Monday, March 28, 2016

The Thing That Turned Me: An Anthology

For the past few months, I've been posting teasers and giving hints about the upcoming anthology, The Thing That Turned Me, and my short story contribution to it.

Well, I'll tell you! "The Disappearance of Miss Mary Dawkins" (quite a long title for a short story) is part of the backstory from my shelved-and-scrapped novel The Keegans of Banner's Edge, which then got scraped up and reshaped into Pearl.

I have a long habit of giving my characters elaborate backstories. Super elaborate backstories."Mary Dawkins" is an instance of that; I needed a mother for Miles Keegan's white daughter and a reason why the mother isn't in the picture anymore.

Alexandra Keegan's parents tell her that her birth mother died in childbirth.

But she didn't.

You'll have to wait until May 31st to find what exactly happens, but suffice it to say Mary Dawkins is caught in a tough spot for 1793 Boston--she's unmarried, she's been involved with a few men, and she's pregnant.

Pregnancy in itself is a huge turning point for women, physically, mentally, emotionally. But what happens when the pregnancy--this huge life event--is shadowed because it didn't come about in the "right" way? What happens when the woman herself has no maternal instincts whatsoever--in a time and place where most women were just simply expected to have babies?

The story doesn't overlap in any way with Pearl; it takes place years before. But it's part of that world.
I think that story world probably has a few more stories in it, but those are for another time.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Japanese Holidays

I was reading a post on writing friend Michelle Tran's blog some time ago. She talked about celebrating Lunar New Year and how she wanted to incorporate more of the Vietnamese traditions she grew up with to celebrate the holiday.

Which got me thinking about Japanese holidays or traditions that I've celebrated since I was a child. Of course, it seems totally second nature to me in some ways, but actually, some of these celebrations have fallen by the wayside as my cousins and I have grown up.

And I realized that I should blog about it, because, um, why not? Also, it's St. Patrick's Day, so let's write about the other half of my heritage!

New Year's Day

Japan does not celebrate Lunar New Year. Japanese New Year is January 1st. But it's a super important holiday! It's called shogatsu in Japanese (o-shogatsu) and when you see people, you say, "Akemashite omedetou." I have no idea what the literal translation is.

Then there's symbolic food. It's called osechi and each food symbolizes something, like hopes for good health, money in the New Year, more children, etc. Along with that is the ozoni--soup with a mochi in it--and we drink otosu (sake).

Our family does a Buddhist chant before we eat and drink for most of the day while we doze and watch the taped Kohaku Uta Gassen on NHK--Kohaku is a very long, New Year's Eve music show featuring many popular Japanese bands and singers.

Also, Japan uses the Chinese Zodiac. I'm year of the tiger, but not if you go by the Chinese lunar calendar because my birthday is before Lunar New Year. Go figure.


It's Girls' Day or Doll's Day, March 3rd. This altar thingy is displayed:
From Wikipedia. Our display was considerably smaller.

Each tier contains dolls and some objects. At the top are the Emperor and Empress and on the lower tiers are their attendants, a carriage, a chest of drawers, etc. Mostly, I remember the Hinamatsuri song.


Obon is a Buddhist festival taking place in August, where we honor the ancestors' spirits. So things like visiting graves and family reunions happen at this time.

When I was 10, my mom and I happened to visit Japan during Obon. My great-grandmother had died the year before, so to remember her, we took part in this procession called Shoro Nagashi.

Apparently, it's specific to the region that my family's from.

Basically, the family builds a small boat out of wood and paper. My great-grandmother's had small bells on it, I think, and the names of her descendants on the boat as well. From her house, four or six men (including my older cousins) carried this boat down the winding streets of Shimabara while the rest of us followed. It's like a parade almost. I remember tako drums and firecrackers going off. Once we got to the water, the boat went in, carrying the deceased's spirit and sending it off to the next life.

Lit lanterns are also put in the water to float.

Monday, March 14, 2016

11 Books Read

This year, for my Goodreads reading challenge, I am aiming for 44 books, so I'll be doing my lists in increments of 11. I just finished book 11 of the year five minutes ago (it was a hardcover, coffee table-type not exactly a huge challenge to read), so here we go!

Also, I'm actually writing reviews for all of the books I read this year, so the titles are linked to the reviews.

1. The Last Chance Christmas Ball by Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Patricia Rice, Nicola Cornick, Cara Elliot, Anne Gracie, Susan King. Fiction/Anthology/Historical Romance/Regency/Holiday. 3 stars.

2. Alexander Hamilton* by Ron Chernow. Non-fiction/Biography/American history. 4 stars.

3. Washington: A Life* by Ron Chernow. Non-fiction/Biography/American history/Politics. 4 stars.

4. Letters from a Lost Generation: First World War Letters Of Vera Brittain and Four Friends edited by Mark Bostridge. Non-fiction/Letters/History/World War One/England. 4 stars.

