Sunday, August 31, 2008

Obamamania!

Now let's talk politics. :)

Q: This political race is unique in a number of ways; the first black man has a very real chance of becoming the president of the United States, the possibility that a woman may end up in the White House, truly history in the making.

However, having been on this spinning rock for a few presidential elections, I can honestly say I have never seen the cult phenomenon that is currently bestowed upon Senator Obama. The level of blind faith and devotion is scary; leave aside the potential of suffering physical damage.




My take:

There are fanatics in every stripe. I personally know Bushheads who think he's God's gift and he could do no wrong, even after 8 long years. And I certainly have come across some Obamaniacs who worship the dirt he spits on.

But by and large I think people are still sane. They can see that Obama is not perfect, and that he's still an inexperienced Senator from IL with a humble beginning.

Yet despite whether you agree with or like his politics, I think both candidates have great background stories and inspiring histories. McCain was a POW. Obama grew up without a father.

The thing people are jazzed up about Obama is that he inspired people. He was practically an unknown four years ago when he burst into the political scene, and the train hasn't stopped since then. His success and rise -- at the primary and potentially in November -- are phenomenal not only because he's the first African-American who's gone this far, but also because he did it despite everything pit against him: his childhood, his rebellious adolescence (drug use and all), his politics (he not always sides with his party or Washington), and racism. He did it all on his own, and not because he had some magical sugar daddy behind the curtain. I think that's what inspired people, especially those who are underprivileged and struggling, to rise to the occasion and do something.

He also ran a great campaign; it's not just some dumb luck. He ran a very grassroot campaign with a lot of local groups and parties and MySpace, etc. and he energized the young people. Like JFK and Clinton, his youth and idealism play a great part in his success, especially with the young "electronic media" generation. The viral nature of the Internet -- blogs, MySpace, text messaging, etc. -- helped propel him to that stratosphere.

It's not to say he's universally adored though. Even within his own party he had to split it with Hillary Clinton. We'll see how well he will do in the next two months. But I doubt he would have the kind of landslide effect as Reagan and Clinton did.

I think he's also at the right junction in time -- as someone said, he's on the right side of history. Times are tough and people want to be inspired again. People yearn for the time of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton -- both won their respective election in a landslide -- when one person can mean all that difference. Were Reagan or Clinton perfect? Were they the BEST men for the job at the time or ever? But somehow that's not relevant -- what was relevant was that they symbolized something, and America and Americans were better for it because people had hopes and were inspired to do something. After 8 years of complacency and fear, I think Americans are ready for this "change" again. So what if Obama is not perfect, and so what if he may not be the best man for the job? Compared to McCain, Obama's success inspires people, and everyone loves a fairytale story that ends with "happily ever after."

Because, dammit, that could happen to me, too, if I work hard enough.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Dream

You know what my dream really is?

It's not world peace or utopia, although that would be nice.

It's not fame or fortune, but that could help.

It's not being the best of the best [writer, whatever] and be recognized for that, although it would please me.

It's not just happiness; that's too vague, although I do want it.

It's not love; I already have that, although it's really nice.

I realize, my dream is really to be able to pick up and go anywhere in the world, anytime, and experience the landscapes, cultures, lifestyles, people, food, sights, sounds, everything. To leave everything behind and not worry about anything. To be able to travel the world, to do all the things I think of doing. Just pack my duffle bag (or not), grab my passport, and go. Now that would be a life. And that would be a dream. For me.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/books/08/26/obit.freeman.ap/index.html

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Frustrated by the Submission Process (and Rejections)?

It isn't so much the "big advance". I don't hold my breath for such things. I do want readership. Getting published is important, I just think I really did something right with this book. I believe in it (and hate that I'm starting to doubt it).




Sometimes it's not whether your book is good or not, but whether the agent or publisher is a good fit. The more commercial you go (agent/publisher) the more they want market, and lit fic tends to have a smaller market to begin with. Many agents, to be honest, even if their guidelines say they are looking for lit fic, they're really looking for the next Rowling or Grisham. Agents are looking to make a buck, and they're looking for books that will give them that. It's not to say there really is no market for lit fic or contemporary. Jamie Ford sold his. But it's going to take a bit more effort -- so don't let 50, or even 100, rejections get you down. As long as you haven't exhausted the list yet, you keep going. I know it's a cliche, but it really does only need ONE yes. I know as writers we all want to get instant recognition, or 50 rejections do feel like 50 personal denial ("you suck") sometimes, but again, don't let that get you down.

