What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?

clock2Writing has been part of my life since I could first use a pencil and left scraps of paper all over my grandmother’s house – my “notes” – when I visited.  She said that from the time I was about six years old, cleaning up after I had spent time with her was entertaining. She never wondered what was on my mind – I wrote everything down. I planned on being a writer all the way through college and graduate school when I realized that I needed a day job to pay the bills.  I resisted teaching for a long while because it was sort of my “family business” – Mom still teaches elementary school (finishing her 46th classroom!), my father was on the board of education for years, my uncle teaches law, another uncle was the vice-chancellor of a big university, and even my grandmother was assistant superintendent of schools in a system in Connecticut when I was little.  I didn’t want any part of it.  I tried advertising, public relations and even a computer firm until I finally caved in and got a doctorate in English education and started teaching writing on the college level.

As any woman knows, balancing the demands and rewards of work and family is no easy feat.  When our family moved to Japan, I was lucky enough to find part time work at Temple University where I could teach two courses a semester and still have plenty of time to not only be a participatory mother, but even volunteer in the kids’ schools and never miss an event.  Adjunct teaching isn’t for everyone, but I was lucky enough to have a husband with a steady job so my career didn’t have to be primary and I could focus on the kids.

Babies tend to do this funny thing: they grow.  A lot.  Quickly.  Though it seems like only seconds ago I walked down a street holding the hands of a toddler and a kindergartener, my current reality has one child graduating from middle school and the other graduating from elementary school.  Yep, in a few short months I will be the parent of a high schooler and middle schooler.

More often than not, the kids are busy after school these days and not home until close to dinner time.  I don’t always have to go with them to these activities because many of them are associated with the school and they have busing.  So that leads me to the question of what I’m going to do next.  It’s an interesting question for any woman at any time, but in Japan, where I’m a trailing spouse, sometimes the issues seem insurmountable.  I don’t speak or read the language, and most Japanese companies don’t want a foreigner working for them anyway.  In addition, with my children’s school schedules, I want to be able to take them to the US for a long summer holiday so they can reconnect with our extended family and American roots.  I can’t take just any full time job, so the Temple University position, for just two semesters a year, is ideal.

Luckily, as a writer I have a lot of other options too.  There are blog posts to read and write, contests to enter, and even English-language magazines for which to write.  I’ll do another posting on writing vs. editing and the challenges therein, but this leads me to another point – focus.  I can’t do everything.  I have to pick what it is that’s important to me and focus on those things, otherwise I’ll do many things and none of them very well or successfully.

So now it’s time to raise the bar and figure out what it is that will claim my focus going forward.  Teaching will hopefully be part of the equation, but what I choose to write and how I choose to organize my time in the next few months remains to be seen.

One thing I’ve learned in recent years is that what I want to be when I grow up is not a static thing.  The idea of it can grow and change as I grow and change – emotionally, physically and even situationally.  That same grandmother who found my scraps of paper when I was little used to tell me, “when I stop learning, that’s how you’ll know I’m dead.” I subscribe to that theory. I’m not sure what exactly I want to be when I grow up, but figuring it out is a great journey

Why Do The Japanese Love Cherry Blossoms So Much? Finally, A Decent Answer!

hanami1This is a bit of a teaser post because I’m going to send you over to another blog to find the answer, but I promise you, it’s worth the click.

CLICK HERE!

Writer and friend Alice Gordenker has been in Tokyo for quite a long time and has always pondered the question of why the Sakura (cherry blossoms) are such a huge part of Japanese life and lore.  Finally she has discovered a wonderful answer and it will surprise and delight you.

Be sure to check out this post as well as the rest of Ms. Gordenker’s blog, and look for her column in the Japan Times.

Enjoy!

Scavenger Hunt Contest! Author and Friend Trisha Wooldridge’s New Book Cover

thekelpie_front_onlyAuthor and friend Trisha Wooldridge from Massachusetts has a new book coming out before the end of this year and I am privileged to help her reveal pieces of the cover of her book – scavenger hunt style!  The book is a wonderful story of mystery and kids – and wisdom and maturity.  My blog here is but one of the places you need to go to find pieces of the cover, put together the puzzle – a poem – and WIN! Please go to Trish’s blog for details of the contest – more about the story and how to win fun prizes!

This is but one piece of the cover and puzzle – a special piece as you can read below.

 

The MacArthur Tartan

“Once upon a time…a great-great uncle that we hadn’t known prior […] saw my dad on the show Who Do You Think You Are? where he tried looking into his dad’s line back to the Clan Arthur but only found a dead end. Great-great Uncle William MacArthur sent us family records and the deed to the falling-apart castle just before he died.”

