Thursday, May 21, 2009


Turned in my last paper yesterday, which means that I can finally:

1. Work unfettered on my novel. Halfway there, baby!

2. Start reading for fun again. I'm trying to create a reading list that will help me stay in the right mindset as I write. Meaning no boy writers unless they write pretty, and lots of lyrical (but not snobby) girl writers. And by boy and girl I mean male and female, but whatever. I need accessible female writers that can continue to inspire me and keep me in the right mood. There's a reason I read Danticat's short stories when I need to transition myself into writing mode. Anyway, any suggestions?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why am I not finished with this novel yet?

1. Why does inspiration seem to only strike in the middle of the night when I'm actually really freaking tired and want to sleep but can't because, you know, this scene wants to be written?

2. Why does the middle of my novel suck so much?

3. Why won't my novel magically write itself during the time I lie awake at night thinking about it?

4. Why do I love my novel so much despite the fact that it seems bent on slowly killing me?

5. Why do I only have 100 pages-ish? Why is this process so damn slow?!

6. Why is it that when I set out to write a "simple", "straightforward" novel, I still somehow end up with three different interweaving timeline stories that will require me to write separately and then map out and intergrate and organize and outline?

7. Why don't I have any idea of what the hell is going on in my novel or what is going to end up happening?

8. Why do I only want to work on my novel (to the detriment of the papers and finals I have to still complete) despite the fact that when I finally do "work" on it, I just sit and stare at blank screens, type and delete things, tear my hair out and moan?

9. Why is every scene in the future more interesting to me than the scene that I am working on?

10. Why am I putting myself through this torture?

If someone has the answer to these pressing questions, please let me know.

If I count all the words I've typed for this novel so far, I'm officially over the 30K mark! This does not include random scenes I've jotted down on looseleaf and notebook pages - though it may include double scenes. But since I've stopped writing this book sequentially and started just throwing in scenes, I no longer know what I'm keeping as notes and what I'm keeping as part of the actual thing. Nonetheless -- whee! -- I'm almost halfway done with a first pass! First pass being just the bare attempt to get down the story, before the fun second draft comes along. That's where I actually get to sit down, arrange my story as I'd like for it appear on a page, and then fill in all the holes and make everything sound prettier so it's actually readable.

But for now, goal #1: get the story down!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Humor can save an unsympathetic protag!

Okay I liked the book so much I just finished it.

Oh dude, David Yoo is a funny, funny guy. I could not stop giggling out loud as I read this book. The humor is silly, self-deprecating and positively ludicrous at points, but so convincing I couldn't stop grinning the whole way through. And luckily, because Nick Park (the protagonist), the young, girl-obsessed, Korean-American kid in this book, is a total asshole. I kid you not. From the beginning of the book (where he's in 3rd grade) to the end (when he's graduating from high school), he's a self-loathing, deluded, selfish asshole who lies and pushes the envelope so much that you almost can't stand him and almost lose sympathy for him. But Yoo's wit is Nick's, and therefore the book's, saving grace. So even though you kinda think he's an ass for pretending he's a kung-fu fighter, he's funny about it, so, okay fine.

And anyway, his wild delusions are all part of him finding himself and coming to terms with his Korean-Americanness. I liked how fresh this book was as one to contend with the Asian-American dialogue. It was a fresh breakaway from the many eye-rolling Asian-American texts I've read in the past. So good for David Yoo.

Towards the end, I did feel like it was a little too neatly wrapped up, this sudden "realization" - though I suppose to be able to pull it off with any finesse is a tall order, since, really, do we ever just figure things out? And for a YA readership maybe it's important to bang the moral over the head? I'm not sure. This was one of the weak spots for me, where I could see the new-ness of Yoo's first novel.

I could say stuff about race and self-loathing and stuff here - and I'll admit that it was an interesting perspective to see, one where I literally wanted to shake Nick really hard - but I'm going to save it because I plan to write a paper on it in about a week. And I need to percolate. And it's 5 am. But all I can say is that this is a good read, especially for Asian-Americans, but I suspect would be appealing to non-Asian-Americans, especially boys who have a good sense of humor and love girls.

Great read, truly entertaining. I can't wait to read his new book that just came out.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Freaking Asian-American hilarity

I've decided to write my adolescent lit paper on Asian-American something or other. So I took out David Yoo's Girls for Breakfast from the library, not entirely certain what to expect.

Dude. I'm about 1/3 through it and it is effing HILARIOUS. I really didn't expect it to be this laugh-out-loud funny. But it really kinda is.

The book is about a Korean-American kid who lives in an all-white neighborhood and is obsessed with girls. No, like REALLY CRAZY OBSESSED in the funniest fucking way (excuse my french).

