Love

I had written an article about know it alls. Now, since I'm the sole author on this website, I sound like a know it all. But if you've read those articles, I do point out mistakes that I've made and don't hide from them because I'm human, and humans make mistakes. Cuz we be humans.

In that post I had talked about reading my friend's book, her first. She had asked me to, and I asked her what kind of feedback she wanted. Honest feedback, she answered. And that was what I had given her, and I was very conscious of any judgements that had welled up. In those moments, I usually put her book away and turned my attention back to mine. When I critiqued her novel, I had focused on structure, major grammar faux pas, and story and character development. I did advise her to take any suggestions that I had made with massive grains of salt. Well, massive grains would really be chunks of salt. Whatever.

On Memorial Day, I had sent her an email to see how she was doing. Not necessarily wondering what she thought of my notes, but to see how life was going for her. She lives in a different state. We had been friends for a long time, around twenty years, I think. We had met at the martial arts school that I used to attend. And we've experience each other's ups and downs.

She has yet to return my email, and she's usually pretty quick with those.

As I've written in another article, sometimes chapters in our lives end with the writing off of certain friendships. And maybe for her, she has closed the book on ours, which saddens me.

However, if it was due to my feedback, then I completely understand. Essentially, I attacked her baby.

I've heard this said many times. Writing the book is the easy part. Getting it out into the world is the hardest. That doesn't make the author's work less important to that author. Despite the number of books being published per year, each one is precious. That also doesn't mean each one will see the light of the public, nor is the public's response any real measure of success. Though, it'd be nice!

Writing a book is a lot like love. Being in a relationship is risky business. We risk our hearts, our sanity, our very souls for love, not to mention time. But the risk is worth the reward. What we get back from another human being, that connection that we all seek is oh so amazing and beautiful.

So it is for authors. We risk our hearts, our sanity, our very souls, not to mention time, to put into words what life can portray in a single moment. But the risk is worth the reward. What we get back from the process, a better understanding of ourselves is oh so amazing and beautiful. For all us authors out there, let's put everything we have into our books because doing anything less would insult the love we have for our stories. 

Life Made Simple

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I've never felt my age. What the fuck do I mean by that? When I turned 21, I thought to myself, "I don't feel 21. I don't even know what a 21-year old feels like." (Yeah, I've never made out with a 21-year old). Then everyone told me wait till you're 30. Everything goes down hill when you're 30. Your metabolism plummets. You get fat. Your body starts to fall apart. Your sex drive wilts and fades away. You'll need Viagra just to get it up enough to pee.

So when I turned 30, I had waited for my arms to fall off, my penis to drop onto the floor, and my testicles to hang below my knees. Thankfully, none of those things happened. My weight remained the same, my eyesight got better because I got LASIK (so not a good example), and luckily for me, my attitude toward life only grew more passionate, focused.

But, as I get older, I find myself reflecting more on life and what works for me. So many of the things I had worried about have no meaning anymore—whether people like me or not, societal norms, keeping up with the Joneses, and my hairy chest. OK. I'm Asian, so no hair on my chest.

What I strive for is simplicity. Not that I don't want children, for example, but that enjoying the simple things in life is important.

I just came back from a trip to Mono Lake in Yosemite National Park in the Eastern Sierras. Tufa—limestone rock formations—surrounds the lake and many seem to float on the water. These limestone structures give photographers fantastic opportunities for pictures. The tufa also resemble the landscape in one of the provinces that I've described in my book, albeit smaller in scale. Here's a lakeside panoramic:

The main reason I went on this trip with a group of people I barely knew was to see the Milky Way (not the chocolate candy bar). When I was at 5th-grade camp, one of my fondest memories had been the band of stars that crossed the night sky. Many years has passed since. And when I saw a picture of what the night sky looked like without light pollution, I had realized what I was looking at so long ago.

