Friday, December 11, 2009

Kanji Curiosity Tackles "Nozomi no Hoshi"


There's a lovely analysis of the lyrics of "The Wishing Star (Nozomi no Hoshi)" on Eve Kushner's Kanji Curiosity blog. Her blogs on kanji are always so insightful. I learned a lot about the lyrics that I didn't know and I'm the one who co-wrote them! :-) Thank you, Eve!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Books Inc. Reading - December 3, 2009




I had a great time reading and singing(!) from Love in Translation at the Books Inc. Marina Branch on Chestnut Street in San Francisco. My thanks to Margie Scott Tucker (the owner of Books Inc.) and bookseller Bob Deloria for their wonderful hospitality. Was also great to see good friends. Thank you, everyone!



Saturday, November 21, 2009

Love in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband - Part 2

Laura Aoyama has lived in Gunma prefecture with her husband Yusuke and their two children for going on five years. I found the answers to her questions quite interesting (and relatable!) especially about her fascination and frustrations with Japanese culture, which as she so astutely states, “go hand in hand.”

Where and how did you meet your husband?

We met in Gunma where I was doing some temporary substitute English teaching. This was quite unusual, as I worked as a trainer in Tokyo, but it was a busy period, so all of my substitute teachers were busy. He came into the school as a prospective student.

Did you know anything about Japan or Japanese culture prior to meeting your husband?

I had lived in Japan for three years prior to meeting my husband, so yes. Although I knew little of Japan before moving here. I was born in the U.K., but lived a little in France, and 3 years in Germany before moving to Japan.

Had you ever envisioned that you might marry a person from another culture?

I thought it may happen, as I love traveling, and have spent most of my adult life living in countries other than my home country.

What are the challenges of living in Japan?

Wow, where do I start?!?! Firstly, living in a major city, and living in the countryside here are two very different prospects. Having lived in Tokyo for three years, I have to say that the comfort level is much higher than out here in Gunma. However, this is something that is the same in any country. I would say my biggest challenge is language, and cultural communication. As they say, language is only a very small part of communication, so once you get through the words, learning the hidden messages within the Japanese culture becomes a second challenge. Other than that, I have found since I became a wife and mother especially, social expectations are elevated.

What kind of social expectations do you face now?

I am expected to participate in P.T.A. meetings and events just as any other Japanese mother. I imagine, as a single person, I didn't belong to a Japanese group, as such, but as a wife and as a mother, I am seen to belong a little more, I suppose. I am seen as a "mother", which I think makes people feel comfortable to group me. I don't feel pressured, because I don't do group mentality and , and love to retain individuality! Sometimes, this frustrates my husband a little bit though, so that's where the challenge lies!

Do you and your husband speak Japanese to each other?

We used to speak a mixture—pidgin English. But since having my daughter, I always only speak to her in English, and my husband speaks to her in Japanese as a way of distinguishing the two languages. So we often find that continuing in our private conversations, as she is old enough now to mimic us and I don't want her to get confused between the two. Although I'm sure my husband speaks more English to me as my Japanese vocabulary is fairly limited.

Do you and your husband have any communication problems that have nothing to do with language?

Yes, yes and yes! Our expectations of things are often very different, so we have to be very clear about things. I'm not sure if this is a cross-cultural thing or not, but Japanese roles of husband and wife are a lot clearer. This is considered good because it eliminates confusion, but I have always been quite individual and not really role-orientated, so we often both get the wrong end of the stick with assumptions and this also often leads to arguments!

What are some of the most challenging aspects of your cross-cultural marriage? Rewarding aspects?

As I said above, finding a balance with expectations. The rewarding aspects have to be that nothing is ever boring! We learn a lot from each other and I feel that I have helped my husband to think a little more outside the box, and he has helped me to understand the thinking INSIDE the box. As for our children, in my opinion, being bilingual, traveling overseas and learning about two different cultures is a great start to life!

What attributes do you feel are most important for a successful cross-cultural marriage?

I would say understanding and respect of each culture. Whichever country you choose to live in, remembering that your partner’s culture is just as important as the one that he/she is living in. Also, trying not to blame everything on cultural differences. Sometimes it's just not!

Do you see your in-laws often? Do you live with them?

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law live a 10-minute drive from our place. We considered living with them for financial reasons, but I didn't want to lose my independence, and my husband felt a bit the same. My father-in-law passed away when my husband was a teenager, and he is the only son, so that means he has certain responsibilities as far as taking care of his mother, their land, etc. It's mainly for that reason that we live in his hometown.

What do you find fascinating about Japanese culture? Frustrating?

I go through phases of liking it and hating it. Fascinating and frustrating often go hand in hand. I find the false politeness nice when I just want to be spoken to nicely, but sometimes I crave directness. It takes a long time to do things here, but even then they are often not done correctly, so that can be frustrating. I am intrigued by roles and daily routines and habits, often wondering what my neighbour does on a daily basis, etc. I think Japanese culture is rubbing off and making me wonder what it is that I should be doing in my "role." Or maybe I am just nosey!

Thank you, Laura, for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us!

—Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, Love in Translation and Midori by Moonlight. Get more information at: http://www.WendyTokunaga.com

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Secret of Joy - by Melissa Senate


My guest today on the Girlfriend’s Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour is Melissa Senate, the bestselling author of See Jane Date and Love You To Death. Melissa has a brand new novel from Simon and Schuster, The Secret of Joy.

What would you do if you discovered you had a half-sister you never knew existed?

28-year-old New Yorker Rebecca Strand is shocked when her dying father confesses a devastating secret: he had affair when Rebecca was a toddler—and a baby he turned his back on at birth. Now, his wish is that the daughter he abandoned, Joy Joyhawk, read the unsent letters he wrote to her every year on her birthday. Determined to fulfill her father’s wish, Rebecca drives to a small town in Maine—against the advice of her lawyer boyfriend who’s sure Joy will be a “disappointing, trashy opportunist” and demand half her father’s fortune. But when hopeful Rebecca knocks on her half-sister’s door, Joy—a separated mother who conducts weekend singles tours out of her orange mini-bus—wants nothing to do with Rebecca or the letters her father wrote to her. Determined to forge some kind of relationship with Joy, Rebecca sticks around, finding unexpected support from Joy’s best clients—the Divorced Ladies Club of Wiscasset—and a sexy carpenter named Theo . . . .

Praise:

"The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate opened my heart, made me laugh, cry, and smile all at the same time. A don't-miss read!" –New York Times bestselling author Carly Phillips

"The Secret of Joy is a warm hug of a book. Insightful, wise, and romantic, it's as inviting as the small-town life it depicts." –Claire LaZebnik

"A wonderfully heartfelt story about hope, possibilities and the yearning for real connections. Senate's latest will take you on a much needed vacation, while sneaking vital life lessons in when you're not looking." –Caprice Crane

Melissa Senate lives on the coast of Maine with her son and their menagerie of pets. She’s the author of eight novels (seven women’s fiction and one young adult) with two on the way. She stopped by to answer some questions.

What is the elevator pitch for The Secret of Joy?

A 28-year-old New Yorker with a life that doesn’t feel quite right discovers she has a half-sister she never knew existed. Off she goes to a small Maine town to find her….

What was the inspiration behind the writing of The Secret of Joy?
Several years ago, I received an email out of the blue that said: I think you might be my half-sister. I was. Am. It took me a long time to decide to take that little (huge) nugget and write a novel to help me figure out the answer to some burning questions, such as: if you haven’t seen or heard from your biological father, or any member of his family, since you were little (or, in Joy’s case, never at all), is his child from another relationship really your sibling? Or just a stranger? Does the word father or sister or brother mean anything without back up? I had a ton of questions and set out to uncover how I felt through a fictional character, but it’s interesting to me that I flipped everything on its head in the writing of the story. Nothing but the basic questions that are proposed in the novel are autobiographical. Just the questions! And I surprised myself quite a few times during the writing of this story with how I felt about certain things. Amazing how writing fiction can teach you so much about yourself.

