Tuesday, July 29, 2008

EARTHQUAKE!!!

I couldn't believe it. Not only did I experience my first ComicCon, I also got to sample an earthquake, and it's a "moderate" one: 5.4.   The epicenter was about 2 miles from where my brother works.

Being a silly East-Coaster, at first I didn't know what it was. I thought maybe a train went past or something as I heard rumbling and the floor started to shake. It was kind of like an amusement park ride (kind of like the Noah's Ark ride at Kennywood Park back in PA for those who know). But after a few seconds I started to think:  Holy crap, this is an earthquake.  The shaking and rumbling lasted for about 40 seconds. And then it just subsided.

I stared at the person sitting next to me and said, "Was that what I think it is?" And he said, "Yup, just a small one."

It turned out it wasn't that small. At 5.4, it was 100 times more intense than the 4.4 in LA last April. While this one had its epicenter in Chino Hills and there were relatively few damages and no casualties, the frequency of these recent quakes is alarming, and most experts say the "Big One" will likely strike Los Angeles within the next 30 years.  That's scary.  There is still a 5% chance that this is only the precursor of a big one within 24 hours. I guess we'll see.

Later I was standing next to my car in the parking lot and I felt a slight vibration under my feet. Again, my instinct told me it was a truck or a train or something, but then I realized -- yup, it's an aftershock.

I guess I'm too inexperienced to really be unnerved by this. In fact, I was all giddy. I always told my friends in LA that I'd never been in an earthquake and I was kind of disappointed. They thought I was nuts. But now I can say, "Hey, I felt this one, and it's really kind of cool."  I guess I still don't understand how devastating an earthquake could be, even after watching the horror unfold in China. I think the concept is so surreal that most of us really can't fathom until we're in one.

Hope everyone in Los Angeles is safe and with  your family and loved ones.  It's a day to be thankful.

Cheers!


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Perfection

Country Bumpkin Jack said on AW:

How perfect does your manuscript need to be for an editor to consider it seriously? (Assuming that the story is good.)

For example, does every bit of punctuation need to be perfect? I'm as careful as I know how to be, but I tend to abuse commas. For example, in the previous sentence, should there be a comma where I placed it? (Between be and but?) If it doesn't belong there and I submitted a manuscript containing such an error, would an editor think I'm a dolt and just toss the manuscript aside?


How perfect do writers need to be?


I said:

Make it the BEST you can, then submit and forget about it.

There's no such thing as ABSOLUTE perfection. Trying to reach for that is a recipe for misery and insanity.

If you have a great story, great characters, and a great style, I'm sure the agent will look past the occasional grammatical and spelling errors.

If your writing sucks, it doesn't matter how great your grammar is.

But it doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention to the mechanics. But don't let them distract from your story and characters.

Do the BEST you can.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Comic Con - Report

Day 1:

I'm at Comic Con, now, and it's really cool. I'm not really a big comic book fan, but I do like comic book movies, so to me, this is all about the movies (not to mention I'm writing an article)! So I went to the press screenings yesterday. The line wasn't bad at all. There were probably at least 5000 in that hall. After some mishaps (such as a wall of curtains just fell on a hundred people -- nobody got hurt, but it was awesome to watch them fall like dominos), the show opened up with Keanu Reeves at the mike. Neo looked really cool with his beard. Then the gorgeous Jennifer Connelly walked out. Gosh, she's even better looking in person than on screen, if that's possible.

The Day the World Stood Still looked pretty cool. I've never seen the first one so I'm a bit skeptical about the remake. But the clips they showed have promise. The panel answered some good questions and it's interesting to see what went on behind the scene.

Afterward, Mark Wahlerg walked out to the stage and the hall went crazy. He was, of course, promoting Max Payne. The clips they showed kicked ass. I'm not familiar with the video game but the film looks to be very violent and ultra cool. They talked about a new camera they used that could shoot 1000 frames per second (for super slow motion).

Afterward, they had a surprise for all the fanboys and girls. Hugh Jackman showed up and the whole place went ballistic. You should have heard the screams. He really knew how to work the crowd. Hugh Jackman is extremely charismatic (as compared to Keanu Reeves) in person. And the clips they showed of Wolverine.... man, I can't wait to see that film. As he said, it's BAD ASS. Gosh, the clips were AWESOME with an A.

