Happy Thanksgiving from Singapore!

gif thanksHey America, hope you all have a great Thanksgiving! Those of you who don’t work in retail, enjoy your day off. Those of you who do work in retail and have Black Friday creeping into your Thanksgiving, I’m sorry. I truly am. I worked at Wal-Mart for three years. I’ve lived it. Oh, and Canada, I’m so sorry I forgot yours; my mom’s Canadian, so I even know it’s in early October. And if you’re not American or Canadian and receiving my belated “Happy Thanksgiving,” happy…um…almost December.

I got a reminder this week of my token-ness (i.e. being a token Yank that is). I was at a packed comedy club with my English friends. It was a diverse crowd. The MC did the whole, “Let me see where all the Singaporeans are!” Tons of cheers. “Indians!” Tons of cheers. “UK friends!” My whole table and some more. “French people!” Even they had a hearty cheer. He didn’t ask where all his Aussies were because I’m sure there was a ton of ‘em :P Then came….

“The Americans!”

Crickets. Then my lowly “Wooo!” fist raised. LOL. Only one in a crowd of probably 200. To be fair, there was a lone German guy, too, and he and a Singaporean got to be the butt of a lot of jokes. I was actually surprised the US didn’t get picked on. There’s just so much ammo….

Anyway, Thanksgiving. Second most (North) American holiday behind 4th of July. I have to say, my non-American friends are generally pretty fascinated by Thanksgiving, both the food we eat and its purpose. “Why do you eat turkey? It’s stringy and dry,” I was asked at the previously-mentioned comedy club night.

It got me reflecting on what my family does for Thanksgiving–spend a lot of time prepping and eating food, watching football (oh, crap I need to set my fantasy football line-up!), maybe going out to a movie, planning out big Black Friday shopping spree, having a few drinks, maybe playing some games. It’s all about bringing family together, that’s the essence of Thanksgiving to me. Let’s just not get into the historical significance of it… Or kids dressing up in Native American headdresses at school….

Anyway. It’s always hard being on the opposite side of the world from your family, particularly on holidays. Particularly Thanksgiving/Christmas. Miss my family tons. But my husband and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving with a bunch of his other American co-workers on Saturday, potluck style. Last year, not gonna lie, we had better food at this Thanksgiving than at my parents (SORRY Mom and Dad, it was just more variety! :P).

So friends, I have two questions for you today! Feel free to answer one, both, or none :P

1. Even if you’re not American. What are you thankful for? (For the record, no my family did not sit around the turkey and do this :P). Me personally, it’s having this last year and a half to focus almost exclusively on my writing. I have a fantastic husband!

2. If you were cursed and could pick only ONE Thanksgiving dish to eat, what would it be? (non-American friends, substitute Christmas for Thanksgiving :P Me? Not going to lie, it’d probably just be turkey. I mean you just can’t even have Thanksgiving without it.

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Writer friends, can you see a story in this picture?

Okay, I want to try something new today, and it could be a TOTAL flop of a post, but cheers to experimentation, right?

I took this picture in a forest in Wilson’s Promontory, Victoria, Australia and I just love it. The way light and dark, dead and alive meld together to create an ominous, creepy image. I feel like there’s some kind of story in this picture; I don’t know what, like a girl riding a horse through it trying to escape from Ring Wraiths or something.

Here’s another one that feels similarly-themed:

P1180671With this one, I like the hazy quality to the light filtering through the spindly, crooked trees.

I thought I’d post this and see if it spoke to any of you, fellow writer friends.

Can you see a story in either of these picture? If so, what might it be? What characters, what action might you add to it?

Non-writers just don’t understand: Editing is…um…hard…

editing

Hey, writer friends, what’s up? I was recently tweeting a fellow writer and she mentioned her latest editorial struggle (as depicted in above meme). This is totally me. I am a verbose person. Good for reaching the target word count, bad for keeping it under…. I try to set a goal of keeping my YA contemporary around 80,000 words. Which is almost impossible for me. So I start slashing words. A lot of words.

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I go through my MS  line-by-line, word-by-word, slashing whatever is not absolutely necessary. …and while cutting things, I’ll realize I need to have more internal monologue or emotional reaction or non-verbals to really convey the impact of a particular scene or the character’s progress on an internal or external story arc. And–tada!–not only have I failed in my goal of cutting X number of words, I’ve actually added 2000. …which leads to another edit.

tumblr_inline_mqbuizV6Sb1qz4rgpBut I trust the process. In the end, my story will be better for it!