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since getting your first book deal?
That it’s a business, first and foremost. I try to remember that every day. Business. Business. Business.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?
An idea flits into my heart, mind and soul (if I may be so dramatic!) and I just know. The idea, just a wispy thing, grips me and think about it until the two major characters—my protagonist and the person or thing who “forces” her change—become clear. Then I write out a one page treatment, a bare bones synopsis, then think about that, then revise the storyline into a “pitch” I can share with my agent. If she green-lights it, I’ll then let myself dream it into a full blown synopsis, which is what I usually sell a novel on. The synopsis, in its major plot points, rarely changes, but how the characters get from page one to page 325 is another story.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading so much contemporary women’s fiction. My bedside table is piled so high with these gorgeous books. I’m just starting Elizabeth Berg’s latest, Home Safe. Then will read Kristina Riggle’s Real Life & Liars.

Thanks, Melissa! Visit her website for more information and I know that she’d love it if you became her friend on Facebook and followed her on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

LOVE UNDER COVER - by Jessica Brody



My guest today on the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour is Jessica Brody, author of the very successful The Fidelity Files, which is currently in development as a television series by the executive producer of Crash. Now Jessica is back with the next installment, with LOVE UNDER COVER, which is available now!

In her job, she’s an expert on men…

In her own relationship, she doesn’t have a clue.

Boyfriend behaving badly? Suspect your husband of straying? Jennifer Hunter can supply the ultimate test. She runs a company which specializes in conducting fidelity inspections for those who suspect their loved ones are capable of infidelity.

An expert on men, Jennifer can usually tell if they're single, married or lying... Unfortunately, her new boyfriend, Jamie, is one of the few men that she's never been able to "read." Has she finally found the perfect man or is he too good to be true?

"With a complicated, sympathetic protagonist, worthy stakes and a clever twist on the standard chick lit narrative, Brody will pull readers in from the first page."
Publisher’s Weekly

"Those who enjoyed Brody's debut will be eager to catch up with Jennifer, but newcomers will be intrigued, too...an honest, witty portrayal of modern love."
- Booklist

“With her usual smart, deft, and witty prose, Brody delves deep into the psychology of a woman who tests the fidelity of strangers for a living but struggles with commitment in her own life."
- Joanne Rendell, author of Crossing Washington Square and The Professors’ Wives’ Club

Watch the LOVE UNDER COVER TRAILER here:

Jessica graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts with degrees in economics and French. In 2005, she left her job at MGM Studios in Los Angeles to become a full-time freelance writer and producer. Jessica currently lives in Los Angeles, where she is working on her next novel. Visit her website here.

Jessica took some time to answer a few questions about LOVE UNDER COVER and the writing life.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of LOVE UNDER COVER?


As soon as I finished writing my first novel, The Fidelity Files¸ I knew that Jennifer’s journey wasn’t over yet. Although she had seemed to find her happy ending there was so much more fun stuff I had in mind for another book. Setting Jennifer up with an entire agency of fidelity inspectors was definitely the first and foremost on my mind for the next instalment. 

Plus, I really wanted to explore what a fidelity inspector would be like in a committed relationship. After everything she’s seen—all the cheating, dishonesty, and betrayal—would she really be capable of settling down herself? So that’s what I set out to focus on in this book. 


What is the elevator pitch for LOVE UNDER COVER?


LOVE UNDER COVER is the compelling story of a woman who runs a “fidelity inspection” agency, hired by suspicious spouses to test the faithfulness of their loved ones. Although at work she may be an expert on men, in her own relationship, she doesn’t have a clue…


Who are the top three writers who have influenced your writing style?

Helen Fielding is the reason I’m writing today. When I read Bridget Jones’ Diary back in college, my life changed. It was the first book I’d read for “pleasure” (rather than for a school assignment) in a long time and I’d forgotten how entertaining and fun books could be. I knew right then and there that I wanted to write to entertain people. Just as Helen Fielding had entertained me. 

I’ve also been heavily influenced by Sophie Kinsella for her charm, wit and humorous story telling style and Jodi Picoult for her depth of soul and realism. 


What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel 
published?



Take criticism. Believe in your work and stand behind it, but don’t be afraid to make changes. Use rejections to evolve yourself as a writer, not just to line your waste basket. When someone rejects your work and offers a reason, don’t just blow it off and claim that they “didn’t get it” or that they clearly didn’t read it closely enough, dissect it and try to figure out if what they’re saying makes sense and if it will inevitably help your work. There’s a fine balance between staying true to your art and being open for suggestions, try to stay somewhere in the middle. If they “didn’t get it,” chances are, readers won’t get it either. And you won’t be there to explain it to them in the middle of Barnes and Noble.


What do you like to do when you’re not writing?



What? You mean there’s life outside of my office? Who knew! I don’t have a lot of free time as I tend to over commit myself to projects. But one thing I love is my bowling league. Our team is in first place going into the championships. I take it very seriously. I even scheduled my book tour around the play-offs. That’s how hard core I am!


Continued success to you, Jessica!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Love in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband - Part 1

In my latest novel, LOVE IN TRANSLATION, (out on November 24!) the American protagonist, Celeste Duncan, finds herself unexpectedly in Japan and unexpectedly falling for her homestay “brother” Takuya, a Japanese born and raised in Tokyo. I’m a second-generation San Franciscan and, while Celeste is a fictional character and not based much on me, I also fell for a Japanese man who I’ve been married to now for twenty years.

Cross-cultural marriages are nothing new and there are many such marriages between Western men and Japanese women. But I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that, despite many changes going on in Japanese society, couples made up of Japanese men and Western women are still unusual.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to conduct a series of interviews about cross-cultural marriage with Western women married to Japanese men. We’ll explore the joys and the special challenges of these relationships both inside and outside Japan, and how the typical stressors of marriage such as in-laws, kids, money, jobs, housework, etc. can become even more stressful when the intricacies of the Japanese social world are thrown into the mix.

To start the series off, I’ve picked my first interview subject—me!—briefly talking about my marriage to Manabu Tokunaga, a software architect, musician and surfer, born and raised in Osaka. In the coming weeks I’ll be posting interviews with a variety of foreign wives sharing their captivating stories about how love can transcend culture.

Where and how did you meet your husband?


When my husband gets asked this question, he likes to say that we met through an ad in a newspaper. And this is true. But it was not one of those “Women Seeking Men” personal relationship ads where someone who likes long walks on the beach is seeking a fun-loving, marriage-minded guy. I had put in an ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian to find someone who could help me translate original song lyrics into Japanese for a music project. Manabu answered the ad and ended up helping me record my songs. Our mutual love of creating music was a big factor in us getting together.

Did you live together in Japan?

No. When I met Manabu he had been living in the United States for about twelve years. He came here for college and stayed for graduate school and then on to his career. He never really felt that he fit in living in Japan and, although he didn’t initially intend to live permanently in the U.S., this is what ended up happening. I was inspired by his desire for trading his culture for a new one and eventually created a character who felt the same way (albeit a female one) in my first novel, Midori by Moonlight.

Did you know anything about Japan or Japanese culture prior to meeting your husband?

Yes, I was a certified Japanophile, having studied Japanese language and culture in college. I had traveled to Japan and also lived there for a year.

Had you ever envisioned that you might marry a person from another culture?

Yes. I was always attracted to Asian men. The tall, blond, big-muscled football player was never my type. And I was always the kind of person open and interested in other cultures, perhaps because I grew up in San Francisco, which is so culturally diverse.

Do you and your husband speak Japanese to each other?