Also, there's nothing wrong with niche market publishers, indies, small presses. You may not have the kind of readership you'd like, but they're legit ways of getting started. And it doesn't mean your book is not good because you're published by a small press. Gosh, I hope people don't think I'm a hack because I'm published by Behler. You can always resell the rights once you get established. Grisham sold his first novel to a small press (which is now out of business). It wasn't until his second book (and a subsequent movie starring Tom Cruise) that he became a household name. And to this date, he still thinks his first book (A Time To Kill) was his best book. So going with a small press doesn't mean your book is not good -- you just need to find the right venue (for the time) for it. I always tell Grisham's story not to comfort myself, but to show that there are many paths to success.

That said, I do know some people don't take me as seriously because I'm not published by Random House or St. Martin's. I try not to dwell on it. To me, it's like saying unless you're employed by IBM or Microsoft, you're not a good IT person. That's a bunch a crock. But I don't really care at this point. Writing is a career for me; at least I can say to them: I'm published, are you?




I just keep hearing "start at the top and work your way down the list of agents that represent your genre" and I am not sure I have done enough of that yet. Which leads me to wonder if it is my letter, my premise or my agent matching skills. or maybe it is just the wrong market for this book right now.




Absolutely start from the top. Work your way down. And as Uncle Jim said, "do it until Hell doesn't want it."

Where you stop is up to you though. When I had about 60 rejections I told myself I'd go with smaller presses. It was a conscientious decision I made. I don't really regret that decision.

But I think you have the right approach, and it's not a bad idea to revisit the query/etc. to make sure you do refine your process. I had 15 rejections (and one request for full that didn't go anywhere) before I realized my query sucked. I reworked it, 12 drafts total. And I kept refining it. By the end of my process my "request" rate was about 1 in 5 -- not that bad, considering my book is niche market stuff (lit/contemporary/romantic/personal journey). I did get impatient and went directly to the small publishers -- and I got bites immediately; it seems like they're more hungry for fiction like mine than the big agents/big houses.

But it's a good thing to reassess your query or approach once in a while. My point is, don't second guess yourself though. I hate to see you ask questions like: "Maybe this story is just not that good..." You should never think that. It's okay if you think your query needs work or rework -- so workshop it some more. Critique it. Totally rewrite it if you must, if you think it's the problem (since I don't know what your rejections say, I have no idea -- but when I reworked mine, I based that on the feedback I got... I even cut out 15,000 words because I had enough rejections that told me the story started too slow...) It's even good idea to workshop your ms. some more if you think it can be improved upon. Did you have betas? Who were your betas? Did you have both writers and readers for your critiques? Do you have published authors read through your ms.?

An interesting anecdote: when I first workshopped The Pacific Between, I got some mixed feedback. Some readers just loved the whole thing, but there was one reader who told me, "in the beginning, the plot didn't go anywhere and your protagonist wasn't really relatable." I got mad (the golden word syndrome, perhaps, or just being a naive jerk). I thought she was wrong because how could she be right if my other readers loved it? Well, long story short, it turned out that she was right, and the agents agreed with her: the book started at the absolutely wrong place. I ended up cutting 15,000 words (7 chapters) and reworked the beginning, and it sold. And secretly I appreciated that first reader for being candid and critical with me, even though I was not receptive at the time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Life Experiences, writing and self-worth

Q: You must have conflict to write a story and life is full of conflict, so therefore we draw from life to write our stories, right? Well, I led sort of a sheltered life growing up, and I feel I subconsciously sought out conflict just so I could have a story and not be bored. I felt that unless I had something of significance to say, my life would be meaningless. But that isn’t healthy, is it? People tell me I must be happy with myself despite whether or not I get validation from others for my efforts. How do you go about life without caring what others think of you?






Everyone is different. Sometimes I envy people who have "colorful lives" -- there's so much experience and conflicts and pain and suffering, etc. to fill 100 books. Then again, I ask myself: Is that really what I want? No. I want happiness and peace and love. And if I never write a book again because I'm happy with my life -- so be it.

There are more than one question in there. First, it's about life experiences and writing. Second, it's about validation and self-worth. I think as far as writing is concerned, we have imagination and also ways of doing research and observe the world around us. And nobody lives through life without any kind of conflicts, heartaches, pain and sorrow anyway, so we can all draw from those experiences. So to me, it's not an either or, but what and how a writer can use all the tools at his or her disposal, and that may include personal experiences, imagination, thoughts, observation, and research.

