NaNoWriMo: Day 16-18

Laughably behind on NaNo but I’m convinced I can catch up by the end of the month. Foolhardy delusion though it may be, I’m still glad I took on this challenge because at least something is getting done, even if I don’t meet the full goal.

In the meantime, as I continue to procrastinate on today’s work, Cya sent me this lovely gif:

Bob Ross, patron saint of self-doubting artists.

Thus, I present to you a list of things that I have put (forced) into the world of my novel for my own happiness…in no particular order:

  • A large group of main characters
  • A flying vehicle that is more home than transportation
  • Discussion of mental illness through characters (panic disorder, PTSD)
  • Characters across the entire spectrum of LGBTQAI, who are not solely defined by their sexuality
  • An all-POC cast, with a focus on Asian Americans
  • Homages to my friends and loved ones: crocheted animals; all Spam meals, all the time (albeit under a different name); the shame and gratitude of everyone who has ever sat with me through a panic attack; dinosaurs and cephalopods and technology, oh my!
  • All the badass womens.

The rest of the stuff is the hard part, of course. I am continually reminded of how far out of my comfort zone I am whenever my characters and I are confronted with all the difficulties I throw at them which I know nothing about. All this science fiction stuff makes the problems about five thousand times harder to resolve and make logical and make feasible, all while keeping my crew in character and off-kilter enough to keep the story moving. There have been six different versions of what happens after their ship is hijacked by another rogue crew: Negotiation? Hostile kidnapping? Calm explanation and recruitment? Different permutations of characters have been taken and left behind and each time I think I’ve made a final decision, I think of new trajectories the overall story could go if I just change this combination of characters or this bit of dialogue.

How do you make peace with your choices? I’m starting to think that peace doesn’t come until the very end, if that. These drafts will forever be in limbo until the whole story is laid out and ultimate decisions can be made. If this ever gets published, I’m sure there will be regrets and secret stories testing out the possibilities left untouched (secret post-hijacking dance party~ Massive orgiastic rave to Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends”).

Another image that should have been forced into my story.
…There’s still time.

As I wade through all the possibilities for this next chapter, make sure to look for my post tomorrow on OK Potato. Check us out on Tumblr too. Annnnd I am on Twitter SO throw book recs at me!

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NaNoWriMo: Day 14 & 15 (Diversity in Stories)

Today and tomorrow are more marathon writing days, but for now, let’s talk about diversity in stories!

Yes, good. Thank you, Mulder.

Granted, The X-Files is not exactly a shining example of diversity in media, but Agent Scully is a fairly fantastic example of women’s representation in media, which is part of what I want to talk about today. The irony that I used the picture of the white male character to lead into this post is not lost on me, but look at that tumblr text post caption. Let’s fix that:

Taken from here. Rad.

That’s better.

The novel I’m currently working on for NaNoWriMo has been a long time coming and centers on a group of entirely mixed races, particularly mixed Asian Americans. Five of the six characters are female and my male character, Gregor, is treated deliberately as a token male. Much of this was decided in reaction to the representation of diverse characters in the books, movies, and TV shows I consume.

I love stories in all incarnations and I things are generally starting to get better in terms of media representation — sort of. Different races are at least kind of present in most media, although very rarely as main characters, let alone speaking characters. (I am forever upset at how Glenn Rhee is being used in The Walking Dead. WE COULD HAVE HAD IT ALL. ROLLING IN THE DEEP.) Different sexualities are becoming more present, especially in TV, and I can sort of think of a few examples of disabilities and representation of various body types. Asexuality and intersex genders are still conspicuously absent but Laverne Cox’s new The T Word series, focusing on transgender youth, gives me hope that audiences are being primed for true diversity in media.

Michonne and Glenn from AMC's The Walking Dead.

Michonne and Glenn from AMC’s The Walking Dead.

However, you will note that all of my examples are based on visuals — television and film, even music videos. Literature is the trickier subject. Certainly you can easily find nonfiction books on people of color or different genders and sexualities. Rifling through fiction to find specific types of diversity can be frustrating and, often the ones you do find focus specifically on the Otherness of that character or use diversity in supporting characters, not main. I can easily find fiction with Chinese main characters set in China (especially historical fiction), but finding Chinese American characters in modern settings outside of Amy Tan books? Very hard. Especially if I want to read about steampunk Muslim girls battling mechanical cephalopods or 60s Japanese biker boys wooing the black girl in the poodle skirt at the local malt shop. Even just a book about the Okinawan girl battling depression and anxiety in high school in America — where does that exist? (Sorry for all the Asian examples, but I am Japanese-Okinawan and deeply, deeply deprived.)

These stories matter, too, and waiting around for someone to provide me with those books hasn’t done me much good in twenty-five years. I took on a science fiction novel as my first challenge in order to use a diverse cast, as science fiction generally seems more receptive to that kind of representation. My niche is modern, realistic fiction, so it is a bit of a stretch for now, but I want to eventually move into basic representation — the everyday lives of characters that aren’t white, able-bodied, middle-class people in dire love triangles, who consider themselves Special Snowflakes that have led them to be “outcasts” their entire lives. That is all well and good, and those stories can matter and make an impact, but we as readers need more than just the same stories that have taken up our bookshelves for years and years.

