Thursday, February 19, 2015

Embracing the Sheep

There is no good reason why I should love Lunar New Years. It's not a holiday I grew up celebrating. It always falls on a different date, taking me by surprise, sometimes still fatigued from the December holidays. It's also a gargantuan effort, at least the way I do it: combining the decorating of Halloween, the giving of Christmas and the cooking of Thanksgiving. But I can't help it. I'm crazy for  the Gong Hay Fat Choy (Or, if we want to get all Tet about it: the Chuc Mung Nam Moi).

Doug reminds me, when he's feeling particularly snarky or when I'm getting overly stressed about getting my red lanterns up in time, that I've completely made up this holiday. He has a point (a bitchy one, but a point nonetheless). I started celebrating the Lunar New Year when we adopted our son, Ben, from Vietnam, because I wanted him to be proud of his heritage, something I decidedly never was. All the traditions we followed (opening the doors at midnight, wearing new clothes, making the dumplings) were taken from children's books I bought for Ben. At his preschool, I became the de facto expert on the holiday, and I've stayed that way at his schools through the years, directing dragon parades, giving cooking demonstrations on fried wontons, orchestrating tiny lion dancers. And in our home, many other traditions, both culinary and otherwise, have stayed in place, year after year after year.




Yes, my amalgamation of different Tet/Chinese New Year traditions is largely of my own invention. ("Wait," Doug says, "you can't take a shower on New Year's Day?" "...Yes..." I say, "or wait, maybe it's you can't cut your hair. Let's do neither.") Maybe it's the fact that I have made up so much on my own that gives the holiday its appeal. Even the best holidays have a tinge of obligation to it, but this one? No one expects anything! If it happens, it's by dint of my own love for it. My sheer enjoyment of stringing up the lanterns, making the caramel sauce riblets, handing out the red envelopes. Better still, Ben loves the holiday, too. We've created our own family tradition. What's not to like about that?

And you can't beat those dumplings.

To all my friends and family: have a healthy, peaceful, and prosperous Year of the Sheep!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Adventures in Publishing: Accordions and Folk Tunes

Wherein we learn that, despite all the awesome coddling that comes with being at a super publishing house, they will not do EVERYTHING for you. 

Lookie what I got!
If I'd a known accordions weighed a ton,
I woulda written them heavier.
No, I'm not taking up a new hobby. I’ve rented it for a shoot of… Still Life Las Vegas, *The Trailer.* Yes, nowadays people make little filmed previews of their books to help sell them on the Internets. Just like the movies! Except, with less explosions, usually, unless you’re John Grisham.

So, how it works is, the publisher just whips up a little movie and submits it for your approval—

ah, no.

If you, the writer, would like this little (unproven) boost to book sales, you are free to create one yourself. Unless, I suspect, you’re John Grisham. Then you have Joel Schumacher make one for you, and, oh yeah, IT’S A REAL MOVIE.

As a non-John-Grisham-type writer, I find that living in Los Angeles and working in the entertainment industry has given me a distinct advantage—notably, knowing people who know how to shoot these things, and make them look good. My voice director for “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness,” Peter Hastings, also happens to have mad skills in a number of fields, and filmmaking is one of them. I’ve seen his work on a few music videos (did I mention he also plays the bass and was in the band Doozy?) and loved them.

 
This Jack-and-Master of all trades very graciously offered to help me create my trailer.

It's amazing, the help you find around you when you need it, and ask.

A few days ago I watched an evening of filming—one of the main characters in my book, Emily, playing the accordion. Peter brought in someone perfect for the role— accordionista extraordinaire Gee Rabe.
I write the role of an Asian female accordion virtuoso, and voila, she appears (watch out, Lucy Liu, better jump quick if you're interested!). Gee hoisted that accordion onto her shoulders, started in on Torna a Surriento— and away we went.



This is from the perspective of me on the floor,
swiveling her around on a stool as she played. Hi-tech!


We had a lot of fun.

Speaking of Torna a Surriento— if you, as a fledgling writer, decide you'd like to use a snippet of an old Italian folk song in your book and find an English translation on the internet and put it in, not thinking about who wrote the translation because, really, you’re not even CLOSE to needing that kind of information and they’ll get it all sorted out later (the aspirational, vague but authoritative they) in the remote possibility that you do get it published, IF YOU HAVE DONE THIS, don’t forget about attending to this question, and certainly don't wait until copyediting is asking for rights to said translation.

Oh! Do we need it?

Why yes, yes we do.

Here is where you find that the they you thought would handle this is, in actuality, you. THEY (the copyeditors at the publishing house) would like you to make sure that rights are available to all songs used in the book. Anything more than one line. That's what they are there for, to make sure no one (including you) gets sued down the line. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any attribution for the translation of Torna a Surriento that I was using. While I’m pretty sure it was a literal translation that no one would lay claim to, a legal headache is the last thing anyone wants.