Rarely. When I first met Manabu, I wanted him to speak to me in Japanese, but his English was so much better than my Japanese so it never seemed to work. He also has this problem I’ve encountered with other Japanese, of having difficulty talking to a person who does not have a Japanese face! But we sometimes speak pidgin—I might say, “Oh! That makes me feel very natsukashii (nostalgic).”

Do you and your husband have any communication problems that have nothing to do with language?

Sometimes. Japanese have something called ki ga tsuku, which I have understood to mean roughly, anticipating another’s feelings before he or she has to express them. This is a very nice sentiment and foreigners visiting Japan are often overwhelmed by an abundance of hospitality and ki ga tsuku. But in everyday married life one may not be so attuned, especially if you’re not used to doing this. Expectations get missed and offense can be taken and sometimes you don’t realize this has happened until way after the incident has occurred. This is sometimes why Japanese think that Americans can be inconsiderate and misunderstandings can happen. Hopefully I’ve gotten better at this after twenty years.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Reading Your Writing Out Loud


Today I’m preparing for my reading tonight at LitQuake’s LitCrawl. I’ll be reading from my forthcoming novel, Love in Translation, and I’m excited to be a part of this great literary tradition in San Francisco. We only have 5-6 minutes to read and this makes total sense; it’s hard for an audience to concentrate on a passage much longer than this, especially when there are other writers slated to read as well.

When I’m given the chance to read from my books at events I find it hard to find just the right excerpt that will interest listeners but won’t require a long set-up to get them acclimated. This is the most difficult part for me.

I know some writers do not relish reading out loud, but I do enjoy it. Sure, I get a bit nervous, but I find it fun to try and bring my writing to life in this way. And it’s always interesting to see how the audience reacts.

Maybe I like reading out loud because it is a big part of my writing process. After the pain of writing brand new material and then the pleasure of revision (yes, I know I’m weird), I always read every page out loud and more than once. By doing this I have been alerted to plot holes, wrong word choices, grammatical errors, character inconsistencies and on and on much more than when I read my work in silence. It also helps me define the rhythm and phrasing of the prose much like I do when I’m singing, which hopefully will give it that extra punch.

So whether your potential audience is only your cat or a roomful of people, you may want to practice reading your writing out loud from time to time if you haven’t tried before. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the insight you will gain and how it can enhance your writing process.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

According to Jane - by Marilyn Brant



My guest on the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour today is Marilyn Brant, author of the smart and clever debut novel According to Jane, from Kensington Books.

The story begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett's teacher is assigning Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet "tsk" of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who's teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author's ghost has taken up residence in Ellie's mind, and seems determined to stay there.

Jane's wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go--sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane's counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.

Still, everyone has something to learn about love--perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie's head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending. . .

"A warm, witty and charmingly original story." --Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author

"An engaging read for all who have been through the long, dark, dating wars, and still believe there's sunshine, and a Mr. Darcy, at the end of the tunnel." --Cathy Lamb, author of Henry's
Sisters


As a former teacher, library staff member, freelance magazine writer and national book reviewer for Romantic Times, Marilyn has spent much of her life lost in literature. She received her M.A. in educational psychology from Loyola University Chicago, dabbled in both fiction and art at Northwestern University, studied the works of Austen at Oxford University and is an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her debut novel won RWA's prestigious Golden Heart Award® in 2007. 

Marilyn lives in the northern Chicago suburbs with her family, but she also hangs out online at her blog "Brant Flakes." When she isn't rereading Jane's books or enjoying the latest releases by her writer friends, she's working on her next novel, eating chocolate indiscriminately and hiding from the laundry. (I hear you, Marilyn).

Marilyn stopped by to answer a few questions... (more than three, which seems to be my favorite number).

Name three songs that would be perfect for the soundtrack of your book.
I can only name three?? I use an ‘80s soundtrack through the entire novel and songs of that era play a significant role in the story so I'd choose “True” by Spandau Ballet, “Make Me Lose Control” by Eric Carmen and “You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi, but there are so many.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of According to Jane?
It was the answer to a long-standing “what if?” question: What if I could get romantic advice from the author I most admired and the one who had, in my opinion, the greatest ability to understand human behavior? (It didn’t hurt that she’d written one of the most memorable love stories of all time, either!)

Who are the top three writers who have influenced your writing style?
I can only name three?? Wendy, what is it with you and this three thing?! There are, like, 25 of them, at least! (exasperated sigh) Well, Jane Austen, of course, Sue Miller and Elizabeth Berg (and E.M. Forster, Hugh Prather, Douglas Adams, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Erich Segal and…)

What are you reading now?
Some entertaining Austen-inspired fiction, like Beth Pattillo’s Jane Austen Ruined My Life, and the amazing Shaffer/Barrows book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Listening to and playing music, traveling, spending time with my husband, son and our extended family, having long conversations with friends over coffee, watching old movies and reading late at night.

Describe how you got your first book deal.
According to Jane had won the 2007 Golden Heart Award for “Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements,” but the chronological story structure had thrown off a few editors because they weren’t sure how to market the book--as YA or women’s fiction. I restructured the novel to make it clear that it was women’s fiction, and my agent submitted it to John Scognamiglio at Kensington in April of 2008. He read it and made us a 2-book offer 12 days later. I will always adore him for that (!!) but, also, he’s proven to be an excellent editor.

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?
Don’t follow trends just because you think it’ll be an easier sell. And write the books that fit your voice. If what you love writing happens to be a hot-selling genre, great. If your writing voice happens to be perfect for the genre you want to write in and love to read, that’s awesome, too. But--if not--write long and hard enough to find what DOES fit you and your style best. Because then, even if it takes longer to make that first sale than you expect, you’re writing the kinds of stories you most enjoy, and that passion has a way of working itself into the projects you’re creating.

Thanks for the great advice, Marilyn! Be sure and visit Marilyn's Web site here. And be sure and keep a look-out for her second forthcoming novel about three suburban moms who shake up their lives and their marriages (October 2010), also from Kensington Books. 



Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Air Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan

My guest today on the Girlfriend's CyberCircuit Lit Blog Tour is Hank Phillippi Ryan, an Emmy-winning Boston television reporter and award winning mystery writer has a funny, smart group blog and a series that you'll love. Air Time is the third installment.





Some would say, It's Prime Time for Air Time! Here's what else is being said:

“Sassy, fast-paced and appealing. First-class entertainment.” Sue Grafton

“I love this series!” Suzanne Brockmann

“AIR TIME is a fun, fast read with a heroine who's sexy, stylish, and smart. I loved it." Nancy Pickard

Smart and savvy Boston TV reporter Charlotte McNally is back. In AIR TIME she’s taking on the fashion industry, where she learns “When purses are fake – the danger is real.” AIR TIME is the third of the back-to-back-to back Charlie mysteries—the first PRIME TIME (also in bookstores now) won the Agatha Award for best first novel. FACE TIME (also in bookstores now) is a BookSense notable book.

Hank took some time from her very busy schedule to answer a few questions...

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Imagine the research I had to do into the world of designer purses! It was tough, but someone had to dive in…

Actually, Charlie’s investigation into the world of counterfeit couture came s straight from been there-done that. In my day job as a TV reporter, my producer (not Franklin!) and I have done several in-depth investigations into the world of knock-offs—not only purses and scarves, but blue jeans and watches and DVDs and videos.

We went undercover and with a hidden camera—like Charlie does—into various back-alley stores where counterfeit merchandise was being sold, and also into some suburban purse parties where women—certainly knowing they were fake and thinking was fine—were scooping up piles of counterfeit Burberrys and Chanels.