Cya and I are launching OK Potato: Diversity in Media Reviews on a quest to seek and promote media representation in books and to discuss these issues more in-depth than this single blog post. I will still be discussing NaNoWriMo and basic writing progress and tips here, but I hope you’ll join us on our journey to bring diversity in media into the mainstream!

More on NaNo next time, guys. Thanks for reading!

Closer to Home: Okinawan Culture

As promised, this past week I visited the Hawaii Okinawa Center to get a look at their museum and library. The center is run by the Hawaii United Okinawan Association (HUOA), which was established in 1951 by immigrants from Okinawa and its outlying islands, and now numbers 40,000 members in the Hawaiian islands.

Hawaii United Okinawan Association logo. Uchinanchu pride~

Since I am still waiting on my contacts for the Micronesian children’s book project, I want to try to at least storyboard a few ideas for children’s books based on Okinawan culture. Luckily I am half Okinawan and so there is far less ethical concerns with me taking on this type of project, i.e. no cultural appropriation.

In any case, the HOC is comprised of two main buildings and a Japanese-style garden. The larger of the two buildings is rented out for banquets and events, while the other building houses administrative offices and basically everything else. As such, the museum is fairly small. There are a few shelves of books on Okinawa — all in Japanese, — a decent array of shisa (pictured below), Ryuukyuuan glassware, a karate photo gallery, and tools and artifacts from issei (first-generation) immigrants.

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I was mainly interested in the shisa, which are a sort of lion-dog hybrid in Okinawan mythology (filtered from Chinese guardian lions). These statues are found at most entryways in Okinawa, usually as pairs: one with mouth open, the other closed, representing the retention of good spirits and the warding away of evil from the household or building. I would love to do some sort of trilogy of children’s books focusing on the shisa: 1) its origin myth, 2) an explanation of the traditional pairing and the open/closed aesthetics, and 3) a modern-day adventure story in Hawaii.

The origin of the shisa has several different versions, but the one I like best is about a village by the sea that is plagued by a vicious sea dragon. When a visiting king learns of the village’s troubles, he entrusts a small stone shisa to one of the local children. The next time the dragon returns, the stone shisa begins to vibrate and shake, a loud roaring ripping apart the sky. From the tiny statue, a giant shisa appears and his next roar is so powerful that it knocks loose a massive boulder from heaven, which crushes the dragon in one fatal blow. The shisa disappears but the small stone statue remains, entirely in tact. From then on, to keep the village safe from harm shisa statues are erected around the city as guardians against evil.

What a rad story. (I think the hardest part will be explaining that random boulder falling.)

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I’ll try to post more as the storyboarding progresses. It is hard to fit in all the research and work around the novel I’m working on (which is my priority), but this might be a good way to get my work out in the local lit scene, and much more quickly than a novel manuscript. I have a meeting with the Executive Director of HUOA for after the annual Okinawan festival in August, so hopefully things will start picking up from there!

See you there (if you live in HI).

I’ll go back to more general posts about writing next week, mostly because I’m in the midst of a very frustrating chapter (and swamped in these side projects). Everything seems a bit random on this blog right now but as things progress I’m hoping it will all come together. And, if not, meh.

Hawaii Literacy + Local Children’s Books

First off, apologies for the late post. I spent most of last week in fetal position thanks to food poisoning. There was a lot less writing getting done than weeping and projectile vomiting. (You’re welcome.)

On the upside, I finally was able to meet with the executive director of Hawaii Literacy, which is a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping adults and children learn basic reading and writing skills, particularly if they are English as Second Language speakers. In Hawaii, one in six adults is considered functionally illiterate — unable to manage daily living and employment skills based on English reading and writing levels — and many come from a background of immigration and poverty. The majority of Hawaii Literacy’s adult and family literacy programs are Micronesian (Chamorro, Yapese, Chuukese, Marshallese, etc.) and Polynesian (mainly Samoan and Tongan), as well as Filipino, Chinese, and other East and Southeast Asian cultures.

Help support Hawaii Literacy here!

I was an intern at Hawaii Literacy for a semester through my university’s English department, and I was lucky enough to be given permission to focus on grant writing for that period. Long story short, there is a severe lack of children’s books focused on and written for children in these ethnic minorities, especially any of the Micronesian cultures. There is a sizable market for local children’s books, everything from local retellings of famous fairy tales (The Musubi Man, a play on “The Gingerbread Man,” SumorellaSnow White and the Seven Menehune, etc.) and a plethora of alphabet books (G is for Gecko, etc.), which rightfully focus on local modern culture and the Hawaiian culture. Many also offer insight on local Japanese, Chinese, and Korean cultures in Hawaii, as they make up a large part of the population. But for the children most in need of literacy services, one is hard-pressed to find any representation of their cultures in local literature, children’s books or otherwise.

