Monthly Archives: September 2007

method writing


I am writing characters, these days, who are…incredibly lonely…and possibly misled in their tactics to achieve their desires. They are lost in the world. One character has lost his mother and trying to find home and companionship. Another seeks friendship and questions her own ability to capture love. And yet another two characters make sacrifices to “right” what they deem their son’s erroneous decision. I know, I’m describing them (and their stories) in the blandest of terms for the sake of this post.

Each of the characters have so much potential, and yet for one reason or another, have only just begun discovering their true direction, and have a long way to go towards fulfilling it. They are, needless to say, all unhappy.

And I find that I, too, am empathizing and identifying with each of these characters until I am so lonely I could scream, so lost I can’t be found…and finding so much of myself unfulfilled.

I watched “Stranger Than Fiction” on the telly the other night, watched the writer character, Karen Eiffel, standing on the top of a building, imagining herself jumping off, until she was jumping off the building to her death, replicating a character’s potential actions. She didn’t jump, really, but she had jumped, in her mind, into a dark place that might as well have been death.

I wonder–if there is such a thing as “method writing,” ala “method acting.”

If so, then writing is a dangerous activity.


Filed under Writing

Berkeley: now B&N free

I was driving down Shattuck Avenue today when my husband remarked, “Barnes and Noble looks out of business.” I looked right, and saw it: a shuttered Barnes and Noble bookstore, windows covered with brown paper.

I suddenly freaked–was Pegasus books, the independent bookstore across the street, okay? I looked left. The bookstore was still open.

It seems that on this particular corner of Berkeley, an independent bookstore has prevailed over Barnes & Noble. Which means: no more Barnes and Noble in Berkeley!

This, after a streak of independent bookstore closing–last year Clean Well Lighted Place for Books in SF, and Cody’s closing its SF and Telegraph Avenue stores.

Maybe the tides are turning.

Now, being a business woman myself in my non-writing life, I’m not someone to picket and protest outside of Walmart or anything.  But I do have a soft spot in my heart for independent bookstores, for what they offer, their personal touch, the wonderful events and readings, and their wonderful used book sections (B&N, as far as I know, does not offer used books in any of their stores).  I’m glad that they prevail.


Filed under The World

not allergies

DAMMIT.  I’m sick.  I have SO much writing to do, with a deadline.  And I’m sick.


Filed under Uncategorized

2 worlds

glowing apple

This is sort of how my world is split: high tech software company (hey, I live in the SF/Bay Area) and MFA program.

Yes, there’s home, and individual friendships–but the two biggest chunks of social interaction come from work and school.

And here is how it plays out…let’s say we bring up the Apple logo (prominently on display above).

At work: People LOVE Apple! We mostly run on Apple desktop machines–it runs on UNIX, for heaven’s sake. Apple is the bright badass nerdboy in the crowd, the upstart. Boo, Microsoft.

At school: I was sitting in the grad lounge, waiting for an appointment with my prof, typing away on my (Apple) laptop when an MFA peer said, “That big glowing logo is so vulgar.” Huh? I looked up. “Yah, could they make that logo bigger? That is sooo…corporate and disgusting.” I stared at him, with a bemused grin. He continued and said with a scoff, “Marketing!”

My worlds collide in weird and amusing ways. One world’s upstart is another world’s Corporate Gorilla.


Filed under Life, MFA

contest season

It’s contest season time in the world of short stories: Glimmertrain’s Contest (due today), Story Quarterly’s Contest (due today), Boston Review’s Contest (due Oct. 1), and Zoetrope’s Contest (due Oct. 1) are just a few that pop into my head.

What is it about this time of year?

Meanwhile, I’m getting sick (no I’m not, no I’m not!), with all the accoutrement/s: a throat that feels like someone’s lined it with cotton balls, sinuses that feel like someone’s pounding on them with a tiny hammer, and a nose that is beginning to…drip like a faucet. Bleah. No, I’m not sick!

I have to write, I have so much due! I’ve already kicked the contests aside (not this year for me) to relieve myself of pressure and keep myself focused. It takes me SO much longer to write these days, I need the extra time and all my focus.

At least, it’s cloudy and cool outside. My favorite kind of writing weather.


Filed under Life, Writing



I am kind of sucky at driving stickshift–I learned from a guy I knew freshman year in college, on his beat up decade old Ford Ranger that smelled like sweat and motor oil. About halfway through the lesson, which was situated on a hill, with expensive luxury cars behind us, he said, “Oh, and you’re learning on a clutch that’s broken.” His assessment was that if I learned in the Most Difficult situation, I would totally master the art of stickshift driving.

