Beautiful writing

Since I read an advice to write down a beautiful turn of phrase of sentence in books I read, I’ve been doing that since. Sometimes, I don’t have pen and paper with me, then I have to look them later on. A pain. I’ve accumulated pages of such sentences or phrases. Sometimes, I don’t like the book’s story so much, but I keep reading because of the writing.

When I revise a long piece, for example chapters in  novel, I’d look through the pages and see if i can insert  or replace with better, more beautiful words.

Here are some samples:

Her heart was dancing double time.

There was a whirlwind in her chest.

Loitering on the outskirts of life.

Seemed smaller, like a pricked balloon.

Wear and tear of anxiety.

Shashi Kapoor

A recent obituary of the Indian actor Shashi Kapoor brought back memories of my first exposure to two plays in the late 1950s.  A traveling repertory company from India  performed two plays in my school, Sacred hear School in Hong Kong. It was founded by English expatriates in India. Now I know that the founder was the father of the English actress Felicity Kendal. If I remember correctly, one play was a Shakespeare play and the other was by Oscar Wilde. I can’t remember which. I was enthralled by the performances.  I already enjoyed Cantonese operas. It was at those performances that my love for the performance arts took a firmer hold.

A movie, Shakespeare Wallah from Merchant Ivory Productions told the story of a repertory company like the one that came to Hong Kong. It starred Shahi Kapoor and Felicity Kendall. I saw it in the U.S. in the 1960s and enjoyed it very much.

Nowadays, I go to musicals more than plays. I’ve been trying to instill a love of the performing arts, dance, musicals, concerts(not rock) to my now 15 year-old twins grandchildren.

It’s too bad that in general, tickets are astronomically expensive.  Live performances are not available to most children.

I was happy to receive a gift for a Broadway show. When I ordered two tickets from a representative, I was charged $37.40 service charge for each ticket. The same charge for an online order. I told the representative that I would go to the box office to save the charges. He told me that the gift cannot be redeemed at a box office. That’s the policy! I advice that if you want to give someone a gift for a show, give cash instead.  If you buy four tickets with a gift certificate, the charge will be almost $150!

Actually, when I bought tickets at a box office three months ago, I was charged for service also. It was about $6 per ticket. I understand someone not living in the metropolitan area cannot get to the box office easily.

Sam Shepard

Recently, I heard Patti Smith interviewed on NPR about Sam Shepard, her good friend who passed away in July of ALS. That’s when I learned that he wrote either in longhand or by typing on a typewriter. He didn’t use a computer. That’s mind boggling. This playwright, writer and actor wrote without a computer in this day and age.  I also learned that he seldom did extensive revisions. I think that’s why his method worked for him.  It is so difficult to revise without word processing. You have to retype whole passages or pages. You can’t change the sequence of scenes easily.

In his final days, Sam Shepard dictated Spy of the First Person into a tape recorder and his daughters typed the manuscript. A writer to the end of his life!

Novel Revision Workshop

The four days recently spent at the Highlights Foundation at Honesdale, PA was my second workshop there. My first one was a biography workshop in 2013. The bucolic setting hasn’t changed. The food was mostly exceptional. One gains weight not by eating fatty food, but by taking too big portions.

I suppose all the attendees want to be published. I met one who said she was not interested in being published. She was writing for herself and her friends. That was refreshing!

We learned a lot from the presentations Q and A sessions.If anything, it was overwhelming to have so many recommended books, websites and links. It was inspirational to be with peoples who are on the same page, to learn to be better writers. Interestingly, there was only one male attendee out of fourteen. There are many male writers for children out there.

The two one-to one sessions with a faculty member were productive for my first novel, “The Wrong Face” that I’m revising. I was encouraged that its premise was excellent. Now if I can pull off the revision which involves a plot change, it will be a strong book.

An illustrator was a guest at one Q and A session. She was an attendee once and now she is a published illustrator. Now that was encouraging.





Reading Picture Books

Authors are advised to read 100 books of the genre they write.

I’ve never heard this advice before. It’s from the newsletter of the Institute of Children’s Literature. It adivsed NOT to read the picture books of author-illustrators. Agents and publishers love authors-illustrators.

Too bad I’m not one.

The reason is that the picture book I write is not that kind of book. The author- illustrator created that book differently, with complete control of the illustration, knowing exactly how to tell the story, with his or her text and illustrations. My picture book may be enhanced by the illustrator who has a lot of room to imagine, with possibilities I never even dream of.

