communists welcome us back. I do want to return to see how much remnants of their former brutality could still be traced. Probably none. Shrewd and sophisticated, they know how to whitewash every bloodstain.

I do want to go back for another reason: to touch my mother's urn that my sister has put in a temple. My mother, the most important person in my life, died the second year I resettled in America. Without her, my life would have been a totally different story.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Twenty-fifth Anniversary

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of rebuilding my life in America. It's been one quarter of a century since I lived in the U.S. coming as a refugee. Looking back, I was amazed at what I had done. Thanks to my mother who sent me to an English language school in Vietnam during the 60s, though I didn't graduate, I had a foundation to build on in order to pursue my writer's dream in my adopted country whereas such dream of mine would never be fulfilled in my homeland. Coming alone as an older adult in my thirties and without a high school diploma and having lived in a cultural desert--Communist Vietnam before opening its door in the late 80s--for ten years, I was enrolled in Kishwaukee Junior College three months after my arrival in DeKalb, IL, and at the same time working on my GED. In seven years, I earned my MFA in English and playwriting.

So far I'm most proud of myself for having transformed myself from a high-school dropout to an MFA holder. And I did it in my third language.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fresh Eyes

I like to talk about eyes a lot, don't I? In my previous entries, I wrote about a writer's eyes, objective eyes, and so on. Now I'm writing about fresh eyes. For a writer, she can get fresh eyes from two sources: 1) a writer friend, a free-lance editor included, 2) herself. I'd like to talk about my own fresh eyes. How can I look at my work with fresh eyes? This is what I'd do--putting the "finished" writing away for a while and then revise it. For my novel, I didn't work on it for six month. Yes, six months. From July 2009 to Dec. Last January, I took it out and looked at it and saw problems I hadn't seen before. That's what I mean: my own fresh eyes. Quite reliable. For some writers, six months would be too long. For me, it's worth the "delay" because I want my first novel to be the best I can write. Also, my past writing experience has taught me a good lesson--I was too eager to get my work out into the world and only to receive rejection after rejection. It turned out to be a waste of my time, my money, and my energy.

After revising my novel for three months, once again I let it cool down, for a month only. I believe when I rework on it in May, I'll see it with fresh eyes.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Track Record

A track record is important to both free-lance editors and writers, playwrights included. A track record helps editors get editing jobs and writers get grants and publication. As a writer, with a couple of publication credits online and in print, my track record is insignificant; however, as a playwright, with a long list of recognition, grants and awards, my track record is quite impressive. My first short play that I wrote while attending graduate school was awarded a finalist along with my professor's. My first full-length play, thanks to the help of Dr. Williams and Dr. Gianakaris, it was also a finalist of a prestigious national playwriting competition. Ever since, I've received recognition, staged readings, and productions of my plays and won grants.

With a knee injury and the loss of income, I searched for emergency funds for writers only to find I wasn't qualified for being a writer. However, as a playwright, my artist's resume showed almost every other year I accomplished something, such as being a finalist; I was awarded a grant from the Dramatists Guild. If I hadn't built my credits, I wouldn't have been qualified.

Now I'm working hard to build my track record as a writer. Brick by brick, shovel by shovel, I'm building.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Objective Eyes

We writers all know we need someone to read our work to give us some feedback. Even Steven King would let his wife read his ms and give him constructive criticism. How many writers are that lucky to get their spouses' help? I don't know how many and I'm not one of them. Most of the time, I'll show Wes my writing after I finish it. He is a superb reader, no doubt about that; however, he doesn't know how to give useful feedback. Every time after he reads my writing, he'll say, "It's very good." That doesn't help, does it?

