Monday, August 31, 2009


He wished her a good night’s sleep and left to return to his quarters. In the garden a mist skimmed the ground. He stopped at a magnolia tree where she hung a pot of dawn orchid on a branch. The tree was only her height the day she was inducted into the imperial palace, and now it stood like a giant umbrella. White petals littered the ground at its base.
From her chamber only a stone’s throw away drifted the sound of piano. Listening, he marveled at the touch of her fingers, marveled at the Heaven’s whim to have robbed her of her own faculties, and yet left in her a sense for the music. Far in the corners of the garden foxfire glowed on deadwood, and the sound of the piano trickled in the stillness that smelled rain. It was a melody he’d never heard before, and every note was clear, strung together like a garland of sorrow tossed out there in the blackness of the night. She was going home.  What would become of her in this deranged state?
Under the magnolia he stood, leaning his head on a branch around which was tied a rope that hung a pot of dawn orchid. Moss burned a phosphorescent blue on the tree trunk, and the magnolia blossoms became so thick in his throat he had to close his eyes, breathe shallow.
[Image from http://]

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dear Author

inally the contract from my publisher arrived.

Five pages of detailed clauses that spell the agreement between the author and the publisher.

I read each one of them, made notes, and chewed on my thoughts.
One clause is about competing work. It says that I, the author, can’t print or publish during the term of the agreement any portion of my novel, FLESH, or any work that might compete with or reduce the sales of FLESH. Interesting, I thought. What about giving excerpts from my novel in my blog? I intend to blog about my writing, and also about FLESH, but not giving away too much of my forthcoming novel. Better ask your publisher, I thought. Better safe than sorry. To my relief, he said that prior to publication, I could publish or blog about parts of FLESH, even in a short-story length. But he advised me not to publish large parts of it without his consent.
I read the manuscript delivery date: January 1, 2011. Ready for publication? No, he told me. Ready for pre-press process. There will be galley proof for me to read, edit, correct, before everything is locked down. Yet he assured me that the editing will be completed well before that date. Amen! I went back to one of my publisher’s earlier emails. He told me there would be minor editing only, no substantive changes. Thank God! Then I thanked myself for having done my work in getting the manuscript ready. Again, ‘ready’ is a relative word. Each writer who wants to become an author goes about his editorial labor differently. The author would thank himself when his manuscript is acquired by a publisher. However, many will be asked to revise their manuscripts structurally, and that’s when it’s no longer fun. The truth is: There could be a significant lapse between the time the writer’s final manuscript is acquired and the time his publisher requests a revision. By then the writer might have lost touch with his novel’s characters. To transport himself back to any scene to be rewritten in his novel, he needs the mood – not his mood. The scene’s mood keeps it alive, like water to plants. Worse of all revisions is structural revision. Here the writer might have to change the narrative’s voice, from first-person point of view to third-person point of view, or vice versa. He might have to add a new character to support the revised cast. Or he might have to enliven an existing character to make it three dimensional. Not only that, the dialogue in his novel might be subjected to revision as well, because no character speaks like another, no matter how you put words in their mouths.
When the publisher buys your novel, reads it, and declares that only minor editing is needed – you exhale! You feel blessed. Why? Perhaps by now you have already started writing your next novel. And the worst thing that will definitely affect your writing – and your writing schedule – is a structural revision. It’s a bad dream like Alfred Hitchcock said, “Give them pleasure the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”
Then I consulted my good friend, Stephen Evans, a novelist, on the clauses of my contract. Steve’s first novel, The Marriage of True Minds, came out in 2008. To date, I thought it was one of the finest novels published that year. After I took in his advice, I signed the contract and mailed it back to my publisher.
Writers. Authors. What a long and winding road.
Afterward I sat and read Charles Bukowski. Funny. When my mood needs a booster, I read Bukowski. Someone asked him this: “Who do you consider the greatest writer of all time?” He said, “I do not consider the greatest writer of all time. I consider a few moderns, then forget them. This is not conceit but a defense against intrusion.” Then another question: “Why do you write?” He said, “I write as a function. Without it I would fall ill and die. It’s as much a part of one as the liver or intestine, and just about as glamorous.” And a final question (for this post): “Does pain make a writer?” He said, “Pain doesn’t make anything, nor does poverty. The artist is there first. . . . If his luck is good, he becomes a bad artist. If his luck is bad, he becomes a good one.”