After that, we had an intemission.... people left and more people came in... suddenly I was aware that there were a lot of teenage girls in the audience... something's up.

Later, we had Chris Evan... Dakota Fanning was stuck in traffic so she couldn't be there (there was a 5-hour delay on the I-5 due to an accident). They showed a new movie called PUSH, and my friend Ming Na's in that one, too. But to me, it's just MEH. It's like X-Men but set in the real world...

Then the Twilight thing came on, and the females -- thousands of them -- started to scream. Dude, I've never seen anything like this and I felt like I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm not familiar with the books or the film, but judging from the reaction from the audience, I think this is going to be the Titanic for vampire fans. Don't mess with 5000 screaming female fans, man!

Later, I went to a few writing related panels and they were very interesting.

Will report later.

TTFN





Day 2:

Started off the day a bit late, attended the Big Bang Theory panel with the whole cast there. I like the show (smart, funny, and relevant, to me) and it was fun to see a packed room (about 500) of fans.

But I got to the Watchmen panel a little late so couldn't get in. It was a real bummer because I heard that it was really good and they showed multiple "never seen before" clips. But I made up for that later (will explain).

I did get in eventually for the Wolfman panel with make-up master Rick Baker, Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro. The clips of the remake look excellent, reminding me of Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. I'm very interested in seeing this take on the classic. Rick talked about the late Stan Winton and it was a very touching tribute. It's great to hear that they're doing a lot of old school things with the Wolfman without a lot of CGIs.

Next up: Frank Miller and the cast of The Spirit, including the incomparable Samuel L. Jackson. When Sam came out, the hall shook with thunderous applause. He was, of course, funny as hell and very articulate with lots of anecdotes. It was a pleasure to listen to him. Frank, on the other hand, didn't seem like he wanted to be there. I had a feeling he didn't much care for crowds. The Spirit is Frank Miller's first directorial debut, and it just has a great graphic novel look. Lots of green screen (as opposed to Wolfman). They showed a clip of underwater scene with Eva Mendes and SLJ -- it was shot with the Phantom camera, and without a single drop of water. It's pretty amazing.

After that, I stayed for the Star Wars panel, which was kind of meh for me -- mostly about the Clone Wars TV series and the upcoming movie (August 15). The animation looks really cool, but at the same time, I think, it's geared toward teens. It's still Star Wars, but I think I still prefer live action to computer animal. Plus the panelists were kind of boring...

Which led us to the next set of panelists -- four "hot" directors working in Hollywood these days: Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow (Knocked up, 40 Year Old Virgin), Zack Snyder (Watchmen), and Frank Miller (Spirit). They were very dynamic and funny, especially Kevin Smith and Judd Apatow, throwing out off-color jokes time and again even when reminded that there were minors in the audience. They didn't really tell us too much, but it was nice to listen to them talk and see how they got to where they're now.

Later in the day I also went to the 24 panel with the producer and Kieffer Sutherland, who was very funny as well. I didn't stay long though so I had to get out of there and met up with some folks in the exhibition hall, where I saw a few actors wandering including John Barrowman of Torchwood. I also found a replica of a robot from an anime I used to watch as a child -- that was quite a treat (I didn't buy it, though -- it costs like $600).

So it's been a fun day. Tomorrow, my first priority would be the LOST panel, as well as Pushing Daisies (the whole cast will be there). I'm looking forward to them. Then I'd like to spend some time at the exhibition hall and take as many pictures as I can.


Day 3:


It proved to be a pretty good day. Well, it started out very annoying. I was there more than an hour before the Heroes panel started, but the line was already wrapping around to the back of the convention center. I thought, well, maybe there was still a chance. So I walked and walked and walked and walked and I thought some STAFF member said the line was at "C" -- but I'd passed section "C" already and there was no end in sight for the line. Then I asked again and she said, "The end of the line is all the way to Seaport Village." * GASP * That's like a mile or so from the convention center. So I said, "Fuck it" and walked back to the exhibition hall. Spent about an hour there before heading up to the Sarah Conner Chronicles panel.

So I missed that panel and the LOST panel. I was a bit bummed, but then I heard that the LOST panel was kind of boring. Only Matthew Fox showed up, representing the cast, and then they did a "game" thing with the Dharma Initiative. I guess it sounded like fun but I wanted to hear more about the show and what was in store next season.