Our camp site in Yosemite was about two and a half hours from Mono Lake. It took us about an hour longer than planned due to a fatal car accident on Highway 120. After the police let traffic through, we had made several stops to other lakes and view points before getting dinner and making our way to Mono Lake. We arrived around 8:00 PM.

Our tires crunched the gravel like a mill, the stink of the bathrooms swirled across the parking lot, and the promise of an unmolested night sky came with the sun's silent descent behind the far off mountains and a closed moon. In my book, the people use the term closed moon to mean new moon or moonless night. To reach the shore, we had to wade through tufa formations that were surrounded by endless fields of green shrubbery that seemed to hold the threat of a waiting predator, a wolf hungry for its next meal. Wade is a strong word since there was a paved path to the beach, but my imagination always runs wild when I'm in an unfamiliar dark area. 

Once we weathered the imagined threat, we settled on the beach and several of the photographers set up their cameras. It took another hour before the light of the sun had completely disappeared, and for me, it took another half hour before my eyes had gotten used to the complete darkness. And slowly, like an invisible curtain being raised in a darkened theater, the night sky opened and revealed one of the grandest sights I'd ever seen:

This night sky is always available to us, but as I have said earlier, light pollution shrouds most of the stars, giving us only a preview of what we can see with our nekked eyes. What I didn't expect was how captivated I had become. My eyes kept rolling back and forth, as I tried to marvel at the significance of the Milky Way's arm stretching across the heavens. The picture above is a little misleading because the band of stars is faint. But the camera was able to capture enough light over a 30-second period to illuminate what my eyes couldn't. So for the next two hours, I stood, gawking in awe, straining to see more, unaware of the ache growing in the back of my neck. 

My need to appreciate nature has been growing. When I lived in Hawaii for three months—no matter what, barring weather—my day had to consist of four things: laying on the beach, swimming, watching the sun set, and writing. I had never been like this before, or at least I hadn't been aware of it, and wondered if I was being antisocial.

Earlier in the day, I had gone off on my own down a mountain side so I could get a better view of a waterfall. Suddenly, I found myself staring at the fall, losing myself in the moment and not wanting to rejoin the group, until they yelled at me. 

At Mono Lake, several of the photographers were experimenting with light painting. Basically, someone stands in front of the camera, another uses a flashlight, and the camera captures only what the flashlight illuminates, which is a neat effect since the camera was set for 30-seconds of exposure.

The stray lights threatened to take some of my night vision away. So I slowly backed closer to the water's edge, away from everyone, so I could continue to gaze at the arm of our home galaxy. I started to wonder if I actually hate people because I spend so much time writing, I don't speak to a lot of them.

Self doubt seeped into my mind, accusing me of being antisocial. But that's just self doubt. It's sorta like Big Foot. People think it's real. There seems to be a lot of evidence pointing to it. But so far, all that evidence proves nothing. Right? Again, self doubt seeped into my mind. Gallery of me being anitsocial or enjoying the simple things:

The next day, I read a quote of the week from self help author, Michael Neill:

"There is a line from the Greek poet Archilochus which is generally translated as:

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

While foxes might be cunning and able to devise hundreds of strategies for catching unsuspecting hedgehogs off guard and eating them for dinner, the hedgehog has only one defensive strategy - to curl up in a ball, spiky spines exposed, and wait until the fox (or other predator) gives up and goes away."

Michael talks about Jim Collins' book, Good to Great, that shares the following differences between foxes and hedgehogs as they relate to how people relate to life:

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"Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. They are 'scattered or diffused, moving on many levels,' says [the essayist Isaiah] Berlin, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn't matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple—indeed almost simplistic—hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance...

To be clear, hedgehogs are not stupid. Quite the contrary. They understand that the essence of profound insight is simplicity. What could be more simple than e = mc2. What could be simpler than the idea of the unconscious organized into an id, ego, or superego? What could be more elegant than Adam Smith's pin factory and "invisible hand"? No, the hedgehogs aren't simpletons; they have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns. Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest."

