Monthly Archives: March 2011

Talisman, part II: Revision

new revision mug!

Remember the mug that broke…? The one that was my writing talisman…?

The idea of a writing talisman took the form of 2 Zabar’s mugs in NYC 2 years ago, when my writing (accountability) partner/friend and I were exploring Manhattan. I had vowed to complete a draft of my novel, and she had a deadline to finish her second. We discussed a partnership; she and I would encourage each other throughout our respective novel drafts, and update each other with word counts. We were on a high. We spotted a legion of Zabar’s mugs at…Zabar’s. They were $2/each. It was a no-brainer. We were giddy with optimism. We bought one each. We blessed them. We blessed our novels and our writing.

My Zabar’s mug served me well while I wrote my first draft. It sat, in stoic silence, as I puttered through my draft, and it was there when I, in a state of disbelief, admitted that I had a first draft in front of me.

I left my old Zabar’s mug in California when I moved out to NYC. And bought a new Zabar’s mug. It broke, as if to say it wasn’t signing up for revision. Or as a kind friend put it, “It means your creativity is explosive!” Whatever the case, I freaked out a little.

But then, it turned out that my friend’s mug also broke awhile back; she said she didn’t have the heart to tell me when it had.

Sometimes, the old talisman fulfills its purpose. Sometimes, the old talisman is a $2 mug, and it’s bound to break.

My friend came out to NYC again. We vowed to get revision mugs for our novels-in-progress, both in mid-revision. The revision process is lonelier–there are no clear milestones to mark your way, no word counts. There’s not much a writing accountability partner can do in the revision stage, save for occasional encouragement. For me, it’s real work. It’s working on the stuff that I knew would be hard the first go through. It’s addressing character development and plot holes. It’s holding back on line editing until subsequent revisions. It’s discipline. I need a talisman more than ever.

We got the mugs. We’d forgotten our quest for revision mugs until we stepped into The Strand–and right there, in front of us, were a whole lot of mugs. It felt right. Those were our mugs. The ones with owls on ’em. I pointed and let out some sort of squeaky sound. The mugs were $11.50/each. “They probably won’t break this time,” I said, in order to qualify the price.

And revision continues.


Filed under Novel, Revision, Writing

No words

Rinno Ji in Nikko

As for the Japanese earthquake + tsunami…I haven’t written up a post, because I have no words. I am overwhelmed by the images and the stories coming out of Japan, from stories about the survival of one baby, to the many many deaths and news reports highlighting shocked and weeping parents searching for children and people searching the debris for loved ones, to stories about cats and dogs being found alive, to the news about pending nuclear reactor disaster, to stories about the small core group of nuclear reactor engineers (heroes) staying behind to work on the reactors, to footage of the first minutes of the tsunami, to stories about little towns that are no more, to the many many personal stories that touch my quivering, heavy heart.

I have no words. And you can pray, but I’m sorry, prayers can only do so much, because if you believe in G*d, he’s already sent an earthquake and a tsunami, and now it’s up to humans to pick up the pieces. So send money, if you can. Because right now, that’s better than any blog post. And because in this situation, prayer helps yourself more than those in need.


Filed under The World

Anti-Asian Racist Video

If you’re on my FB and/or follow me on twitter, you’ve seen my updates on the anti-Asian racist video by Alexandra Wallace. For a second, you just wish this were fake and unreal–but it is sadly for real. She really is a student at UCLA…who at one point in the video does a rendition of “Ching-Chong-ese” that outdoes Rush Limbaugh’s version.

I have too many stories that include people like her, in my life. I am angry and hurt by her actions and words–but I am not going to retaliate by calling her names. I do hope she gets disciplined, and is mandated to attend diversity appreciation classes. And in my dreams, I hope she is sent to Japan to help the tsunami + earthquake survivors that she demeans in her video. (If Gilbert Gottfried’s contract with Aflac is rescinded because of his untimely jokes about Japan’s tragic natural disaster, I don’t see why she should go unpunished).

I hear that an Asian gang has a hit on her–but that’s not cool, people. No need to go there. I see lots of people backing her up, and saying she is right–and that just makes me very very sad. Why do THEY have to go there?

Her words are the kind of thing I heard everyday while growing up, 25+ years ago. Back then, we just bore it in silence, or did our best while standing alone. Now, I’m inspired to see an entire community stand together and push back…and to see that community being comprised of not only Asian Americans, but all of our friends. We have more power as a community than we have ever had, and I am so so proud of how far we have come.