As far as validation and self-worth are concerned, that's the tough one. Again, everyone is different. Some people can't be happy by themselves, and some can live happily after if no one was ever around. I think you need to find your own grooves -- what makes you tick. But I agree that if you depend your self-worth on external validations alone, then you'll find a whole lifetime of disappointment and sadness because you just can't please everyone. Even the most famous, "well loved" people in the world are targets for ridicules and hatred by many. The more well-known you are, the more people want to trash you. And no matter what you do, what you write, there are going to be naysayers and detractors. There are going to be people who tell you "you suck." My advice is, know yourself -- try very hard to do so -- and focus on the positives in your life. Yes, bad things happen, but we don't have to dwell on them. Learn from them and use what you learn in your art, but you don't have to live in tears constantly to write great stories.

I've spent my life trying to get validation, and as I get older, I depend less and less on others to find that inner peace and satisfaction. And also, I realize I can't write worth a damn when I'm depressed or unhappy -- those feelings don't fuel my writing at all. I have to be at peace, and happy to be truly creative and productive. That's me. But it doesn't mean I can't learn from my experiences when I'm down and out. To me, life's one big continuum and there's no set schedule. And that kind of unpredictability is what's so exciting!
__________________

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How Much Ham Is in a Sandwich?

So, here was this guy working at a local Bruegger's. And it went like this:

Me: I'd like a sesame softwich with ham, please.
Guy: (takes the soft bagel, cuts it in half, and puts down two pieces of ham. Then stops. Waits.)
Me: Um, and lettuce and tomatoes.
Guy: (puts some lettuce on it and two slices of tomatoes. Waits.)
Me: (notices there are only two pieces of ham) And some mayo
Guy: (squirts mayo all over one half of the bagel. Waits.)
(Supervisor walks behind guy, checks out the sandwich, whispers into the guy's ear. Walks away.)
Guy: (looks at sandwich for a good five seconds. Counts the number of ham. Ding, ding, ding. Puts four more pieces of ham on TOP of the tomatoes. Waits.)
Me: That's all.
Guy: (takes about a minute to wrap up the sandwich. Struggles with paper wrapper. Finally finishes wrapping it. Squiggles the letter "H" on it. Waits another three seconds. Squiggles a square around the letter "H." Waits.) Did I give you cheddar cheese?
Me: No, but thanks.
Guy: (hands me sandwich.)
Me: Thank you!


So was I being a bastard not to correct him, that there were supposed to be six pieces of ham in the sandwich and not two? That I let his supervisor caught him screwing up?

I don't know. I just found it extremely entertaining. The guy was so stoned. He had those really glazed eyes and unpliable facial expressions. I wonder if his colleagues even noticed he showed up at work high. It was hilarious.

But yeah, the sandwich was good.

Prologue

- Some readers do skip prologues -- they can't wait to start on a story, and they see "prologues" as something before/outside of the main story, something not necessary for the story. They go directly to something marked "Chapter 1." As writers, we have no way of dictating how these readers read, nor should we condemn our readers if they ever skip prologues -- they've paid their $10. So if you have pertinent and important information and you only present it in the prologue, you may risk confusing some readers: "Huh, where was this ever mentioned?" It doesn't mean you have to change your artistic vision because of these readers, but do keep that in mind.

- The first page is very important, whether it's chapter 1 or prologue or whatever. Treat your prologue, if you have one, as carefully as you treat your first chapter. If you don't hook your readers right off the bet, you risk losing them. You can't say "oh, it's just a prologue. The real meat begins in Chapter 1 anyway..." That includes info-dump, long descriptions of settings, "ordinary day" where nothing of consequence happens, navel gazing, etc. If you won't put that stuff in Chapter 1, you shouldn't put it in a prologue either.

- When so many writers misuse prologues, don't be part of the trend. Make sure there's a clear purpose for the prologue, and that it's the best way to tell your story.

- A prologue doesn't need an epilogue, or vice versa (Atonement, for example, has an potent epilogue but no prologue). They often go hand-in-hand but not necessarily so. Also, a "frame" is a specific prologue-epilogue pair and it serves a key role in some storytelling and can be very powerful way to structure your novel.
__________________

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Quoted!

I have arrived!  Someone quoted me. I feel very special right now.

And here's the quote:


Ask not how you can become rich and famous, ask "What have I written lately?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

WEIRD!

I just posted something about my fast (3 days and 18 hours so far).

