Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

And welcome to a new decade (technically speaking, it's the end of the first decade of the 21st century, but oh fudge, I like even numbers)!

I'm thankful this awful decade is finally over. 2000 started off badly with a contentious election that further divided the country; 8 years of Bush; two wars that are still on-going; 9/11; worst economy downturn since the Great Depression... the list goes on and on.

That's not to say the 2000s were all bad. Personally, I had some great achievements. I became a professional writer. My novel was published in 2006. My family and I were in relatively good health. Financially I was comfortable. I had great adventures and fond memories.

Here's hoping for a great new decade!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Share My Work

I don't usually share my work especially when it's in first draft stage. Sometimes, however, I'd get the itch to post something or send my readers a snippet, even if I don't get any feedback. I'm not sure why. Is it because I'm insecure as a writer and I need someone to tell me: "It's good." Or is it because I'm proud of my work and I want to share it with someone else before the whole thing is ready for consumption? Or is it because writing is a lonely profession and we writers need to come out of our shells sometimes and let our writing breathe?

Anyway, I'm particularly pleased with this paragraph and I think it gives my potential readers an idea of what to expect from Part Two of the book:




He falls silent again and continues with his noodles. I look away for a brief moment, and watch the streetlights flicker outside and the bicycles whisk by. I've decided I do not like watching people eat: how the food disappears into those dark, shuttering holes, followed by the nauseating sounds of chewing and swallowing. That's absurd. How people consume their food. I then stare at his glass of beer, which obscures and distorts the Aloha shirt he's wearing, and I realize how our culture is slowly consuming this country. Our language consuming theirs. And soon our military may consume their land.

Day 137

As the holiday season winds down, I'm starting to get back into my routines.

The first order of business is to STOP eating so much. Spending time with my family is awesome, but it also adds poundages. It's funny how my mom would tell me I'm fat in one instance and then feed me another piece of food in the next. Her rationalization? I can always go on a diet afterwards. That's true. Christmas only comes once a year and I don't visit my parents nearly enough. A little bit of holidays bingeing is not going to hurt me in the long run. I'll get back to my health regimen after the new year.

The next order of business is to get the writing done. I'm hoping by March I'll have the first draft done, and by May I'll have at least two revisions and by the summer I'll be polishing the final draft and ready for the submission process. It seems like a good plan, as this will be the fifth anniversary of the completion of The Pacific Between. Currently, I'm about 140,000 words in (and writing Part 2 of 3) so I think it's a highly attainable goal. We'll see.

The third order of business is to learn and perfect my trading skills. It's been a hit-or-miss year for me and I've made too many mistakes, some very costly, and I still have a lot to learn. More discipline to master. I understand the principles but it's been difficult to put all that knowledge into practice. 2010 will be the year I'm finally putting it all together and device a disciplined plan. The first half of 2010 is supposed to be rather good for the market as the economy continues to climb out of recession. The second half of the year may not be that rosy, but I'll have to remember this golden advice: "bears and bulls both make killings; pigs get slaughtered." It's all about discipline, not greed.

Last but not least, I'd like to spend more time with my family, friends and loved ones. We may not be in one another's life all the time, but they are still important to me and I assume I am to them as well. What the holidays have shown is that it doesn't matter what happens elsewhere -- family will always be family, and true friends will always be there for us. True friends are those who silently congratulate you when you're up and vocally support you when you're down.

So I guess this is kind of like my resolutions for 2010.

And I wish you a happy new year as well.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day 136

Ooops, it seems like I haven't updated this blog for 15 days. My bad. Well, you know how it is: the holidays, traveling, personal stuff, people to see, people to piss off...

That's not to say I haven't written anything since December 11. I have started on Part Two of the book and it has been going well. I decided to write in first person (from the POV of one of the protagonists) and it's been interesting so far. Not only am I glad to get into her head, but it adds some mystery to the story, too, as the readers would wonder what happened to the other main character. So far, it's been pretty good.

Still, I haven't been as productive as I should, and I hope that would change in the new year. There will hopefully be no distractions and a few months of nothing to do except to write... would it be bliss or dread? We shall see.