My friend Aimee Weinstein was one of my first beta readers for The Kelpie, and she gave me a lot of great feedback.  We’ve been friends for some years since we shared an online tutoring job, and I adore her blog posts about modern culture and anthropology as she discusses being an American ex-pat over in Tokyo. Because she does so much with culture, I wanted to give her the MacArthur Tartan to display on her blog.

macarthurclantartanAlso, I stole Aimee’s name and spelling for Heather’s mom.

If you look very closely on the cover, you’ll see the strips of this tartan, especially when you see the full wraparound cover. This is my artist, Vic’s, rendition of the MacArthur Tartan (because tartans can be copyrighted.)

I chose Clan Arthur from Scotland because there actually happens to be a lovely hole in the clan history over in Scotland that I could squeeze my family into, giving them a long-forgotten castle with a mysterious past.  The MacArthur Clan also has a lot of American history; I found more on that than about those left in Scotland.  This also fits because Heather’s family is a mix of American and Scottish.

Thank you very much, Aimee, for being part of my Scavenger Hunt and the journey of The Kelpie!

What Can I Do About Uncooperative Characters?

writingpicI have an idea for a story.  Well, more accurately, I have a great character and interesting situation for him and I even have an idea of what he should be doing – a story arc.  So with all that clearly laid out, the writing should be a piece of cake, right?  WRONG!  For some reason this kid is not cooperating with me.  I’ve tried writing from the kid’s point of view and writing from a third-person point of view.  I even aged the kid thirty years and tried it via flashback.  Three times now I’ve written over 1000 words, been dreadfully unhappy, and erased the whole thing.

I’m answering a prompt for a short story contest, but the deadline is three weeks away, so I don’t feel any pressure; that’s not the issue.  I am invested in the character and I’d like to make it work, but I’m not sure how.  This hasn’t happened to me before.  In general when I get an idea, I sit down and write it.  Boom.  Done.  That’s it.  I can write more than 1000 words an hour and finished NaNoWriMo before the deadline.  (This is just a comment on volume, not quality – I need a LOT of editing when I write at that pace)  So you can see why I’m stumped here.

My plan going forward is to sit down with a pen and paper and flesh out more details about the character, the supporting cast, the situation and even some of the action.  Perhaps I’ll take out my computer to do it, but sometimes my best thinking is done when I use my hand effectively.  Research has been done about the strong connection between the hand and the brain and that it does not translate to typing and I follow this pattern: writing in my journal is more effective when I think about a story than when I just type.  Lastly on this topic, my NaNoWriMo was the easiest and the best ever this year and I can pinpoint the one reason why: planning.  While I didn’t write at all in October and tried very hard to follow the rules to the letter, I did do a lot of planning.  I had a sketch of each character and an idea of his or her motivation for every scene in the story.  I am going to apply that principle here.  I’m not going to move forward on writing until I have the ideas fully fleshed out.

If anyone out there has a better method, or other advice, I’m open to it.  Please let me know!

A Real Resource For Writers

Gardner bookAgent Rachelle Gardner has kept a blog for quite a while and most of it consists of advice for writers.  She covers topics such as getting an agent, editing issues, understanding your agent, and other topics that are of interest to writers who are interested in publishing their books.  Her newest foray is as an author herself and she has published the first of her series of e-books for writers.  The first one, titled How Do I Decide? Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing is a workbook for authors to decide precisely HOW they want to get their books – their babies – out into the world.  With self-publishing become so dominant in the field and having moved way beyond just vanity presses, the decision is no longer simple.  Gardner’s e-book is a hands-on workbook that forces authors to confront their own styles of not only writing, but also their attitudes about marketing and other issues that first-time writers might not know at the start.  It’s a must-read for people who are getting started.  You can click here to see the book on Amazon. Here’s the text of my Amazon review:

“What I like best about “How Do I Decide?” is that it’s chock-full of resources for authors. It contains checklists and resources that a writer can use to make the all-important decision on whether to self-publish or try to go the traditional route of publication. The writing is clear and the advice is detailed and at times, brutally honest. The book goes through the ins and outs of the traditional publishing process along with the pros and cons involved, and then also goes through the whole process of self-publishing in the same detail. It acknowledges that different writers have different personalities and attitudes towards the business end of the writing process so Gardner encourages self-reflection in these pages so that authors can make a informed decisions about the process of publication with their own needs and desires in mind. This is helpful so that writers can work within their comfort zones on what can potentially be a difficult procedure. As a writer myself looking to make these all-important decisions, Garder’s book was really helpful to me. I’m going to give the book another read and fill out the checklists and such before I make a final choice, which feels very easy to me now. Gardner’s aim is to help authors make the process as painless as possible, and she’s off to a great start with it. I’m looking forward to Gardner’s next endeavor.”