So in a way, it was a blessing in disguise because I had enough time to get a good seat. The whole cast of the show was there, in addition to the producers and writers. It was really good to listen to the writers talk about the writing while the actors talked about what it was like on the set. I knew what the actors looked like but still was taken aback by how beautiful Summer Glau and Lena Headey were. Two very different women, but WOW.

Then I stayed for the Writers panel. Five writers included David Goyer, who wrote Batman Begins and The Dark Knight -- so in a way, he's like a rock star. Brad Meltzer (author of the Book of Lies and The Last Council) was also there, plus the book designer Chip Kidd (author, who's best known for his book covers such as Jurassic Park). It was such as great panel as they discussed how comic books and the underground culture influenced their work. It's one great thing about Comic Con -- writers really do get equal time and respect from the audience. It's not just about big movies and big movie stars.

Still, I was star struck by Rainn Wilson during The Office panel. I was sitting right in front of the podium so I was THIS close to him. That's really cool. Wilson was extremely funny, articulate and polite -- there was a hint of Dwight in him but mostly, it's just his comedic genius at play. It was mostly a writer panel but as we know, many writers do perform on the show. BJ Novak and Mindy Kaling were in the panel as well. It's really cool to see how the writers are so important and integrated in the show. The producer also explained how in the beginning they wanted writer-performers (BJ Novak was the first person who got hired) but later they just wanted writers.

(I also won a The Office Trivia Game -- W00t!)

By far, my favorite panel of the day was Pushing Daisies (arguably one of my few favorite shows). Again, the whole cast was there, in addition to creator-writer Bryan Fuller and producer Barry Sonnenfeld. I'm in awe of Fuller -- not only does that guy have a vivid imagination and can write, he's also very articulate, thoughtful, and funny in person. The cast is adorable, to say the least. Chi McBride is AWESOME. And then Kristin Chenoweth did an impromptu rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow (I have it captured on tape). It was great.

Oh, yeah, when the cast came out, I touched hands with them (since I was in the front row). They also showed a 2-minute promote clip of the next season, and it was sweet. Some of the scenes cracked me up (like when Olive dressed up like a nun and sang on the hilltop -- such a nod to the Sound of Music -- made me laugh). It's gonna be a great season, I think (oh, yeah, they'll be adding a PIG to the cast). They seemed to have a genuine love for the show and have a great time making it -- I'm envious.

Then I spent the rest of the afternoon roaming the Exhibition Hall, and took some neat pictures. I'm not really into the comic books and toys but I like to watch the costumes and people having fun. It was a madhouse, though. So many people at one place. It was crazy!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

iPhone Bliss

OK, I admit, when the iPhone first came out last summer, I wasn't too impressed. Well, I was impressed in a way it was a whole new way of looking at phones/PDAs but there are many things I was skeptical about. The 1.0 software was also a bit lacking to be truly useful.

Now that iPhone 2.0 has come out, my opinion has changed. The AppStore changes everything. Sure, there are still things I don't like (I will always prefer a real keypad over some touch-screen keyboard). To me, the idea of expandability and killer apps is what's going to make the iPhone a real player in the phone/PDA market. Third party software has been floating around in the past year, but with the release of the SDK and Apple sanctioned third-party software, the sky really is the limit. Open source is the way to go, and I'm very impressed.

One such application is Stanza. It's an eBook reader for the iPhone/iPod Touch and it's really nice. Plus it has a huge catalogue of free books (many are already in public domain, such as Tales of Two Cities). Now, it's not possible, as far as I know, to add my own eBook content. If that functionality is available, I think the iPhone will be a very nice device as an eBook reader.

I also like the location services on the iPhone. Even without GPS, it gets the approximate location by triangulation and it's not too shabby. What's nice is that with Google Maps and other third-party apps, you can check weather, look for restaurants and shops around  you, and find information about the city you're at. Now that's super useful.

Basically, I'm a true believer of the iPhone now.  If anyone tells me, "It's just a phone" I would eagerly object.  It's not just a phone, not even a smartPhone. I've had my share of cell phones, PDAs and smartPhones, but none is going to offer what the iPhone will take us, especially at this price point (now I'm going to sound like an Apple salesman). Anyway, it really is like having a computer (without all the complexity) in your palm.