Bunraku Puppet Theater

I love puppetry in any form. I had the opportunity to watch one performance of Bunkaru when I was in Tokyo in late May. The concierge reserved a 7000 yens ticket(US about $74) for an afternoon performance. It was a good value. I had a center seat five rows from the stage in the National Theater in a performance that lasted five hours, with one 30 minutes and a fifteen minutes intermission. Very inexpensive by Broadway standards.

The audience was a mix of the young, middle aged  and old. The curtains was beautifully painted.  People either brought in their own snack boxes or bought them there. I remember that in the Cantonese opera theater I went to as a child(decades ago), the theater was dirty by the end of the performance, with melon seed husks, orange rinds on the floor. Venders gawk snacks and toy swords, horse whips for the kids. I’m sure such theaters nowadays are not as noisy and dirty. In the National tTheater, the audience ate very neatly!

Bunkaru combines puppetry, musical accompaniment on the Shamisen and narration. The puppets were full sized in the performance I saw. I understand that they are usually half sized. Three puppeteers operate one puppet. The chief puppeteer manipulates the head and the right arm while two lower ranked puppeteers manipulate the left arm and the legs. They are dressed in black. The lower ranked ones’ faces are covered in black, while the chief puppeteer’s’ face is not covered. I found that jarring. It’s true, he’s a star and well known to his fans. But I want the illusion of not seeing the puppeteers, who did an excellent job.  The movements were nuanced and detailed.

On the side of the stage, in the audience section, but sitting above them were the musician and the narrators, who took different roles. One narrator was a tall handsome man. I enjoyed looking at him until he spoke the dialogue! To project his voice and to convey the drama, he opened his mouth very wide as he enunciated, grimacing throughout. So did the other narrators who were not as handsome. I stopped looking at them and concentrated on the English translation through the earpiece which cost a small amount to rent.

The usual plays acted are historical stories about loyalty, conflict and emotions. I enjoyed the play but found it too long drawn out. It was slow going. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. I left at the second intermission because I wanted to return to the hotel before dark. I would have liked to see the curtain call, to see whether the lower ranked puppeteers removed their black hoods.

Dorothea Lange

I watched most of the documentary on PBS about Dorothea Lange, the photographer renowned for her powerful photographs of the misery in the Dust Bowl. It was very interesting. I don’t think I ever saw a photograph of her. The documentary showed her a s young and old woman. Her voice was remarkably youthful in old age. Less well known was her assignment from the uS Govt. to take photos of the Japanese internment at one particular camp, to use as  propaganda that the Japanese we happy there. But she took photos that told the true story, of the stoicism , the misery and the unfairness of it all. I had seen some of them from my research for my first novel, “The Wrong Face”. There were many more in the documentary. The photos were so disturbing to the govt. that they were impounded and not released until years later.

The suffering subjects of her work didn’t mind her hanging around, taking many photos because they felt her empathy.

The documentary mentioned a few times that she was not good at mothering, of her children and the stepchildren of her two marriages. Aside from her personality, a working mother’s life required compromise. She spent months away from home at a time to pursue her vision, of documenting social ills of the time. One year, she farmed her children to families so she could be on the road.  That was in the 1930s and 40s. The problem is still the same for working mothers today.

I hope PBS shows the documentary again. I recommend it highly.

Non fiction

Teachers  have been told by educators to assign non fiction to  students  because in their work lives in the future, they’ll be reading non fiction. They have to read manuals, instructions, documents etc. Still, I was surprised that my kindergartener granddaughter’s assignment was to write a simple book report on a non fiction book. I found one on different kinds of houses in the world.

It’s good that non fiction is introduced this early.

Humor in a sad book

My second blog about a middle grade novel.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson , published in 2017 is a sad book. A beloved teacher dying of cancer is sad, but the author injected so much humor that I was surprised  that I started to tear up at the end of the story, when the three sixth graders succeeded to smuggle the teacher out of the hospital, if only too briefly.

Again I’m not reviewing the book, which is wonderful. I recommend it highly  not just to middle graders.

Just some thoughts.

It is written in the present tense,  alternating chapters from each boy’s point of view.There are flashbacks in each chapter (of course in past tense). These flashbacks are absolutely necessary. Not one was put in just for the word count. Authors are told to present each character with a different way of speaking, of expressing. I must say  that if not for each boy’s backstory, and the title of the chapter, I’d not know who was speaking in that chapter.

I’ve never been able to put some  humor in my stories. It’s something I must learn to do.It’s not that I don’t like humor, in fact, I can be very funny.

I hope my grandchildren will have the good fortune to meet one teacher who can transform them, inspire them and bring out their best. This teacher doesn’t have to be as perfect as Ms. Bixby. Just the ability to listen, to discern the truth behind a facade of a frightened or neglected front and appreciation of specialness will go a long way.


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