Thank you F*ckhead, I thought (because at the age of 18, I was dangerously polite and passive aggressive). I should have said it out loud. Today, I would.

I was freaked out. I was beyond sweating bullets, my hands were clammy. I was trying to get the truck out of a parking lot, up a hilly driveway, on a broken clutch, trying to figure out how to move that blasted stick into another gate, another gear, all while trying to coordinate the clutch and gas. Yah. And if I were to make a mistake, I’d roll backwards into an Alfa Romeo, a Mercedes, and a Porsche. There was too much at stake. I HATED him. I hated the situation. I got out of that truck, and never drove a stickshift again.

Not really. I did drive stickshift. I married a guy whose passion is sports cars and of course, driving stick shift (on race tracks!), who taught me how to drive a stick shift properly and gradually. (“Idiot!” he said, when I told him about having to learn on a hill. “You don’t teach someone to drive stick like that!”). And occasionally, I drive a stick shift–and understand this whole concept of shifting gears a whole lot better.

And these days, I have to downshift my own gears. What will happen? Downshifting makes an engine push harder, enables acceleration. I haven’t accelerated since my stroke. Well, I did try, but I would hit the wall and sit numbly for days afterwards.

I’ve got a thesis to write, comprised of several short stories (I can’t touch my novel yet), lots more work at work, and a Fall season stretching before me with greater social commitments. My day’s schedule is unquestionably packed–whereas before, I would max out with ONE activity a day (thereby rendering me in a zombie-like state), I’ve got 2-3 commitments now. I can’t avoid most of these things, like I have since January, sitting in recovery.

So it’s time for me to find inspiration and support. I went to my thesis director meeting the other day, and I had not realized how MUCH I had missed her. As a friend, as a mentor. She said the EXACT things I needed to hear, pointed out the EXACT things that I needed for my stories. I had known one of the stories had hit a wall-but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. And voila. She pointed it straight out. I was so relieved. She told me, “Anyone can write a mediocre story,” and then pointed out how to take it to the next level.

And then–I went to Junot’s reading. He was SO funny and so energetic, and I had missed his presence in my life, too. I took out my blackberry and started emailing myself quotes from his Q&A session. So typical of him to have sooo many astounding sound bites and sage advice in what is usually a Q&A session that most writers spurt banalities. Not him. I typed furiously into my phone, not wanting to lose some of the gems, knowing that I would forget them otherwise.

I stood in a very long line in a very warm room (yes! it’s warm. the picture above is from Ocean Beach in San Francisco, where it was a balmy 80F–everytime I’ve gone to that beach, it’s been frigid), waiting for him to sign Oscar Wao. He gave me a big hug (two!) when I got up there. He was signing books, just standing up, no table. I mentioned that he needed a table. He said no, if he sat down he’d fall asleep. Yes, I said, he has a crazy book tour that must be so exhausting.

This week, I must be honest, I have been so goddamn depressed. On the way to the reading, I was overwhelmed by thoughts of failure and self criticism. The sun was setting on a hot early Autumn day–such that the light cast a blood red sheen over the world. I thought, “Blood.” I thought of death and pain and blood spilling over everything. I drowned in it. I fantasized about disappearing in this pool of blood.

Writing fiction is so hard now, harder than ever. But if I don’t write, who am I? Nothing.

But the reading lifted my spirits. My meeting with my thesis director fed me.

So there’s my inspiration and support. It’s got to feed me while I downshift gears. It’s not a lot, but I’ll take it.



Filed under Life, Writing


I think this anonymity thing is contagious.  I want anonymity in real life, too–I don’t want to know a ton of people at a social gathering, or walking down the halls.  I just want to be left alone.


Filed under Life



Chuseok, or Chusok (a sort of “Korean Thanksgiving,” but also a sort of Sukkot, a celebration of the Harvest) begins! Sometimes I wonder what it’s like on the streets of Seoul and in the countrysides of Korea this time of year on the eve of such a great holiday. People flying home to their families, people getting their ingredients together for song pyun (rice cakes) and fried fish and all the dishes in their festive meals.

Here–you would hardly notice the holiday exists, because of course this is America and not Korea, and the clock ticks to a different set of holidays (4th of July, Thanksgiving, etc., etc.)