You should know— law enforcement tells us, it’s not illegal to buy the purses—unless you’re buying large amounts that are obviously for resale. The illegality is in the copying and manufacture and sale of what’s clearly a trademarked and proprietary item. (As the elegant fashion exec Zuzu Mazny-Latos tells Charlie in AIR TIME—it’s like taking Gone with the Wind—and putting your name on the cover.)

Anyway—lots of AIR TIME is based on research and reality—besides the undercover work, and the research, I’ve done many interviews with the federal agencies in charge of battling counterfeiting, the attorneys who help big companies protest their products, and even the private investigators the designers hire to scout out counterfeits.

2.)Are you more driven by plot or by character?

Ah, it's both. I start with one little germ of a plot twist--and then figure out how Charlie is going to figure it out! So I know what I know--and she knows what she knows. And then she has to solve the mystery--based on what I let her know.

3.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

Oh, I can't possibly answer that. Charlie McNally is dear to my heart of course. When my husband talks about Charlie, he calls her “you.” As in: when “you” get chased by the bad guys, or when “you” get held at gunpoint. And I have to remind him, “Sweetheart, it’s fiction.” But Charlie can say things I can’t say about the reality of television, and because she’s fictional, she can go places I can’t go. And say things I can’t say!

And the very sweet 8-year-old Penny, I must say, touches me every time I write about her And I get so many letters from readers, concerned about her, and asking about her, and who I based her on. But really? She’s right out of my imagination. (She’s the character who sometimes makes readers cry...along with Charlie’s mother. I guess family relationships are sometimes—universal.)

And in AIR TIME there’s a new character . a gorgeous FBI agent named Keresey Stone. She’s amazing. And unpredictable. But I wonder what you’ll think about her?

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

I’ve been a television reporter since 19, um, 75. I’m still on the air at Boston’s NBC affiliate, and still at work as an investigative reporter. (And I’m always hoping my best story ever is just around the corner.) So I come to work at Channel 7 every morning—tracking down clues, doing research, hoping for justice and looking for a great story that will change people’s lives. (Hmm..sounds a lot like mystery writing!)

Then at night we go back home—and when I’m in writing mode, I write til about ten pm, in a wonderful study that’s lined with bookshelves. I admit—I have a cluttered desk, and no real filing system, except for “piles.” But I know where everything is. I like it to be quiet.. At the TV station, it’s chaotic and loud, with three TV’s blasting all the time—and I can work fine there! But at home, with the books—quiet.

Because my schedule is so tight, I keep track of my words. If I know I have to write 90,000 words by the deadline, I literally divide that number by the number of days I have—and then set that as a goal. I try to write maybe—to pages a day. And on weekends, more. If I can do that, I’m thrilled.

I push my way through a first draft. I say to myself—just get the story down. Just do it. And you can fix it later.

Then I cook dinner, and my husband and I have a very late dinner together! You can imagine how patient he is!

I used to be a pretty good cook, and diligent about exercise. My husband and I gave dinner parties and went to movies and went on vacation. Sigh. That’s all pretty much over. I have a full time job as reporter, a full time job as a mystery author, and a full time job as a wife (with two step-children and two step-grandchildren!) That doesn’t leave much time for much else.


4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

Revision, no question. I love that. You have this whole first draft, and you get to go back and see what you really have. I often have wonderful revelations when I read over the first draft—there are themes and rhythms and even clues that I didn’t realize were there! It’s always so rewarding.

And after 30 years in TV, I know how valuable editing is—so I look at it as a real treat. To get to polish, and tweak, and rearrange, and make it all shine—oh, it’s great fun.

The other favorite part—when readers love the books. I can’t tell you how often I’m out on a story, for instance, and a stranger will come up to me , and pull the book out of a purse or briefcase, and ask me to sign it. I can barely resist bursting into tears. It somehow completes the writing, you know? when someone reads it.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

There’s a plaque on my bulletin board with the question: “What would you attempt to do if you know you could not fail?” That gives me a lot of courage.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Crossing Washington Square - by Joanne Rendell


My guest today on the Girlfriend’s Cyber Circuit Literary Blog Tour is Joanne Rendell, author of The Professors’ Wives’ Club, and now the new novel, Crossing Washington Square, published by NAL.

Across Washington Square live two very different women …with their very different love of books.

Some women follow their hearts; others follow their minds. In this “charming, witty, and cerebral” second novel from the acclaimed author of The Professors’ Wives’ Club, we return to Manhattan University, where two strong-willed women are compelled to unite their senses and sensibilities.

Professor Diana Monroe is a highly respected scholar of Sylvia Plath. Serious and aloof, she steadfastly keeps her mind on track. Professor Rachel Grey is young and impulsive, with a penchant for teaching popular women’s fiction like Bridget Jones’ Diary and The Devil Wears Prada, and for wearing her heart on her sleeve.

The two conflicting personalities meet head to heart when Carson McEvoy, a handsome and brilliant professor visiting from Harvard, sets his eyes on both women and creates even more tension between them. Now Diana and Rachel are slated to accompany an undergraduate trip to London, where an almost life-threatening experience with a student celebrity will force them to change their minds and heal their hearts…together.

Advance Praise for CROSSING WASHINGTON SQUARE

“As readers spend time with these bright and engaging women, Rendell offers an interesting debate about the merits of studying popular fiction in an academic setting.” The Romantic Times

“Rendell’s second novel is thoughtful and open, with plenty of interesting academic debate for truly bookish readers.” Booklist


Joanne was born and raised in the UK. After completing her PhD in English Literature, she moved to the U.S, to be with her husband, a professor at NYU. She now lives in faculty housing in New York City with her family.

Joanne stopped by to answer a few questions.

What is the elevator pitch for Crossing Washington Square?


Sparks fly when two very different female professors meet head to heart at a prestigious Manhattan university (and when a handsome visiting professor from Harvard shows up, even more trouble is in store).

And what was the inspiration behind the writing of Crossing Washington Square?
The idea for this book evolved over a few years. As someone who has lived the academic life (I have a PhD in literature and now I’m married to a professor at NYU), I’ve always loved books about the university – books like Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim and Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. But what I noticed about such campus fiction was the lack of female professors in leading roles. Even the female authors like Francine Prose and Zadie Smith, who’ve written campus novels, focus on male professors. Furthermore, most of these male professors are disillusioned drunks who quite often sleep with their students! I wanted to write a novel with women professors taking the lead and I wanted these women to be strong and smart and interesting – instead of drunk, disillusioned, and preoccupied with questionable sexual liaisons!

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since getting your first book deal?

It’s not all fireworks and champagne. Being a published author is a job that you have to keep working at and, like any job, it comes with its highs and lows.

What are you reading now?

The Elegance of a Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery and also Simone de Beauvoir’s, A Very Easy Death. It’s a coincidence that they are both books by French philosophers. I’m reading both as research for a new book idea, although the book isn’t about France or philosophy. Are you now intrigued?! I hope so.



What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I have a six year old son who is homeschooled, so that’s what I’m mostly doing when I’m not writing. Although, “homeschool” is somewhat a misnomer as we spend a relatively small amount of time schooling at “home.” We live in New York so are lucky enough to have an amazing array of fun and educational places on our doorstep. Benny and I, together with his homeschooled friends, are always out on trips to the Met, the Natural History Museum, aquariums, zoos, galleries, libraries, and parks. When we’re not out and about, Benny and I love to read – either together or separately. I’m so thankful he loves books like I do!

I think it’s great that Joanne decided to turn the tables and write about women professors. And, yes, I am intrigued about that new book! Wishing Joanne the best of luck with Crossing Washington Square. Be sure and visit her at her Web site here.


Friday, July 31, 2009

She Writes and If You Love a Writer



I recently joined a very vibrant and useful online site for women writers called She Writes. A great community is building there and I highly recommend you check it out. It's for writers and wannabe writers of everything from novels to short stories to non-fiction and poetry and covers every aspect of the writing life: writer's block, marketing and promotion, using social networking and much more. And it also gives you the opportunity to network with other writers, which can be so invaluable.