And here are some sites that can provide you with better updates:

  • The LA Weekly Blog has updated news on the situation. Last night, Wallace issued a curt apology. Not enough of an apology. Not enough.
  • The Daily Bruin is reporting on this as well. The article includes quotes from administration that disapprove of her behavior. Even if she’s invoking her First Amendment rights, they are disgusted that she is using them to proliferate hate.
  • New Yorker in Seoul has a blog post up, one that includes the Asian Pacific Coalition at UCLA’s articulate letter responding to the matter. They advise the following:

    1) Email Chancellor Gene Block (chancellor AT ucla DOT edu) and Assistant Vice Chancellor Robert J. Naples (rnaples AT saonet DOT ucla DOT edu) to report this matter as a violation of Student Conduct.

    2) Post a message on Chancellor Block’s Facebook page expressing your concern:

  • On March 18, Alexandra Wallace posted an apology and announced that she will be dropping out of UCLA. Was this of her own volition (“there are toooo many Asians heeeere!”) or did the administration “encourage” her to withdraw? (UCLA is taking no action against her). Either way, I am sad that she received death threats–I had hoped this was a learning opportunity for her, and I hope it still is.


Filed under Life, The World

For who/m do you write?

5th Ave, Brooklyn: Love, Work, Create,

Nova recently asked her blog readers, “Who’s your book for?

My book’s audience, as I imagine it, is an adult child I haven’t yet had, or will never have. This is the story I am telling her/him, the book I am leaving for her/him, a child whose heritage would be both Korean and Jewish–who will want to understand the trauma that was never articulated to me.

This book is my child. This book is what I pour myself into; it is a life I am creating.

And who inspired me to write this book? My father, who has spewed both bile and love in my direction, anger and rage and love and compassion, all as a result of war trauma he could not humanly contain. He wanted to contain it, I can tell by the lines on his face and his determination to, in the second half of his adult life, live in the most boring places on earth (the suburbs!)–but you can’t dam the stamp of war on your psyche.

I have received peeks into what my parents have witnessed as children, little asides that provide gigantic hints. Like when I relayed Chang-rae Lee’s account of his father’s escape from North Korea to the South. How Lee’s father rode on the roof of a southbound train during the war. How his father’s little brother fell off the roof, suffering, and then dying.

What is a “normal” response to this? And by “normal,” I mean someone who has grown up in peacetime and has never experienced or witnessed such a thing in their lives?

My response was, “Holy sheeit.” When Chang-rae Lee shared the anecdote with us at a book reading in San Francisco, the room hushed in horror and respect and awe, which in my opinion is another way of saying, “Holy shit.”

But my mother? This was her reply, which started with the guttural “Unh,” that garnishes the Korean language like the ubiquitous “yeah,” in American-English:

“Unh! Still, he was lucky one!”


“He was lucky. So many people couldn’t take train.”


“Other people had to walk.”

Mom, his brother DIED falling off that train.

“Lots of people died. It’s sad. Anyway, I think you shouldn’t eat so much ice cream. Did you eat ice cream today? It’s better to eat fruit. Don’t get FAT!!!!”


This book is my imagining of my parents’ generation, a way for me to understand and be inspired by what has haunted me for much of my life, that required 10 years of therapy to overcome and find happiness. And to insert a little bit of my experience and hope into the war generation’s outlook–what would their lives have been if they had been able to rely on another culture? To go outside their comfort zone and traditions?

I’ve told my father a little about the novel’s plot, to his great interest and encouragement. He has had one critique, which is “Korean people don’t do that!” which made me giggle a little bit, because that is exactly what I think hampers him at times–that there is a code and tradition to which he adheres, sometimes nonsensically, and sometimes out of pride and a nod to Korean anti-colonial protest.

Well, Dad, these Korean people do that. And that’s what makes my story. That’s what gives me hope and what I want to give to my audience, to whom I want to gift hope and the kind of strength a melding of cultures can provide.

So many people have helped me write this book, but the book will be dedicated to my parents if/when the time comes for publication. This book wouldn’t exist without them. I cannot wait until the day I can take a picture of them, holding my book up. I don’t think they can wait, either.

My dad’s secret dream was to raise a writer. There are things that people do, versus what people say. And I always judge people on what they do; like if someone says they are going to leave the country, but in the interim, they’re looking at local open houses? That means they’re not leaving.

My dad? My dad kept telling me to be a doctor. But everything he did made it clear he wanted me to be a writer.