[Image from]

Friday, August 28, 2009

Instant Books

How cool is it to walk up to a book kiosk the size of a Xerox commercial photocopier, pay and then watch it print and bind and deliver a copy of your book? Well, these Espresso Book Machines are already being in service, and I guess soon your local Barnes & Noble bookstores will have them, too. It eliminates stocking, delivery and return costs. Best of all, your book will never be out of print. Yes. Also, as an instant book concept done by print-on-demand technology, I'm sure the cover price of each book you order will be dropped. Will that make Amazon cringe?

You can read more about this at a fellow blogger's blog:

She even has a link that takes you directly to the Lightning Source Distributor where you can watch a video clip of how a book is ordered, printed, bound, glued, trimmed and delivered. The Espresso Book Machine prints the pages at the same time it creates the color cover. Isn't that neat?

Deer, Oh Dear!

She stood gazing at her garden plots. I could see the damage that held her spellbound. Deer had torn through her mesh fence and ate most of her parsnips. Tiny yellow petals clung to the ground, stalks bent, ripped, and chewed.

My mother-in-law had a green thumb. All her plants, herbs flourished even on our clay-rich soil. She grew cilantro, lemon mint, parsley, sawtooth herb, basil, thyme, parsnips. But deer stay away from smelly plants, so thyme and mint are safe. They ate only parsnips. My mother-in-law used to collect parsnip yellow flowers and boiled them with grapefruit leaves and washed her hair with the scented water.

I told her how people kept deer away by planting poisonous plants like monksfood and daffodils and foxglove. She could grow them among her prized herbs and plants. She looked at me, shaking her head. “No,” she said, “if those toxic plants kill them, I wouldn’t feel right.” She looked back down at the mess on the ground. “Them deer are hungry, you know that? Ever since they cut down trees in the back of our neighborhood to build that new road, those deer have no food to eat. Where can they go for food now?”

I was about to say something but stopped. As a Buddhist, she believed in karma and retributions.  I was thinking of a story I read in a Vietnamese newspaper. The story’s title was Mute Deer.  This farmer became outraged when he saw the damage the deer had done to his rice seedlings. He went home and cut down an armful of young bamboo. Then he slit the culms and sliced them into razor-sharp slivers. Before dark he went back to the rice field. He drove each sliver into the ground, leaving its thin blade hidden among the green seedlings. Dusk fell by the time he was done planting all the bamboo slivers. In the morning he went back to the rice paddy and inspected the damage. The deer had been there during the night. He could see that they ate the rice seedlings. But for each clump of seedlings chewed by deer, he found a piece of a deer’s tongue. There were bloodstains on the seedlings, on the ground. He walked around in his thick-soled sandals until he collected over a hundred severed tongues of various lengths. Them traps worked, he thought. The deer gathered the seedlings with their tongues and just as they pulled, the bamboo slivers sliced their tongues off.

I knew what she would say, if I told her that story. I didn’t want to think further about the man’s karmic retribution in his next life.

[Image from]

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Demons' Family

On the day he learned that all his life savings were lost from the Madoff’s scam, a man walked into a park, sat down on a bench and blew his brains out. Crosstown in that moment a man jumped in front of an oncoming subway train and killed himself, just after he’d read a rejection email from his most coveted literary agent – his novel didn’t excite her enough to read through until her other shoe dropped. At that hour a baby was born in a hospital somewhere in town. It was a premature birth. The nurse said she would wash him up as the doctor slowly removed his latex gloves. The doctor patted the husband on the shoulder and said sorry under his moustache. After he left the nurse brought the baby to the bed and placed him in the mother’s arms. He was wrapped in a small blanket and wore a stocking cap pulled down past his ears. The nurse said she would be back to pick him up, and she said that in a hushed, casual voice.

