Kintsugi, translated as “golden joinery” is a Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with special lacquer dusted with powdered gold. It gives a piece of broken pottery a unique appearance and emphasizes the fractures and breaks instead of hiding them, making the once broken pottery more beautiful than when it was whole. This art is heavily influenced by the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi which sees beauty in the flawed or imperfect. It is born of a feeling of regret when something is wasted, but with an acceptance of change. I am broken. On June 8th, 2019, my latest blog was due. I had ideas for the subject. What I didn’t have was time. The past month has been the heaviest writing month of my writing career. There was a short story that I had to finish that was already in its third draft. There was another short story in need of revisions for an editor. There were two short story contests that I was helping to judge. There was a presentation I had to make at my local writers’ group that I did not wish to postpone. And of course, there were family obligations, recitals to attend, and a day job to do. Needless to say, I was swamped, but not burnt out. All of this got done. All except the blog post. And for that, I regret it. I considered rushing my post for June out a few days late, but continued deadlines prevented even that. So here I am, during my personal blog letting you know my situation. Will it happen again? I hope not. I can’t guarantee it won’t. It depends on my writing. My goal is to finish my last story revision by the end of the month and then take a short break after which I will begin one of two novel ideas I have. That will likely take to the end of the year to finish a first draft. Revisions could take a couple of months after that and then I intend to start shopping it around. By WWC in 2020 I hope to have it sold or agented at the very least. I’ll keep you all apprised of my progress. I am broken like the Japanese pottery of old. Repairing it won’t come with gold, or silver, or platinum. But it will come with work: blog posts that post on time, writing goals that are met. In time, maybe the flaws and imperfections of my writing will look as beautiful as the one pictured above.
Short Story Announcement
I want to take this time to announce that one of the short stories announced above, “I Travelled the World Between,” has been accepted into the anthology Enigma Front: the Stories We Hide. This is the latest in the Enigma Front Anthology Series and it will launch this August at the When Words Collide Festival. I want to thank Chris Carolan and his crew of tireless editors and designers for launching this anthology. Congratulations on another job well done.
Comic Expo is over. The IFWA Booth was a success and my thanks go to Sandy Fitzpatrick and Gary Renshaw for organizing and manning the booth for most of the weekend. I don’t think they left the booth together at any time during the Expo (which reminds me, I have to get my last copies of Shanghai Steam back from Sandy at the next IFWA meeting). It was great meeting people who passed our booth and I got to hand out my latest promo: bookmarks. I also got to meet some artists there who might be able to help me with book covers should I ever get any of my novels self-published. I didn’t expect many sales since all of my stories are in anthologies, but I did manage to get one. I think there will be an IFWA booth next year, so stay tuned. I may show up there again.
But this year, like the other years I’ve gone, was more about family than book sales. My sons came with me on the weekend days and we had fun wandering up and down the aisles and avoiding the horrific winter weather out there (and yes, Comic Expo is in April). Because of the weather, we didn’t get outside for the outdoor events (I always like watching the martial arts demos and quidditch).
This month has been productive but frustrating at the same time. I started the month with one story to revise for editors (now it’s two). I am helping judge a short story contest at work (it is for a short story contest for junior high students) as well as with my writers’ group. Plus, I have a presentation to finish up (and one that is overdue). My novel work has taken a nosedive as a result of all these other responsibilities. I didn’t plan it this way. I thought I spaced things out well, but here we are. So, two steps forward, and a couple steps back. I figure I can get back to working on that novel once July comes along.
Part of the writing life, at least until you’ve made it as a full-time author, is trying to eke out time to write while juggling employment, family, and other activities. Every writer at the beginning of their writing life has to do this. I can’t complain. I have an embarrassment of riches. I have a supportive family who let me get away and write when I can.
My problem seems to be my “muse.” My muse doesn’t seem to want to come out and play during those times I am able to get away. I have an hour here and an hour there to get things done, but I’m usually so tired by that time, I just want to sleep. Needless to say, productivity goes to a crawl.
So that’s the question I have for all you readers out there. What do you do to ensure you are productive during your writing time? Let me know your thoughts down below.
In January, 2019, Amalie Wen Zhao author of Blood Heir, her debut YA novel, asked her publisher, Delecorte Press, not publish her novel. This was after the internet exploded when a beta reader posted a review accusing Zhao of racism and insensitivity towards black people.
She apologized for putting out a book that was “unintentionally racist” in the fact that she included the death of a black man in one scene in a book dealing with slavery in China (her place of birth). Much has been said about this controversy and how we should respond. Some of those responses include: a) authors should be encouraged to be sensitive, but there are no gatekeepers b) let the market decide c) let her fight back with the facts. She should publish and damn whatever people say.
