Category Archives: Writers Blog

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Inside Out

Insomnia taught me how to create believable characters for fiction. Even at age seven, I never readily fell asleep after my enforced bed time. Without adult definitions of “good” vs. “bad,” it never occurred to me that not sleeping was a problem. Which is how my earliest fictional characters were born.

I grew up in British colonial Hong Kong in an English-speaking, mixed-race Asian family and never felt completely at home among the majority Cantonese-Chinese population. What I longed for was to grow up and leave. Insomnia became Exit. Nocturnal wanderings of the mind led to a town in a mythic America, peopled with friends from around the world who spoke English instead of Cantonese, with whom I silently conversed. When I began to write fiction, these characters erupted. Although the setting was not necessarily America – my earliest stories around age ten occurred in space or under the ocean – the characters emerged from this mythic town because I knew how they behaved, what they wanted, how they befriended the protagonist (usually some identifiable version of me). By the time fiction became my life’s work, I was an adult living in the real America, mostly in New York City. My stories and novels featured many Asian women in international life (also with identifiable strains of me).

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Scheherazade’s Call

Once upon a time is the gate to the entire world.

The Velveteen Rabbit was one of those magic stories that saved my life. I remember the line drawings of the Bunny all alone on the hill, splashes of muted pastel colors behind him. The Bunny was so loved by the Boy that his fur was rubbed away and he was no longer new and pretty, but it didn’t matter because the Boy loved him. But then the Boy got sick and he was taken away and the Bunny was left alone.

This was the part of the story that began to take root inside of me. My dad contracted polio in the 1940s when he was the same age as the Boy, and even though the diseases were different, the story helped awaken empathy in me for the experiences of another. How scared my dad must have been to have suddenly found himself so sick! What treasured toys of his were taken away? I empathized with both the Boy and the Bunny, and I wanted more than anything for the Bunny to become real—to become loved alive—and if that could happen, maybe—even though my father’s right leg was shorter than his left leg, and even though his gaze often rested on distant things I couldn’t see—I could love my dad back alive too.

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On Being a Dictator

If you see a person walking along engaged in a vigorous conversation with no one else around, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s escaped from the nearest asylum.  It could be me talking to myself.  But don’t be concerned, don’t interrupt me, don’t bother me at all — I’m writing. Yes, writing.

It’s been more than twenty years since I gave up the keyboard and took up a recorder for my first drafts.  Since that time, I’ve dictated over a hundred novels that way on an innumerable number of microcassettes, then later as MP3 files on a digital recorder, speaking the words aloud, rather than typing them into my word processor. In other the words, telling the story. The way storytellers always used to do…

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The Health of Self-Forgetfulness

“As with most first-book poets, the farther Franco gets from himself, the better his work tends to be.”

That’s a sentence from David Orr’s review (mixed) in July’s New York Times Book Review of James Franco’s (yes, the movie actor’s) new book of poems. I’m not sure if it’s true or not (I mean of first-book poets in general), and my high-school teacher would have said Orr should have written “further”—but the idea of getting farther from yourself by writing poetry is interesting to me…

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Writing the Mundane in Flash

When we study fiction writing, we talk about conflict as a means to plot and we talk about tension being integral to scene and dialogue. So in workshop stories, we see a lot of breakups, a lot of arguments, even the occasional war story. We watch characters deal with death and loss and illness and pasts that – I noticed in my own work, too – I would never want to experience myself. And haven’t.

Over the past few years, I’ve been working on two things in my writing: flash fiction, and how to generate interesting fiction out of my own fairly mundane life.

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When Can a Writer Lie?

When does a writer tell stories that repudiate his or her closely held convictions?

For any writer, authenticity looms large. Write what I believe, I tell myself. Write to promote admirable aspirations, or to alert readers to perils they ought to avoid (we might call these counter-aspirations). Write to express myself as honestly and sincerely as I can. In a world without fixed meanings, in a universe indifferent to my own strivings and sufferings, what lodestar can serve a writer better than sincerity and honesty in expression?

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Losing the Fear and Loathing of Reading Your Work in Public

Reading your work out loud in front of an audience can be a bit like standing naked on a crowded subway platform…or so I would imagine. I’ve only done the former, never the latter. And I didn’t do my first public reading until I was well into my professional career as a rock music journalist and author. It was terrifying, but also gratifying. I guarantee this: do a public reading and you’ll gain insights into your work that you’d never attain otherwise. You’ll grow as a writer; and maybe you’ll even sell a few extra copies of your book.

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Connecting with the Disconnects

The questions always come up: Who’s your favorite poet? Who were your influences? Neither is easy because there are so many right answers and not all of them will be top-of-mind at that moment. Philip Levine. Naomi Shihab Nye. B. H. Fairchild. Jim Harrison, who’s known much more for his prose than his poetry. David St. John, both for his poetry and his incredible generosity as a teacher. Later that night in bed I always remember more names that I could have mentioned. You know, what I shoulda said.

But it’s not always the poets you admire who have the most influence on your writing…

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The New Frontier: Writing for Video Games

Today, we novelists still invent, but it’s an invention informed by three centuries of our predecessors’ work. If we are explorers, we are not Marco Polo or even Lewis and Clark, but their modern day descendants, exploring the last remaining uncharted corners of the novel form.

But I am not only a novelist: the bulk of my professional writing has been for video games, far younger as an art form, and still relatively unexplored as an art form. Exploring the possibilities of this new medium means finding narrative techniques unique to this form—stories that can only be told in the form of a game. Over the course of this piece, I’ll highlight a few of the unique stories that games have allowed me to tell, or to experience.

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Ten Things I Know About Writing…

Ten things I now know about writing that are guaranteed to help you; ten things I wish I had known when I began thirty years ago, here in one sweeping whizbang, sometimes in my words and sometimes the words of my betters, but, in any case, here’s what I’ve learned, every arrow in my quiver…

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Recent Blog Posts

Inside Out

November 17,2014 Insomnia taught me how to create believable characters for fiction. Even at age seven, I never readily fell asleep after my enforced bed time. Without adult definitions of “good” vs. “bad,” it never occurred... Continue Reading

Scheherazade’s Call

November 03,2014 Once upon a time is the gate to the entire world. The Velveteen Rabbit was one of those magic stories that saved my life. I remember the line drawings of the Bunny all alone on... Continue Reading
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