Very slick.   Steve Jobs and everyone at Apple: Good job.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

So Embarrassing...

Someone online quoted my message and then went on to say "I've read some of your work and you're a fantastic storyteller."

No, that's not why I'm embarrassed. I appreciate that kind of comments and they make me feel good.

The reason why I'm embarrassed is that I wrote back, said thanks, and then I realized, she wasn't addressing me! She wasn't saying *I* was a fantastic storyteller, but someone else.

I wish I had a hole to crawl into now.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Holy Epiphany Batman!

When I set out the write The Terrapin's Trail, I always kind of wondered what had to happen in Act II, during the Japanese occupation in Singapore. I knew my hero's part of the story at the internment camp, but I had only a faint idea of the heroine's side of the story set in Singapore.

Then today, as I was writing a scene, something just didn't click. It sounded fake, unauthentic, and dramatically stale and dull. What is going on? Then I thought more on it, and suddenly I had an epiphany.

I had the history wrong.

I started Googling "wartime brothels" and the result was humbling. As I read the horror stories of these real-life "comfort women" during the Pacific War, I realized that was the story I must write, from the eyes of my heroine. And suddenly everything fit. All the story threads start to come together. Best of all, it feels more authentic and real, and potentially full of drama, conflicts and character development that I desperately tried to find in this part of the story.

I'm all psyched now.

But I'm also scared.

There's so much to tell here, and to tell it well, worthy of all the women who suffered through that horrible time. I feel like I need to tell the story as realistic as I can, to honor these women and expose the true ugliness and humanity (incidentally, the Japanese Prime Minister refused to acknowledge the existence of these wartime brothels).

Shit. This story continues to grow as I write it. It's turning into one huge thing. And I truly hope I can pull it off.

Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

POV Primer: Examples

I'll try.

Here's an excerpt from one of my short stories. It's written in 1st person:

From the window I watched Cecilia pull away in her Lexus. I made Joshua a PB&J, crust off and lots of peanut butter, and put on his sheets while he was watching TV. Sure, the apartment was unkempt and could use a new coat of paint. The dishes needed to be washed. But I wasn’t a bad father. I was a busy man; I often worked double shifts at the dock and the odd hours tired me. But Joshua loved it here. We played video games, and watched TV. He helped me put the laundry away and we couldn’t wait to spend some time at the beach while the sun was out.

I asked him if he wanted some milk, even though I knew I’d run out. He shook his head, no. We were watching Monster Trucks when I casually asked him about Seattle. He shrugged. Didn’t think much of it. Then he finished his sandwich and told me he was ready for the beach.

The beach was always our sanctuary. I’d taught Joshua how to swim at this very beach. The warm water went through our blood and the hot sand was an extension of our bodies. We were happy.


Here's what it may look like in 3rd limited:


From the window Mark watched Cecilia pull away in her Lexus. He then made Joshua a PB&J, crust off and lots of peanut butter, and put on his sheets while he was watching TV. Sure, the apartment was unkempt and could use a new coat of paint. The dishes needed to be washed. But Mark wasn’t a bad father. He was a busy man; he often worked double shifts at the dock and the odd hours tired him. But he knew Joshua loved it there. They played video games, and watched TV. Joshua helped him put the laundry away and he couldn’t wait to spend some time with his son at the beach while the sun was out.

Mark asked Joshua if he wanted some milk, even though he knew he’d run out. The kid shook his head, no. They were watching Monster Trucks when Mark casually asked him about Seattle. The boy shrugged. He said he didn’t think much of it. Then he finished his sandwich and told Mark he was ready for the beach.

The beach was always their sanctuary. Mark had taught Joshua how to swim at this very beach. The warm water went through his blood and the hot sand was an extension of his body. He was happy.


Here's the same example of 3rd limited alternating/rotating POVs (first Mark, then Joshua):


From the window Mark watched Cecilia pull away in her Lexus. He then made Joshua a PB&J, crust off and lots of peanut butter, and put on his sheets while he was watching TV. Sure, the apartment was unkempt and could use a new coat of paint. The dishes needed to be washed. But Mark wasn’t a bad father. He was a busy man; he often worked double shifts at the dock and the odd hours tired him. But he knew the boy loved it there. They played video games, and watched TV. Joshua helped him put the laundry away and Mark couldn’t wait to spend some time with his son at the beach while the sun was out.
#
Joshua's father asked him if he wanted some milk. He shook his head. No. They were watching Monster Trucks when his father asked him about Seattle. He shrugged. He hadn't thought much of it. Then he finished his sandwich and told his father he was ready for the beach.