Writer Eileen Flanagan, author of The Wisdom to Know the Difference, recently posted on SheWrites about how we writers sometimes feel pushy when marketing our books to friends and family members. This led her to write a great piece called, "If You Love a Writer." It consists of ten suggestions for all the friends of book authors who are dealing with promoting their books during a tough economy. You can read it here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Children of the Waters - by Carleen Brice



My guest today on the Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour is Carleen Brice, the widely acclaimed author of Orange Mint and Honey, whose second book, Children of the Waters, has just been released from One World/Ballantine.

Children of the Waters strikes deep emotional chords and poses the intriguing question: Can two strangers become sisters?

Trish Taylor’s white ancestry never got in the way of her love for her black ex-husband, or their mixed race son, Will. But when Trish’s marriage ends, she returns to her family’s Denver, Colorado home to find a sense of identity and connect to her past.

What she finds there shocks her to the very core: her mother and newborn sister were not killed in a car crash as she was told. In fact, her baby sister, Billie Cousins, is now a grown woman; her grandparents had put her up for adoption, unwilling to raise the child of a black man. Billie, who had no idea she was adopted, wants nothing to do with Trish until a tragedy in Billie’s own family forces her to lean on her surprisingly supportive and sympathetic sister. Together they unravel the age-old layers of secrets and resentments and navigate a path toward love, healing, and true reconciliation..

Carleen stopped by to answer a few questions.

Name three songs that would be perfect for the soundtrack of your book.
Michael Jackson’s “Black or White,” Sister Sledge’s “We are Family” and “As” by Stevie Wonder.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?

I usually begin with a premise and end up writing & plotting as I go and adjusting as everything changes the more I learn about the characters.

Who are the top three writers who have influenced your writing style?

Pearl Cleage, Bebe Moore Campbell, Alice Hoffman.

What are you reading now?

I always have more than one book going, so: Dust Tracks on a Road: The Autobiography of Zora Neale Hurston and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

Read, walk, watch movies, pull weeds, herd cats.

What and where is your favorite restaurant and why is it your favorite?
A family-owned Mexican restaurant called La Cueva. I love it because the food is great and the service is wonderful. I got into the habit of going with coworkers for my birthday a few years ago, and now the waitresses expect me in May.

Carleen is at work on her third novel, Calling Every Good Wish Home, and she maintains the blogs “White Readers Meet Black Authors” and "The Pajama Gardener."

You can read an excerpt of Children of the Waters at Carleen's Web site here.

Carleen, we wish you continued literary success!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Midori by Moonlight Book Giveaway on Goodreads



Goodreads is a great community site for both readers and writers. And I'm pleased that they are doing a giveaway of three copies of MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT. Check it out here and if you're a book lover take a minute and join Goodreads.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

This Little Mommy Stayed Home - by Samantha Wilde

Today's guest author on the Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit Lit blog tour is Samantha Wilde, author of the new novel, This Little Mommy Stayed Home, published by Bantam Dell.

This debut novel is a fresh and funny book about a new mother who discovers the wonders and terrors of motherhood—one hilarious crisis at a time. Protagonist Joy McGuire has gone from being skinny and able to speak in complete sentences to someone who hasn’t changed her sweatpants in weeks. But now with a new baby to care for, she feels like a woman on the brink and as she scrambles to recapture the person she used to be she takes another look at the woman she is: a stay-at-home mom in love with her son, if a bit addled about everything else.

Wilde, a new mom herself, wrote the novel after the birth of her son when she was experiencing the ups and downs of new motherhood. “I wrote the book because I couldn’t not write it," she says. "I took my lap top to my bed during my son’s naps and wrote and wrote. I wrote the book I wanted to read. The book takes a hard look at the effects of new motherhood on a woman and on a marriage through the eyes of one stressed but insightful woman. It’s a story that will keep mothers going when they think they can’t go any further.”

Wilde is the mother of two born in under two years. A graduate of Concord Academy, Smith College, Yale Divinity School and The New Seminary, she lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and children. She is the daughter of novelist Nancy Thayer. When she’s not mothering her toddler and baby, she writes, teaches yoga, and moonlights as a minister. Although she never sleeps, she’s never once been tempted to give her children away to the highest bidder (well, almost never). She’s currently using nap times to write her second novel for Bantam Dell.

Believe it or not, this busy lady did have some time to answer a few questions!

Name three songs that would be perfect for the soundtrack of your 
book.

How about “The Eensy Weensy Spider,” “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle.” Oh, wait. You mean there’s other music out there? I haven’t heard any in a LONG time.



What was the inspiration behind the writing of This Little Mommy Stayed Home?

I started writing it when my son was about nine months out of some desperate creative drive. I wrote during his nap times. Twice a day, one hour each time.



What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since 
getting your first book deal?

It’s an industry. Not a cozy writing club.



What are you reading now?


The Year of Living Biblically
. It’s hilarious. Since I moonlight as a minister and spent some years in divinity school, I lap up religious stuff when it’s true, witty and liberal.

What is your writing schedule like?

The only things that get scheduled around my house are naps and nighttimes. I write when I’m not nursing, cleaning, cooking, playing, or sleeping. After I got my contract, I had a babysitter for about six hours a week. Then I would write with the inevitable interruptions—screams for attention, hugs, nursing.



What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love to spend time with my family. I love to walk, to hike, to swim, to read, to practice yoga, to teach yoga, to be with friends, and to travel short distances to interesting places.



What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel 
published?

Ask yourself WHY. Do you want to write? Or do you want all that comes with being published? They are not necessarily the same. And some things (many things) can be got without publishing. Like a sense of personal satisfaction and joy.



Oh! I think I hear a baby crying. Time for Samantha to go, but you can visit her and learn more at her blog.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Midori By Moonlight Book Trailer

I'm pleased to present the Book Trailer for Midori by Moonlight, produced by myself, with music composed by my husband Manabu Tokunaga


video

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

EVERYONE SHE LOVED - by Sheila Curran





My guest today on the Girlfriends’ Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour is Sheila Curran, author of the wonderful new novel, EVERYONE SHE LOVED. Joshilyn Jackson, author of Gods in Alabama and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, has said:

“EVERYONE SHE LOVED is peopled with women of strong appetites---for love, for sex, for food---and Sheila Curran has amazing insight into the love-hate relationship that women have with each other and their own bodies. Curran is a beautiful writer, both witty and evocative, and she knows how to keep a reader riveted. I was up way past my bedtime, unable to stop turning pages. I had to know what happened to this family and their tight-bound troupe of friends as they meddled and muddled toward hope and new beginnings in the wake devastating loss. I fell in love with them all, from artistic, earthy Lucy, to broken little Tessa, to the oh-so-tightly-wound and mercurial Clover. Read this book, then pass it on to your dearest friend. She’ll thank you.”

Sheila stopped by to answer a few questions.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of EVERYONE SHE LOVED?

I wrote an article for McCall’s magazine about two little girls whose parents died unexpectedly within months of each other. These children were lucky, because their mother had asked her best friends to agree to be their guardians if anything should happen. However, in many states, unless you specify in writing who will take your children, they will be sent to foster care. I was talking to a dear friend about the difficulty of trying to decide which couple I knew could take over for my husband and I. Suddenly, it occurred to me that something EVEN worse could happen. If my husband were to survive me and marry on the rebound, he might not be able to discern who would be kind to my kids and who wouldn’t. Into my head popped an idea: if I really wanted to feel good about his choice, all I had to do was ask that if he were to remarry, he’d have to introduce the woman to my sisters and best friends. I knew without a doubt that I could trust their collective opinion.