Now this book will undoubtedly sell well when it is finally published with all the controversy it has generated. But it does pose a good question: what responsibility do we have as writers and artists to write something that is “sensitive”? Do we need sensitivity readers? Should a sensitivity reader who doesn’t like language or a specific scene be allowed to derail a book that, according to the publisher, is ready to be released? At that point in the publishing cycle, when ARCs are distributed to various reviewers, there should only be minor typos and revisions to be made.
Also, art is supposed to challenge us, to make us feel uncomfortable at times. So maybe you should be encouraged to write that book that has controversial topics in it.
As for letting the market decide, well, the market ultimately decides whether your book stays on shelves. But I don’t like the idea of the market telling me what to write. That is a form of censorship. Write what you want. And self-publish if you have to.
Be brave. If you have a book that has been well-researched, well-written and is crafted in a sensitive manner, stand your ground. But not everyone is up for fighting twitter battles every day, or monitoring trollish comments on their website.
So there is a chill in the air that this will happen again (and it has) with implications far beyond the world of YA publishing. It hits every sector of the publishing world. As long as the cancel culture exists as a hammer in the shadows waiting to clobber anyone they deem unworthy, authors will self-eliminate themselves from ever sending in a manuscript to a perspective agent or publisher. And that makes me sad.
So what can we do? What is our takeaway here?
Find sensitivity readers early. Get them to point anything that might be culturally insensitive. You don’t have to agree with them. But at least you know where your book may have problems that you need to deal with before or after publication.
Be a friendly voice on the internet. Don’t feed the trolls and speak up in defence of authors whose voices are being squashed unfairly. Many of Zhao’s earliest critics hadn’t even cracked page one of her book.
Encourage and support your favourite author, published or not. We need voices, as many as you can find. Write.
As of April 29, 2019, in an article in the New York Post, Amilie Wen Zhao has changed her mind and will publish Blood Heir later this year. I applaud this decision and her bravery and I am sure it will be successful. I think I might have to buy one on launch day.
Dave Farland has a blog about writing aptly entitled “David Farland’s Writing Tips.” He publishes it a few times a week and each one is chalk full of excellent writing wisdom. Go check it out.
This week, he spoke about publishers limiting what writers talk about and which writers get published. Specifically, David said publishers want socially and culturally relevant topics. It is his opinion that the publishers are handling these topics with a sledgehammer and not a scalpel – taking only those writers and topics that are culturally relevant (whatever that means).
And while I am with him applauding that more socially relevant topics and writers of colour are being published, it made me wonder if that limits what I as a writer of colour will be allowed to write about.
When I began my writing journey, I wanted to write about characters who looked like me because I didn’t see enough Chinese or Japanese protagonists in works of fiction, especially genre fiction (this was a while ago. The landscape has changed). I still do this today.
Back then, I tended to write what I wanted. I set my stories wherever and whenever I felt like: present day, future, historical past, fantastic worlds. I never felt limited.
But in today’s politically charged landscape, if I continue this trend of writing main characters who have Asian backgrounds, will I be expected to write only about race or how it affects the main characters? Will I have to write deep or can I write shallow? Just to be my racial background brings with it a huge amount of baggage that I don’t necessarily want to deal with in my writing. Just putting my character’s race into the equation is a political decision. It comes with it a large number of factors that some people will be expecting me to deal with.
I’m not a political writer. I know whatever I write will be political anyway, but I never want to be seen as being a political animal. I shy away from that kind of writing. I give props to those writers of colour who can write with such grace and precision about such maters, but I don’t think that is my calling.
What do you think? As a writer of colour, should I be expected to comment on racial politics and how it affects my characters all the time? Is this the only relevant way for me to get published? Leave your comments below.
I want to thank Vivian Hansen for all the work she did putting together the University of Calgary Cafe for the Continuing Education Creative Writers. It was a great success. I also want to thank the folks at Shelf Life Books for providing such a stellar venue to showcase such great writers. I know another of my fellow IFWits is entering the Creative Writing program and I wish her all the luck. She will do great. It was also fantastic to finally meet Jude. Up until now, she has just been a voice on the phone whenever I needed to sign up for a course. It was great to finally meet her in person.
And thank you to everyone who made it out to listen to me read and gab on about the Creative Writing program. I had some great conversations with students and former students of the Creative Writing program and hope to one day see you all published.