The beach was always his special place. His father had taught him how to swim at this very beach. The warm water went through his blood and the hot sand was an extension of his body. He was happy.



Here's it in 3rd omniscient:


Cecilia pulled away in her Lexus as Mark watched her from his window. He then made Joshua a PB&J, crust off and lots of peanut butter, and put on his sheets while he was watching TV. The apartment was unkempt and could use a new coat of paint. The dishes needed to be washed. But Mark didn't think he was a bad father. His excuse was he was a busy man; He often worked double shifts at the dock and the odd hours tired him. But Joshua loved it here. They played video games, and watched TV. He helped his father put the laundry away and he couldn’t wait to spend some time at the beach while the sun was out.

Mark asked him if he wanted some milk, even though he knew he had run out. Joshua thought for a second, then shook his head. They were watching Monster Trucks when Mark casually asked his son about Seattle. Joshua shrugged. He didn’t think much of it. Then he finished his sandwich and told his father he was ready for the beach.

The beach was always their sanctuary. Mark had taught Joshua how to swim at this very beach. The warm water went through their blood and the hot sand was an extension of our bodies. They were happy.


Here's it in 2nd person:

From the window you watched Cecilia pull away in her Lexus. Then you made your son a PB&J, crust off and lots of peanut butter, and put on his sheets while he was watching TV. Sure, the apartment was unkempt and could use a new coat of paint. The dishes needed to be washed. But you weren’t a bad father. You were a busy man; you often worked double shifts at the dock and the odd hours tired you. But you knew Joshua loved it here. You played video games, and watched TV. He helped you put the laundry away and you couldn’t wait to spend some time at the beach while the sun was out.

You asked him if he wanted some milk, even though you knew you’d run out. He shook his head, no. You were watching Monster Trucks when you casually asked him about Seattle. He shrugged. He said he didn’t think much of it. Then he finished his sandwich and told you he was ready for the beach.

The beach was always your sanctuary. You’d taught Joshua how to swim at this very beach. The warm water went through your blood and the hot sand was an extension of your body. You were happy.

Favorite Lines

On any given weekend, the house would be filled from bottom floor to top, from wall to wall, with drunk soldiers on leave who were as determined to have a good time as they were to avoid becoming future corpses.

Cicadas had got to sing, dance and mate before the last leaves fell.

A Bit of Writerly Wisdom

I couldn't care less if someone says, "I'm not reading your book because you have the F and S words in it." I didn't write the book for them.

If I'd wanted to please everyone on Earth I would have become air.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Odds of Getting Published

Someone online said something like, "It's so hard to get published. Like less than 5%. And it seems like you need to be published first to get published -- it's catch-22."

Well, yeah, this is a tough business. The fact is, there are hundreds of thousands of writers trying to break into the business every year. And there simply aren't that many slots. Then again, are all those writers and their work publishable?  I highly doubt it.

If you just look at the number itself, the odds are not that great. But the fact is, unlike playing the lottery, not everyone has the same odds.

If you're a good writer and you've written a good story, the chances of you getting published is much better.  Now you just have to work hard to get to that goal.

I think "acting" an apt comparison to the business of publishing (although they're different). I'm also an actor and have a tinny tiny bit of success, but I'd say that business is so much more brutal and not for the faint of heart. That doesn't stop aspiring actors from jumping into the fray every day, does it?

And really, just because the odds look so bad doesn't mean everyone has the same odds. Not everyone can be an actor -- the business is very realistic. It's all about skills, talent and looks. Right place at the right time, blah blah blah. Is it fair? Of course not. Some of the best actors don't get the kind of chances some no-talent starlets are getting. But real actors keep going. They keep going to auditions and getting rejections. Maybe 1 in 50 auditions would lend you a part, and maybe 1 in 50 parts will get you some attention and notice. Many of the world's best working actors have been doing it for decades. There's no "overnight" success.