So that’s the premise to this novel: a woman like me, a little imaginative, a little neurotic, a lot anxious, talks her husband and friends into setting up a vetting system by which her husband’s choice will be approved or vetoed. Everyone laughs, but the sign the agreement anyhow, wanting to put her mind at ease. Two years later, she’s gone, and they have to carry on without her. Neither child is thriving: her fourteen year old is very thin, her ten year old a bit overweight. Enter a newcomer to town, a confident, lithe, fitness instructor with a degree in nutrition. This perfect stranger seems to offer all the answers, but she has no sense of humor, she’s very pretty, and she thinks she has the answers to all questions life has ever offered, despite the fact that she is ten years younger than both the vetting committee and the widower.

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since getting your first book deal?
That a book has a very short time in which to make it or break it, and that most authors have to do all their own publicity unless they have hundreds of loyal fans willing to spread the word about their book.



How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?

I start with a character, and a sort of question that the plot will eventually help answer.



Who are the top three writers who have influenced your writing style?

Oh there are too many to name. Plus I’m not certain whether the writers I admire have really influenced me, despite their excellence. I think I write a little bit like Zadie Smith, Diane Johnston and Claire Messud, in that I write fairly intricate domestic novels with lots of personal observations on character and on social norms…But the writers I adore? William Styron, Wallace Stegner, John Le Carre, Mary Doria Russell, Elizabeth George, Virginia Woolf, George Elliot, the Brontes, Jane Austen, Trollope, John Fowles and Kaye Gibbons. And that’s just off the top of my head. Oh, Geraldine Brooks, too. And I won’t even name the writers I’ve been blurbed by because that’d be way TOO obviously sucking up. There are probably billions of writers I’ve forgotten, like Charles Frazier, Anna Akmatove, Dostoyesvski, Tolstoy, Turgeneve, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.



What is your writing schedule like?


9-3 with a break for exercising and lunch.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing? I read, walk, and watch movies.


What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?


Write every day. Make your goal at least one page a day, no matter how bad, or one hour a day, even if all you do is sit and stare at your screen.

Find out more about Sheila at her Web site. We wish her the best of luck with EVERYONE SHE LOVED.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Oh! A Mystery of Mono no Aware - by Todd Shimoda



Todd Shimoda’s latest novel, Oh!: A Mystery of Mono no Aware, published by Chin Music Press, is a fascinating and compelling book that weaves themes of both traditional and modern Japanese culture. You’ll be drawn in by Shimoda’s spare but elegant prose, which reminds me of the writing style of Haruki Murakami.

The protagonist of Oh!, Zack Hara, is dead inside, devoid of passion, hate, love, any sustained emotion. The twenty-something technical writer trudges through each day in LA like a zombie, until he leaves his job, part-time lover, and antique Chevy pickup truck to travel to Japan. There, searching for an emotional life, Zack becomes entwined with a tragic poet, a sensual but disillusioned woman, and young people who form suicide clubs –- all propelling him down a dangerous path.

Todd Shimoda, a third-generation Japanese-American, lives in Hawaii. He has published two other novels that deal with Japan and Japanese themes: 365 Views of Mt. Fuji (Stone Bridge Press) and The Fourth Treasure (Nan Talese/Doubleday). The books have been translated into six languages with over one hundred thousand copies printed worldwide. The Fourth Treasure was listed as a 2002 Notable Book by the Kiriyama Prize.

Oh! is not only a beautifully written novel, but the book itself is beautifully produced and includes artwork created by Todd’s wife, Linda Shimoda, an accomplished artist, illustrator and book designer, who is also the curator of the Kauai Museum in Hawaii. Her illustrations and artwork have appeared in both of Todd’s first two novels. In Oh!, her artwork offers clues to the fate of Zack Hara.

Todd was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions.

What was the inspiration for the novel? When did you first become aware of the term mono no aware?
I came across the Japanese aesthetic and poetic ideal of intense emotional reaction to things (mono no aware) when I was working on my novel The Fourth Treasure. I tried to write a non-fiction monograph about it, but couldn't capture the real feeling of the concept. I toyed with a fictional character trying to find an emotional life and how/if mono no aware could help him. I wrote a short story and as it often happens, that turned into a novel.

What fueled your interest in Japan’s suicide clubs?
It's a very tragic phenomenon which I first read about in a news story. I couldn't understand the whole idea of people meeting online and coming together to commit suicide. All sorts of questions haunted me: What do they talk about? How do they plan it? Why do it as a group? I tied it to the other plot ideas in Oh! as a way of showing the extreme actions people take to emotions.

Do you feel that your protagonist, Zack Hara, has anything in common with the hikikomori and otaku youth in Japan?
Despite Zack's lack of an emotional life, he enjoys being with people in a social way. This makes him different from hikikomori and otaku who I believe prefer not to interact with people. Or at least limit their face-to-face interactions.

What character in the novel do you relate to the most?
I mostly relate to the main character. Zack is about 5% autobiographical: I was a technical writer, we taught English in Japan, both our grandfathers came from Japan and worked in farming then landscaping, we watch way too much TV. As Zack does, I sometimes feel a little numb about life but not chronically and not to Zack's extent. But I'm closer in age to Professor Imai and can sometimes feel the weight of memories and the past as he does.

Your wife, Linda Shimoda, often illustrates your books. Can you describe your collaboration process?
We work separately for the most part. I tell her the basic elements of the story and she uses that framework to work her magic. She tells me what kind of art she is working on so I can incorporate it into the story. When I've finished a draft and she has her pieces ready, we look at each other's work. It's always amazing how well it jibes!

Have you formally studied Japanese? Are you continuing to study?
My nisei Dad never spoke Japanese so I never learned it. I lived in Japan in the mid 80s and studied it informally then. I never got much beyond a few phrases, kana, and some kanji. And now it's mostly gone I'm afraid.

According to your Web site you are working on two novels-in-progress. Do you work on them simultaneously? Are either being close to finished/released?
Drafts of both Subduction and Why Ghosts Appear are finished and I'm revising them now. I worked on them at different times, a couple of years apart, but now am revising them and working on proposals simultaneously. I rarely do that (work on two novels at once) but I find it keeps me interested and fresher.

What is your favorite Japanese food and/or Japanese restaurant?
I'm mostly a veggie these days, so I'm a lover of tofu. Living in Hawaii (Kauai) I eat sashimi or fish maybe once a month, especially when I get a present of locally caught fish. Kintaro's is the best local Japanese restaurant. When I lived in San Francisco on Bush Street I loved Sushi Man, just down the block.

Visit Todd’s Web site here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

"In Over Her Head" by Judi Fennell




Judi Fennell is my guest today as part of the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Blog Tour. Judi writes fairy tales with a twist and Publishers Weekly has called her novel, In Over Her Head "A playful debut with sincere wit." A whimsical romp about a marina owner with a fear of the ocean who meets up with a merman at the bottom of the sea, paving the way for the adventure of a lifetime, this is the first of a three-part series published by Sourcebooks and is available now.

Judi has worked hard to achieve her dream of becoming a published writer by entering a number of online contests and being active in writers’ organizations like the RWA. She stopped by to answer a few questions about her writing life.

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since getting your first book deal?
That it only gets tougher. All of a sudden, writing the book is the easy part. Then there's the promo, the interviews, time management, deadlines, looking toward the next book/contract, and THEN the reviews come in. :) But a whole lot of us are working towards this so obviously the pay-offs are way better than the bad stuff.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?

I usually have an idea or an opening sentence, or the black moment or a character. I put it on paper/the screen and run from there. I'm a pantzer so I don't tend to do a plot outline, but I usually do have an idea where the story is going, so I can craft a synopsis. Of course, the characters don't necessarily want to adhere to that synopsis and that's when the fun starts. LOL. I do love following them through their world, especially when it comes at me so fast that I have a hard time keeping up with the typing. You should see the first run-through of those scenes. They typing is horrific, the spelling atrocious, the formatting all over the place... but it's out there and that feels so good.