Finally, congratulations to my friend and fellow Creative Writing Program student, Neal Debreceni (spelled that correctly, right?). The creative non-fiction story he read from, Life in the Fab Lane, was recently published in The Malahat Review, issue 205. And Neal, contrary to popular belief, signing the magazine doesn’t make it valueless, it makes it priceless. To me. 🙂 Keep writing, Neal.
Next up – Calgary Comic Expo. I will be appearing at the Calgary Comic Expo. First, I will be at a IFWA Table in Artists Row (the Big 4 Building) in Booth 5422 on Friday and some of Saturday and Sunday. Come around and say hi and pick up a bookmark. I will also be on a Panel entitled The Author’s Journey with several other IFWA members. The panel will take place on Saturday, April 27, 2019 at 3:45 pm in the Palomino Room. The seating is limited, so get there early.
The Japanese Emperor Akihito is abdicating the throne at the end of this month and the Heisei era will come to an end and a new era, the Reiwa era, will begin under the new Emperor, the Crown Prince Naruhito. Translated, the kanji for Reiwa can be read to mean ‘beautiful harmony’ (according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry) which in my mind, is a great followup to the Heisei era (translated as the ‘achieving peace’ era).
And ever since the announcement was made, the name of the era has sparked conversation about the choice of name.
For instance, it is the first era name to be taken from a Japanese poem, and not a Chinese work of literature. Just in case you were curious, its taken from a poem about plum blossoms that appear in Man’yoshu, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry.
Second, although the translation sounds harmonious enough, the first character also means ‘order’ or ‘command.’ Sounds way more ominous and brings back memories of Japan in its more militaristic and authoritarian time (which is probably why the Japanese Foreign Ministry released the official translation above).
And finally, there’s Reiwa, the real estate company in Australia which not only shares its name with the new era, but has received a lot of undue attention and site visits. Might they receive an uptick in business as well?
It’s an interesting choice of name. But beyond that, how is this change of era going to affect my life and yours? Will there be earthquakes and tsunamis? Immense celebration? Maybe in Japan, but in the rest of the world, time will continue its inexorable march forward and only note the passing of the Heisei era with a shrug.
So why should anyone not living near Tokyo care about the passing of an era? It’s a naming convention that fewer and fewer people in Japan even use (aside from official documents, most people just use the Gregorian calendar now. Anyone who uses a Japanrail pass will know what I’m talking about).
Well, I can’t speak for you, but in the short term, it interested me. Maybe its because my ancestors hail from just outside Kyoto. Maybe its my curiosity as a writer that draws me into finding out more about Japan’s era naming conventions. Maybe I could use era names in my stories?
Whatever the case, it made me curious enough to go searching for details about how Japan names its eras. Here is a bit of what I found and how I might use this information as a writer.
This type of era naming convention is known as the Nengo (or Gengo) system. It is yet another foreign artifact brought into Japan from China after migrating its way from other south-east Asian countries. In pre-modern times, how the Japanese named their eras depended a lot on the whims of the Emperor at the time. Sometimes an Emperor would just declare a new era to give his reign a ‘fresh start.’ Sometimes, a new era would be named in the wake of a natural disaster like a tsunami. In modern times, a new era name is chosen only when a new Emperor rises to the throne: “one reign, one era name.” And the names are decided by the government, not by the Emperor.
And how would I use this knowledge as a writer? The answer is probably obvious: it is another setting detail that can give authenticity to your story or novel.
If you write historical fiction set in Japan, especially before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1873, it behooves you to find out what era your story is set. Even if you never mention it in the story, you should know (someone, somewhere is likely to ask).
But what if you don’t write historical fiction? What if you write high fantasy set in a Japanese-like setting? Or a future Japan (You can ask yourself if the population even uses it anymore and establish how many of their traditions they keep)? This is another way to give your world an air of authenticity. It’s also one more detail you can use to immerse your reader into your world. Just be aware of the many reasons Emperors in the past have used to name their eras.
And if you don’t write either of the above? Or even stories set in Asia? Well, I would be remiss in not telling you that the Nengo system of era naming is unique to Japan or even China. Other cultures in south-east Asia and the Middle East have utilized similar calendars in very similar manners. And we haven’t even touched upon the lunar calendar yet. Let your imagination run wild.
Now this is not the only piece of detail you need to give your story an air of authenticity, but it certainly is a detail you can use. It’s only the beginning. Time. It’s a small detail, but a good one to establish your world by.
So, yeah. The world won’t come to an end on May 1 when the Reiwa era begins, but in the worlds of my imagination, it is likely to set them on fire.