From the Mouth of the Monster Eel: Stories from Micronesia.
Literally one of the only Micronesian children’s books in our libraries.

So, I had an overview meeting with Suzanne Skjold at Hawaii Literacy to discuss a potential project for creating these kinds of resources. Much of our discussion centered on the fact that I am not of Polynesian or Micronesian descent, and therefore how to keep from culturally appropriating and how to give the correct credit if these stories do get published. She recommended I spend a year working with the Micronesian community and learning from them before I even begin the writing process. Hawaii Literacy teams up with Chaminade University’s Micronesian Club and Lumana’i O Samoa club every year for their Tales and Treats events to work with children and families from the two largest housing developments on Oahu to shape oral storytelling traditions using native folktales, legends, and myths. With luck I will be able to be a part of this come January.

I may also have a meeting with Buddy Bess, founder of local publishing house Bess Press sometime in the near future, thanks to Suzanne. She says a lot of his passion projects focus on Micronesia as well, so I hope a meeting with him will shed light on how to go forward with this gargantuan project.

I’ll be visiting the Okinawan Cultural Center’s library and museum on Friday to try to push that children’s book project forward, too, so I’ll try to blog about that this weekend. Also, at some point I think we all need to discuss the CRIPPLING FEAR that dogs every step of the writing process because, really, it is getting old.

As always, go bother Cya and Plutark to post, dammit, because we always need their writing advice. And donate to Hawaii Literacy if you can spare the money or a few books!

Current Projects: Writing Is Hard

As promised, a brief discussion of my works-in-progress, for which I have given up all job opportunities:

1) The Waking World is my novel-length manuscript, an extension of my Master’s program thesis for Creative Writing.

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First fanart of TWW by a friend. Let it be known.

A radiotrophic fungus is scientifically engineered to clean up the world’s oceans of radioactivity following a massive world war and economic decimation. It is a godsend until it begins to spread and then mutate amidst the very radioactivity it is meant to eliminate: the spores the black mold emits are highly toxic and, with the black mold in all seven seas, they are everywhere. Leaders and scientists begin to look for a way out instead of a cure, and the recent Terra experiments on other planets seems to be the only solution. The “necessaries” are tapped to launch with the First Wave — politicians, engineers, doctors, scientists, and various genetic diversity lottery seats — and the rest are simply left behind.

Three years later, stragglers have either succumbed to illness or starvation, and those that have banded together rove the countryside for food, safety, and shelter. A single factory in a desert along the West Coast of America still manages to manufacture Pro-V — a protein-vitamin ration designed for longevity and sustainability on very little ingestion during the Last War — though it requires routine supply collection among the ravaged cities and towns nearby. One particular supply crew runs the rover Johanna: inefficient but shrewd captain, Mitsuo “Suo” Hasunuma; her second-in-command and tired mother to a two-year old, Quincy Nasib; their mechanic Gregor Cho; doctor Charlie Hong and her younger sister, a pilot-in training, Cassie; and amnesiac but tech-savvy and brilliant Eiji Tatsuyama.

Each chapter follows a third-person limited perspective of each crew member as they struggle through the factory’s closure, a hijacking by a mysterious rogue rover, and the discovery of several secrets about the Terra colonies and the First Wave of launches that changes everything about the end of the world as they know it.

I am currently writing about a chapter per week and it is killing me. Projected to finish by Thanksgiving if I continue at this speed.


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Nobody cares but this is my daily inspiration for children’s books.

2) Untitled children’s book(s), which currently lacks research, is my secondary project. Last fall I interned at Hawaii Literacy, a local non-profit organization, where I learned grant writing under Executive Director Suzanne Skjold. The majority of their clients are Polynesian and Micronesian and hugely underrepresented in the local children’s book scene. I’m a big supporter of media representation and believe that children are more engaged in material they find personally relatable — “this character is just like me” OR “I want to be just like this character” — and a working relationship with their culture and background aids in that relationship.

The current problem with this project is my own personal feelings about cultural appropriation. I do not believe it is my right to write for or about this culture, which I know very little about, no matter how strongly I feel about allowing these materials to aid in child literacy in Hawaii. I’m working on meeting with the directors at Hawaii Literacy to see if I can ghostwrite for someone with a working knowledge of these potential stories or what would aid local Polynesian and Micronesian children in learning to read, or if I could work with a local community on some kind of co-authorship.

Side note: The second half of this project is something I can currently tackle which is working on children’s books on Okinawan culture (I am Japanese-Okinawan). I am deeply interested in this project but would have less footing into the publishing world as this would probably not be connected with Hawaii Literacy.

 


That’s life right now, with occasional interruptions into job-searching I should not be doing in the first place. My future agent/personal coach, Cya (go read her blog), yells at me often. Writing is hard, guys. That should be the tagline of this blog. (Edit: Have now changed it to the subheading of this post.)

Next time I will discuss the importance of a community of writers and how to write without the pressures of academia — hint: these two go hand-in-hand. Personal anecdotes will abound. Look forward to it. I’ll try to update weekly for now. Now have the picture that gets me through the hard times:

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