The baby looked as though he were asleep in the cradle of the mother’s arms. She was sitting up on the bed, her back cushioned by a pillow against the head railing. She bent her head to look at his face, then parted a corner of his blanket to look at his limbs. Slowly she touched his nose, his closed eyes, his tiny mouth, trailing her fingers along his jawline, pausing to dab his skin with her fingertips. Then gently, she pulled the blanket over his chest as if to keep him warm. With one arm cradling him, she freed the other and peeled back his pom-pom cap. He had dark hair in thin curly wisps. She caressed his pate, then combed his hair with her nails, brushing it back and forth like fingers strumming the guitar strings. She tilted her face to one side to gaze at him then to the other to look at him again. She held her gaze like that without moving her head and she kept gazing at him like waiting for a miracle to breathe life into this stillbirth that never moved. After some time she broke her gaze and dipped her head to kiss him on the brow. She pressed her lips against it, not moving, in that eternity. Quietly she cried. The husband leaned over the bed to hug her.

“Do you want to hold him?” she said.

Yes, he wanted to. This tiny thing. Brownish. Dry chafed skin. Smelling of antiseptic. Still warm. His small mouth was red without the fine curves of the lips. His tiny hands clenched. He had fingernails too, and his hands felt soft like the hands of a newborn baby. So this is you who kicked and turned and moved around playing hide-and-seek in Mommy’s tummy. Did you hear Mommy and Daddy talking to you then? Did you hear Mommy sing?

He kissed the boy on the forehead. His skin no longer felt warm. Watery discharge was seeping from his nose and the corners of his mouth. The nurse came back. She asked to take the boy away. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said. She wrapped the boy up in his blanket and the mother said she would like to hold him for the last time. Then holding him in the crook of her arms, she rocked him gently and she kept on rocking him as tenderly as a mother would rock her baby to sleep until the nurse held out her hands. The mother shook her head. Her lips parted but no words came out and the nurse touched her elbow.

“I must take him away,” the nurse said. “I know how you feel, Ma’am.” She stroked the mother’s hands until they yielded their grip and the boy was back in the nurse’s arms, tucked neatly in his blanket, the knitted cap pulled down to cover his brow, and the nurse said goodbye and left the room with him and the door clicked shut.

In the night came the sound of a baby crying. Perhaps just born.

[Image by Spiritual Art]

Friday, August 21, 2009

You Get So Alone At Times It Just Makes Sense

Today I felt so alone. Perhaps I just ran out of gas. So I sat and reread some Charles Bukowski’s poems from his collection called You Get So Alone At Times It Just Makes Sense.

something so sad
has hold of us
the breath leaves
and we can’t even

Then I read an entry in my friend Katie’s blog. Nearing the end—of my novel, that is! This is a novel, her first, that she started 10 years ago when she was 15. Only five years later did she revive it and now, after five more years, she’s coming to the finishing line. I want to know how she would feel this time when she pens the words “THE END”. The very first time, at 15, when she finished writing her first novel she felt like this: “It was late at night--a school night, mind you--the house was still, and I sat at my desk, tears falling in silent joy.” Reading that, I went back to the moment when I completed my first novel. It was 2 AM. Couldn’t sleep after that. An unbelievable feeling buoyed me. Peaceful, joyous, and empty. Like the emptiness I felt today. Then years later when I completed my next novel, it was in the afternoon. I reread the ending, and let out a phhhhhhhhh . . . What a marathon it had been! Like a burden just lifted off my back. There was no joy, just a workmanlike job.