Writer friends, what is your focus when you edit? Too many words? Too few? Those pesky adverbs? Telling instead of showing? Commas and semi-colons?

Children from the Hmong hill tribes near Sapa, Vietnam

Please refer to this post for back story :P Professionally, I am a school psychologist, so I am interested in the lives of children around the world.

So women and girls both try to sell crafts to tourists.

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Hoping tourists will give them candy for the new year.

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Entering into a Hmong village/tourism area, where buses drop people off.

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Hmong boys at the market in Sapa.

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A girl and her friends hoping to sell bracelets to tourists.

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Hmong boys following a group of three girls. It is tradition for boys to kidnap the girls they want to marry. I can’t say if that’s what these boys were up to :P That’s just what our guide told us.

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Hmong girls doing laundry while men fish.

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Kids carrying a bag of apples home from Sapa.

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The yellow building on top of the hill is a school. In Vietnam, government buildings are yellow.

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A picture from the front of a school. Ho Chi Minh loves the children.

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Writing that novel: Typing the first word versus the last….

the joys of writing

(Yes, both pictures are me, taken in Banff, Canada)

Let’s just leave that whole pesky “writing” part that happens in between up to the imagination :P Oh… and then there’s the multiple, multiple rounds of editing, re-writing, editing, re-writing….

john stewart overwhelmedOh, the joys of writing that novel!

Writer friends, how might you pictorially represent the writing process for yourself?

 

Portraits from hill tribes living in the hills near Sapa, Northern Vietnam

I visited Northern Vietnam during Tet, lunar new year, which was in February this year.

P1110026My favorite place was Sapa, a town nestled in the mountains 30 miles from the border with China. We took an overnight train ride from Hanoi to get there, followed by probably an hour bus ride. The area around Sapa is breath-taking.

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Terraced rice fields have been cut into all the hillsides, farmed by the hill tribes in the region, including Hmong and Dao. The Hmong were trained and used as soldiers by the US during the Vietnam War (or the American War as all our Vietnamese tour guides called it). After the Vietnam War, thousands of Hmong refugees came to the United States, to places like Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Madison WI, LaCrosse WI, and cities in California. There are estimated to be 300,000 Hmong now living in the US.

These tribes were once nomadic, but the Vietnamese government has confined them to plots of land, where they now construct houses. Because of the climate, rice can only be planted and harvested once a year. In Southern Vietnam, they can have three harvests. Indigenous families still living in the hills around Sapa survive by sustenance farming and selling handicrafts to tourists, often a bit too…enthusiastically, let’s say. But it’s for their survival and the survival of their children. Our guide, who comes from the Red Dao tribe and still lives in her hill village, said reproductive education is basically non-existent, so, without knowing how to prevent pregnancy, families can grow too large to support.The Vietnamese government has built schools for the hill tribes and expects children to go, but farming and other more survival-based activities can often take priority over education.

Sadly, the villages we went to almost felt like a zoo maybe? Or a museum? Like it the tribes were on display for tourist reasons. Though it perhaps wasn’t as bad as the Long Neck tribes on display in Thailand–which is a completely different, terrible story.

Here’s an example of what seemed to me to be a typical house from a hill tribe village:

P1110703The terraced rice paddies and tribal villages:

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For this post, I’ve focused on portraits of the women who hike miles in and out of Sapa every day to sell the things they made to tourists. On our hike to their village, we were followed by a group of women who were very nice and would help you (unnecessarily) on rocky parts of the path, ask you questions using the English they’ve picked up from other tourists, and give you little animals or flowers they’ve made from blades of grass. When you get to their village, they become…pushy, let’s say…in trying to get you to buy their crafts for really quite cheap prices (like $1). It can get tricky because if you buy from one, then the others also want you to buy, too, especially if they come from different families. What makes it even harder is that you know it’s about feeding their families and likely an outcome of having their traditional ways of life changed by modern influence and tourism.

Women wearing black outfits are Black Hmong; different Hmong groups have different colors: black, blue, green, white, flower. (I cannot guarantee I have all the colors of the Hmong tribes correct). Woman wearing red scarves on their heads are Red Dao.