3500 words, 40500 words total
229 days and 145000 words to go

Friday, December 11, 2009

Day 121

Wow! Going through old files and backups, I found a synopsis I wrote in 2004 for The Terrapin's Trail (it was tentatively entitled A Long Way From Here). How fascinating! Despite some key characters and thematic elements and a general story arc, the plot is now entirely different than what I planned at the time.

It's interesting to me to see how far it's come along, and how I shaped and reshaped the plot and story over the years. And I must say, my initial thoughts on the plot sound ridiculous to me now, and thank goodness for common sense. Certainly, I wish I had kept a few of the plot elements from this original "outline." However, what I discover is that "outlining" doesn't really work for me. I often realize, as I keep writing, the story and plot change over time -- for the better, I may say. As I know more and more about my characters, they start to tell me their stories better than anything I could think of myself.

OK, that may sound like an odd statement. After all, everything comes from my mind; I am the creator of this story. However, I think most writers can relate and understand what I mean when I say, "My characters make me do it."




Let's just look at one piece of the synopsis:

Kai is a strong-willed fourteen-year-old boy living in Malaysia. The story begins when Kai, accompanied by his friend Paul, goes on a hunting trip in the dark forest, looking for a civet cat for his ailing mother. Aziz, Kai’s older cousin, urges Kai to return before nightfall. When Kai returns to his father’s plantation, he learns that the new governess, Margaret Branham, has arrived with her daughter Grace. Kai resents the presence of the governess, for it could only mean one thing – his mother is very ill and may not recover. Despite Paul’s objections, Kai raises havoc every chance he can; he’s extremely rude to everyone around him, acting like a spoiled brat. Grace, in particular, is miserable as a displaced American teenager in SE Asia. One day while confronting Grace in the papaya garden, Kai humiliates Grace in front of all the children. Grace disappears that evening.


Much of that has changed. The central characters still exist: Kai and Grace; Kai is now 17, not 14; Paul is a Malayan boy named Aziz; and Aziz is now Kai's brother named Juen. Grace is British, not American, and she came to the plantation four years prior, with her widowed father instead of mother. The Papaya garden scene has never been written. In fact, the whole section of the story is very different except for the opening hunting scene. The entire synopsis now reads like backstories -- which is good, since I could reuse some of the ideas during my rewrite.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 120

I haven't finished writing Part I of The Terrapin's Trail yet, but I'm already rather excited about Part II, which takes us from 1945 to 1961, back to South East Asia.

I'll just have to come back and finish Part I, since I have NO IDEA whatsoever, right now, on how to finish the last scenes, which are pivotal to the entire story. I need time to think that over.

In considering Part II, I've decided to write it in first person. I woke up one night with the clear notion in my head that Part II must be written in first person, which is a departure from the rest of the book (3rd limited).

The transition from 3rd to 1st, however, proved to be problematic. Partially because I found myself having to dig deeper into my characters and listen to their voices. Also, trying to figure out how to begin Part II brought me back to the beginning of the novel, and I found myself facing the same question: Where and how to start a story? In many ways, Part II is like a new story, with some of the same characters, but a whole different set of situations.

It took me a few days to figure it out, and I stalled at writing in first person. The voice didn't come out quite right and I struggled a bit. Fortunately, a few days later, as I plowed through the material, I came to terms with my character's voice and finally began to get into the grooves. I realized, my instinct of writing Part II in 1st person is a sound one.

Most of all, I'm looking forward to this part of the adventure. It's going to be satisfying.


1000 words, 37500 words total
245 days and 148000 words to go

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Review: The Pacific Between

Here's a repost of Mark Pettus' review in the St. Johns Recorder.


Ray Wong is a talented writer, and the first few chapters of The Pacific Between is so deeply emotional and personal that it is almost embarrassing to read. You get the sense that Greg Lockland carries a lot of his author's emotional baggage onto the page, and if not, kudos to Ray for creating such an emotionally raw character. I certainly hope Greg is more creation than autobiography, because while Greg Lockland is an engaging character, he's not very likeable. He's a thirty-year-old man who thinks and behaves like a fourteen-year-old spoiled brat. He's selfish, and self-absorbed, and watching him stumble through his life, trampling mindlessly on the feelings of the people he is supposed to care about, is fascinating, but only in the same way watching a train wreck would be.