Okay I'm not done yet, so I won't say anything else, but just as an example of the silliness that makes me laugh:

Nick (the protag) has just been forced to go to Korean church-
Practically everyone's daughter was named Sunny or Grace, and every son was Billy or Franky. No one else was named Nick. I wondered if Koreans emulated Italian Mafia families on purpose.
--[pg. 98]

Nick has just been called a banana - yellow on the outside, white on the inside. He is confused by the classification of being called "yellow"-
My face felt like it was turning red. According to art class, if my skin really was yellow, that would mean my face was actually turning orange.
--[pg. 104]

Oh man, seriously, I'm already a total fan of Dave Yoo, even though I normally never read stuff like this. Okay, I'll be back when I'm done with this book.

A literary meme

1) What author do you own the most books by?
I was hoping to be able to say something really impressively literary, like how I own every book Edwidge Danticat's written, or how I own a lot of Haruki Murakami. Then my mind thought, series, so perhaps Piers Anthony or Orson Scott Card. Except, I realize, sadly, that the answer might actually be V.C. Andrews. I went through a phase in 8th grade where I read almost every saga she came out with. And since that generally meant like, 5 books per saga, I must own at least 20 books by her. Sad. And a waste of shelf space.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
The Secret Garden. And not the same edition either, but various different versions, including crappy school copies, British editions, and beautifully illustrated hardbacks. My mom loves that book so she kept buying me new copies, as if the love could be distributed amongst all the different versions.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
No. That's one grammatical problem that I never even really think about. Is it bad I'm a writing tutor?

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
I find Oscar Wao really endearing, but in love? No. Hmm, I can't think of anybody. Maybe it's because I like flawed characters in books, but who in their right mind would want to date anyone super flawed? I am ashamed to admit I did swoon over Edward from Twilight, until I realized how he was an accessory to Bella's insane neediness.

4a) What fictional character would you most like to be?
I can't say I want to be any of them, because seriously, if your life is interesting enough to be made into a book, it usually means your life is pretty fucked up. Even with a happy ending at the end, not sure I want to have to endure anything like that.

4b) What fictional character do you think most resembles you?
The ones I write about?

5) What book have you read the most times in your life?
I think I have read A Wrinkle in Time many many many times.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Probably A Wrinkle in Time. Or one of those dollhouse mystery books. Or anything about time travel and secrets in attics and stuff. I have a bunch of those at home that I've read a few times but I can't remember what they're called right this moment.

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
Assuming we're talking about past year as in the past 365 days, I'm going to go ahead and say again how much I despised Jack Kerouac's Visions of Cody. Self-indulgent. And I pretty much will never read Kerouac again because of it.

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?
It's been a long while since I've read anything I absolutely lovedlovedloved, but let me go through my backlogs of books. Okay, so in the past 365 days, the books that come to mind are 1. Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of the Hills - possibly my favorite Ishiguro out of all the ones I've read 2. Alexander Chee's Edinburgh - in my opinion, really underpublicized and underread for how beautiful his prose is 3. The English Patient - which probably requires no explanation 4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - which is YA but I don't care because I really liked it and it made me cry. Clearly I love pretty prose and things that make me cry.

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I still think it's fucking amazing no matter how many times I read it (and so far the count is at 3 times).

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?
I haven't really been following the big hitters for this past year so I can't really say.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Hmm, I dunno. They almost always ruin a book when they make it into a movie, unless you're like, The Coen Brothers. Which, speaking of, they're supposed to be doing Yiddish Policeman's Union which should be awesome. Maybe something more genre, like I'm still waiting on an Ender's Game movie, though I'm also worried they'll fuck it all up.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
The Road. Which unfortunately apparently they've already done. I bet you it sucks.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
Uh. None I can remember at this juncture...

14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?
Twilight and its subsequent sequels. Fosho. Or I suppose I could say my recent breeze through the Anne Bishop books could count too. I blame Jas and Frederick for those. Whatever. They were good.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
I don't like difficult, so I most likely didn't get through anything that was too difficult.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?
The only Shakespeare play I've seen (like a real play put on by real actors) is Julius Caesar when Denzel came to town. And that's not really obscure.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
Um. Wasn't a lit major so can't answer this question. I'll just say the Russians, since the half of Anna Karenina I quite enjoyed, and I love Nabokov (though I suppose he's more contemporary?). But I haven't really read any of the French so it's an unfair comparison.

18) Roth or Updike?
Haven't read any Updike, but the one Roth I read (American Pastoral) I was kinda disappointed by. So I choose neither.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
I've never finished a Dave Sedaris collection, and I thought A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was self-indulgent. I liked it when I first finished it but the more I think about it, the more I dislike it. However, I have What is the What on my shelf and I hear it's good, so maybe I'll choose Eggers when I'm done.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
I didn't like the little bit of Chaucer I had to read (he's the reason I decided to not become an English major), never finished all of Milton, but I quite liked the bit I did read, so my inclination is towards him, though that might be completely unfair.