5. Testament of Youth: A Biographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 by Vera Brittain. Non-fiction/Memoir/Autobiography/World War One. 5 stars.

6. Tidewater: A Novel of Pocahontas and the Jamestown Colony by Libbie Hawker. Fiction/Historical fiction/American history/17th century. 4 stars.

7. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Fiona, the Countess of Carnarvon. Non-fiction/Biography/Social history/Edwardian/England. 3 stars.

8. Midnight by Beverly Jenkins. Fiction/Historical Romance/American history/African-American. 3 stars.

9. The Federalist Papers: A Collection of Essays written in favor of the New Constitution by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Non-fiction/Essays/American history/Government/Politics. 3 stars.

10. Matilda by Roald Dahl. Fiction/Children's/Fantasy. 4 stars.

11. Downton Abbey--A Celebration: The Official Companion to All Six Seasons by Jessica Fellowes. 4 stars. Non-fiction/Media Tie-In/Television/20th century/Britain. 4 stars.

*= begun reading at the end of 2015, finished in January 2016

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Goodbye, Downton Abbey!

Well, Downton Abbey's series finale aired here in the U.S. I've already seen the sixth and final season when it aired in the fall, but I watched it again as it was broadcast here in the United States.

Personally, I loved the finale. There were some nicely tied-up storylines and plenty of feel-good moments.

I really enjoyed this season, but I can't help but wonder what'll happen to the fictional Crawleys and their small cohort of servants after we, the viewing audience, has left them at midnight on New Year's Day, 1926.

Needless to say, spoilers.

Friday, March 4, 2016

My Writing Mission Statement

If I have any kind of mission statement when it comes to the things I want to write, it boils down to:

  •  historical fiction from a diverse, female, or some sort of "other" perspective.

Some people I've come across in my life have acted like my very existence could only be a modern thing.

"But you're Irish and Japanese! I mean, like, what is that?"

...Because they think people of different races didn't ever meet until the twentieth century?

If you think that, go read Pearl. Better yet, go read Bury the Chains or Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, look up Dido Belle, read about Noor Inayat Khan, read Tidewater, Google Dejima and the Silk Road, and check out the book up there. I read it in elementary school and it was the only book I read as a child that came even close to reflecting me and my experiences.

Of course, in the past few years, We Need Diverse Books has emerged as a way to get diverse characters and authors in front of readers, librarians, and the publishing industry. There is no earthly reason why a story like my friend Michelle Tran's Diamond Queen (Vietnamese-inspired fantasy) cannot exist in the same world as Twilight or Outlander or Affected by Randi Lee or SL Huang's Russell's Attic books.

And if somehow, you feel that all of this is too much diversity, inclusiveness, new voices, new perspectives, or female perspectives/writing/characters for you, then go stand in the corner.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

IWSG: Reading Differently

This is the IWSG post for March. The IWSG is a great group for writers at all stages, where we commune and discuss our writerly insecurities every first Wednesday of the month. March's co-hosts are: Lauren Hennessy, Lisa Buie-Collard, Lidy, Christine Rains, and Mary Aalgaard! 

Years ago, a writing professor told me that the more I wrote, the more I read, the more I might not enjoy reading for the sake of reading as I used to, that writing more seriously would change the way I read things.

Y'all, it's happened. I mean--it's been happening. I know it has. It's not that I've grown pickier over what I read--seeing what I've been reading laid out on Goodreads has actually shown me my own reading habits and forced me to go and find other things to read.

But I am a lot more critical of what I read. I decided to review every book I read this year, when in the years past, I only reviewed the ones I felt compelled to.

I read a historical romance last week and while the story was entertaining and I liked the lead characters, I was also mentally noting, "Hmm. Head hopping. Oh, omniscient point of view. Info Dump! Stilted dialogue. Really, would that character do that?"

A few weeks prior, I was reading a historical fiction called Tidewater when there was a sequence of sort-of supernatural-ish bits. They were there to illustrate the belief systems of the 16th century Native American character, but they stood out compared to the more authentic and grounded rest of the story.

None of this is to say that my writing, though it's come along, is perfect. Pearl's first chapter is a bit info-dumpy. A short story I submitted last month for an upcoming anthology (The Thing That Turned Me--out May 31st!) definitely needs some editing and perhaps a touch of rewriting. Plotting is still a challenge. Finding the not-so-great bits of your own writing doesn't happen as easily as finding it in someone else's.

But having your writer helmet on while reading is super useful--but then again, if I'm reading something that blows my mind, the insecurity bell goes off in my head.