Month: January 2011 (Page 1 of 2)

Writerly Wednesday

Hmm, haven’t had one of these in a while…

  • First up: Erika Liodice. Erika runs a great blog about getting “beyond the gray” — beyond the things that are separating you from your dream. I had the great honor of being interviewed by Erika about my recent decision to pursue writing full-time. (She called me a “Dream Chaser,” I love that!) Wanna head over and leave some love? Please? OKUROCKTHX!
  • Second: The awesomely titled blog Blood-Red Pencil featured 10 simple but solid steps to a better story. #7 and #8 are my faves, although #10 is probably the most valuable.
  • Last but not least: the lovely T.S. Bazelli wrote a little piece on “this tangled jungle” we call writing and inspiration. Guaranteed to make you smile.
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Tiger mother vs. my mother

If you haven’t heard about Amy Chua’s BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER, then you’re probably living under a rock. (Also, you’re probably not Asian.) Regardless, the short version of this story goes: Chua wrote a memoir about her experiences as a parent, the Wall Street Journal printed excerpts from it under the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” and teh interwebz exploded.

I am not here to debate the contents of Chua’s memoir or her parenting methods. I am not here to discuss how the WSJ presented said contents/methods, nor what effect that had on people’s impressions of Chua and her book. I am not here to call anyone or anything Good, Bad, Right, or Wrong. Because as I said earlier in my post on book reviews, those labels are not all that productive.

What I do want to do, though, is to reiterate what Jenny Zhang said in her excellent Jezebel piece “‘Tiger Mothers’ Aren’t the Whole Story”:

Somehow, despite the ridiculous tone of Chua’s essay, I can’t help but feel a kind of tenderness toward her, especially after learning that she didn’t choose the aggressively provocative article, and that the rest of her book from which the article is excerpted is a lot more self-disparaging and self-searching. But mostly, I feel sorry for her and anxious to see what sort of dialogue arises from this article because as Chimamanda Adichie says so beautifully in her TED speech, “The danger of a single story,” where she proposes, “The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

And I, and many, many more Asian and Asian American bloggers can assure you that Amy Chua’s story is just that: a single story.

I have read several bloggers’ “single stories,” and now I would like to share mine.

My relationship with my mother is way too complex to capture in a few hundred words. (Hence why I have a whole novel planned.) (Just kidding!) (Sort of…) Still, I’ll do my best.

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I am an only child. My mom is the second youngest of six. She came to America in her late 20s, leaving behind everyone and everything she knew. She had me in her mid 30s, after years of not being sure she was ready, or even wanted, to be a mother.

She instantly loved me more than anything else in the whole world.

She put me in pre-school when I was two and a half. Starting with kindergarten, I went to summer school every year, not because I had failed a class but because my mom wanted me to learn more. (And because she worked.) She made me skip fourth grade, even though I cried about leaving all my friends, because she didn’t think I was being challenged enough. She put me in all the best, most competitive public schools, and she spanked me the first time I got a B.

She felt a little guilty about not giving me any brothers or sisters, so she made sure I had plenty of friends. She signed me up for piano and Chinese school (of course) as well as ballet, soccer, and computer classes. She made me earn every toy I wanted, either through good grades or helping out at her office, but she never said no to a book. Most importantly, she encouraged my love of writing.

As I got older, she was honest with me about things like love and sex. She didn’t hesitate to say if I looked pretty. Or fat. Sometimes she told me more than I probably should have known, about her life or her feelings, and it made me sad. But it also made me strong.

We have always fought, because I have a sassy mouth, and she subscribes to the belief that parents are right 100% of the time, even when they’re actually wrong. She wants me to be an independent woman, but she also thinks of me as her kid forever. She wants me to see the world, but she also wishes I would come home more often.

Was she a “regular” American parent? Sometimes. (I watched Disney movies. I played with Polly Pockets.) Was she a “crazy Asian mother”? Sometimes. (I got pork buns and lychee jello for lunch. I had a freaking curfew until I graduated from college.)

Whatever she was or wasn’t, she is my mother. She is, ironically, a Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac. But her story is not the same as Chua’s. It is not the same as anyone’s. It’s a single story. It’s ours.

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Two notes

1.

To whomever searched for “how to pronounce the namer kristan,” the answer is, just like Kristin or Kristen. But NOT like Christine, Christina, Kris-TAN, Christian, Kristy/Kristi, Krista, or Kirsten/Kiersten.

Oh wait, I just noticed it says “namer,” not “name.” In that case, I have no idea.

2.

