College Daughter comes home for the weekend and discovers a massive new dog pillow in front of the fireplace.
Writing is like deep-sea diving. You spend a lot of time preparing and planning. There’s specialized gear and uncommon knowledge to acquire, some kiddie pool practice before venturing out into the open ocean, and a lot of effort to travel to new and unexplored dive sites.
Immersed in an alien macrocosm, time’s suddenly up, and you have to leave long before you’re ready. Before transitioning to surface world, you must decompress–otherwise Very Bad Things can happen.
On even the most routine dives, there’s always something unexpected, be it creature, human, weather, or something technically challenging. When you’re not diving, you’re dreaming about it and planning the next trip.
Yeah, writing is like diving to me. Which writing analogies resonate with you?
#amwriting #divingdeep #hawaiiansinspace #timeforadivetrip
You know how Boy Scouts are supposed to do a good deed each day? A couple of days ago I was the little old lady that got helped across the street–and the stakes were way higher than getting across the road.
I run on Diet Coke. It’s no secret–and cans are hands down the best. There’s an ongoing canned soda shortage in Utah. Right now canned Diet Coke is almost impossible to find and more valuable than gold to those who drink it like water.
So I’m in Costco. I know there’s no possibility that they have any, but it never hurts to check, right? I get near where the canned soda is kept. It’s right near the end of a row, but I’m on the wrong aisle, so I follow their stupid flow patterns and go ALL the way around until I’m in the right aisle coming from the “approved” direction. I’m almost there when a mom with two strapping teenage sons comes down the wrong way and stops at the soda.
I watch as one son loads cases of Mountain Dew and Sprite while the other son rummages and pulls up a case–35 cans!–of Diet Coke. “Hey, Mom!” he says, “I got the last one!” He puts it under their cart.
I call out, “Lucky!” Just teasing a bit.
“Oh,” he says. “Did you want Diet Coke?”
“Yeah, but it’s okay,” I say. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Oh, you can have it,” he says, picking it up again.
Oops. This was not my intention. “No, really,” I say. “It’s fine. I was just teasing a little.”
“No, take it,” he says, walking over.
His mother is staring daggers at me. I’m pretty sure she’s buying things for a Super Bowl party. Teen boys don’t drink Diet Coke, but she probably does. The kid’s not oblivious to the waves coming off Mom.
He glances at her, a bit confused. “What? It’s just Diet Coke.” He chucks it under my cart.
One of the sample ladies magically appears. She nervously says to the mom, “Go up to the front and tell them you want Diet Coke. They may have some in the back.” Sample Lady gets the stakes. Maybe over the past few months she’s seen blows over this and is tired of mopping up blood.
“Oh? There’s more in the back?” I say.
The mom and I both know that there’s no way there’s some in the back, but I’m thinking it’s a graceful out for me. I can just say, “No, you keep it and I’ll talk to somebody up front.”
But the kid is undeterred in doing his good deed. “See,” he says to his mom, “We can just ask up front.” He turns to me, face shinning with the good manners he’s been taught, and I see that doing this is very important to him. It’s cementing a pattern of thinking of others before himself.
Yeah, it’s Diet Coke, and it doesn’t mean much to him. But refusing it might make him feel less like helping others in the future.
I look at the mom and tell her she’s raised good sons with my eyes. I smile at the kid beneath my Covid mask and say, “Thanks. I really appreciate it.”
He grins and says, “No problem,” and turns to grab regular Coke.
And I hele’d out of there so fast smoke was probably coming off my sneakers.
It was 35 cans of Diet Coke after all.
#amwriting #musejuice #GoodDeeds #Momisstillprobablypissed
Ever enter a time warp? Sometimes it’s a good thing, like when you’re on a long plane ride and you fall asleep and 10 minutes later you’re landing halfway around the world. Score!
Other times you turn around and it’s been SIX MONTHS since you wrote a blog post. Or wrote anything longer than an article, essay, or short story. Six months that felt like a decade, the worst kind of time warp where you stand in line or get on a plane and months later discover you’re still right where you started.