What is the elevator pitch for In Over Her Head?
He's a merman and she's afraid of the ocean. This is invariably followed by the question, "So how do mermen have sex?" My answer? "You're going to have to read the book, but think of your mythology." Do they really expect me to spill the beans on that? :)

What is your writing schedule like?
Schedule? I'm supposed to have a schedule? It's more like, when am I living the rest of my life. With deadlines as close as mine are, I'm always writing. And if not writing, I'm doing promo. Or thinking about writing.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

You mean I'm not supposed to be writing? If I'm not writing, I like to read. I like some reality television, and I like to do some gardening, travel with my family, but usually, I'm reading.

Describe how you got your first book deal.

Deb Werksman, my editor, and I got to know each other at conferences and she said she wanted to make something work for us. She had In Over Her Head on her desk, but learned at the Long Island Luncheon that I had partials for the next two stories. I sent them to her the following Monday and less than a month later she called me that she wanted the series. A month to the date since I sent her the partials, I accepted the deal. Then the wonderful folks at RWA worked like crazy to get me my pink ribbon for my First Sale at National - they were shipping everything out the next day. That was so nice of them and I had a blast walking around with that pink ribbon. I have it framed in a shadow box, along with a cork from a bottle of champagne my Wombat friends (an online group) bought for me.

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?
First, learn craft. Second, join a critique group. Third, don't give up. Ever. Not if you're committed to this. Fourth, network. Learn who the industry people are and foster a working relationship with them. Learn who's looking for what, who likes what, etc. even if you have an agent. I liken this whole getting published thing to becoming a doctor or a lawyer (or any other profession). You wouldn't expect to be able to walk into an operating room or courtroom and do a heart transplant or murder trial without having the necessary background. Same thing with publishing. Have the tools and knowledge at your disposal. ALL of the tools, from the creative side and the business side.

What and where is your favorite restaurant and why is it your favorite?

Outback Steakhouse. I love steak and Outback has great prime rib and wonderful sides. And that Chocolate Thunder From Down Under? I'm so there!

So let’s put some steaks on the barbie and then hop on over to Judi’s site where you can enter a fabulous contest to win a romantic getaway to a charming bed-and-breakfast in Ocean City, New Jersey or West Palm Beach, Florida. I already have my bags packed.

Thanks, Judi!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Article on LOVE IN TRANSLATION


Just a quick note to say that my local newspaper, The Half Moon Bay Review, which was kind enough to write an article about me when MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT came out, just did a piece on LOVE IN TRANSLATION. Take a look here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Crazy for Kanji


When I first started studying Japanese years ago, I became immersed in learning the written language, from hiragana and katakana (the phonetic language systems) to the actual characters—the kanji. And Celeste Duncan, the protagonist in my forthcoming novel, Love in Translation, also discovers an inexplicable connection to kanji once she finds herself in Tokyo.

No one, though, is as obsessed with kanji as Eve Kushner, a Berkeley-based freelance writer and blogger, who is a certifiable kanji addict. But instead of just sitting in her attic deconstructing kanji all day, she has channeled her obsession into an entertaining and delightful book called Crazy for Kanji: A Student’s Guide to the Wonderful World of Japanese Characters, published by Stone Bridge Press. Crazy for Kanji is filled with interesting facts, photos of kanji in action, cultural clues, games, puzzles and more.

Whether you are a serious student of Japanese or simply fascinated with these characters for both their beauty and practicality, you will find Crazy for Kanji a fun and engrossing read.

Eve stopped by to answer a few questions.

How did you become interested in kanji? Why Japanese? Why not Chinese characters, from which kanji developed?

I was forced to study several languages as a child, and I hated it (because I hate anything that I'm forced to do), but as an adult I've discovered that I love learning languages. In fact, the whole reason I started studying languages as an adult is that I went to hear the writer Rita Mae Brown speak at Black Oak Books in Berkeley. When a woman asked for advice on becoming a writer, Brown advised her to learn as many languages as possible, explaining that when you see connections between Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, English, and so forth, lights and bells will go off for you, and it will enrich your understanding of English immeasurably. After I heard that, I decided to study a different language every semester until I'd learned a little bit about 20 or 30 of them!

I studied Spanish for four years after that, and found that Rita Mae Brown was right. After Spanish, I tackled Japanese, because I'd felt fascinated with Japan since age 13, when I traveled to Japan and China with my family. We spent very little time in Japan and much more of the time in China. The contrast between the two was striking, because at that time (1981), Japan was quite advanced technologically (much more so than the United States), whereas China was definitely not. I fell in love with Old Japan—with the small bridges and gardens and all the daintiness of shoji screens and temples.

Then in college I took a course where we covered the "greatest hits" of Japanese and Chinese literature in 10 weeks, and it was the Japanese literature (Kawabata, Tanizaki, Mishima) that moved me in particular.

And then you moved on to formally studying Japanese?

Yes. In the late '90s, I discovered the now-defunct literary magazine Japanophile. I was trying to find my niche as a freelance writer, and they did eventually publish several of my articles. As I began to develop the idea of myself as a writer who covered Japanese topics, it became apparent that I should learn to speak the language.

When I started to tackle Japanese in 2001, I was hardly a natural at it, but I kept going. In our third course, we started kanji, and I hated every single bit of the way we learned it. I had no idea why we needed to write words with these complicated characters. Up till then, we'd written words phonetically, and I didn't understand why that was no longer enough. Again, because I felt forced to learn kanji without knowing why, I initially resented it. It didn't help that the teacher seemed to feel no affection for kanji at all. In Japan and elsewhere, kanji are so often treated as bitter medicine to "swallow" (via rote, joyless copying and memorization), and that was the feeling she passed on to us.

Then I came across a copy of Michael Rowley's Kanji Pict-o-Graphix, and everything changed for me. It's not that I responded to the graphic mnemonics; I'm not a very visual person, so I didn't even really see them. But he showed what each component in a character meant, and I found this fascinating. Little bits of meaning could add up to larger bits of meaning. I began making complex diagrams, where I noted the breakdowns of characters, taking these analyses further and further until I'd arrived at components that simply couldn't get any smaller. Because kanji utterly mystified me, I felt determined to study them down to their tiniest specks, thereby gaining some kind of control or mastery. (Ha! No such thing with kanji!)

And this turned into an obsession, which turned into love, and before I knew it, I came to love the very thing I used to hate!

How did Crazy for Kanji come to be published?

I met Peter Goodman, the publisher of Stone Bridge Press, in the late '90s when he was selling books at the Solano Stroll street festival in Berkeley. I fell in love with several of his books and with the whole idea of what he was doing. Soon after I met him, I profiled him for the East Bay Express and Japanophile. I also reviewed some of his books for various publications and we continued to keep in touch.

Friends who knew of my kanji obsession were always telling me I should write a book about kanji and I began to seriously think about it. I approached Peter and he told me to write up a proposal. Much to my delight, it intrigued him, and he instructed me to go in particular directions, such as explaining the basics of how kanji work and even writing about the use of characters in China, Korea, and Taiwan. After a lot of hard work, Crazy for Kanji came to fruition.

Do you have a favorite kanji?

I'm really crazy about 意—pronounced “i” (as ee, in English). For one thing, I think it's adorable. It reminds me of an upright animal, complete with a curving tail. I blogged about this at http://blogs.japanesepod101.com/?p=940, so the explanation and images there should give you a better idea of what I mean. Also, since 意 means "heart, mind, thought, meaning, sense," it factors into words about consciousness, intentions, thoughts, and feelings, all of which fascinate me.

What's up next for you on the kanji horizon?