So what do you do? You work your way through and be persistent. There's nothing more important than perseverance if you want to succeed in a business like acting or publishing. I've gone to numerous auditions and learned to brush aside all the rejections. And occasionally I get something, and I would work damn hard at it whether it's a good role or an extra. That's called professionalism.

But you really have to stop taking it all so personally. Persevere. In acting it's even more brutal. There would be 500 people at the open call and everyone seems to have the looks and skills and you feel crummy and you start to doubt yourself but you want to do your best anyway and maybe the casting director will see something in you. There's hope, but never a guarantee. You keep doing it. "Why not me?" you ask. And then there's a role you really, really, really, really want and you know you can do it well, and they give it to someone else. How is that fair? Well, it may not be, but you keep going. You don't give up. Real actors keep going.

At least in the land of publishing your book will always be yours. You're not trying to sell yourself (as in acting) but you're trying to sell a product -- so you can actually remove yourself from the emotions, if you wish. At least you're not criticized for being too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, too pretty, too ugly, or too ethnic. You can have 80, 100, 300 rejections and it still doesn't change the fact that your novel is still the same novel, and it only takes one agent or publisher to say yes. The flipside: No matter what you do, your novel will still be either good/brilliant or a piece of crap. No amount of submissions is going to change that. So you really need to look at your work objectively and see if it's the best it can be -- and if it's not, can you make it better or do you have another book?

You keep going if it really means that much to you.  You don't give up. Real writers keep going.

Not everyone can be an actor -- it doesn't mean you can't keep trying. Not everyone can be a novelist either -- but it doesn't mean you can't keep trying. Just know what you're getting into and be persistent.  And at one point realize whether you have what it takes or not.

Talking about the "odds" or how "it only takes one casting director/agent/publisher to say no..." is self-defeating. Why not say, "It only takes one casting director/agent/publisher to say yes"? I think that's more productive and you will feel better, too.


(And if you think I'm being condescending -- well, it comes with having 60 rejections for my first book and over 100 failed auditions to my name, and I still don't have an elephant hide.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Drafts

It doesn't matter how many drafts you've written and rewritten on a WIP.

The only draft that matters is the one you send out, the one an agent or editor eventually accepts.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Writing the Same Character Twice

Q:
How often do you read separate books by the same author and find yourself thinking, "This guy seems familiar," and then realizing that you remember him from a different book by the same author--as a different character?


I think writers have a tendency to do that because we write what they know. Sure, we can dream up characters (quirks, characteristics, etc.) by eventually, especially if these are main characters, they're going to be drawn from people the writers know, or at least readily supplied by his or her psyche. After all, characters -- as real as they may seem -- are only extensions of the author's imagination.

Especially if you have written 15, 20 novels, how can you ever avoid writing a similar character? After all, I don't think there are really that many fundamentally different types of people in real life anyway. Sure, we're all different with different backgrounds, etc. but in many ways, a lot of us are very similar in hopes, dreams, temperaments, personalities, behaviors, etc. We can tweaked the quirks and ticks, but basically, people are rather alike.

In my own writing, I try different things, and the characters who speak to me seem to be very different. Greg Lockland in The Pacific Between is very different than Kai in my WIP, but they still share similar traits (partially because they're both the "heroes"). My female leads are rather different, partially because one is still very young (15 years old).

Personally I don't make a conscientious effort of making my characters all different. I don't draw character charts and say, "Hey, I already have someone like this, so I should make him this way so that he's different..." I just let my characters speak to me and show me what they're like and what they'd do. I understand there would be limitations, but at least these characters feel organic an real to me instead of some puppets or quirky characters for quirkiness' sake.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Visual Cues and Sounds

Here's a topic not many people talk about: visuals and sounds in fiction.

You'd say, "What visuals and sounds? These are words."  But that's the thing -- once you successfully put your readers in a "fictive dream," they're not reading words anymore. They're experiencing the story, and they'll be visualizing the scenes and hearing the sounds. And you want to help them do that with a few literary tricks.

Visual cues:

It may not seem apparent, but visual cues can enhance or distract. I'm not only talking about visual descriptions (how something or someone looks). I'm talking about how you make your readers move their mind's eye.  Take the following sentence, for example:

Jill's room was a mess: the crooked James Dean posters on the walls, the books on the floor, the holes in the ceiling, the Post-its all over the desk, the torn drapes, the overflowing trash under the desk.