21) Austen or Eliot?
This is when it becomes readily apparent that I'm woefully underread. I haven't read either.

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
All of the above. Ahaha. Well. Like, let's think here, never read Hemmingway, Faulkner, Updike, Austen, Eliot, the Russians, the French, Pynchon, the Irish (besides Lawrence who I hated), Joyce, etc etc etc.... In other words, I'm missing the entire Canon, but who cares about dead white guys anyway?

23) What is your favorite novel?
Again, The Road.

24) Play?
Um... I haven't really seen many plays. So can I say something like Inherit the Wind?

25) Poem?
Love at First Sight by Wislawa Szymborska. Yeah, I'm a sap.

26) Essay?
Eh? I don't think I've ever sat around and read "essays".

27) Short story?
Hands down, "Children of the Sea" by Edwidge Danticat, from her collection Krik? Krak! That piece reminds me every time of why I want to be a writer. Beautiful.

28) Work of non-fiction?
The Year of Magical Thinking. So moving.

29) Who is your favorite writer?
Edwidge Danticat.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Like I said, I was quite disappointed by Dave Eggers' AHWOSG. But I haven't read enough to deem him overrated yet. Maybe Stephenie Meyer? Ahaha.

31) What is your desert island book?
A book that tells me how to survive on a desert island.

32) And ... what are you reading right now?
I'm reading quite a few books simultaneously. Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix, David Yoo's Girls for Breakfast, and Tyler Knox's Kockroach. The plan is to get boy books out of my system and focus on female writers all summer as I attempt to bang out the first draft of my novel...

A politicalized short story should still be well-written!

By the way, for this same class, I've been reading short stories from this collection called American Eyes, a collection of Asian-American short stories.

To be honest, I don't like most of the stories in this book. I get my workshop cap on and I find all sorts of holes in the stories, and I don't think they're all that well-written. I feel some of them are dangerous if not read critically, and I just in general am not a fan of these short little "Asian-American" stories because I feel like they're so short that they do nothing besides call attention to the woefulness of being Asian-American. It's not that I can't relate - I can - but beyond that, I'm not sure that these stories are good literature.

On the other hand, I try to keep in mind that these stories were published in the 90's, and back then, there probably wasn't as much dialogue on being Asian-American as there exists now. It was the time of Joy Luck Club, etc, so I suppose there was a place and time for those stories. I just wish they had been better....

More on being an Asian writer, I suppose.

Today I attended a lecture given by Gene Yang, author of American Born Chinese, a graphic novel. I read this book about a year ago, but recently reread it for one of my classes. The lecture was excellent - Yang was funny yet insightful, and really entertaining as he explained to a largely non-Asian audience about the source material for much of the book.

As a Chinese-American, his lecture particularly hit home for me. I am by no means an Asian-American "activist". I never participated in those protests against, say Abercrombie and Fitch's "Two Wongs Don't Make a White" t-shirts or whatever, and I've never necessarily been politically active. Nonetheless, I also am extremely conscious of my hyphenated status in America, and this is especially on my mind when I think about being a writer who doesn't want to be niched. I wouldn't say that I'm self-loathing to any extent - I simply want to be judged on a basis that excludes my ethnicity.

Despite the fact that I now feel very comfortable operating within a non-Asian world, there was once a time when I didn't. When all I knew was Asia-Americana which has its own brand of American culture. And being within this culture meant that most of the time I didn't have to deal with the question of my ethnicity because everyone around me was just like me. But upon graduation, I was thrust into a predominantly white world, and suddenly it felt like an issue. Suddenly I wasn't entirely sure how to fit in and how people saw me. I didn't actually know how to relate.

Yang's lecture today hit home for me because he brought up all the stereotypes that have existed - both far past during Exclusion Act days and more current events - and I found myself getting worked up over everything he said, and being able to relate so well to the choices he made in his graphic novel.

Yet at the same time, I wondered what it said about me, that I don't want to be part of that dialogue in that way. I don't want to write a book about an Asian-American trying to be part of society. I don't want to write a book where "identity" is an issue in that way. I don't want to have to talk about Chinese people being dogeaters or being good at math (or not, as the case may be). I appreciate and wholeheartedly applaud somebody like Yang for bringing up the difficult nuances of this topic, and in a comic no less, but I shudder at the idea of ever having to do that myself. I want to be loved as a writer despite my Asianness - and I wonder if that is a bad thing. It's not that I don't think these issues are important, it's just that it's not what I want to write about. I want to write things that appeal to everyone, that are relatable to everyone. I don't want to write for an Asian-American generation.