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A Black Hmong woman who dyes textiles using indigo. She uses beeswax on the fabric before dying to create patterns on the cloth, then embroiders the fabric. I bought a bag from her. It took her three weeks to make. Cost: $25.

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A young family hiking to Sapa with their baby.

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Our Red Dao guide, who was AMAZING. Such a nice woman and provided insight into the culture of the Hmong and Dao peoples and the history/politics affecting their lives. Also, tourists heading into Cat Cat Village, a Hmong village tourist town.

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It takes years for a family to save enough money to buy a motorbike.

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Our guide showing us the indigo plant, used to dye textiles

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Red Dao and Hmong women hoping to sell their crafts to tourists in Sapa. They hiked miles from their hill villages to get there.

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Hmong women following us from Sapa as we hike with our guide toward some of the hill tribe villages.

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Though I will say things seemed better for these people than what I saw in Cambodia, which will be another series of posts.

If you would like to learn more about the Hmong history and people, here’s a great resource.

Non-writers just don’t understand: the joy of making someone cry

making you cryMy title sounds a bit psychopathic, doesn’t it? I’m not a sadist or anything, I swear! It’s just, there are few jobs in the world where it’s a good thing to make a working partner cry. Not only is it a good thing, it might be like the best compliment you can get! (If you are writing something with sad things in it that is)

So the inspiration for my slightly creepy Sponge Bob meme… I was told this week by an awesome, amazing new critique partner that the end of one of my manuscripts made her cry. This was totally me:

Brad-Pitt-Dance-GifThat means I was able to create characters that were real and rounded enough that at least one reader cared deeply enough to be emotionally moved by imaginary events happening to fictitious people. All that hard work on characterization and pacing and plot construction (and redoing all of it several times) paid off!

Writer friends, what do you think is the best kind of compliment you can get on your manuscript?

Pictures from the Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

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So my husband and I recently visited Australia for an epic road trip of awesome. We flew into Melbourne, drove west to Peterborough to catch some of the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles, then drove many hours to Sydney. n the way there, we hit up Wilson’s Promontory and Montague Island to see fairy penguins. After Syndey, we drove over to the Blue Mountains THEN back to Melbourne. I believe we put like 3000 km on our rental car. Covered a sizable chunk of Oz too :P And we had a manual, so my husband had to drive all.of.it :P

This was one of the most beautiful coastal drives I’ve ever done. Though I will be honest, the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland MAY be slighter better, which (obviously) is saying a lot!

What’s the most scenic drive you’ve ever done?

Non-writers just don’t understand: The joys of constructing a twitter pitch

eafukWriter friends, have you ever participated in a twitter pitch contest? I’ve done a few now. I have to say, coming up with a pitch in 140 characters or less took longer than writing a query or a synopsis. How do you capture the essence of your entire novel in a tweet, especially if you’re a bit crazy like me and like writing dual POV with subplots? Thankfully, I met some awesome writers who helped me craft mine. On the plus side, I now have an arsenal of pitches, and creating them did help me focus my query letter.

Here are a few of my favorites for Hooligans in Shining Armour:

Seventeen-year-old Fiona’s dad may be a Northern Ireland terrorist; Danny heads into the Protestant paramilitary military. In this dual POV YA, they fall in love.

Star-crossed lovers Fiona and Danny inspire one another to fight for their futures; divided Belfast threatens to rip them apart.

Fiona’s on the track to being valedictorian. But when she is whisked away to Northern Ireland she gets more. She gets Danny.

17yrold Fiona’s dad may be a Northern Ireland terrorist; Danny heads into the Protestant military. In this dual POV YA, they fall in love.

Wherefore art my Romeo? In divided Belfast, protestant Danny has to climb the ‘Peace Wall’ to Catholic Fiona’s balcony.

Oh, and the best, best thing about participating in twitter pitch/other online writing contests? Making all kinds of writer friends. Since doing my first one in September, I’ve added at least 500 twitter followers, found a new online crit group, numerous CPs for chapters and query letters, etc. Awesome. Writers are awesome. Twitter has proved to be an excellent platform to connect, and contests are a venue to “meet.”

Have you ever done twitter pitching? What’s your favorite tweet about your MS?