At first glance, there may not be anything wrong with the sentence. But read it again and now try to visualize the scene. What do you think?

Ah ha! Your eyes are moving every each way, all over place. They dart from the walls to the floor, then back to the ceiling and then to to desk, then back to the windows and then back to the floor under the desk.  I feel dizzy already.

Now try this instead:

Jill's room was a mess: the holes in the ceiling, the crooked James Dean posters on the walls, the torn drapes, the Post-its all over the desk, the overflowing trash under it, and the books on the floor.


Now there's a good flow. Your eyes seem to sweep through the room as you would in real life, instead of darting all over the place.

This works with people as well:

Jill looks odd with the cigarette in her mouth, her black boots, her platinum hair, and the purple nail polish on her fingers.

Again, our eyes are darting all over her.  Instead, try to move more smoothly:

Jill looks odd with her platinum hair, the cigarette in her mouth, the purple nail polish on her fingers, and her black boots.


Sounds:

Sounds are harder to do than visuals.  They're more about cadence and rhythm, but sometimes sounds also relate to the visuals. The best way is to read your prose loudly and see how it sounds in your ear. For example, reading the above sentence out loud, it sounds a bit off because the rhythm is off -- it's like listening to a song in which the rhythm is not consistent. The last part ("her black boots") sounds really blunt compared to the rest of the sentence.

Perhaps try something like:

Jill looks odd with her platinum hair, the cigarette in her mouth, the purple nail polish on her fingers, and her shiny, black boots that scream Nazi Germany.

Also, there are words that have sounds to go with their meanings. Use them to create a sensory-rich experience:

Occasionally some birds croak from inside the coppice.


That has a nice ring to it, don't you think?



Thursday, July 10, 2008

Favorite Lines

Here's another few I like. It somehow makes me smile:


By five o'clock, the last of the soldiers had finally departed. Exhausted, she had not bothered to shower before crawling back to her mat. In her dreams, she was being attacked by dumplings and split chicken breasts.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Difficult Third

So. I had the ending written. Perfect. And I have the first 2/3 of the book all figured out. So why is it so difficult for me to come up with the last 1/3 that would ultimately lead to that perfect ending?  What's wrong with me?  The 1/3 will have the penultimate conflict and climax but for the life of me, I have no idea what that would be -- at least not in line with the total story arc and themes. There's a big gap right now.

I guess I'm overthinking it, and thinking too far ahead. But I'm getting to a point when I need to know how to connect the dots. I'm really dreading this.


Another Favorite Passage

I'd like to share another passage from The Terrapin's Trail that I like:



Watching Tak and Victoria coordinating their movements in the crammed kitchen reminded Kai of the tango he used to work up with Grace at her place. Memories seeped through once again. He had blocked them out for so long that the constant waves of colors and smells surprised and disoriented him. There was something unreliable about this day, but he was too impotent to object. The heat may have something to do with it.

If there were anything he had learned in the past forty lonely years, it would be the ability to count one's blessings. There had been a time when even getting out of bed would have been a struggle, or how a cup of coffee would be a gift. For a long while Kai had not wanted to live, but somehow he did, which had led him to this moment in this little house.

Let's Talk about Work

I don't generally talk about my WIP because I consider it a private matter, as long as I'm still working on it.  Then again, it seems rather silly. This is, after all, a writer's blog. If I can't talk about my work as a writer, what can I talk about?  Birds and bees?

Somehow I think the more people know about what I'm writing, and what struggles I'm going through, they'll be less inclined and intrigued to read my book (once it's finished).  On the other hand, wouldn't it actually pique their interest? Unless the story truly is a dreck.  And it's not like I'm writing a thriller -- the plot twists aren't really secrets.

Anyway, I'm currently writing two alternative plot threads following both my protagonists. I've come to a point where the plot line involving the internment camp is done. Back to my heroine. She's now in Singapore, working as a cook in a brothel. I wonder if it's too clich├ęd, though.  A brothel in time of war?  I know there were lots of brothels and it was a realistic portrayal of the times, but still -- another story about a brothel during the Pacific War?  But I'm going with it -- what else am I going to do?  A shoe factory?  It just doesn't have the same dramatic gravity I'm looking for.

