Monday, September 22, 2014

Sneak Peek: Inside Red Butterfly

The February release is fast approaching ... and so is my deadline for my last edit of Red Butterfly.

I took a few snapshots of the gorgeous interior. 

I'm thrilled with Amy June Bate's stunning artwork, which adds so much to the novel. 

Title page

First poem

How I love these exquisite bird cages!

Illustrator Amy made her own newsprint, adding so much texture to her art. Love!

This poem is my main character Kara's personal Tar Beach moment. 

What do you think? 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Progress Report: What I'm Working On

A writer's work is never done. There's always something we could be working on, right?  I have three projects in different stages of development at the moment.

My novel, Red Butterfly (out in Feb, 2015), will soon be ready for its very last round of edits. I'm waiting to get that final, final print out, which is my last chance to tweak.

While I'm in waiting-mode with that, I've been busy on a couple new books.

One is a middle grade time-travel novel, written in prose. I want to say this is the third draft, but to be honest, I've lost track. I heard back from one of my critique partners recently and have been treating the book like a jigsaw puzzle ever since, ripping it into pieces and rearranging. The whole beginning has been rewritten/reorganized, so I'm at a place now where I'm doing a straight edit on the last two-thirds, which hopefully will be able to stay pretty much intact. (Except for the ending; endings are my nemesis.)

The other is a historical verse novel set in 1920s China. I love this book, but I won't lie, the research it requires has been challenging. As many of you know, I traveled to Hong Kong last April to get a head-start on my research. My main character has joined a traveling Cantonese opera troupe, and there is not a lot of written history about this lifestyle, and most of what has been written about it is in Cantonese. I've set this one aside for a little while as I try to finish up the time-travel story. Hopefully I can come back to it in a month or so with new eyes. Meanwhile, if anyone knows of any great biographies or histories about 1920s southern China, let me know the titles in the comments! There definitely could be something I've missed.

If you're a writer, are you working on anything new or exciting? How's it going? 


Photo credit: pedrojperez from morguefile.com

Monday, September 8, 2014

What Are You Reading?

What are you reading this September?

I always seem to be in the middle of a few books.

I just finished this one:

GOOD CHINESE WIFE: I was attracted to this memoir because the author, Susan Blumberg-Kason, is an online writerly friend of mine and we have a Hong Kong connection. I've followed her blog for ages. This was an interesting read, as her story traces the complexities of a bi-cultural marriage that didn't work out because of massive communication breakdown. I loved seeing Hong Kong and mainland China through Susan's eyes. And, funnily enough, I found out we went to the same Hong Kong doctor! Small world.  


THE SCORPIO RACES: I just started this one a few nights ago. So far, I like it. I know it's very popular. Has anyone else read it? I'm still at the very beginning, so no spoilers, please! 


THE BOOK THIEF: This book is wonderful, but it's taking me forever to get through it. I'm talking MONTHS. Which seems ridiculous, because it's so beautiful and tragic. But I think that's part of the reason it's taking me so long: I want to savor every word and not rush through any of it. I'm not eager for it to end in the slightest. I know this is another hugely popular book. Have any of you read it or seen the movie? (I haven't.) 

I'd love to hear what you're reading now. Let me know in the comments! 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Back to School (Alternate Title: AM I CRAZY?!)

My kids went back to school last week.

For a lot of people, kids back in school means a little more sanity for parents, but in our case life just gets crazier. Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled about our new schedule this year. But I can't say it's an easy schedule. It's a crazy schedule. If I talk to anyone about it, they think I've gone off the deep end.

But that's what happens when you have a child with emotional needs that aren't being met in traditional school, another child who is in hyper gymnastics mode (more on that later), you're never home (because of child in hyper gymnastics mode), and neither is your significant other (football coach).

I have kids in four school districts this year. Not just four schools, but four DISTRICTS. You can stop laughing now.

I never knew I was a logistics person until I became a mom of older kids who all wanted to go in different directions. Now my life is ruled by logistics and schedule. I used to think of myself as a pretty free spirit. No longer. My days are strictly planned out without much wiggle room. That's okay, though. We're getting done what we need to get done. We're trying our best to meet everyone's needs. And so far, so good!

I didn't mean to write all this. I just meant to post a picture of my cute kids on their first day at school. So here they are:

(If you're interested in details: My oldest started at a school in the town where my eight-year-old does gymnastics. It's a great program where she can take online school for a couple classes and go to other classes in a physical classroom in the afternoon. More time with me, but not all day. My son is the only one still going to school in our town. My eight-year-old is doing online public school through Washington Virtual Academy, and my kindergartener is an hour bus ride away at a tiny school that meets only four days a week, where they wear uniform and have breakfast and lunch provided (and she loves it!). My three-year-old starts pre-school next week. Not sure if I'm ready for THAT! But it will give me writing time. Hopefully.)