Maybe the first time of everything is the best moment of all. Maybe we should ask John Grisham or Stephen King what it’s like to finish each of their novels. Was there any exhilaration any more?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Great American Novel

Today I read a fellow author’s post on this subject. She wondered if the desire to write The Great American Novel has been superseded by the desire to write the next million-dollar bestseller. She asked, “Is Anyone Really Writing the Great American Novel?”

Frankly, a great novel can be set in any locality, like yours, or in the imaginary Yoknapatawpha County from which William Faulkner created his fictional worlds. Even more frankly, a great novel has to be literary. I never know any great novels in the genre of Sci-Fi, Romance, YA, or that sort. Do you? Why literary? Because literary fiction deals with characterization more deeply, intensely. Not to mention its power of description of moods, scenes, and human characterization. Don’t yawn! Read The Sound and The Fury, especially the first two chapters on Benjy and Quentin, where human minds verging on insanity were skillfully wrought to the point of surrealism. Read Paris Trout by Pete Dexter. I don’t know about you but I felt a tingling in my spine just following this Trout character around. If you’re taken over by such a villain in a novel, like Trout, or Lester Ballard in Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God, then that novel must be literary.

I don’t think any writer would intend to write the ‘great American novel’ when he conceives the thought of writing. Any writer who says ‘I want to write the great such and such novel’ is illusionary. A novel that can examine human flaws, humiliation, racial bigotry usually transcends any locality it’s set in and becomes a global recognition in the literary world. It could be set in Pago-Pago like in Rain by W. Somerset Maugham, but it rises above it to become a short-story classic.

But to write it, a writer must be extraordinarily skilled.

So, do I want to write the Great American Novel? No. Just write!

[Image from]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rules for Writing Fiction

So you want to write a novel. Cool. Do you have a writing routine? What are they? Share them with us. I know no one's routine is like another’s. I had none in the beginning. I was undisciplined. Somehow I finished my first novel and looked like a marathoner who came in last. While writing FLESH, which will be published by Black Heron Press in 2011, I was regimented. I wrote every day. Each day faithfully by sticking to the seven rules—7 is my lucky number.
#1—find discipline in solitude, in aloneness so you can meet your characters. It’s like a rendez-vous with ghosts. Then make that meeting every day or every night with no excuses.
#2—write each scene as if it were the only thing in your universe; it must command all your attention.
#3—write one scene well and that scene would breed the next scene.
#4—leave room for readers to participate: don’t overwrite.
#5—stop where you still have something to say so the next day you wouldn’t face a dry well.
#6—read each day to keep your mind off your own writing.
#7—dont believe in any other rules except yours.
If you were born to write, write something, even if its just a suicide note. When you write, youre the only writer that exists, none before you, none after you. Somewhere I remember Toni Morrison once said, "I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it."

Let me ask you: Do you take anything you read seriously? I do, only when it really knocks me out. "You wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it." Don
t you love a reader like Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye? And Groucho Marx. "From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oh, Grandma!

I’ve read many jokes, but this one cracked me up. I thought I'd share this with you.  If you’re a leg person, give Grandma a good look!

Grandma is eighty-eight years old and still drives her own car. She writes:

Dear Granddaughter,

The other day I went up to our local Christian bookstore and saw a 'Honk if you love Jesus' bumper sticker.

I was feeling particularly sassy that day because I had just come from a thrilling choir performance, followed by a thunderous prayer meeting.

So, I bought the sticker and put it on my bumper.

Boy, am I glad I did; what an uplifting experience that followed.

I was stopped at a red light at a busy intersection, just lost in thought about the Lord and how good he is, and I didn’t notice that the light had changed.

It is a good thing someone else loves Jesus because if he hadn’t honked, I’d never have noticed.

I found that lots of people love Jesus!

While I was sitting there, the guy behind started honking like crazy, and then he leaned out of his window and screamed, 'For the love of God! Go! Go! Go! Jesus Christ, GO!'