He made me read. He made me read a LOT. He assigned me Victor Hugo and Dostoevsky when I was eleven years old. He discussed the books with me afterwards at first brushing on theme and general characterization, and then advancing forward to more nuanced questions as I grew up. He made me write. He made me keep a diary from the age of 8 onward, and would require me to turn my journal in for his perusal.

I would protest and say, “But Daddy! That’s my diary! You’re not supposed to read a diary!”

But now I realize that these were writing assignments, and that he’d just used the word wrong–he didn’t mean diary–he meant a writing journal, or writing notebook.

He made me read the dictionary. Learn all the words. He paid me compliments along with plenty of critique–and from the tone of his voice, I knew the greatest compliment he paid me was “You have a literature mind!” This, despite his stated desire that I be better at science and math so that I could get into medical school.

But he never gave me science drills. He didn’t explain the science behind things. He didn’t get me a chemistry set. He bought me books. He gave me writing assignments. He asked me about people’s motivations. He told raucous stories. He brought me into rooms filled with his friends and bottles of Chivas Regal late in the night and would put me on the spot and say, “Christine! Tell us a story!”

When he made me cry or my heart would break, he would never hug me or console me, but he would say, “This will make a good story later, for your writing.” I never said I was a Daddy’s Girl–his love was too tough for that moniker.

When I published my first story in ZYZZYVA, my dad asked for thirty copies, which he then gave away to all his friends. It was, I think, his proudest moment, and when he gets really drunk (which is rare in his old age), he describes me as a writer, sometimes going so far as hyperbole and saying I’ve published a book (that’s when I cringe).

He wanted to be a writer, I think, but could not because he didn’t want to confront the awful memories in order to do so. His stated reason is because he had to raise a family and find a way to survive, which left him no room to write. (I think that’s true, too). He said he had a child, because he had to give up on his dreams as an immigrant and hand his dreams to me.

My dad wanted me to be a writer. I write because of him.

For who/m do you write?

me and Dad
Drunken Daddy and Daughter


Filed under Writing

VONA apps are online

I am going to repeat what I tweeted this morning, amidst my horror at the Japanese earthquake + tsunami….

This is the most amazing thing you can do for yourself as a writer of color: apply to Voices at VONA workshop!

I blogged a bit about writing conferences and residencies over at Writerland last year–and included VONA in my list of writing destinations. I don’t think I’d be the writer I am today, or the writer I will become, without VONA in my life.

Deadline is April 18, 2011.

And yes, I just sent in my application–so I know I just decreased my odds by sharing VONA with you, but that’s what VONA is about: sharing and community, so there you go!

As an important side note, please help the Japanese earthquake and tsunami survivors by donating money to the Red Cross, which has now earmarked a fund for the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Amidst shrines and temples in Nikko

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Filed under Writing

The carrots, the carrots!

Why are carrots in NYC SO BIG?!

Why? How? Why…?

Really. Why are the carrots SO BIG out here in NYC? The carrot you see above is typical of carrots in NYC–just…ginormous. It was procured at Fairway Market in Harlem–but I have seen similarly sized carrots at the Union Square Greenmarket, too.

Do they grow a different variety out here because of climate/soil? I have so many questions. So.many.questions.

But for now: NYC Carrots. #WINNING!

Also, I had the most WINNING (yes, Charlie Sheen’s “WINNING” has replaced “FTW” in our vernacular) ramen today at Ippudo. It was ramen-mazing:

Kumamoto Tonkatsu Ramen at Ippudo

I promise, this blog will get back to regularly scheduled programming soon. But it’s been a crazy week: I got the flu (some mega-germ traveled in someone’s body fluid (spit?) onto my hand, into my mouth, into my flu-shot-immunized body, braved the elements, and managed to take over the ship). This hijacking occurred during the week we were moving apartments. Any vertically-oriented minute was spent unpacking, or shlepping my body over to the new place.

Monday begins a new week: back to the novel. 🙂

And something I’ve been meaning to throw out for some time…
You should read Mat Johnson’s* amazing new novel, PYM. I just finished reading it, and did not want to put it down. The voice, the plot, the themes! If you don’t believe me, read the NY Times review, the Wall Street Journal’s review of PYM, or Salon’s book review.

And you should read Vida by Patricia Engel**, too. Pitch perfect stories that were recently optioned into/as a film. And for the record, Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times LOVED it.

*Mat is a friend and mentor/teacher of mine. Just sayin’.
**Patty is a good friend of mine–we met Mat together. Also, just sayin’, in the interest of full disclosure.


Filed under Funny Things, Life, New York City, Reading