The solution? Why, write your own translation! This is more easily done if you have an Italian mother who can transcribe the song word for word for you. Here’s my version of Return to Sorrento. It’s not a literal translation, but my interpretation of it:

Looking out I see the water,
It glitters like a memory,
Like the face I can’t let go of
All my days and in my dreams

Smell the fragrance from the garden—
Orange blossoms fill the air
With the scent of sweet remembrance
Of a time when you were near.

And you said “I’m leaving, farewell.”
In my arms you would not stay.
From this land of love, my darling,
You took your heart and turned away.

Come back, my love
Please torment me no more,
Come back to Sorrento
Don’t let me die!

Feel free to use it. Just give me credit!

BONUS!!!:
I’m doing a reading challenge this year, and I invite you to join in! It’s one that's been making the rounds on Facebook, but originally culled from a blog site called Modern Mrs. Darcy. The challenge gets you to read twelve books in as many months, and it gives you different criteria to choose each book. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get through it (that’s more than double what I usually read, unfortunately) but who doesn’t want to read more? (well, my son, but that’s another matter). Right now I've finished Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?  by Roz Chast (book recommended by someone with good taste), and I'm starting on Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (book on the bestseller list). Join in! And we ALL know what book we’ll choose for the category “book published this year”— yes?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Still Standing



I can’t lay all this wretchedness of the past few weeks on 2015’s doorstep; the pain was brewing just at the end of the year, smuggled in as an odd ache amongst the assorted miseries of a flu before the holidays, and asserting itself just as 2014 was giving up the ghost. But it wasn’t until just this week that it was given a name.

At first the cause was thought to be Piriformis Syndrome, an oddly balletic-sounded name for a malady that hobbles you. After two weeks of adjustments and massages, the condition worsened, and my chiropractor pointed me to my doctor. One MRI later, all was revealed, and like all good horror movies, the culprit was someone we had already met. L4-L5.

(That MRI was dearly paid for: driving was an agony, even with ice pack and Advil, but I thought the newly-prescribed drugs would kick in and I could manage it. This was not a good idea. The hydrocodone made me dizzy, but I didn’t recognize it until I was halfway to the imaging center, driving through Beverly Hills, growing more and more nauseous every minute, willing, WILLING the bile to recede from swirling around my gums, willing it to stay down like I had done in the morning so that I wouldn’t throw up the steroids but it's too late, I’m trying to pull over on Sunset Blvd, putting on my blinker, it will not keep down and suddenly my cheeks have ballooned like twin air bags filled with barf and I hold it and pull to the curb of a fancy Italian restaurant where the valet is starting to put out his sandwich board with the fancy curly writing on it, and I open the Ziploc bag that Thank God I have brought with me, just in case, thank you Jesus, and I delicately vomit twice more into that bag, then Ziploc it right back up and continue to my appointment.)

It seems that the bulging disc in my lumbar spine, the one compressed like jelly about to squirt out of the back of a peanut butter sandwich, has graduated to being herniated. The MRI report was a decidedly morose read, full of ominous words like spondylosis and stenosis. A clutch of ill-favored words: compressed, distorted, disfigured and impinged were threaded together in ONE SENTENCE (the weight of those adjectives alone could cause herniation). Simply put, the nerves making their way out between my two lower back vertebrae to my right leg were being aggravated, causing, alternately, cramping in the sole of my foot, burning on my shin, a pain in my buttock and the buzzing/tingling/numbness throughout. Even more simply put: I now have sciatica.

Putting a name gives me both relief (I now have a path forward) and despair (looking down that path). I’m making the paradigm shift from temporary discomfort to who knows? The most unsettling aspect during these last few weeks has been the inability to sit. Standing is fine, walking is beneficial, but sitting is excruciating for more than a few minutes. I wander, like a nomad, through my home, never settling down to eat, to write, to, well, settle. I pace from room to room until I have to lie down. 

My Preciousssssss...
It’s gotten much better, mercifully. The constant pain has almost been vanquished with the steroids and is I have to I can drive short distances (my almost-depleted supply of Prednisone gives me anxiety, though; I look at the few pills I have left with the dread of one dangling over a cliff’s edge, feeling the sweaty palm slowly slipping slipping away from the savior’s grip). We are giving physical therapy a whirl for a month, with other options down the road. Luckily I can do voiceover auditions and gigs standing up. Writing is more difficult (the days of hunching over my laptop at Starbucks are gone for now) but I’m working my way back in. 


I’m reading more (easy to do on one’s back). Although I can’t multitask, (which, coupled with the no-driving, makes me much less efficient) I’m more present to the task at hand, and don't dawdle, because dawdling is best done sitting. Less game-playing! I appreciate that I can sleep now, and tie my shoe, and perch from time to time. 


I’d like to say that I see the blessing in all this, but in truth, it feels more like a premonition. 



Friday, November 21, 2014

Adventures in Publishing: Proof

A few weeks ago, I received a rather large packet in the mail:


My manuscript! But covered in strange markings, done in mauve pencil. This, my friends, was the copy edited copy of Still Life Las Vegas, ready for perusal.