What do you think? Is this style of keeping time useful to you as a writer? Does it spark any ideas that you can use in future stories. Drop me a line and let me know. I’d really like to hear from you.
Personal Appearance Update
Normally, this would be in my monthly update Breathe In, Breathe Out, but this is coming up before then and I wanted to announce where I’m going to be during the month of April:
U of C Student Cafe – April 13 at 2:00 pm at Shelf Life Books. I will be reading from one of my short stories and celebrating the accomplishments of the students in the University of Calgary’s Continuing Education Creative Writing Certificate program. I would love to see you all there.
Calgary Comic Expo – April 25 – 28 at Calgary Stampede Park – I will be at the IFWA Table located in Artists Alley (in the Big Four Building). Come by and say hi. I will also be appearing on as a panelist in the Author’s Journey Panel which will take place on Saturday, April 27 at 3:45 p.m. in the Palomino Room. Join me and four other authors in discussing what the author’s journey is all about.
In Karate, I’ve learned the importance of breathing. Not only how to breathe while practicing basics or kata (and most recently, kumite – but that is a whole other story), but also to stop, re-focus and concentrate on your breath. Breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth. Slow down and focus.
And that’s what I want to do with this monthly, personal column. Slow down and reflect on where I’ve been, what I am accomplishing as a writer, and where I intend on going in this writer’s journey. Join me on the 22nd of each and every month and I’ll fill you in with what I am writing, how much I am doing and where I’m appearing.
Since this is the first column, there’s a lot to talk about.
First, I am working on writing a story under contract (a pure epic fantasy story), editing a story for a local publication, writing a column for another local publication and outlining a novel I hope to have finished by years end. The novel will be a cross between cyberpunk and Princess Mononoke. Hopefully the thought of that concept makes a few of you excited. Plus, I have another story that is out there right now, and I’ve been waiting to hear from the publisher as to whether it is acceptable or not.
I know, I know. Not a lot of substance. I can’t say much until announcements are made, and then I’ll announce them here. But what I am trying to say is…I’ve got a lot on the go. I’m trying to increase my daily word count and get stories done. And that’s hard when you’re juggling a busy family, a nine-to-five job, Karate (also with family), and writing. It’s not easy. And it is also part of why I’m doing this column. Accountability (For instance, this week I’ve written 2500 words – pretty well all on the C-Train). I’m letting you all know what I’m doing and I hate disappointing people. So, if you like my stories, I’ll be putting more out this year and hope to have my third novel written by years end. You’ll know if I succeed just by watching this column.
Now, back to breathing…inhale…exhale…
Tsundoku or Die!
Tsundoku or Die! is a short column in which I will highlight a book or books that you may want to consider reading or purchasing for yourself. All books I introduce here will be Asian in theme. This month, I want to introduce you to my friend Brandy Ackerley whose debut novel, will Hunter’s Gambit, has just been released. Read more below:
Kuzunoha is running out of options. In just a month she’ll be an adult but as the illegitimate younger daughter of a rich noble she can only see two possible futures. Both leave her a pawn in her elder sister’s game as family matriarch, a future as unacceptable to Kuzunoha as it is unavoidable.
That changes when Kuzunoha saves the life of a stranger. In return for her help, the stranger offers her a way to have a future that doesn’t tie her to her family. He’s heard of a forgotten treasure nearby and needs a guide to help him search for it. Her family and friends don’t trust this dangerous man’s offer, but Kuzunoha accepts, knowing that she can’t live the life her sister wants for her anymore.
Will she succeed in proving she can have a life outside of her sister’s shadow? Or will it all fall to pieces around her?