I'll definitely keep blogging about kanji, and that occupies a huge amount of my life.

I'm less clear about my kanji explorations in the long term. As long as I keep blogging, I'll eventually cover many of the Joyo kanji (the approximately 2000 characters used in daily life in Japan). Without killing the spontaneity and fun I now feel whenever I investigate kanji, it might make sense to be more goal-oriented about covering the Joyo, so eventually I will have written essays about all of them, creating a kind of Joyo encyclopedia with essays on each character and its etymology and compounds.

And, last but not least, what is your favorite Japanese food?

I'm a tea addict, so I love green tea ice cream. When it's done right, it's tantalizingly full of possibilities. It seems to hint at something, but ... what? That "something" is always just around the corner, luring me on.

Be sure to visit Eve at her Web site and at her Kanji Curiosity blog. Eve is participating in a number of events in the San Francisco Bay Area throughout 2009, including appearances at the Asian Art Museum and the Soko Gakuen Language School in San Francisco. Get more details here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saltwater Buddha - by Jaimal Yogis







You don’t have to be a surfer or a Buddhist to enjoy Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea. This coming-of-age memoir by San Francisco-based journalist Jaimal Yogis, with its crisp, clean prose and delightful self-deprecating tone, will pull in any reader who has ever yearned to learn something new as well as garner some spiritual meaning in life.

Yogis is an award-winning journalist and photographer. He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Hawai’i and received his Master’s Degree in Journalism from New York’s Columbia University. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including: The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Toronto Star, The Surfer’s Journal, Transworld Surf, Beliefnet, Tricycle, Yoga Journal, The Utne Reader, Shambhala Sun, and San Francisco Magazine.

In the midst of preparing for an extensive West Coast book tour, Jaimal took some time to answer questions about writing, surf culture, and the spiritual and surfing life.

As a journalist, what challenges did you face writing a book-length work as opposed to shorter articles?

Unlike a lot journalists, I started off writing magazine pieces that would get up to 15,000 words, so writing a 40,000 word book wasn’t so difficult. The real challenge was writing about myself instead of other people, which I hadn’t done much. I just had too much information about this character, Jaimal Yogis, and most of it was fairly unimportant. Do people really need to know that I love cheesecake or what I named my first pet bunny? Probably not. But it’s a balance because in memoir, you also have to develop yourself as a character that people are invested in and that necessitates some details. Ultimately, I decided to try and follow Kafka’s advice – I think it was Kafka, anyway – and only give details that I thought were absolutely essential to the story. But that wasn’t always easy and I’m sure I didn’t always do it perfectly.

Saltwater Buddha has an interesting structure and is mainly comprised of very short chapters. What led you to pursue this format?

I honestly don’t know. I didn’t even think about it. It just came out that way and the publisher thought it worked so we decided to go with it. They even made the chapters more pithy in some places, which I think is a cool experiment. People always tell me that they read the book in one or two sittings so maybe it helps make the book more manageable in our time-constrained world.

But mostly, this is how Saltwater Buddha wanted to express itself. I’ve always been a fan of the idea that stories have a life of their own, and if the writer can relax and surrender control, the story can express itself more purely, as it wants to. Maybe because it’s a Zen story, Saltwater Buddha seemed to like this style. I’m not so sure I’d do it again, but it worked for this project.

My husband was born in Japan and grew up by default in a Buddhist culture. When he began surfing, it seemed he got more in touch with his Buddhist faith. Do you think an interest in Buddhism is common to many surfers? If so, why?

I always thought I was one of the few Buddhist surfers and I felt almost embarrassed to tell some of my surfing mates that I meditated. I guess I was afraid they would think I was weird or something (even more than they already did). Sure, I knew there were millions of people who saw surfing as a meditative experience, a “Zen” part of their lives. But I didn’t think there were all that many people who truly had a Buddhist practice and a surfing practice. It turns out that there are tons all over the world. You wouldn’t believe how many people have contacted me saying that they are long-time Buddhist practitioners and surfers. This book could have easily been an anthology. And there are even more people who are passionate about one of these two practices and sort of dabble in the other, or in something related: yoga, kayaking, t’ai chi, sailing. Why is this? I don’t’ know for sure, but as much as surfing and Buddhism (at least in the west) still seem a bit fringe, they aren’t. There are more than 20 million surfers in the world and many more Buddhists. So there’s a natural overlap that is inevitable. But if I were to pick one reason, I’d say it’s that both surfing and Buddhism attract introspective people, people who are interested in finding real freedom. I’m excited about the release of the book around the world because I think a lot of people with these common interests who might have felt a little bit alone, like me, will now have more of a reason to talk and come together. Your husband Manabu and I are the perfect example.

I’m fascinated by the culture of Surf Nazis, which you describe well in the book: those surfers who feel they are entitled to a particular surfing spot and bully those who dare to tread. What do you think causes this kind of behavior?

So many people are fascinated with this phenomenon, surfers and non-surfers alike, because it seems so strange. Isn’t surfing a peaceful sport? Well, yes and no. As far as I know, being in the ocean is a healing, joyful experience for everyone who loves to play in it. But we humans are strange. We become very possessive over the things that bring us the most joy; and since there are a limited number of ridable waves around the world on any given day, it makes sense that surfers try to hoard them and even fight over them. It’s human nature to try and covet what makes you happy. We do the same thing in relationships, in religion, with good art – and the list goes on.

That’s one way to look at it anyway. But localism in surfing is also very complex. It’s fascinating. It can be territorial, just like gang violence, which I suppose relates back to our tribal instincts for protection and belonging. But it can also be a safety thing that you can compare with, say, road rage. There are surfers out there – experts and beginners – who are plain reckless whether they know it or not. Like bad drivers, these surfers put other people’s lives at risk, either because they have huge egos and think they have entitlement to the ocean or because they are trying to surf somewhere they’re not capable of surfing and don’t know the common etiquette that exists iin surfing. So, just like the Los Angeles freeway, tensions are going to flare when the traffic gets heavy in the water. It’s unfortunate that this is happening more and more as the population grows. But from a Buddhist perspective, the days when anger is most likely to arise are also the best situations to practice patience and compassion. I think every fight that happens in surfing could be avoided with even the smallest amount of wisdom and compassion. This can be developed just by looking at the situation from a bird’s eye view and thinking about how silly it is to fight while you’re playing in the waves.

Do you anticipate a time when you will tire of surfing and move on to another sport?


No. The ocean is constantly changing, so it’s always interesting and challenging. It’s a teacher that never runs out of lessons. Thank the lord.

What is your favorite San Francisco Bay Area surf spot? Or is it a secret?


I don’t like driving so my favorite spot is right in front of my house on Ocean Beach. There’s nothing like walking out your front door and over the dunes to surf.

Does the act of writing parallel surfing in any way?


Surfers are very focused on waves and think that everything is like surfing – everything. Writing is no exception. There are lots of comparisons but I’ll just give this one: I write and surf best when I don’t think too much and just let myself be spontaneous. I’m betting that’s true for most surfers and writers.
What is next for you on the literary horizon? On the surfing horizon?

I’m trying not to plan too much. I have this huge west coast book tour happening all summer where I’m doing readings, talks, and signings at coastal bookstores between British Columbia and San Diego. It may go international too – hopefully some tropical places – but the summer tour is about all the planning my brain can handle right now. I usually don’t even keep a calendar so you can imagine why planning that many months out is a stretch. I’m really excited about the tour because I’m trying to make it carbon neutral by doing tree-planting volunteer work in state parks along the way, so let me know if you need some trees planted. (No, this is not an ad for free yard work!) I’m also dabbling in a novel, but it’s too early to talk about that. And I’m always doing some journalism pieces and writing some poetry that I often post on Facebook. Folks can keep up with my ramblings there, or at my Web site.