After a final tally, December sales of Twenty-Somewhere and “The Eraser” earned $128.47 (and £2.04) for the It Gets Better Project. I have to admit, that’s about double what I was hoping for/expecting, so I was really pleased! Thanks to everyone for your support, and for helping me support a good cause. :)

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A few thoughts on reviews

Last Tuesday night on the way home from work, my car slid on an icy patch and spun into a curb. I was fine, but my car needed some TLC. After the stress of getting towed, calling my insurance company like a billion times (note: they were great), only to end up paying out of pocket, I gave myself the week off from writing and blogging (and anything that costs money).

Instead, I read. I finished MATCHED and WILLOW, and started and finished PEGASUS. All three were pretty good. I wrote more in-depth “reviews” at GoodReads, and that got me thinking…

What is the purpose of a review? What makes a good review vs. a bad review?

(Please note that what follows are my answers, not necessarily the only answers. Also, I am generalizing. There are always going to be exceptions.)

From a reader/consumer’s point of view:

Just because someone doesn’t like something doesn’t make it BAD.

I am awful about remembering that, and I have a tendency to take opposing opinions personally. As if not liking something I like automatically means you are making a value judgment about ME. (“She likes Katy Perry? Oh god, she must be completely unimaginative and tone-deaf!”) But that’s ridiculous. If someone doesn’t like something that I like, it only means ONE thing: That person did not like that thing.

Period.

Again, not liking something does not mean it is BAD. So a review along the lines of “OMG I HATE THIS BOOK IT SUCKS” is neither accurate nor helpful. To ANYONE.

In my opinion, reviews should not attempt to make a value judgment of a book. Because art is subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. {insert additional applicable clichés here}

Instead, reviews should explain how much the reviewer did or did not like the book, and WHY. That way other potential readers can say, “Well, that’s not what I look for in a book, so maybe I will like it,” or “Hmm, that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m reading for, so I better steer clear.”

From a writer’s point of view:

Look, it’s always going to be hard not to take a bad review personally. Always.

But what would be smarter than curling up in a corner and crying, would be to try and learn from the bad reviews. If we assume that everyone is trying to write helpful reviews (as I described above — yes, this is a big, generous assumption) then writers could learn a lot about where they have room for improvement.

That said, There is NO WAY to please everyone. So don’t even bother trying. Learning is good, but losing yourself in the attempt to make everyone happy, is not.

From a compassionate human’s point of view:

Don’t hate; appreciate.

I know you’re mad about how much the book costs, or you think vampires are stupid, or your hardcover had sixteen glaring typos in it. I’m sorry. You’re right, all of that sucks.

But human beings write these books. Human beings like me, and like you! Writers work hard at their jobs, the same as anyone else. We are not trying to type a bunch of crap in a Word doc and have you pay for it. First of all, that just would be wrong, and second, EVERYONE IS WATCHING. I mean, if you do poorly at your job, maybe 10-20 people will find out. If WE do poorly, 10-20 HUNDRED, or THOUSAND, or MILLION people could find out, and they will tell their friends and family, and it will be embarrassing and suck.

I’m not saying you can’t write a negative review. I’m just saying that if/when you do, please try to remember that there are human beings on the other side of your screen — on the other side of that book — doing their best. And their best may not work for you, that’s fine. Just explain why, politely, and move on.

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Digesting

How do you feel now?

That’s what everyone’s been asking now that the dust has settled around my decision. The succinct answer (for my father, who said he liked the Q&A format of my last post but that the A person rambled too much): I feel great.

The longer answer (Dad, skip this paragraph): I am sad about leaving a supportive work environment filled with people that I consider friends more than coworkers. I am nervous about letting go of one trapeze to reach for another — of not having a safety net. But most of all I am optimistic, and giddy with all the possibilities spread out before me.

Again, my day job won’t officially end until sometime in February, but in the mean time, I’ll still be reading and writing as much as possible.

Speaking of my Dad (and reading), guess what he got me for Christmas?

Pretty, no? I have to admit, I never thought of a Kindle as a device I had to have — or even necessarily wanted — but now I love my little Nora (named after Nora Roberts). She’s light as a feather, holds over 3500 books (though I doubt I’ll ever prove that myself), and even plays Scrabble with me! What more could you want from a friend?

(Books = friends. Kindle = books. Kindle = friends.)

I’m not going to get into printed books vs. e-readers (see this hilarious Open Letter to Books for that) but I will say that I read over 40 books in 2010, and that felt great, so I’m hoping to read as many or more this year. I went ahead and set up a 2011 Reading Challenge for myself at GoodReads. 50 books. Seeing as I’ve started 6 or 7 already, lol, I think it’s doable. What will be interesting, though, is seeing which ones I read in print vs. which ones I read on Nora, and how many of each. I honestly have no prediction.

Right now I’m reading MATCHED (in print, borrowed from Sarah). What are you reading?

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