I remember as a child, rising early during Chuseok, to pay homage to my ancestors–we would rise, rubbing the sleep (and not so thoroughly) from our eyes, and don our Korean dress, which would make a sound that only stiff silk makes, as we walked to the living room to a table laden with symbolic foods for our ancestors. My father would fill the cups with Korean wine. And then we would bow. The soup would be taken away (the ancestors had eaten their first course). And then bow. The main courses would be taken away. And then bow, each time the rustling of our silk clothing filling the dawn light.

Oh, and that food would not go to waste! We would eat it all, a healthy breakfast that morning before changing into our shorts and tshirts, and heading off to school in Suburban America.

My father made it a point to say our family home was “an island” in this country. Everyday we would come home and shed our “American” mainstream clothing and behaviors and cross some make believe bridge into a house where we would become “Korean” again. Eventually, this rift made me crazy–made me feel like two different kind of people…and I had to meld them together. But for awhile, it was very manageable and incredibly poignant.


Filed under Life, Memories

I’m not Japanese but my character is…


I’m eating my words.

I’m writing a short story with characters of another race. My ethnicity is Korean. They’re Japanese.

(This, after writing a post last year, questioning the whole endeavor of writers writing characters of another race).

Still, it’s an experiment on my part, a challenge to myself. I heard enough protest and debate along the lines of writing outside one’s race to give it a try. Is it purely a case of imagination and fiction? How would I navigate the cultural burdens? Could I do the story justice? Could I write a story of truth?

Maybe, I thought. Maybe. Meanwhile, the story was just ITCHING inside my SKULL–it wanted to be written. Sometimes, writing is a battle between the conscious, unconscious, and the intuitive.

Here’s the rub–when I mentioned writing this story, a Japanese American friend of mine asked me, “Are Japanese and Koreans not the same race?”

I think we are different–anthropologically and culturally, with clashing histories. As you know, Korea and Japan have some extreme historical conflict (Japan colonized Korea for starters). Hell, there are still fights, starting with Dokdo Island, let alone restitution for comfort women.

I’m not sure if Korea and Japan are like the French and English (constantly at each other’s throats like brother and sister living under the same roof) or like Israel and Palestine (estranged distant relatives with murderous rage towards each other)–or none of the above.  The main idea is that there are differences, and there is deep ingrained conflict.

But then again, we both utilize soy sauce heavily, eat rice, and “look the same.” 🙂

If we are the same race–then well, I’m embarking on a different vector. Not writing another race, but another culture.

So in my mushy brain state, I have set out on a journey to write this story. Wish me luck. Wish my characters luck. Wish the story luck.


Filed under Writing


Okay.  Yom Kippur is over.  We’ve eaten our dinner, filled our bellies, after a 25 hour fast during which we said our prayers and reflected on the year past (and on the year going forward).  Another year has begun.

And this year–I feel more pessimistic than in years past.  The things I want to fix cannot be fixed.  The things I feel deeply sorry for, are so complicated that a simple apology will not do.  The world has gotten very large.

What can I do?  What is in my power?   I have to mull that part over now, as the new year truly begins.


Filed under Life

p.s. workshop

I’m still pretty pissed about the retarded workshop feedback. Retarded as in, I got a few sentences from nearly half the workshop that qualifies as “written feedback”–retarded as in, it must have taken them 2 minutes to write (tops)…retarded as in, they must have only hurriedly read my manuscript.

WTF am I paying my MFA program all this money for?

One of my mentors, and I think I mentioned this, told me that if you help other writers you will be blessed. He really stressed the importance of reading carefully, providing thoughtful critique and putting the work in. I don’t know what’s going on with my peers here.

I guess–this is all a lot about my readjustment back into the MFA atmosphere. I’ve had a semester+summer break from the program, and have lived my life in sheltered solitude as I recovered.

The reality is…that this lack of consideration, and overwhelming selfishness is not new. (Remember the time I stepped onto campus right after my stroke? Whew!) I had just forgotten it existed, and I am still recovering my ability to cope with all of it.

People can be mean, especially so in an MFA program. I had totally forgotten that. And they can be selfish, especially so in an MFA program.


Filed under MFA, Writing

sales figures for booker prize nominated books

Check out the sales figures for this year’s Man Booker prize nominated books. It’s astounding. On more than one dimension.

I’ve always known that a literary novel is considered a “best seller” if it sells 5,000 copies. The numbers are even lower for short story collections (at about 2,000 copies) and poetry (I don’t know what the number is, but I know it’s lower than a short story collection).

But the numbers on most of the Booker Prize nominated books…wow.

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Filed under Reading, The Stroke