A bit daunting at first glance, this document was nonetheless exhilarating to look at. After all, the publisher had cared enough about me and my project to pore over it and discover all the ways in which I might appear sadly ignorant of the basics tenets of English grammar. And thank God for that, I soon discovered. They were making it fit for public consumption.

The manuscript came with a SLLV style sheet, a little bible on the rules of the world of the novel, for the purpose of consistency. How did I use italics? Denote titles? Spell "Fudgsicle"? This was pretty cool to read, especially the list of proper nouns in the book. All the people and places I’d made up, written down just like they were real! 



I had no idea who some of these characters were—
Heinz Leipzig?
 
Onto the manuscript itself. This was my time to review all the marks and remarks left by the proof editor and decide if they were what I wanted: vet or stet (stet is a proofing term which means “Leave it as it is— I meant to transgress grammatical laws at this point.”) It was also my last chance to wipe away any wince-inducing passages, ungainly sentences, redundancies, and any other literary detritus I discovered on the way. 

Looking at all the minute edits and questions was like entering the the Merry Old Land of Oz/St. Martins, where my book was shampooed, manicured, re-stuffed, and buffed free of all errant spaces and double dashes.
Can you even change the tense to match my noun? Jolly good town!

My proofreader was listed as one Bethany Reis, with whom I felt intimately connected these past weeks. After all, she’d gone over my book more thoroughly and minutely than anyone else, including me (including I? Including myself? Bethany would know). She’d scrutinized every word, looked up every reference,
and had laid out her findings, a secret map for me in hieroglyphic code. As I went through the pages and her notes, I imagined her whispering in my ear. She would have a voice not unlike Scarlet Johansson. “Are you really sure you want to echo the word 'propelled,' as you’ve just used it in the previous paragraph?” she would ask huskily. I would brandish my purple pencil and slash out the word, scribble in “incited” instead. Magic! We twirled our way through the pages, this duet of STET’s and checkmarks. I may not have agreed with her every note, but I appreciated them all. I was lucky for her discretion; her gentle admonishments rarely made me feel like a total idiot. I’d love for her to read this post, but I’m afraid she’ll make me rewrite it. In fact, I’m sure she’d make me rewrite it. (“Did you mean to repeat the word “rewrite”? Is the repetition intentional?”)

My List of Most Oft-Used Mistakes
  • Constantly mixing up “farther” and “further.”
  • Adding the unnecessary word “of” to “off” (“He picked the bag off of  the floor.”)
  • Capitalizing the seasons (did we learn to capitalize seasons as children?)
  • Adding a “d” to “size,” as in “travel-sized.”
  • Playing fast and loose with using the Oxford comma (the final comma before “and” in a series of things).
  • Adding an “s” to the end of “upward,” “backward,” and most especially, ever and always, “toward.” 

Who knew? Bethany did. I wonder if she enjoyed the book. I wonder if you can enjoy a book you're proofing, because you're reading for such a different purpose. It might even be a conflict of interest. 


I finished reviewing the changes. It took a lot of time, but it was quite satisfying work. I added an acknowledgment page, a dedication, and shipped it off. Next up: bound galleys!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Adventures in Publishing: Please Judge My Book by Its Cover


IT'S HERE.

When I first opened the email attachment that had the possible cover of "Still Life Las Vegas" in it, I gasped and slammed my computer shut. It was nothing that I expected: there was so many images, so much color, and it was oddly...

Perfect. 

I've never met Young Lim, the designer at St. Martin's Press, but he seemed to take all the disparate ideas we had about the cover ("Could we maybe use both real images and drawn?" "Maybe an accordion on the side of the road?" "Could there be some sexy statue?"), pour them into the crucible of his own considerable talent and come up with a perfect encapsulation of what the book is all about: 

There's the graphic novel element (with the beautiful drawings by Sungyoon Choi), the whimsy, the melancholy. . . and Vegas, baby, Vegas!

I'd heard so many horror stories about authors hating their book jackets that I was prepared for the worst; it was such a gift to be presented with a prototype that looked almost exactly like this. A little tweaking, and we were good to go. Now, I don't know how much toil and back-and-forth went on in-house, but for me, it was like opening a present on Christmas day. 

It's so much more of a tangible thing now, you know? And the book's presence is starting to pop up unexpectedly online, like seedlings: a goodreads listing, and now one on Amazon! My friend Derek alerted me to the pre-order status of the book on Amazon, where I also found out that it's being released on August 11, four days earlier than I thought. Amazon settled its fight with Hachette and listed me for preorder on the same day? That Prime Membership must be kicking in!



Now, you know. . .  preorders are a way for the publisher to gauge buzz about the book, so if you have any curiosity about Still Life Las Vegas, this would be an excellent time to order it. Think of it as securing your end-of-the-summer-read now! You can strike it off your list!

Truly, though, I feel so happy. Such support and talent going on over at the Flatiron Building. I am extremely grateful. 

PS. See that photo of a balloon on the cover? I took that!