I know I was busy, so busy I didn’t have time to do anything except put out the fire right in front of me and beat out the new flames arising from all sides.
2020 sucked, folks. For everybody.
But although I don’t have a new novel or play to feel good about, I did do some writerly stuff. I did some developmental editing on a few titles ranging from middle grade speculative fiction to adult non-fiction; wrote and sold a few short stories and essays; taught a few classes; mentored a few burgeoning writers and editors who didn’t listen when I said writing is hard, go to med school instead; did the layouts for a few books; did some copyediting; and spoke at a few virtual conferences. I accepted a position as the Personal Voices Editor at Dialogue magazine and found lots of nicer ways to say, “Yes, you do have multiple PhDs from Ivy League schools–well done! Regardless, your manuscript is not a personal essay. It is a diatribe. Thanks for submitting. P.S.–It’s ZZzzzzzz.” I also got to tell some new writers that I loved their personal essays and, “Yes!” In November I started working with Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR) in Utah as their Literary Coordinator and rebooted a women’s writing group and an adult book club, plus planned a kids’ literacy initiative and book club for 2021 with Pacific Heritage Academy.
Lots of work, but not a lot of new, creative words.
Like many, I had lots of personal drama and trauma in 2020. Adult kids moved back home to continue university classes online, and my husband stopped traveling for business and began working worldwide via Zoom from his home office. Everything we were looking forward to was canceled. We all stayed home, the longest I haven’t traveled since childhood. Kupuna died suddenly from heart attacks or had cancer or strokes, leading to new assisted living situations which ended up feeling like Covid jail when we could only visit through glass. It’s hard to hug through a window pane. But as hard as social isolation is, losing people is much, much harder. From mid-summer on, every week, then every few days, someone I knew from writer-world, ‘ohana, or my neighborhood died. I stopped counting at 18.
No wonder that for most of the year, I wasn’t able to write or edit my own words. I just couldn’t.
But life has to go on. I’ve realized that I need to write my words and tell my stories for my own sanity. When you can’t control anything in the real world, you can control your story.
Well, until your characters mount a rebellion and hijack the narrative. But that’s the fun part.
Coming up in 2021–more published short fiction in anthologies, a newly designed website (fingers crossed), AUDIO BOOKS for the Niuhi Shark Saga, the long-anticipated Hawaiians-in-space novella, a new horror series for kids, and new weekly Lauele Shorts on the blog–quick snapshot stories about favorite characters in the Lauele Universe. (Because when you’re leading a weekly writing group you have to–ahem–write.) As part of the literacy initiative, I’m going to write some new reader’s theater plays with Pacific Islander characters and themes for kids. There’re also three novel-length books I hope to draft in 2021, two set in Lauele and one not set in Hawaii at all.
Next to my computer are stacks of sugar-free gum and a new pink micro-fridge stocked with six Diet Cokes. (Thanks, Santa!) Writing is happening.
Thanks for hanging in there with me. Here’s to a brighter 2021: I wish all a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!
With Covid-19 and the world changing in ways unimaginable, most of my spring and summer calendar was tossed out the window. One of the things I had really been looking forward to was spending a month on Oahu from mid-May to mid-June. I was going to research, talk story with lots of people, teach a few workshops, make a few presentations, and recharge my writing batteries. And swim in the ocean. And eat. And dream. Bummed does not begin to describe my feelings when none of that was possible–well, except the eat part. Sometime I wonder if the 19 in Covid really stands for how many pounds you gain during quarantine.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way. While some of the events have been pushed to next year, some of them are going forward via Zoom. Remember the old PBS kids’ show Zoom? Like Joey on Friends, I always wanted to be a Zoom kid. Never thought I’d be one at my age!
Mom was frugal. She ran a tight ship when it came to things like paper towels, milk, and cereal. A lot of it came from how she grew up. There were times when her town’s steel mill closed over union disputes, and, like all their neighbors, they lived on the things they grew in their summer garden and canned for winter.
