Brevity of a wonderful play

The 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, A Soldier’s Play will end its run on Broadway in mid March. Catch it if you’re close to NYC. It lasts only 90 minutes, plus a 15 minutes intermission, but it proves a play doesn’t have to be long to pack a punch. This play, by Charles Fuller about a Black lawyer sent to a segregated regiment in the in the early 1940s to invest the murder of a Black sergeant. It was tense as soon the play opens. It explores tensions between the lawyer and the White captain and between the Black soldiers. I didn’t want it to end.

Hadestown was a best musical winner and it lasted three hours. For the first time, I waited for it to end and I’m one who wants my money’s worth. The ancient Greek story of Orpheus and Eurydice , set in modern times, had a few songs that didn’t move the story along. I didn’t connect with Orpheus from the first moment he appeared, mainly because I found him, as directed, a little wimpy. Most of the musical was about their courtship, rather than on how he tried to bring her back from the underworld. I didn’t find the courtship convincing either.

Book Review of Grandmother’s Visit

Title: Grandmother’s Vsit

Author: Betty Quan

Publisher: Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press 2018

Word count :518

This is a warm story of a grandmother who teaches a young girl how to measure water for rice with a finger.  Grandmother tells stories from her childhood and walks the granddaughter to and fro from school. They have a special relationship.

Grandmother’s key ring hangs on a hook  so she won’t forget to take it when she leaves the house. Grandmother dies and after she is buried, the girl’s mother tell her that the spirit of a dead person can find the way home to say the final goodbye on the third day.

The girl waits and listens. She hears the jangle of a key against a jade key ring. She finds the missing key is no longer on its hook. It’s in a photo album, like a bookmark. The photo marked is a picture of the grandmother holding a little baby on her lap. The baby is the girl.

While I love the story, I question the part about the dead grandmother coming back to say good bye. I’m Chinese and have heard that the dead can come back on the third night. My grandparents died in Hong kong when I was a young woman in the U.S. I did not have the experience of feeling scared and waiting for their  return.

This book is a picture book, for children 6-9. Would a child be scared when they come to the end of the book.? The girl in the story is not scared. But I imagine a lot of children may be.

Critique groups

I belong to a writing critique group at the local library. I’m the only children’s writer. It’s helpful for my middle grade writing, but not for picture books. Now I’m concentrating on the craft of writing picture books. I’m very happy that through the 12×12 picture books writing forum (write 12 books drafts in 12 months), I have found a picture book critique group. My group consists of non-published writers. The writing is still not at a publishable level. But we’re learning from each other. I have paid for professional critiques. Their comments were helpful, but they are expensive and I can’t afford to get nine paid critiques. Getting nine critiques from my group of ten bring out nuances that even professional editors have missed. Of course, I have to decide which comments can help and which don’t. By commenting on the others’ manuscripts is also a learning experience for me. I’m looking for a year of hard work. It takes five years to get a picture book published.  Learning, writing, getting an agent, getting a publisher, time for the illustrator and production. 5 years! I started writing late in life. It’s a incentive to stay healthy and live a long life!


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.

Unpublished writer

I have to keep in mind this quote,”An unpublished writer is one who has given up.”

I get discouraged at times. I’m doing the right things:  I read books in the genre I want to write, trying to reach 100 in each. ( middle grade fiction and picture books). I go to workshops and conferences ( money well spent). I joined a writers’ critique group at my library (it’s good go for my novels, but not for picture books.) I pay for professional critiques (with good lessons for me, but with no tangible results yet.)

At least, writing keeps my brain turning and I do know I’ve improved, but not to the  point of acceptance by an agent or a publisher. What can I do but to soldier on and remember the quote.

The King and I

I had been looking forward to the revival of  The King and I at Lincoln Center since I ordered tickets on line. One lesson learned. I should have taken the time to go to the ticket office instead. The services charge was $48 a ticket.

The production didn’t disappoint. Gorgeous costumes, magnificent scenery. And of course, the music! My 12 year-old grandchildren were mesmerized. My one big disappointment was that Kelli O’Hara was not on that afternoon. Her standby was good, but she was not Kelli O’Hara!

This revival featured many Asian actors and actresses. Whoever was supposed to be South Asian was played by an Asian. Best of all, the King was played by Ken Wanatabe, not a Caucasian. (On screen, the King was played by Chow Yun-Fat.) Wanatabe ‘s singing voice was not in the same league as the others, but he was a good actor and he carried it off splendidly.

Of course, knowing all the songs already added to the pleasure of the performance.

People who gave me their time

I’ve been fortunate that when I asked for an interview for my writing, I was granted access. Jacques D’amboise gave me three hours of his precious time at our first meeting when I wanted to write his biography . We met several times after that. Professor Victor Mair gave me information and an exhibition catalog about the mummies in China and took the time to meet me at the University of pennsylvia. I met with five survivors of the Poston Internment camp  for the Japanese when I wrote my novel “I Have the Wrong Face” and corresponded by email with other survivors.

So far, what I wrote with these people’s help have not found a publisher. I feel badly that I used their time and good will. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I do. I also know it’s not the end of the story. I can use the information I have gathered for other projects or rewrite them to make them more marketable.

Another Author I admire

I had blogged about the authors Laurence Yep and Lensey Mamioka. Another author I would like to emulate is Andrea Cheng. Some of her stories have a Chinese perspective. Others, a Hungarian Jewish one. She is of Hungarian Jewish heritage and married a Chinese. She also wrote about cancer, about hers, from the point of view of her younger daughter as a teenager. A possibly dark book becomes one of hope as she finished chemotherapy sessions and recovered fully. The book is Brushing Mom’s Hair.

Debussy’s March

This morning, I heard on WQXR Debussy’s Scottish March. “Debussy” and Scottish” together? It was beautiful music. I could discern a Scottish theme, but it sounded more like a dance than a march. You can hear it on Youtube.

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