Gardner has a series of four e-books to start, with one of them being on the ins and outs blogging, which will come out soon hopefully.  I will review them as they appear so you can check here to see what’s happening with the books.

Please pass this important info on to your writer friends!

Happiness is a DESK

writingpicTo be filed under “news of the new year,” I am teaching again at Temple University’s Japan (TUJ) campus.  Writing at teaching writing are my passions; they’re the two things that get my blood flowing and can bring me to a boil in seconds.  My husband likes to quote from the movie “The Flamingo Kid” when he says, “In life, there are things that you like doing and there are things that you’re good at.  If God is smiling at you, they’re the same thing.”  Well, God is definitely smiling on me with this one since I often cannot believe someone pays me to do this work that I love, and I get pretty good reviews on it, too.

The road to get to my first class this week was a pretty tough one.  I’m the last adjunct hired in the first-year writing department at TUJ so if a class is going to be canceled due to low enrollment, it’s going to be mine.  I wasn’t able to confirm that my class was running until the night before it was supposed to begin.  Luckily, because of department regulation, I had to write syllabi and plan classes well before the deadline, so I was ready when it started.  I suppose it all could have been for naught if both of my classes had been canceled (only one was canceled), but I am lucky that one is running.  Class planning is never useless though; flexing that academic muscle is good for the brain.

Professors at TUJ do something that no professor would consider in the U.S.: they sit in cubicles, bull-pen style.  There’s no privacy and no privilege that comes with walls and a door.  It’s a very Japanese approach to work, as most offices function this way in the country.  It’s just not something we’re accustomed to as Westerners.  Since coming back to work at TUJ last year, I’ve never had my own cubicle, though.  I either teach on Mon/Wed/Fri or Tues/Thurs and they assign met to a desk that I share with a person teaching the opposite days.  This term, for whatever reason, however, I got my own desk.  I don’t know if someone felt badly that both of my classes didn’t fill or about the late run-notice or something else, but it doesn’t matter.  The point is that I have my own desk.

The desk is nothing special, nor is the chair.  There is a good, usable computer on the desktop with a wireless printer attached.  It is light, and near a window.  It’s at the back of the big room and ensures a small measure of privacy.

Best of all, it’s mine for the semester.  I can work here whenever I like, no matter if it’s a teaching day or not. I can come here and write instead of feeling distracted at home.  I can come to school and be inspired by students and other professors as I go through my projects and make progress.  I will be able to get out of the house and see other people every day if I want to when I go use my desk and computer at school.

I have a number of projects and ideas in the hopper, and I can hardly wait to get started.    It all begins with a desk.  A desk with endless possibilities.

How do you find your muse?  Can an inanimate object help you?

NaNoWriMo is Done – Now What?

As I mentioned, I spent the month of November writing 50,000 words of a novel.  I’m done! Hurrah!  So then what happens, you might ask?

writingpicFirst of all, I have to finish the novel.  I would estimate that it’s about 90% done with first draft.  The last scenes still need to be written.  The challenge is to put down 50,000 words; not finish a book.

It’s after the first draft is done that the hard work really begins.  I have to step back and let it sort of “breathe” for a few weeks.  Then I have to take the fifteen or so assorted scenes that I’ve written and make sure they come together as a cohesive novel.  Then I have to edit.  And edit. And edit.  I will ask others to read the draft after the fourth or so effort.  Those friends will make some serious suggestions and I will do edits five, six and seven on the complete draft.  I  might think it’s ready for outsiders to see by that point.

Then starts the un-fun stuff.  I will then work as more o fa  saleswoman than writer, trying to pitch my book to editors, agents, anyone who will look at it in hopes of publication.  What about the e-book route?  Well, I might go that way also, but that takes research and effort also.

All of this means that I’ve done the fun work of writing and now, if I ever want my book to see the light of day, I have to get right down to the business of being a writer.  The hope is that the hard work will pay off in the end with publication in one form or another at some point in the not-too-distant future.  It hasn’t yet happened for me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe it will happen with one of my novels someday.  I am optimistic about it!

Then I get to do it all over again, because at the end of the day, writing is what I really love to do.  And that, my friends, is what happens when NaNoWriMo is done; just like anything else, we keep on keeping on.