So what does all this mean? That I'm more awesome than other people? That would be a No. Simply put, I seem to be moving toward the life I've always wanted to live: be an artist, be healthy, and having fun, while ignoring everything else that doesn't pertain to my life.

You Pointin' to Me?

Do I look fat?

Do I look fat?

You pointin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you pointin’…you pointin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here.

When world building, indicating or explaining, using dialogue or exposition, is necessary. One of the biggest criticisms a published author indicated to me was my world. (Why do people say published author? Like that validates my work, their advice, or me.) That I had to give more details, really go into how politics work, are there classes in society, where and how do they live, etc. All the nitty-gritty stuff that helps ground the world into reality.

However, once you get passed that, indicating too much is too much. Cause it’s too much. I think that’s what writing folk call writing on the nose. I tend not to write on the nose cause there’s not much room there. The basic premise is not to be so obvious, to dictate, to indicate story to the point where it’s not fun.

You smell

You smell

An example of this was The Lost Symbol. Part of the premise of the book was how thought helps create and manipulate our world, something that I’ve been interested in for most of my life. As I trudged through the book, I felt like I was being lectured by one of those new age preachers asking me to give my lifesavings and body to the better good. Not sure if that’s an example of on the nose writing, but Dan Brown’s overuse of italics seriously annoyed me. Not because it was italicized. But because he was trying so hard, it felt to me, to indicate what these people were thinking and feeling. Why not use expository sentences in between dialogue to do that? But who am I?

I think a great way of showing what your character is about, or how your world works is layering different things that point to a certain idea.

The martial art school I used to go to played favorites in a big way, without explicitly showing it by hiding it in meaning.

Upon entering the school, a row of black belts’ pictures lined the wall above the mirrors. The center portrait was of the owner, the master of all masters, the one. Flanking him were black belts in descending degrees. When I was there, I had noticed that my personal teacher, who was third highest rank in the school, slowly moved farther and father away from the center until, ultimately, his image mysteriously disappeared. At the same time, new black belts edged their way closer to the center. It was explained that these individuals were contributing more to the school, while others who didn’t got axed from the wall of fame.

We be cool

We be cool

Automatically, you the student in the mirror was below the instructors of the school. And those who followed remained on the wall of shame, while those who didn’t were thought to be outsiders. But it’s those outsiders who usually make the biggest marks in the universe. Bruce Lee anyone? Whoppah! Now, of course, the author should not explain what was really going on, nor lecture his thoughts on being an outsider, like I did with Bruce. That’s for the reader/audience to figure out for themselves, if they so choose. And their interpretation is a good indication of who they are. Isn’t that the fun of reading?

Peel the Onion

Onions.  They give you bad breath but adds flavor to the food we eat.  Have you ever peeled one?  Peel the rough skin and reveal a fresh moist layer.  Peel that and there’s another silky layer.  On and on. In writing my book, I purposefully laid in layers to give it a sense of depth.  On the surface, it’s a fast-paced, action packed, page turner (damn, I’m conceited).  There’s sex.  There’s mayhem.  Want betrayal?  You got it.  Want love?  You got it.

Slice under that superficial layer and you’ll find a deeper understanding of the story.  Billowing clouds may reflect a character’s painful conflict within.  Heat from a fire reflecting off someone’s clothes may echo the character’s anger.  Wind may symbolize a character’s dominance over their lands.

In 1954 a renowned filmmaker released what’s considered one of the best films ever made:  Seven Samurai.  It's about a Japanese farming village, constantly beseiged and pillaged by an army of bandits, recruits seven independent samurai to defend it.

Akira Kurosawa’s films have influenced great directors such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.  In fact, Star Wars was heavily influenced by The Hidden Fortress, a Kurosawa film.

I have to admit, when I watched Seven Samurai, I was like, “What da hell?”