I was playing with Facebook and out of curiosity checked my horoscope today:

Avoid all food excess and do some exercise every day if you want to keep fit. Probably an intestinal disorder. Some slight financial difficulties. If you intent to embark on a legal action, give up the idea altogether; it will prove more advantageous to settle the difference out of court. Isolate yourself whenever possible in order to regain your nervous and mental equilibrium.

Bolding mine.

Talk about weird!


Fasting

OK, I told myself to fast after I came back from California (there was no point of fasting before or during my trip since my parents wouldn't have it any other way than to stuff me with food). I did gain a few pounds while I was out west, and when I got back, I was more than determined to lose those extra fat quickly.

So, Friday night at around 11 p.m. I had my last meal. Well, it wasn't really a meal, just a frozen fruit popsicle (and it was good). I woke up with the normal hunger but by then it was about 8 or 9 hours without food for me, so I realized I might as well keep going.

I drank a lot of water. I did cheat a bit, during the afternoon, with a bottle of Vitamin Water because I was feeling woozy, and I was about to go to the gym to work out. It's very important to exercise during a fast, by the way.

The first two days were the hardest. I kept having hunger pangs, but I resisted the urge to eat or even think of food. By Saturday evening, my feeling of hunger had dissipated and I felt calm and actually very good about myself.  Except for a cold that developed on Saturday. I supposed the toxins were being released from my body and whatever viruses lurking were attacking my system, now that it seemed weaker.  I took ColdEeze and vitamin C and, again, drank a lot of water. I also went to bed early, trying to sleep it off.

Sunday was much easier, and I didn't much think of food at all. I worked out, although a little lighter than usual as I was still feeling a bit under the weather, and I drank a lot of water.  I even went to the grocery store and did not buy any food. I was so proud of myself.

Monday was my third day, and I felt much better. I had almost no hunger, and I was able to go about my daily routines without any physical or mental problems. A few times I felt a bit woozy and I had to sit down and rest, but very quickly the feeling subsided. My cold was almost completely gone and I felt good. In the evening, I had an apple and some tea with honey just to get some nutrients into my body -- but that was all I ate. Normally you shouldn't do that because it may trigger your brain into feeding mode instead of conservation. But so far, it hasn't affected my fast.

By Tuesday (the fourth day), I've lost about four pounds -- no doubt mostly water and some fat. I didn't notice any muscle loss as I was very careful to exercise while doing this. The puffiness on my face has totally disappeared, and I look much leaner. Since I didn't have any sodium intake for a few days, I'm not retaining water and my blood pressure has been really normal. Not to mention I do honestly feel better. Maybe it's psychological, but I think I've flushed out a lot of crap and toxins from my body in the last 3 1/2 days. It can't be a bad thing.

Even though I wanted to fast for three days, I'm beginning to think I should do it for five days. It seems that it takes the body and the brain at least 2 or 3 days to get into the conservation mode, and that's when fasting becomes beneficial. 

According to all the research I've done, during the first few days, the body will try to take any glucose it can find -- in muscles, and from glycogen in the liver, etc. But after 2 or 3 days, that's when the body goes for the fat. There are about 3500 calories in one pound of fat, so to lose a pound, your body needs to burn the fat for a bit over a day (considering a person with normal activities burns about 2200-2500 calories a day). That's why it's more beneficial to fast for at least 5 days. Also, do you know that toxins are stored in fat?  So by burning the fat, you'd be releasing the toxins to your bloodstream, and it's very important that you keep yourself hydrated and try to flush things out -- by peeing a lot, or sweating. Therefore, using the sauna during this time is highly beneficial as well.

I've learned quite a bit about the process and my body during this "experiment." I wouldn't recommend anyone do this without any serious thoughts and research; and if you have health issues, please, please, please consult your doctors first. However, I have to admit I really do see the benefit of a moderate fast (3-7 days) -- it's good to the body and the soul. And I think it would be a good thing to do every once in a while.

Before you consider fasting, however, make sure you understand what you're getting into, and make sure you know your body well. It's also good to have someone to back you up just in case you're putting your health in danger. The first few days is going to be rough, and you need the discipline to keep going; once you hit the threshold by the 3rd day, it will be easier. I find that my attitude about food has changed. I realize I don't have to eat all that junk and can still be productive and happy. I don't need all that salt. I don't need all that fatty stuff. A simple apple becomes very enjoyable, and I don't crave for more. It's an extraordinary discovery about myself and food. In a way, it's rather liberating.