If I were to ask you to think about Japanese food, what is the first food that springs to mind? Teppanyaki? Tempura? Sukiyaki? Sushi? Yeah, that’s it. You’re nodding, aren’t you? Nothing against sushi, it’s great in all its forms. But it is far from being a Japanese staple. These days, my go to Japanese food is ramen. Not the dry noodles in packages that every university student is familiar with (my favourite is Sapporo Ichiban), but ramen served in Japanese restaurants that specialize in ramen. In Japan, ramen has been popular for decades. There is even a museum dedicated to the noodly goodness. But in the past 20 years, there has been a ramen renaissance of sorts – a renaissance that is only hitting North American shores. There are around 21,000 ramen restaurants in the Greater Tokyo area (Japan Explained FASAQ) but only a handful in Calgary. A number that is sure to grow. And what do I like about? Everything. It is not as simple as just noodles in soup. The broth alone can take almost a day to simmer and the heady aroma of pork, ginger and other spices makes my head spin. Good ramen restaurants make their own noodles from scratch. Some even make their own chashu: delicate slices of barbecued pork belly that break apart on your chopsticks. The rest of the toppings range from bamboo shoots, green onions, soft-boiled eggs and corn. Other restaurants get even more exotic. I’m getting hungry just writing about this. So if you will try a bowl, as a ramen-lover who likes more traditional soups, I suggest trying any of the following three types to start before moving on to more exotic ramen dishes: Tonkotsu Ramen: a ramen-traditionalist’s dream. A broth made with pork-bone and other seasonings and simmered for a day to create a thick broth that sticks to the noodles. The umami in a well-made bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen cannot be overstated. It’s heaven. Shio Ramen: Not to be confused with Shoyu Ramen (soy sauce broth base) the broth in this dish is made from salt. But it is not as simple as it sounds. The number of components in shio ramen broth alone take a day to create. The balance of salt and pork fat, if done right, will make you immediately wish for another bowl. Miso Ramen: Miso paste was added to ramen broths in northern Japan. Maybe they thought it was a remedy for cold winters, but Miso Ramen eventually made its way down south and across the Pacific. Fantastic on cold days for an extra shot of flavour
Tsukemen: Okay, I lied. There is another type of ramen I like, but its not fair to most people reading this. So far, I can’t find this on the continent. I had to travel all the way to Hawaii to enjoy this ramen dish. Tsukemen is served with hot broth and cold ramen noodles. The broth is more concentrated. You dip the noodles into the broth and consume. Exquisite when done right and I like to think I would go back to Honolulu just to have another bowl or two. So there you have it. If you want to try a dish that many Japanese have on a daily basis, find a local ramen restaurant and chow down. You’ll find yourself traveling to Japan, at least in your stomach.
And now, it’s your turn. Send me an e-mail and let me know if you have tried ramen and if so, what is your favourite kind.
One last thing: My next post will be up on March 22 and the 22nd of every month hereafter. This post will be a column entitled “Breathe In, Breathe Out” and will be a monthly post about my writing – where it is going and what I’m writing. So, see you in two weeks.
Happy New Year to you all. Welcome to the Year of the Pig (I know, I know. It was a few days ago. But I thought I should give you good wishes and fortune anyway).
And welcome to my Blog. The Blog will be published once a month on the 8th day of every month. If I get ambitious enough, I’ll try and do it twice a month, but for now, the blog will be once a month. With each entry, I plan on talking about culture – specifically Chinese and Japanese culture and folklore told from my perspective – that is of a Canadian author of Chinese and Japanese heritage. So join me on the 8th day of each and every month for more content.
So, on to the first one:
According to legend, once a year in the third month of spring, carp swim from the sea and gather at the foot of a falls. Many carp swim upstream against the river’s strong current, but few are capable or brave enough to make it to the pool. Even fewer are able to make the final leap over the waterfall. If a carp makes the jump, it is transformed into a powerful dragon, an auspicious symbol of great and benevolent, magical power. The symbol of the carp jumping over the Dragon’s Gate. “More generally, the expression is used to communicate that if a person works hard and diligently, success will one day be achieved.” 
For a visual representation of this tale, just look at my banner art created by the incomparable Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. I chose this piece because its a representation of who I am. Period.
First, the most obvious. I was born under the sign of Pisces and during the Year of the Dragon. But more importantly, as a writer and author, it’s the story of my life. Writing is a struggle for me. Time, especially time to write, is a scarcity, and the speed at which I write is slow. So anything I finish, is like magic for me. As I mature as a writer, it has become a bit easier, but not by much. But I eke out writing time where I can get it (as I write this, it is early in the morning while I’m on vacation while my family sleeps. Best time for me).
So when do I become a dragon? When will I say that I have leapt the dragon’s gate and become a being of auspicious power? I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. I’d like to say when I can support myself and my family with my writing, but with my circumstances, I’m not even close to this goal. I’ve published short stories and have been nominated for an Aurora Award, so I like to think I’m well on my way. Follow me and we’ll take that journey together.
And I think I’m capable and brave enough to eventually make that leap.
I have had the honour to be interviewed by Jayne Barnard, the author of the incredible Maddie Hatter young adult novels, as part of her series interviewing Prix-Aurora Award nominees. The interview can be found on her website, Clockworks and Crime. Jayne Barnard’s latest novel, Maddie Hatter and the Timely Taffeta, along with the other novels in the series, can be found where all great books are sold.