It's hard to see what's there and what's not there but should be there in our own writings because everything is in our heads and we automatically think everything is there. It happens because we can't it objectively. Finally, I developed my own pair of objective eyes, not 100% objective, though. It takes lots of writing, rewriting, and reading, and of course time to get myself that pair of eyes. Nothing comes easy. It takes practice. And, with the objective eyes, I'll be benefited for the rest of my writer's life. Try it. You'll enjoy the extra pair of eyes you've acquired.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Writer's Eyes

In a non-writer's eyes, what comes to mind when she sees an egg? Scrambled. Poached. Or sunny-side-up. In a writer's eyes, however, an egg can become a symbol, a metaphor, a simile, or a motif in a play, a short story, a novel, or a poem. That's what I mean "a writer's eyes."

From my own experience, a writer's eyes differ from what she writes. For years, I've had a playwright's eyes because I worked on nothing else but plays. Since I explored literary writing, I've had a poet's eyes, a fiction writer's eyes, a creative nonfiction writer's eyes. And I've found that although the kinds of writing mentioned above belong to literary writing, a poet's eyes differ from a fiction writer's, and so on. And writing haiku gives me another pair of writer's eyes. You have to write different genres to see what I mean.

In summary, I think the more eyes a writer has the better.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Figure Skating & Writing

Figure skaters have to pack all the required elements into their two-and-half-minute short programs and their five-minute long programs. A fiction writer has to include all the required elements in her short story and novel. When I first watched figure skating in the 1990s, I simply enjoyed a sport. A sport that has beauty, artistry, and elegance. Years later, sinceI explored literary writing, I've watched the sport with a pair of writer's eyes, paying attention to how the skaters put their programs together.

Interestingly, judges, who reward a skater with high score, look for many qualities. Among them are detail and transition. Aren't detail and transition also what we writers have to heed? In truth, there're other aspects, from which I can draw parallels between the sport and writing. I pick these two because I've found that they're the areas I need to work on.

With the winter Olympics going on in Vancouver B.C., I can feast my eyes with all the graceful movements and at the same time enjoy being reminded of what it takes to be a good writer.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Purple Prose

Personally, I'm not a fan of purple prose. The writing itself is impressive; however, I read it somewhere this kind of writing belonged to writers of the Nineteenth and the early Twentieth Centuries, because writing in the Twenty-first Century, writers are competing with so many things resulted from technology: TV, computer, laptop, Smart Phone, IPhone, IPad, video games, to name a few. According to some statistics, only 60% of readers who put down the book will pick it up again. And purple prose tends to slow down the story. It's the place where a reader closes up the book and puts it away.

Someone may argue: purple prose is stylist and literary writing. I won't argue that one. I believe writers have their own tastes and preferences. As a writer, I prefer simplistic and direct style and have been writing in such manner. Also, another sign of good writing is vigorous writing. Purple prose tends to lack the vigor. Agree? Or disagree?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Self-Editing III

While I'm self-editing my first novel The Jade Pendant Tale, I can't stop writing about self-editing. It's fun but also a lot of work. The important thing is to keep a pair of objective eyes. It's easier said than done. That's why we writers need professional editors to give our manuscripts a pair of fresh eyes.

The other day, I found a "new" way to self-edit my novel. I'll use the new-found skill and see how much it'll help me. Plenty, I believe. Since I'm still in the first phase of self-editing, I don't have to search for an editor now. When I'm close to finishing up all the necessary steps I can do for my novel, I will definitely look for a free-lance editor. A good one. One with a track record.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Self-Editing II

Self-editing takes a lot of work but is also a lot of fun. Like I said last time, I'd focus on one thing at a time. My first step is to tighten up the plot. So far, I haven't cut much but have re-arranged the happenings in the story to make it tighter. Chapter by chapter, not even halfway through, I'm making satisfactory progress.

To cut the fat is one of the self-editing steps, but I'm not there yet. It's interesting that "lean" is also the word for writing. In our meals, we watch out for the saturation fat, and in our writing we do the same. Happily, I haven't come across this kind of bad stuff in all the chapters I've revised. Maybe because when I write, I keep in mind: "Keep it lean and thin like myself." For some people, I'm bony. So, if my writing gets too lean, I can add some meat to it, but no fat.

