Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Little Movie, then FREE BOOKS!

Forget about Jurassic Park and Star Wars and Transformers 28: When Toasters Revolt; the trailer of the summer is here:


Yes, the trailer for Still Life Las Vegas, the one I worked on with Peter Hastings, where acclaimed Accordion Diva Gee Rabe dressed up and played for sweet music for us, has been officially introduced via St. Martin's Press.  It was all kinds of swell to make; primarily because Peter did all of the work and I just got to spin chairs around and do the voiceover.

Better yet, there's a FREE BOOK giveaway linked to the trailer. Just scroll down the description part under the video on youtube and it links you to Goodreads, which is doing the giveaway.
The drawing will be on June 11, so there's plenty of time to get your entry in. There are 25 books they are handing out, so right now, the odds are pretty good!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Adventures in Publishing: Blurbs and Lockdowns

This is especially true in publishing.
Hi all! It's been a red-letter day today. I started the morning from a Facebook message from rock star graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang (writer of Boxers/Saints and ABC: American Born Chinese), someone whose books my son Ben and I both love (hey, Boxers/Saints got Ben interested in reading about HISTORY, so you know it's compelling). He had read an advance reader copy of my book  Still Life Las Vegas and was kind enough to give me a great blurb to use on the jacket. Time and time again, I've been amazed at the kindness of strangers, who
will give up their precious time to help a new author out by reading their work and (hopefully) liking it enough to lend their name. Many thanks to Gene, and y'all should read his most excellent work.

Next up, I discovered that a personal essay I submitted to the online magazine The Rumpus is up on their site! It's actually been there for five days, but, hey, I was kinda busy this weekend. The piece is called "Lockdown," and it's about a particularly harrowing time of my life a couple of years ago, right before I found my lit agent. They added great illustrations by Dana Schartz to the piece. It should be up for a little while longer— hope you can all check it out!

Now, to go and fix my garbage disposal.

PS. Just so I don't get too cocky or anything, I was in a fender bender this afternoon, pulling into Walgreens. Thanks, Yin & Yang! Way to keep me balanced!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Adventures in Publishing: The Beauty of a Page

On a previous adventure in publishing, I wrote about the cover designer  Young Lin from St. Martin’s Press, who created a cover I would want my book to be judged by.  But what about inside the book? Who’s responsible for what that looks like?

A month ago, I would have guessed— well, I wouldn’t have guessed at all, because I had never thought about it before. If pages flow nicely and are readable I don’t really think about who’s responsible. And if it were a book that had illustrations, I would assume that the illustrator had laid down the entire layout for the book. Makes sense, yes?

Not so, gentle reader.  

Enter the book’s interior designer, one of the true unsung heroes of this whole publishing process.

Interior design is not just a matter of taking my manuscript, choosing a font and pouring it into a layout. I had not realized how much went into it—choosing not only the type but how it’s spaced on the page, what the headers look like, how the title page gets laid out, how the illustrations fall on the page...

The job is even harder when you involve the author. I’m sure the words “What if…?” strike fear in the heart of every designer.

The interior designer responsible for the look of my book is the masterful Anna Gorovoy, who has woven together my words, Choi’s illustrations, and Lin’s cover into a flowing, seamless reading experience. 

I love how she took the torn paper from the cover and used it throughout the book. Fragments are what my book is all about! Really!

I also love how the header she chose ties in the graphic element to the prose narrative. 

And can I say how grateful I am that the editors allowed me to have some input? I mean, it’s a little risky to ask for an author’s opinion when a deadline looms, but they did. Anna had to put up with all my itsy-pooing—“Can the grayscale be maybe 10% lighter?” “How about we put the header type two points smaller?” “What if the car graphic were on one of those scraps of paper?”—but to Anna’s credit, she took my suggestions and tweaked the layout to everyone’s immense satisfaction. 

It’s gonna look great. 

Aren’t you just dying to get this book? Aren’t you? Are you sleepless, fretful, feeling that you might miss out? Never fear! Pre-ordering is available, (and helps me with my pre-order numbers, which are apparently pretty important). Pre-order at Amazon NOW and put your mind at ease!  

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!

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.