When I close my eyes, I can still see the rows and rows of mason jars, each labeled and dated, on Grandma’s shelves in her cool, dark basement, the scent of damp cement, potatoes, and rich dirt tickling the back of my throat.
And spiders. Can’t forget the *^%^&%!! spiders!
As a kid I hated cold cereal with milk, not because Sugar Smacks or Wheaties tasted bad, but because I HAD to drink the nasty cereal milk left in the bottom of the bowl. Dumping it out in the sink was tantamount to burning money, making me the most shameful, wasteful child of all. Because of this, I became a math prodigy who could calculate to the gram the perfect ratios of milk and cereal.
Probably should’ve pursued a career in chemistry instead of word alchemy.
Mom had a specific way she insisted we cleaned the bathrooms. If you did it right, you could clean the whole thing spotless using just one paper towel, a scrub brush, and a toilet brush. The one paper towel trick only worked because you went from relatively clean (mirror) to progressively dirty (underneath the toilet seat).
You started with sprinkling Comet in the tub, toilet, and sink. You used the scrub brush on everything except the toilet—that’s where the other brush came in—to swish around the bowl and scratch under the rim.
Done with the Comet, you sprayed Windex on most things and carefully used your one paper towel to first clean the mirror, then to shine the sink and tub’s faucets and drains, then ran it along the baseboards, until finally, you folded and folded the soggy scraps to use on the toilet sides, back, and seat, saving the most germy parts for last.
Heaven help you if things didn’t sparkle or Mom spotted TWO paper towels in the trash. The only thing worse was if she caught you mixing up the order. We all thought we’d die if anyone went mirror-toilet-tub-sink. And we would have, just not from germs.
Mom’s cleanliness standards were surgical. In her house, you didn’t worry about the 5 second rule; you could eat a whole meal off the floor at any time.
When I look at my own house through my mother’s eyes, I know I’ve fallen short. We all make choices and pick our battles. I decided early on that I would give up perfection if it meant my kids and husband did some of the chores. Mostly, I’m okay with it.
But there are times when it’s hard to give up those ingrained patterns. The pandemic seems to have shifted my anti-waste sensors to overdrive.
My husband grew up in dairy country where milk was like water. It makes me cringe every time he dumps the last quarter ounce in his glass down the sink. Yesterday, my grown son tore THREE or FOUR paper towels off the roll to clean just ONE kitchen counter.
I think I deserve chocolate for not taking his head off.
Instead I explained that there was a new fangled invention called a dish rag. Unlike a paper towel, you use it, WASH it, and use it again.
But not to clean a toilet. That’s still paper towel territory in my book.
A good story is one that resonates with its audience.
This afternoon I had a lot of things I had to do. Writing deadlines dangerously due. Horses, cats, and dogs to care for. House to straighten. Plants to water. Chili to make. Did I mention deadlines?
So, of course, instead of putting my nose to the grindstone, I grabbed a book I’d been meaning to read since my college son came home for Christmas and said, “You need to read this.”
“Manga? I don’t read manga,” I said. “I can’t draw to save my life. When I was directing videos, they hired someone to redo my storyboards, they were so bad.”
“But you create stories. You need to read this.”
I thanked him and said I’d get to it. I knew he wouldn’t recommend it if he didn’t think it worthwhile. I stuck it on the credenza in the living room where it sat, staring at me, until today when I plunked down in front of the fireplace for a couple of hours.
Fireplaces and books are the one good thing about a snowy day.
I wasn’t avoiding writing—not really. Sometimes you do have to push through a tough spot, but I’m facing three tough spots in three different works, and I knew staring at the computer wasn’t going to solve any of them.
But maybe a couple of hours reading a book on craft would shake something loose.
Now I’ve read and studied a hundred or more books on writing and editing. I could start my own specialty bookstore with just what’s lying around my office. I’ve taught courses on story structure, and have edited professionally for decades.
But this book reminded me of a few things I haven’t thought of in years.