The great news about gymnastics-child is that she is one of about one-hundred eight-year-olds from the whole country who qualified to go to Houston, Texas in October to try out for the national team. Squeeeee!

Pray for us! (Seriously.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Confessions of a Crazy Gym Mom

Months and months ago the owner of my daughter's gym asked me to write up a flyer for gym parents about good parent behavior and not falling into the trap of being a "helicopter parent" (ie. parents who stay at all practices monitoring every detail of their child's progress, coaching from the sidelines, etc.)

I haven't written the flyer yet. 

I haven't written anything on that subject because I don't want to be a hypocrite.  

My daughter, Anna, is devoted to gymnastics, which is obvious from the twenty-hours-a-week she willingly puts into the sport. She's athletic and strong, maybe not the most athletic and the most strong, but she loves it and I never have to coerce her into going to practice. She's a hard-working kid and has a pretty determined personality for someone going into third grade.

When it comes to meets, Anna is pretty chill. She doesn't seem to get nervous and she enjoys herself. Yes, she'd like to do well, but if she doesn't do well, she shakes it off pretty quickly.

Now enter her mother (ME). The night before meets, I can hardly sleep. If I do watch her practices, I'm sitting there biting my fingers and saying pseudo-curse words in my head if she can't make her clear hip/kip/toe circle/jump to the high bar combination.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

My daughter is testing right now to see if she can qualify to go down to the National Training Center in Texas for national testing. The last couple days she's been struggling on beam and bar. I woke up this morning with visions of flawed beam skills dancing through my head.

AGAIN, WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

For the most part, I keep these thoughts to myself. I work on encouraging my daughter, not tearing her down. So, I'm not so worried about her emotional health as I am about my own.

I talked to my mom about this problem while I was visiting Hong Kong earlier in the year. I had to miss Anna's sectional meet (the score of which would dictate if she was going on to State). I knew from a text from my husband that she fell on beam, and that she didn't get her best score on floor, so I figured she was out of the running for State. And I felt miserable about it! (As it turns out, she did make it, and went on to have a pretty good State experience, but that's another story.) While I was struggling with misery, I asked my mom that same question: WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Why I am feeling this way about something I have no control over? Why can't I just let her go and have fun with gymnastics? Why do I, at least every couple weeks, have to fight back the monster of Crazy Gymnastics Mom that seems to want to take over my (usually-reasonable) body?

Part of me wonders if I can't be chill about this because we put in so much time. So many hours. Not only in the gym, but also in the car. We live a few towns away from her gym, so our mileage and gas bill are atrocious. Our family life has been turned upside down. I never considered home schooling, but now that Anna has this schedule, we have no other choice. So, part of me wonders, am I just trying to prove to myself that this was a good idea? If Anna does well in gymnastics, wins medals, goes to Texas for the national testing, does that somehow make all that sacrifice WORTH IT?

Hmm....

My mom gave me sage words of advice. She said something like, "This may be something you always struggle with, to have the right perspective. But you have to keep fighting the battle to have the right perspective and not let that wrong perspective win."

That's advice I should know how to follow. Believe me, I've had plenty of experience as an aspiring author with the ups and downs of pursuing a dream. It's often a struggle to have the correct attitude, to keep going even when the "prize" seems far away or even unattainable.

There are always other writers who are better, more brilliant, than you are. You want to cheer everyone on, but sometimes it's so discouraging when others are pulling ahead and you're left behind.

Anna's coach said something wise, and I remind myself of it every time I find myself in Crazy Gymnastics Mom mode. I heard him tell one little girl,  "You can't do gymnastics forever. When you grow up, you're not going to be able to do this stuff anymore, and the only thing that's going to be left is the character you built from doing it."

Amen.

This blog post is my pep talk. Not only to myself, but to all of you out there who are pursuing a dream, no matter what it is.

In the end, it's the journey that matters. That's where we build character. As a writer, I had to come to a place of peace. My dream may be to win the Newbery Medal someday, and that's a huge motivation, but I can't let it distract me from the joy I find in the journey. From daily writing. From reaching my smaller, more attainable goals. And doing the best I can with the talents (and responsibilities) God gave me.

I want the same for Anna -- and all my kids when they figure out what their BIG DREAM is. I want them to feel peace, to do it because they love it, to make sacrifices, to work REALLY, REALLY hard, not for the awards or the praise, but because they want to grow as people and make a difference in lives around them.

I feel better now. I may be able to sleep tonight ... and wake up to wrestle with these emotions all over again tomorrow.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Speaking Out On Diversity: Why I Wrote a Chinese Protagonist


Hi! That person in the photo is me. I'm a white writer who wrote a book with a Chinese protagonist.