I was caught off guard by the soundtrack, pacing and language (despite my slanty eyes, I don’t speak Japanese).  I did drag myself through the length of the film, all three hours and forty-five minutes.

Luckily, I had bought The Criterion Collection of the film.  There are tons of lectures on the DVD discs, and I listened to all of them, wanting to learn everything I could.  What I learned had a profound effect on me and my writing.  Or is it my writing and I?

Consolidating Kurosawa’s genius would be difficult and insulting.  But here I go.  He controlled everything because everything in his films had a purpose, a reason.  Every word, action, shadow, even the swipe or fading to the next scene meant something.  If someone broke wind, there was a purpose.  Unless it was silent but deadly.

The most interesting character is Kikuchiyo, played by Toshiro Mifune.  He doesn’t exactly look like a samurai, nor does he walk like one.  So is he a samurai?  He lugs his extra long sword on his shoulder instead of holstering it around his waist like the other six.  What does this say about Kikuchiyo?  Is he compensating for something?  Or is there a deeper story within the character?

In his dramatic scene, Kikuchiyo admits he was once a villager and somehow found his way to samuraism. (Is that even a word?)  This didn’t happen in those days of Japan.  It was difficult enough to move up the ranks of the samurai.  And admitting you were once a villager was like admitting you’re a woman, when you’re really a man, but without the operation.

The lectures in the special features stated Kikuchiyo symbolized the filmmaker, Kurosawa.  His views were somehow reminiscent of Kikuchiyo and his rise in society and that Japan had moved into the modern era.  This is further symbolized when each samurai is killed by a modern weapon:  the gun.  Once the villagers were saved, they continued their lives giving any thought to their saviors.  We see the surviving samurai walk from the cemetery where their comrades were buried and out to the horizon, never to return.

I rewatched the film many times, and I grew to love it. The story density is amazing.

It’s interesting to see how we clamor to the magazine stands to find out the latest on celebrities.  What atrocities have they committed?  But if we were truly curious about who they were, all we'd have to do is turn to their art.

For art is the language of the soul.

Can You Make Money?

It's funny how art mimics life, or how life mimics art.  The hero of my book has compulsions that seem to border on anger.  And it's no surprise my compulsions border on anger.  Artists have issues.  One of the best ways to work them out is to put it into art. 1832099-US_Mint-Denver Do you work at the US Mint?

I was waiting for a free table at my favorite place to write, Borders. And I overheard a high school student asking a grad student about working in the financial sector.  The grad student had financial looking books on the long table.  He said that if you worked for this certain company doing this certain kind of trade, you’d make a lot of money.

Something inside me wanted to jump up, slap the grad student across the face, and take the high school student, shake him, and tell him to follow his passions.

If that’d happened, then I’d be writing this post in jail.

The more important question was why did I react this way. And why do I react this way when I hear people say, “Do this and you’ll make lots of money.” Or the more infamous, “I’ve created a system that will create fast, easy money, bring you girls from all over the world. See this car I’m driving? Would you like to drive this car?” Then in faint, white fine print ‘Results may vary. Results not typical.'  The kind of fine print that not even Sherlock Holmes could find.

As I was waiting for a table, I checked through my unread emails and came across a newsletter from Michael Neill. Check him out. He’s awesome. He wrote about the difference between earning money and making money.

Aren’t those two the same?

The only people in America that make money are the people who work in the US Mint. The rest of us earn money.

The earning part is where most people don’t understand.

I was talking to a friend yesterday and he’s helping his close friend produce some videos. My friend said he knew how to get free actors. We laughed because actors would work for free just to get their faces and names out there. But these actors are on to something. They’re putting the work in, serving others, with the hope that it’ll pay them back.

To start a fire in a fireplace, you must give it wood. This wood is the service you give before you can get heat, the payback.  Life is full of dualities.  Giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin, the yin and yang, complete opposites that work with each other.