Manga in Theory and Practice by Hirohiko Araki is map of how he approaches his work as a mangata, an author and illustrator of Japanese manga. His best known work is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, arguably one of the most successful shonen manga ever created. His primary target audience is boys 12 to 20, although the real audience is much wider.
Araki knows how to deliver what his readers (and editors) want, but his dissection of what makes good manga great seems diametrically opposed to what is generally considered good story structure to Western-trained writers. The action always rises. The hero always wins. The hero must act in a positive accordance with society’s values—even a seemingly bad action must be done for a noble reason.
In his book, Araki discusses his four key elements of manga: character, story, setting, and themes. The most important, he feels, is character. He spends a lot of time creating detailed character sheets before he writes one word or draws one line, and often includes things that strike me as uniquely Japanese, like listing a character’s blood type because that reveals important character traits. His approach is to create a cast of contrasting characters, give them motivations, and then turn them loose in settings. The dialogue and action flows organically—an approach also used by western writers like Stephen King.
Araki uses specific story beats to drive his story: ki-sho-ten-ketsu, introduction (ki), development (sho), twist (ten), and resolution (ketsu). While there can be several ten beats in a story, there is never the classic try-fail cycles we see in western literature. The action always rises and the antagonists increase in power as the hero grows. The best way to describe this is to think of an underdog baseball team who rises from backyard ball games to the world championship without ever losing a game.
It kinda boggled my mind.
But when I remembered his audience and why Araki writes, it all made sense.
Araki’s rules are founded on principles defined by his audience’s strong likes and dislikes. Heroes that fail? Boring. Heroes that make poor choices? Why am I wasting my time and money?
These conventions absolutely work for his audience—and that’s the key, I think.
Shonen manga readers identify with the heroes. They want to be entertained. They want to see themselves succeed. When the hero wins, it gives them hope that they, too, can face hard things and win.
I’m not certain if this structure and approach directly translates to western stories. For young readers, certainly. Others, probably not. But I’m going to think about this as I tackle my three stubborn works-in-progress.
There’s much more in Manga in Theory and Practice than what I’ve covered. I loved his focus on the first panel, that it makes or breaks the story if the reader won’t care enough to turn the page, and how he says write the story that speaks to you, put your ideals on the page, or the work won’t sing.
My son was happy to hear I finally read his book. He says he’s got a long list of friends in line to read it. I ordered my own copy of Manga in Theory and Practice to put on my bookshelf next to On Writing, Save the Cat, The Story Grid, and The Anatomy of Story.
Not all stories are western stories. It’s good to remember that.
Manga in Theory and Practice by Hirohiko Araki is available from Amazon in hardback and eBook.
On the eve of the release of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, I’ve been thinking about my Star Wars boyfriend.
I first saw Star Wars at the Kapiolani Theater in Honolulu, late summer 1977, when it was called Star Wars and not A New Hope.
Mom was working, so Dad decided to take us to a Saturday matinee. The lines for Star Wars were hella-long, so at my father’s urging, my younger sister and I wormed our way to the front of the line and bought tickets. Dad sent me in to find seats while he and my sister stood in line for snacks. Kapiolani Theater was huge, about 800 seats, and only showed one movie at a time. I found good seats—not too close, not too far, and in the center of the screen—and sat down.
Somebody plunked down right next to me.
Startled, I turned to find Mike, a kid I knew from the YMCA after school program in Kahala. He went to Hahaione Elementary. I went to Kamiloiki. I was in 6th grade. He was in 5th. At the YMCA, he and I played basketball with the other 5th and 6th grade boys, running full out, barefoot, on sun-baked asphalt courts with loose gravel on top, the reason the bottoms of my feet were like leather.
Can’t run fast in slippahs, yeah?
“Hi,” Mike said.
“Hi, Mike.” I looked around. “Where’s your family?”
“I’m here by myself,” Mike said.
This blew my mind.
“Alone? Fo’real? That’s not safe,” I said. “You better sit with my family.”
