Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Grocery List

Books I wish I'd written (in no particular order):

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

The Lake by Yasunari Kawabata

Light in August by William Faulkner

The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt

Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I clearly remember Kenny B. in the 6th grade showing the class his tongue with a thick glob of Elmer's glue on it. He was making a face like he didn't like it. At the same time he was making no attempt to wipe it away.

I'm stuck at the moment. The characters in Sister Soul have reunited at a location that brings them dangerously close to facing their final challenge. The problem is, they aren't ready for that challenge yet, and I am trying to come up with a graceful way to back them out and get some distance. My worry is that the needed setting change will make the structure of the book too obvious and pull the reader out of the story. I worked for a few hours last night, but I didn't get 1,000 words written. It was one of the stare-y days.

What's Peanut eating? Aged cheddar.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Shabu shabu and trail mix

My brother and sister-in-law entrusted me with the well-being of their only son for a few hours on Saturday. I decided to take him to shabu shabu, mostly because I tend to choose activities that I think a kid would like when I really have no idea what kids typically like. He couldn't reach the broth in the middle of the table. He complained that the steam was getting in his eyes. But, thankfully, after he got the hang of it, he had a blast and wants to go back!

Sunday I went on my first decent hike in probably over fifteen years. Some co-workers and I climbed Mt. Baldy (or Mount San Antonio, altitude 10,000 feet) as part of a 10.8 mile loop in the San Gabriel Mountains. The first few miles of the journey included a mental conversation with my younger self that went something like:

YS: You can't do this old man. You used to be in shape, but you're no spring chicken anymore.

OS: Maybe you're right.

YS: Of course I'm right. Take your joints for example. They can't possibly survive this. And your lungs. Do you really want to faint in front of your boss?

OS: Hey, we've been going for a couple of miles. I feel good! So, maybe you should just shut up and leave me alone!

As a result of my activities, though, I didn't complete my 1,000 words a day over the weekend. The wagon has been fallen off of. I hope to get back on it today, but there is the slight chance that I will get to go see a free showing of the great Hayao Miyazaki's "The Wind Rises."

What's Peanut eating? Turkey burger.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Back in late 2008 or early 2009, I was very excited to learn that one of my favorite writers, Jhumpa Lahiri, would be speaking at a local Parisian bookstore. The reason for her visit was partially because she had written the foreword for a collection of stories by a writer named Mavis Gallant, someone I had never heard of before.

Lahiri and Gallant had a duel reading, and I was honored to be only a couple of meters away from them. Lahiri even gave me a smile! Though I didn't know Gallant's work at all, she quickly won me over with her intelligence, depth of emotion, and humor.

I felt very lucky to have met her.

Afterwards, Red and I lined up to get books signed by them. Gallant started writing in Red's book and then scribbled over the first line. "I was about to give you my phone number and address," she said.

Gallant passed away this week at the age of 91. Read more here and maybe here.

What's Peanut eating? A cobweb.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pickled Green Tomatoes

I headed out to Joshua Tree for the long weekend with the intention of resting, reading, and writing. I've been a big fan of the place the last few years, as passing by the strange trees always makes me feel like I'm entering an alien world that keeps my normal routine at bay so that I can be creative.

Red, Peanut, and I arrived at night, so on this particular trip I didn't see the tree upon entering, and maybe that's why I ended up doing more resting and less reading and writing than I had intended.

We also stumbled upon a farmer's market and met a woman who had some of the most unusual preserves I have ever seen.

(And, thankfully, we saw several Joshua Trees the rest of the weekend.)

I have been sticking to my daily challenge of writing 1,000 words a day, and over the weekend I wrote about 6,000 words. I'm hoping I can stay steady until I have so much momentum behind me that I won't be able to stop even if I wanted to.

I've reached the middle section of the book, where the mystery of the sister soul has been revealed and one of the main characters travels to purgatory to try and put things back in order. I'm excited about this section because of the contrast the setting has to the rest of the story, which takes place in and around Los Angeles and the Little Tokyo area. I'm trying to create a serene place, full of white plains and softness; at the same time it's a brutal place, as souls discover that they've died and have to move on. I can feel Thornton Wilder's Our Town influencing my conception of the afterlife. Most of the souls have no drive, and resisting that suck is part of the character's challenge.

"This place doesn't welcome the living," Shige said. "Resist the temptation to stop."

What's Peanut eating? Little bits of filet mignon, hot dog, and chicken.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

IV Drip

Soon we won't need our imaginations anymore! Those pesky things probably cause cancer, anyway. MIT engineers are creating augmented books.

I'm going to start working on a new novel that doesn't include any words. It will just have cues for electrical impulses that control how the reader feels. Or, maybe I should say it will just have cues for electrical impulses that control how the "reader" "feels."

I'm feeling good about my revisions. Two days ago, I wrapped up Chapter 1, and what was originally a loud and vague ending has became a quieter and more precisely described ending. I'm really happy with the result.

I'm also finding opportunities to make my characters more distinct from one another. Four of them are currently in a room, and my challenge is to make sure each one has his or her own personality.

What's Peanut eating? Something in the dark that I probably wouldn't want to know about.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Secret ingredients

To explain or not to explain.

I've been working on the next draft of Sister Soul, and I'm wrestling with how much explanation I should provide regarding some Japanese mythology that adds an extra level of intrigue to the story.

The opening scene of my book takes place in L.A.'s Little Tokyo district on the first day of Nisei Week. The main character is watching a taiko drum performance while she waits for her dance performance to start. Things don't go smoothly, as one of the drummers falls into a trance and drums away to his own beat.

On its own, I think the scene is working to hint at some supernatural intervention. The taiko performance is something that's always popular at Nisei Week, so, on a surface level, I'm not reaching too much to include that in the scene.

But the mythology of how the taiko drums were created adds another element to the story that isn't necessarily obvious to people who aren't that familiar with Japanese culture. The maker of the first taiko drum is said to be Ame no Uzume, who used the drum to summon out the Amaterasu, the goddess of sunlight.

It so happens that, in my story, the goddess of sunlight plays an important role, and it's her absence that leads to much of the main conflict.

I've tried adding some hints to the myth among the characters' banter, but everything I've tried so far has felt awkward. So, I'm wondering if this is something I should explain, or if I should simply leave it as an extra information nugget that only a few people would understand.


What's Peanut eating? Ham.

Monday, February 3, 2014


I finished the first draft of Sister Soul this weekend. Writing the end of a story was a new experience, since I've known how everything would wrap up for weeks now. It was just a matter of moving to that finish line step by step.

Next: revisions.

Because the plot is more linear, I find myself able to concentrate on other elements of the writing, including subtext, character, dialog, and scene. I think this book has been what I needed to improve on some skills.

What's Peanut eating? Toothpaste. He got a good brushing last night. He's learned to tolerate me scraping his teeth with a weird bristled object.