Wong creates ample tension in the opening chapters of his book, leading us to believe that Greg's quest to find his childhood sweetheart, Lian, will coincide with his quest to find in himself the man he never grew up to be. Unfortunately, at mid-book all the tension disappears, and for several chapters you are left wondering just where the story is going. To be honest, Wong almost lost me. If it weren't for all the promise I thought he showed in the early chapters, I probably would have put this book down and walked away, but I stayed with it, and I recommend you do the same.

I believe the real test of a first author's ability can be judged at the end of his debut novel. By then, the writer has found the confidence to tell his readers what he really wants to say, and, if he has any talent, he has found the voice he wants to say it with. The end of The Pacific Between is like the rising crescendo in Bolero - getting faster, louder, and bolder as it clips along. By the end, I understood the courage it took to create a character as flawed as Greg Lockland. A lesser writer would have made Greg more likeable, less petulant, and lost the inherent truth encapsulated in the character's flaws. I think Ray Wong has shown us that this is just the beginning of what will be a long literary career.


You can read the original in The Bluff.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Accessible

Oscar-nominated director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air, Thank You For Smoking) said:


Both films tackled topics studio heads would usually blanch at. "Thank You for Smoking" made a hero of Aaron Eckhart's rather amoral tobacco lobbyist; "Juno" celebrated a pregnant teenager.

"If I have a skill as a filmmaker, it's finding accessible ways into tricky material," the 32-year-old director told CNN.



What did I tell you?



And here's from actress Dana Kaminski:

The more you get rejected, the harder you work on your craft. Become unstoppable. PERIOD. Become unrejectable.


Right on.

Day 117

Today's word is "accessibility."

As writers, we need to understand it especially if we're writing commercial fiction. It's not to say we must dumb down our work to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Certainly, there is difficult literature that gained traction even though it's not accessible, but usually they were not "commercial," at least not during the time of first publication.

Currently, I'm reading an award-winning novel by a superb writer. It's taken me months to read this piece of work and not because it wasn't well-written. In fact, I often stop and marvel at the author's word choices and the way she constructed her sentences. They are scrumptious. But the novel itself is an empty experience, in many ways. I don't particularly like the protagonist: I find him annoying, whiny, petty, cowardice and passive.

The biggest problem is that the plot is sketchy. After reading more than 200 pages, I still am not sure what the plot is. Yes, I know what the story is, and it's an intimate one. I have no problems with intimate, personal stories. But I still need a plot to move me forward. Often, I find myself stop reading without any urge to continue, because I know for the next 50 pages, nothing is going to happen either. Basically, the plot moves forward every 60 pages or so, with plenty of beautiful writing in between.

Now, I do appreciate gorgeous writing. I adore prose writers such as John Irving, Michael Chabon and Ian McEwan. Still, when I read a work of fiction, I want to feel I'm addicted to the plot and characters. I want to feel like I'm part of that world, that I really know these people. That I can't wait to see what happens to these people.

Accessibility.

With this novel I'm currently reading, I don't feel any of that. I'm apathetic. I have no interest where the story is going. I have no interest about these characters. I don't really care what happens to them.

And the reviews I've read so far confirmed that I'm not the only one. Most readers commented on how well-written the prose was. They also said, by and large, it was a slow-moving book, that readers had to take their time, savor it like a hot cup of tea.

I don't mind reading slowly and savoring the prose, but still there has to be something to egg me on, to pique my interest and to hook me enough to turn the pages. I shouldn't have to feel like it's an obligation, simply because I've started reading it, just to finish. I should be able to feel the emotions my characters are feeling, or at least empathize with them. I should be surprised. I should look forward to spending another day with them.

Accessibility.

500 words, 36500 words total
248 days and 149000 words to go

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Day 115

Heard from the news:

A young street musician was in the Pittsburgh Guitars store on the Southside, and was allowed to try out an old four-string banjo that was made in the 1930s. It had a nice sound. The store was a little busy as it approached closing time. A salesperson asked if he planned to buy the banjo. He replied that he couldn’t since he only had about $100 to last him until Christmas. He then hung the banjo back on the wall and went outside, where he was hanging out and talking to some friends. A store person came out and put the banjo and case in front of him. He was baffled until the store clerk explained. The actor, Russell Crowe, who is in town making a movie, was in the store, heard the discussion about the banjo and bought it for the street musician. He was gone before anyone could say ‘thank you."