Mike nodded. “Thanks. There was a skebe guy in the bathroom. He followed me from the bathroom and sat by me before I moved and sat by you.” He sucked his soda straw, the ice dregs rumbling. He shook his cup. “I’ve seen Star Wars fifteen times.”
“Way. This will be the third time today.”
Nobody has that much money, I thought.
“Shibai,” I said.
“It’s true. Just before the credits roll, I go hide in the bathroom. I close the stall door and squat on the toilet so nobody can see my legs. When they start letting people in for the next showing, I come out and get a seat. Nobody notices a single kid. Well, the skebe guys do.”
Genius, I thought. And totally scary. What’s wrong with him? Movies by himself and hiding in the bathroom? Lucky we came along.
About this time, Dad and my sister appeared, carrying three small sodas and one large popcorn to share. “Hey, Dad, look who’s here. It’s Mike from YMCA.”
“Hi,” Mike said.
Dad didn’t bother acknowledging Mike, but his disapproval poured down on me like a tidal wave of ice. When Dad handed me my soda, I was shocked it was still liquid.
The lights dimmed. Star Wars sucked me into a world that delighted and sparked my imagination, starting with the very first line: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Suddenly, hiding in the bathroom to see it again seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
The story, the scenes, the characters—all magical—despite Mike whispering to me that this next part was the best, watch for this, watch for that, (seriously, dude, shut-up), and despite the wrath I knew was waiting for me when the credits rolled and Mike slipped away again to the bathroom.
Over the years, my friends and I would discuss our theories about Luke, Leia, Han, and the Force. We broke down the story, looked for hidden meanings, and pondered the power of the Force. We cast ourselves in various roles. Others were always Luke, Leia, and Han; I was often cast as Admiral Ackbar—blah and a little bit creepy, but better, I thought, than friends who were assigned to be Jawas or Stormtroopers.
We were working with a story universe we created from two movies and one crappy holiday special that just confused us. (Life Day? This feels like a bad Andy Williams special. And no way Chewbacca has a son named Lumpy.)
In my mind, I made up my own character, a badass Jedi outside of the Skywalker clan. A cousin, maybe. We anticipated the next movie with all the zeal that my future kids would have for the next Harry Potter book. We debated, dreamed, and hoped.
We’re shaped by the stories we think about. Star Wars certainly changed how I viewed the world.
It also changed the way my father viewed me.
Later, no matter what I said, Dad never believed that I didn’t plan to meet Mike at the theater. In his mind, I ruined his special family movie by inviting an interloper, a boy, and played my father for a patsy in a burgeoning pre-pubescent romance. If Dad had stopped to really think about it, I never had time or opportunity to tell Mike when we’d be there. I didn’t know myself. More importantly, as any kid knows, there was never going to be a romance between an obey-all-the-rules 6th grade girl and a snot-nosed 5th grade boy with a dubious moral code, especially since I was a head taller and a much better basketball player.
Things changed between my dad and me that day, although I didn’t understand or recognize it at the time. I was now Suspect and Boy Crazy in his mind—pretty hilarious since all the guys that I went to dances with in high school except one (Hi Larry!) eventually came out of the closet. I never had a boyfriend until I went away to college, and that one I married. June marks our 33rd wedding anniversary.
Looking back, Dad should have known that the too-loud, awkward, bookish tomboy, all elbows and knees, was too busy competing with the boys or reading books to have time for romance.
Tonight I have tickets to the last Star Wars movie in the nine story arc. At the end of a 42 year journey, things are different. This time, near midnight, I am going to sit next to my boyfriend, in heated deluxe loungers, with reserved seats—no waiting in long lines except for popcorn and soda–which I probably won’t drink because I don’t want to take the chance that I’ll have to miss any part of the movie.
We will hold hands.
Maybe even smooch in the parking lot.
One day Mom called me in from playing. She gave me a tuna fish sandwich and some carrot sticks and said there was a brand new TV show just for me. I don’t remember eating lunch, but I do remember a big yellow bird and a monster in a trash can.