Will I make money from my books? No. Unless I use the pages to print money. But that would be a big no no.

My job as a writer is to write the best book that I can write, to write the story given to me, and have fun doing it.  I've put my soul into it.  As the fame photographer Rodney Lough has said, art is the language of the soul.  Everything else follows.

Opinions Are Like...

In my last post I wrote about catching up with a friend I hadn't really talked to for over a decade. And we talked for the whole day. Surprisingly, most of that time was talking about our passion, writing. We were trading query letters and synopsis, and he asked me about the main character of my book. Everyone in my book hates my hero.

Why?

He's sending tens of thousands of sons and daughters, fathers and mothers to a war that seems pointless.

Sound familiar?

However, there is a legitimate reason for this war, this war in my book.  But everyone doesn't see it, and they exact their negative opinions.

Isolating the main character is important to create empathy for my hero.  One of hundreds of techniques used to create an emotional bond between reader and hero. The reader has a superior view of the whole story.  The reader knows the truth behind the necessity of this particular war.  So they'll root for him.

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One of my favorite shows that has ended was Jon and Kate Plus Eight.  I tell my friends that I'm an avid watcher of the show.  And I don't watch that much TV, let alone reality TV.  But I found the kids endearing, the parent's relationship real, cause it was, and was pulled into their family dynamic.

If you're a fan of the show, then you know the drama that has gone on between the parents and TLC.  TLC being the network that put on the show.

The thing that saddens me are the opinions, tabloids, and hate that had been shown to all parties.  I know one thing that's true.  Opinions are like assholes.  Everyone has them.  And they smell like ass.

No one on the outside knows really what's going on between Jon and Kate, Jon and TLC, Kate and TLC, TLC and TLC.  The amount of crap that portrays itself as truth is so negative that I wonder why we are so engaged with it.  Is it because misery loves company?  Maybe.  Is it because we hate it when people gain a certain amount of fame and fortune?  Maybe.

Why can't we just let them be, let them handle their issues, and live our lives?  I mean, do people not have enough of their own problems that they have to take on others, too?

Tell Parents Go to Hell

A movie based on the most beloved children's book opens this weekend. I remember reading Maurice Sendak's book Where the Wilde Things Are.  I was taking a short break at work and saw this picture: maurice-sendak-wild-things-little-bear-gay-nigh-kitchen-art-author-illustrator

In an interview, Sendak was asked what he'd say to parents about the movie being too scary for kids.  His response?

"I would tell them to go to hell. That's a question I will not tolerate."

I love that.  Not that I want people to go to hell.  Nor do I believe in a hell, but one that we create for ourselves.  That's a topic for another post.

I'm tired of parents, or people, telling an author, film maker, or storyteller what their story should or shouldn't include.  First of all, it's not those people's story to tell.  Second of all, authors usually don't know where their inspiration come from.  What they do know is they have to be loyal,honest, to the stories that are given to them.  Any conformity the author makes, outside of story structure, can destroy the story itself.

J.K. Rowling has been bombarded with upset parents and church groups for writing her Harry Potter novels.  Her books have been on many banned book lists.  A sign that an author has made it. Her response has been the same when questioned about her dark material.  She's told them not to read her books.  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn written by Mark Twain has been banned.  And that has been considered a great American novel.

If a parent, or anyone, who finds a movie, book, TV show, anything offensive, then ignore it.  Time is too precious to focus on what you don't like.  Focus on what you do.

Even when a story comes to a writer, and it goes against traditional story structure, then the writer should go with their intuition.  Take the hit book to movie Slumdog Millionaire.  It uses flashbacks to tell most of the story.  I can't tell you how many books, teachers, and professional writers state flashbacks are a big no no.  It simply takes the threat of death away.  But it worked.  It worked so well that tension was still a driving force in those flashbacks.  That's because other's died.  But still, it worked!

Follow your passions.  Follow your intuition.  Great thinkers and leaders do.