While talking about self-editing, a book comes to mind. Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words by Bruce Ross-Larson. I'll refer to it when I clean up the words and sentence structure. It'll be a while before I take that step.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Writing is rewriting, rewriting is self-editing. Before we send our work out to agents or to a professional editor to polish up the manuscript for us, self-editing is one step we can't skip. In the past, when I self-edited my first novel The Jade Pendant Tale (still a work-in-progress), I tried to do everything all at once. It was a big mistake. From my own mistake, I learn that I need to tackle one thing at a time. Multi-tasking sounds good in corporate offices and some other places, but definitely not in self-editing. Doesn't it take up a lot of time? Of course. And I believe a professional editor, who is so experienced, will do multi-tasking. Not me. Not right now.

When self-editing, I will look at self-help writing books for punctuations, sentence structure, to name a few. As to revising the story, I simply ask myself questions. Self-help writing books can't help with the story. Otherwise, how can the story be unique?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Cat's Language

I never had a cat in Vietnam and my perception of cats was that they were aloof. My landlord's cat in DeKalb, IL, reassured me of that perception. For a dog lover, cat's aloofness was perfectly fine with me. However, that image of cats changed when Wes's cat Samantha welcomed me and sat with me the first time I visited him and his grandmother in Seattle. I was impressed by her friendliness and began to like cats.

Then, Hermia our cat transformed me into a cat lover. Her attachment to us, especially to me, is amazing. She follows me everywhere I go in the house, even to the bathroom. I also begin to pay attention to her language. She makes different sounds for different "occasions," such as seeing birds on the deck, letting me know she wants water or food, feeling upset when I tell her to go away because she's become a nuisance, alerting us to get up in the morning. The noises she makes all sound different. I remember years back, I ran into a book in a bookseller's catalogue called How to Talk to Your Cat. At the time I didn't care about cats at all but thought it interesting.

Now, do I want to learn how to talk to Hermia? Probably not. I think we communicate well enough that we know each other's wants and needs. For example, when I don't want her to follow me around in the house, she understands what I say. On the other hand, when she sees birds outside, I know she wants to go out there and catch them. Unfortunately, she's an indoor cat, so she has to stay inside. Now that I'm laid up with a knee injury, I believe she's happy that she wasn't home alone all day long until we returned from work in the evening. Now we enjoy each other's company, especially when I'm done with my writing and Wes is still at work.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Diversity in Genres

To my delight, new genres in all kinds of writing pop up every so often. Just for essays, there're flash essay, standard essay, personal essay, memoir essay, and lyric essay. Which kind should I writer if I want to express my thoughts and feelings in an article? The upside is that I can have different types to choose from; the downside is that I have to decide, and making a decision takes time.

One kind of essay that intrigues me now is the lyric essay. After googling it to find out more about it, I think I'd like to explore this genre. I love lyric poetry, so I might as well try my hand at it. Before I start, I should think of what I want to write in a lyric essay. From what I learned from the Internet, the Internet is an amazing learning tool, a lyric essay jumps around a lot. What's the best subject for me to write in this kind of essay? When I'm day dreaming? Anyway, someday I'll write a flash lyric essay. There we go. A "new" genre has just popped up: Flash lyric essay. A writer is an explorer. Sure enough.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fresh Eyes

For six months in 2009, I worked on my genre-bending (blending) novel The Jade Pendant Tale and finished the revised draft and let it cool down. For the rest of the year, I worked on different things, such as plays, haiku, and personal essays. Now that 2010 is here, as scheduled, I return to the novel. When I looked at it on New Year's Day, I spotted quite a few of problems, seeing the novel with a pair of fresh eyes. My discovery didn't frustrate me; instead, it brought me joy. For me, the six-month hiatus worked. For some other writers, though, six months might be too long a cool-off time. The long put-off is just for the novel. I won't grant a short story months' time-off. A month should do the job.