For years, Sesame Street kept me company while I ate lunch. Later, when it switched to late afternoon, I knew when it was over, Dad would be walking through the door.
I haven’t watched Sesame Street in decades. My kids seldom watched it, probably because by the time they were born there were so many shows—entire channels!—just for them, that Sesame Street was lost in the crowd. But last night I watched Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Celebration on PBS.org, streaming it when convenient, freed from my childhood angst of clock-watching to be sure I didn’t miss it.
I knew when it started that things could not be the same, but I was still shocked to hear Not Big Bird’s Voice and Not Grover and Not Kermit and Not Oscar.
Seeing Bob made me tear up. He’ll always be in his thirties and forties to me.
There were no palm trees or beaches on Sesame Street, and that in itself was endlessly fascinating. Kids wore shoes ALL the time! They lived in big brick buildings with gigantic concrete steps they could sit on. They could walk on sidewalks to Mr. Hooper’s Store where there was not a single crack seed jar in the joint. And while kids were shown running and playing on grass in the opening song, I never saw kids doing that on Sesame Street.
No wonder they wore shoes all the time.
A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.
How did anyone buy a single stick of butter? And why a container of milk, not a carton? Didn’t mainland milk come in a waxed paper cartons with Lani Moo or hibiscuses on them?
So many questions!
50 years later, people still remember the songs, sketches, characters, and the promise of Sesame Street. Muppets and humans in all shapes, sizes, ages, abilities, and colors were portrayed as family, and by extension, so were we. Sesame Street created a television community that stretched from Hawai’i to New York and beyond. In a time when people are theoretically more connected than ever, there’s no show like this one that rallies children from all walks of life into a community. There are simply too many choices now.
A little ironic, don’t you think?
There’s an image cropping up in diversity in literature presentations that describes culture as an iceberg.
People love this graphic. It’s of a massive chunk of ice floating in a deep blue sea with labels stuck to places above and below the waterline. On the surface, there’s the readily seen ten percent experienced by foreigners, things like food, dress, language, music, art, and festivals. A little below the waterline are layers labeled body language, personal space, etiquette, and gender roles. Deeper still are sections labeled attitudes toward elders, authority, religion, and work. Down in the depths you’ll find spaces reserved for things like approaches to marriage, death, child raising, and problem solving. It’s a slick visual that’s often used to segue into the dangers of cultural appropriation.
Too bad it’s wrong.
By their very nature, icebergs are frozen and adrift, traveling only by the whims of ocean currents and breezes. They’re constantly eroding, shrinking, melting into a sea of conformity until one day they just disappear.
It’s hard to imagine a less inspiring metaphor for cultural sensitivity.
That’s why I like the metaphor of culture as a lotus growing in a pond.
Think about it. A lotus is integral to an entire ecosystem. On the surface are beautiful flowers. Out of sight, hidden but known, is a long stem tethering the lotus to the bottom of the pond where it grows, nourished by the bones of lotuses gone before. A lotus isn’t simply acted on by currents or eroded by waves and heat. Lotuses have both roots and branches; seed pods slip from the mother plant, drift a little, settle, and eventually form their own flowers—similar, but not the same. There is an interconnectedness to lotuses in a pond, a dependence on shared resources, a history and lineage.
From a boat, it’s easy to observe lotuses in relationship to the other—the landings of frogs and dragonflies, the effects of light and wind, how fish shelter in the lotus’s shade. Grounded on shore, observers intuitively know that no matter how they try, they are not lotuses, no more than a bear or a sparrow or a pine tree is a lotus.
Basking in the beauty of a lotus pond is cultural appreciation. Writing as a dragonfly or frog about your lotus experiences is cultural appreciation. Plucking lotuses, regardless of good intentions of bringing blossoms to the pondless masses, is cultural appropriation. Unmoored from all that nourished and supported it, separated from its purpose in life, a lotus in a vase is just a dying flower.
Now that’s an image I can get behind.