What an exuberant cheerleader he was for Jesus!

Everyone started honking!

I just leaned out my window and started waving and smiling at all those loving people.

I even honked my horn a few times to share in the love!

There must have been a man from Florida back there because I heard him yelling something about a sunny beach.

I saw another guy waving in a funny way with only his middle finger stuck up in the air.

I asked my young teenage grandson in the back seat what that meant.

He said it was probably a Hawaiian good-luck sign or something.

Well, I have never met anyone from Hawaii, so I leaned out the window and gave him the good-luck sign right back.

My grandson burst out laughing.

Why even he was enjoying this religious experience!

A couple of the people were so caught up in the joy of the moment that they got out of their cars and started walking towards me.

I bet they wanted to pray or ask what church I attended, but this is when I noticed the light had changed.

So, grinning, I waved at all my brothers and sisters, and drove on through the intersection.

I noticed that I was the only car that got through the intersection before the light changed again and felt kind of sad that I had to leave them after all the love we had shared.

So I slowed the car down, leaned out the window and gave them all the Hawaiian good-luck sign one last time as I drove away. Praise the Lord for such wonderful folks!

Will write again soon,

Love, Grandma

[Image from]


The other day a writer asked me on AQ Connect what she needed as a newbie to sail across the writing and publishing ocean. I told her to buy and keep in her safe the following two titles:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Renni Browne and Dave King)
The Elements of Style (William Strunk and E. B. White)
I told her to read just the opening of these two novels:
A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway)
The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
I told her once she has finished her first novel and is ready for a literary agent (one who ferries her across the capricious sea), be a devoted visitor to the following web sites:
She said, “That’s it?”
I said, “Yeah.”
For a moment I was reliving my own journey. Like a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea.
[Image from]

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Stranger

I never knew where he came from, but he’d show up out of nowhere every morning. He’d walk down the road, one thumb hooked onto his belt, looking back nervously for the sight of a bus. Every morning he’d stand on the curbside at a bus stop, dressed in a corduroy jacket, the same trilby hat pulled down tight to shade his eyes, a brown lunch bag clutched in his hand. Sometimes he stood among riders, sometimes by himself. A bus came and left. He stayed behind with his bag in hand, then after adjusting his hat a few times, trod on down the road to the next bus stop. A bus would pull in and be gone with its riders. He remained under the bus stop sign as though he’d just gotten off the bus. Then he would walk on.
I’d spot him arriving at the town’s shopping plaza. Cars stopped for him. He made his way across the road, touching the brim of his hat to greet those drivers who were waiting for him. He reached the other side and planted himself under a bus stop sign. A bus came and went. Riders too. He, lunch bag in hand, made his way back along the road whence he came.
I remembered everything about him like a stock photograph—the incessant flick of his wrist to tell time, the darting eyes, the obsessive peep into his lunch bag every few seconds. One morning I drove to work on the quiet road. On the edge of the road stood the man, his feet shifting nervously, his head nodding as if on a spring. He stuck out his thumb when he saw my car. I pulled up against the curb and looked into the rear-view mirror. He glanced toward me, then looked the other way, his thumb stuck out. I realized I shouldn’t have stopped. Yet the man’s idiocy suddenly lost its absurdity and he looked more like someone not seen but known for some time.
[Image by akasleep]

Why I Write

I breathe, therefore I write.

When I write, I purge myself of all the poisons. What poisons? Worse than rat poison is self-hatred poison. But I won't get into the self-hatred stuff. You ask me what is the best moment of your life? When I'm writing, of course. But I can't compare it with the moment I fell in love. One is peaceful, the other on cloud nine. Don't laugh!

Where Free Spirits Soar

Where were all the sea birds and ghost crabs along the shores of Dominican Republic? Just aqua-green water and surfers' kites and wind.

The Demise of Books

Did a critique on AQ Connect. You could sense despair among a vast number of unpublished writers. Is reading books declining this fast?