I've read a lot of great blog posts by different writers with opinions on whether writers should write from the point of view of a character whose race is different from their own. Can a non-minority author write with integrity about a minority character?

Most recently, SCBWI Executive Director, Lin Oliver, added her voice to this debate. She made excellent points in her article here.

I'll start by saying I agree with her entirely.

At the same time, whenever I read a post like hers, I start feeling a tiny bit defensive. Not because anyone has told me to my face that I shouldn't write what I do (everyone has been nothing but kind and supportive about my book RED BUTTERFLY so far!), but because, on the surface, it seems like I'm flying in the face of all Lin Oliver's excellent points.

The key word in that last sentence is on the surface.

Let's start with a story, because stories are fun.

A few months ago I was in Seattle with my daughter and we went out to lunch at the awesome Taiwanese chain restaurant, Din Tai Fung. There's always a huge wait time there because the food is so ridiculously delicious. So, there I was, a white lady sitting with her white daughter in the waiting section of the restaurant, watching the crowds go by.

I'm not sure how you all feel when you're in a Chinese restaurant, but I blinked back tears. Happy tears. You know why? Because I was surrounded by mostly Asian people, most of whom were speaking Asian languages. There were familiar smells in the air--tea and steaming dumplings. Familiar sounds--the joyful loudness of Chinese restaurants, the clink of porcelain bowls and chopsticks. I felt so AT HOME and so HOMESICK all at once. Which is not something I get to feel very often living on the eastern side of the Cascades where there is no Din Tai Fung or any authentic Asian restaurants. (WAHHHH!)

I found myself wishing something, probably for the billionth time. I wished I looked as Chinese as I felt inside.

A very wise man (Dr. David Pollock) coined the term Third Culture Kid, and that's what I am. It means I was raised by a family of one culture within another culture. I was raised by American parents (first culture) in Hong Kong (second culture), which gave me some weird mix of the two (third culture).

So, there I was in the Chinese restaurant, feeling so at home and happy with the smells and the sounds and the people, and at the same time grieving that nobody in that restaurant would ever look at me and instantly know how much I belonged there.

I grieve this for RED BUTTERFLY, too, that people might pick up this book and glance at the jacket photo, see a white author's face, and put it back down, assuming it will be inauthentic. Will anyone do that? I don't know. I hope not! But that's a fear I have.

So, how does being a Third Culture Kid qualify me to write from the point of view of a Chinese protagonist?

Even though my main character, Kara, and I aren't exactly the same, we have some important experiences in common. She was raised by Americans in China, I was raised by Americans in Hong Kong (which is now technically part of China. If you're confused, watch this excellent video). Her struggles in China--looking like she fit in, while feeling so different inside--are struggles I have with living in America. She feels like an outsider in both the cultures she interacts with--her "home" culture in China, and her "new" culture (which was her parents' culture) in America. Like Kara, I have a hard time fitting in perfectly anywhere, too.


No, I'm not Chinese. But I can relate to my Chinese character's heart. And I think we'd all agree, that's what matters most.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour


Krista Van Dolzer (who is giving away an advanced reader copy of my book RED BUTTERFLY until June 19 here) tagged me in the "My Writing Process" blog tour. Thanks, Krista!


What am I working on?

I’m working on a time travel middle grade novel, tentatively titled MR. MADIGAN’S JUNKYARD. It’s on its second “good” draft. I’m reading it through one more time before I send it off for a second round of critique by a couple of my sweet writerly friends.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I love Magic Treehouse, but my book is not Magic Treehouse. In fact, maybe I shouldn’t even label my book a time travel. (Krista, should I call it a time travel book? … She’s the only one who’s read it so far.) Time travel is a device in the story, but it’s not the main point. The main point is how my main character learns to face her own (actually really difficult) life.  

Why do I write what I do?

Middle grade is my favorite genre!  It took me awhile to realize that, but it’s true. So, after attempting to write young adult for quite a few years, I finally began to get middle grade ideas. And after the middle grade ideas started amassing in my brain and my first attempt at a middle-grade novel sold, I was officially hooked.

How does your writing process work?

I get an idea (usually a character and a premise) and I wing it. That first draft is not a “good” draft. I would never let anyone see it! After that, there are usually a couple complete rewrites before I have the first “good” draft. Then it’s a matter of honing and shaping and finding the real story. It takes awhile, but I’ve tried other methods (like meticulous planning before I start writing) and they don’t work for me. Even though my first drafts stink, I love the thrill of writing them. I get to know my characters as I go. The only problem with this method is that writing endings is terribly difficult. I’m usually three “bad” drafts in before I can make myself write an ending.  

I'm tagging my two gracious friends who agreed to read my Work in Progress next -- Melissa Sarno and Julie DeGuia!

This has been a fun little exercise. Thanks for reading!

Photo credit: msmediadesign from morguefile.com