How is this for a random act of kindness?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Day 114

I got a piece of hate mail today. At first, I had a WTF moment. Then I couldn't stop laughing because:

a) I've gotten hate mail before and it's always along the line of "you're untalented." Don't they know another insult?

b) it's usually written poorly. It's like a drunk accusing of others for being smashed

This really cracks me up.

Here is the e-mail in its entirety, unedited:

From: Scott XXXX (seriously, at least show me your real name)
Subject: Your status as author

I saw your comments to my friend and will tell you this- you are not talented in writing.
My friend kicks your ass in that department. It does not matter how many books your friends and family have bought to boost your self esteem. You are not the great writer you pretend to be so here is advice: don't piss off strangers.
Be brave ,face to face and if not, then do not act holier than thou.
Just friendly advice which I hope I never have to repeat.


I'm sorry, Scott. If you thought your e-mail would sour my mood, you were completely wrong. In fact, it brightened my day. It made me laugh. And I have to thank you for lifting my mood today and making me want to write even better.

I like my friend's response the best:


Thank you for your interest in me and my literature. It means a lot to know you people in your corner and it is people like you that make writing what I love. Keep reading, keep living, keep loving.

Love


Perfect.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Day 113

Some guys online were talking about our first cars. I remember mine. I just got my license and I wanted to get a CHEAP used car for school and also an eventual job. This girl at my apartment had one for sale. It was an ugly Buick Skylark but it was cheap.



The thing is, it lasted two winters and through some of the worst blizzards we had. When every car on the road was stalled and stuck in the snow, mine kept going. I remember going to a company Christmas dinner with my then-girlfriend and it took us over 2 hours to get to where we needed to be. All the way I was so afraid my junk car would stall but it didn't fail me.

Eventually, it did die, and I was only too happy to replace it with a brand new car. How loyal I was.

And since then, I have not bought any American cars.

This is my current car: A Toyota MR2 Spyder. I guess I've moved up quite a bit.



I've had the car for about 5 years now. Still running well. Still fun to drive. Best of all, it has a gas-mileage of 35 MPG. For a sports car! I love this car.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Day 112

I wrote 2600 words in two days. The trick? Lots of dialogue! I find that if I write tons of dialogue, I could easily hit 1000-1500 in one sitting. The words just roll out.

When I'm writing narrative, it's like drilling for oil. 500 words seem like an epic.

I'm wondering, maybe I should just write the rest of the WIP as dialogue, and then fill in the blanks later with narrative. That seems like such a good plan until I realize that's just cheating. At least, that's what I think.

I'm trying to knock 1000 words off the park today -- it's deadline day. I need 3500 words this week.

---

After a gorgeous day (sunny, clear sky, warm, and a perfect bright full moon), it's gloomy and rainy today. Not to mention the drivers around town are idiots. Seriously. It is NOT that difficult to drive in drizzles; you just need to be a bit more careful, pay attention, and try not to speed. But of course, by noon, there were already two or three accidents. It's amazing how signficantly the DQ (driving quotient) would dip once you get within the beltway of the city. It's like suddenly people forget how to drive.

And don't get me started on stereotypes. I know they're bad, but they're also true. I'm Asian, and I hate Asian drivers. Granted, I'm not the best driver in the world (could use a few more hours on the speedway), but whenever I visit my parents in California (they live in an area heavily populated by Asians), I'm amazed by how poorly people drive there. Even my dad, who is in his 70s but has over 45 years of driving experience, complains about the bad drivers. He said these people "have money to buy cars, but no money to learn to drive."

500 words, 36000 words total
253 days and 149500 words to go

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Day 111

Today's World AIDS Day. Almost 30 years later there's still no cure, and HIV infections, especially in Africa, continue to rise. I'm urging everyone to wear red to show support. Better yet, please consider giving donations or volunteering.



1000 words, 35500 words total
254 days and 150000 words to go