I'm still not sure where and how I can place the supernatural elements in this story. They're important, but they also seem out of place in the context of the story. It's basically a drama set in the real world, and I'm not exactly sure where the supernatural elements come into play, and if the rules hold up without making this into a high fantasy. The story still has to be based on reality. So that's something I continue to struggle.

Meanwhile, I really believe in my characters. They're flesh and blood, real people to me, and they're telling me stories about themselves that make me feel excited, elated, or sad. I hope I can do them justice by telling their stories the best I can and make the readers care for them as well.  At least they're the reason I'm still moving forward. I desperately want to tell their stories.




Saturday, July 5, 2008

Four Years

It's hard to believe I've been blogging for over four years.  This blog started in December 2003 - I hadn't even finished the first draft of my first novel yet.  

Back then, not a lot of people knew about "blogs" and I guess I was one of those pioneers. Well, not that it means anything. No one reads this blog anyway. 

Still, I'm fascinated by the stuff I wrote about, my navigation through the publishing process, and how I've changed in about five years. I sure hope I've become a better writer and blogger. It's also amazing how much has changed. I started out as a total newbie, trying to finish writing my first novel with no idea if I would ever get published. And now, not only have I achieved that goal, I've also met so many other writers -- some are starting out just like I was, and some are well-established and on their way to great things. It's rather inspiring.

In the process of reorganizing my blog (I just love this "label" feature), I've fallen in love with the blog again. It's nostalgic to read through my thoughts and experiences in the past four and half years. It's been an incredible self-discovery. I'm so glad I started this blog way back when.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Favorite Line

A bunch of writers are posting favorite lines they've written on AbsoluteWrite and I thought it may be a good Meme.

Here's mine AOT (as of today):

In their stead, the sounds of marching boots and grunting engines sometimes carried on through the night, punctuated by occasional gunshots. She had gotten used to the symphony of war. All she wanted now was to stay lost in the aromas of dumplings and noodles and stir-frys and biscuits.


And I tag Sara, Joanne, and JJ.



Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Other Side of Being Wonderful

I want to be Mr. Wonderful.

One of my flaws is that I care too much about what other people think, and I want everybody to love Raymond. I understand the futility of such wishful thinking but at least that's a motivation for me to try to be selfless, considerate, nice. Wonderful. It's not always easy, as I'm a rather self-centered person.

But being wonderful has its drawbacks. Many drawbacks. The old adage that "nice guys finish last," for one thing. Another thing is Mr. Wonderful often finds that people tend to not take him seriously. It's not like they don't respect him; they do. But they tend to think that just because he's so nice about everything, his advice doesn't carry that much weight. I don't know why. People tend to listen to others who are more "authoritative" or brash or aggressive. I've had plenty of experiences dealing with clients who want a second opinion simply because "Ray seems such a nice guy..." They somehow equated "nice" as being "weak" or "uncertain."

Mr. Wonderful also don't have a lot of friends. It may sound strange; after all, everyone likes a nice person as friend, right? Not necessarily. I think many are actually intimidated by someone who is nice, for whatever reasons. I know people who wouldn't call Mr. Wonderful or invite him to dinner or anything, and he found out later that because they thought "you must be very busy because you must be very popular. So I didn't bother." It must be good for Mr. Wondeful's ego -- you'd think -- but the reality is that it's simply not true, and he ends up being home alone.

Mr. Wonderful also sets up expectations. Mr. Wonderful is always amiable. Mr. Wonderful is always considerate. Mr. Wonderful never raises his voice. Mr. Wonderful will not mind if you don't call or write or invite him to a party or count him in for an outing. Mr. Wonderful must have lots of friends. Mr. Wonderful must have a lot of dates. Mr. Wonderful will laugh it off and avoid any awkwardness if you even dare to show a hint of interest in him. Mr. Wonderful must either be married or has plenty of romantic opportunities. Mr. Wonderful must be unapproachable.

And if Mr. Wonderful stops being so wonderful sometimes, people would think much less of him because something must be wrong with him. Mr. Wonderful is probably an egomaniac in reality. Mr. Wonderful is just a facade. Mr. Wonderful is not truly that wonderful. Mr. Wonderful really hates you.

So. Being Mr. Wonderful is not always that wonderful. It can be a curse, actually.

And I'm no Mr. Wonderful.

Really.