This post has less to do with the book I suppose than with my thoughts about being an ethnic writer. The book is good - it tackles questions of identity, of how Asians are perceived by outsiders, but also how Asianness is perceived by someone who just wants to belong. It's about embracing your own self and learning to accept it. And it's really fun and funny to boot.

I guess I just got a swarm of feelings sitting there in the audience because I wondered if there's supposed to be a burden of responsibility being an Asian writer, to open a dialogue about these sorts of things.

But I kinda think the opposite. I want to show that Asian people think about things other than being Asian. We think about all the things everyone else does - question of family, of love, of ethics, of honor, of courage, of morals. And I don't want to have to write about Asian people in order to do it.

Oh, I'm sure one day one of my protags will be Asian. And I'm sure one day I may even write something about China. But I never want my Asianness to be at the forefront of what I write. I want it to be just a fact, like if my heroine were red-headed instead of a brunette, or liked books instead of liking movies, or was a vegetarian instead of a carnivore. Things that are important, sure, but only in so far that they give you a better understanding of the character in their situation, and not the focal point of the entire book.

I keep digressing here. I really did admire Yang's book and his lecture. His anecdotes pumped me up and I felt my anger simmering and my defiance wanting to shine through every time he showed me something offensive. I take great pride in my heritage and the images and examples he gave made me unbelievably angry. So good on him. And good on this book.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Surprise affect.

I recently finished The Shadow Catcher for one of my classes. It's one of those books that I otherwise wouldn't have picked up, I'm guessing, but I found I actually enjoyed it.

The book interweaves two stories - one about Edward Curtis, a real-life photographer famous for having taken pictures of many Native Americans back in the late 1800s/early 1900s and his wife Clara, and the second about a fictional reimagined Marianne Wiggins who has written a book about Curtis.

I didn't think I'd like this book. Not that I thought I'd dislike it, but while I was reading it, I was kinda ho-hum about the whole thing. The writing is good, but I'm a person who waits to be affected and sucked in by a quiet beauty of a literary novel, and while The Shadow Catcher was fresh enough so that the reading was never a chore, it also didn't arrest me at first.

I did find the story of Clara and Edward intriguing though, and was frustrated as it was doled out in two chunks - I didn't want to go back to the present and just wanted to know what happened because I felt more invested in their story. The ending to their story however, gave me that affect that I wanted. It was a quiet sadness that I loved.

Because I was invested in the Clara/Edward story, I also thought I wouldn't really give a damn about the present tense stream, but the mystery that evolves was enough that I did want to read through it, just to know the answer. Therefore, the ending also surprised me by being more affecting than I'd expected, though to my taste, not completely satisfying. But just the slightest bit off, not enough for me to think it was bad. And so I actually liked this, to my surprise, because I hadn't thought I would, going in.

Also, I found that I became somewhat interested in the man Edward Curtis (who is a real person), but more so, I wondered how much of this was true, if perhaps Clara was the woman behind him who never got the credit she deserves. There's also a lot in here about sort of what "America" is made of -- specifically the West and being out West, and also just by nature of the material, about Native Americans, which I really enjoyed.

This novel is about what happens to the people who get left behind, really. It's quiet and creeps up upon you. No big drama, nor any crazy action. Not a lot happens in the book, but it definitely caught me in the end. It's a good read, though I wouldn't place it among my top favorites or anything.

Friday, May 1, 2009


On a side note:

I have started a food blog. Because I love to eat and this place is not the place for food. Me and a couple of other girls (including Moonrat) are supposed to be contributing our food experiences. Because. We love food.

Come visit!

I love me a YA dystopia.

So, I picked up The Hunger Games last night, thinking I'd read for a couple of hours and then put it down to sleep. Nuh-uh. I stayed up til 5, finishing every last word. Lucky for me I didn't have to be on campus til 1...

I love me a good YA dystopia. The Hunger Games makes me think of something of a cross between The Giver and Ender's Game, making it a really fun read. Katniss, the protagonist, is just fiery enough for her to be believable, but young enough that you feel for her vulnerability. I really liked this book -- it's really creative in its premise, it's exciting, and it's got the slight romantic element, that becomes part of a greater strategy. I loved hearing about the different costumes, the strange/scary muttations, and I salivated at the food she described. Really creative.

The only thing I do have to say is that the use of the present tense really jarred me at moments, where I felt it wasn't natural, and it would kinda take me out of the book, which I don't like. I think she could have written it in past tense and it would have been fine.

Okay, I was warned about The Hunger Games, so I didn't feel like hurling the book across the room the way others did when I got to the "End of Book 1" print at the end. But I am eagerly anticipating the next one....