Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Japan V. Korea

Last night, our coop met for two hours to discuss some of the spicy inhabitants of this building. My husband was hopeful (and correct) that the meeting wouldn't go too much later than 10PM because he wanted to watch the final game in the World Baseball Classic: Japan versus Korea.

We have no cable in our apartment which meant either imposing on neighbors, or trekking out to see which local establishments might have the game on display. As it happens, the best candidates for the latter solution, are Korean bars.

Now, it's one thing to go to a Korean bar in the middle of the WBC if you are half-Japanese when team Japan is playing the US. It's another thing entirely to go when Japan is playing Korea. Given that my husband roots for the Scottish rugby team (ouch) each year, and that the only way he can watch these games is to head to Irish bars, I thought he had a pretty clear understanding of what it is like NOT to want to reveal one's ethnic identity when old wars and wounds are being re-enacted via sports matches. I mean, I was very carefully tutored not to show too much emotion to the English whenever the Scottish rugby team managed . . . something . . . anything.

I have to explain that I am not terribly good at watching games. I am stressed the entire time. I have a hard time getting my head around the fact that I am watching real people, and that their fates are not set in stone. I can't pick at a script, or search a storyline for clues as to what might happen. I have absolutely no influence over anything at all. And when the Japan v. Korea game went into extra innings, it was particularly stressful. The cheering when Korea came back in the 9th inning to tie the game 3 to 3 was fantastic. And there I sat, pretending to be happy . . . my husband so excited to see fans so happy.

"If Japan wins, then we are happy that they won. If Korea wins, we'll be happy because all these people will be happy," he said. I was miserable. I didn't know who I wanted to see win. I wondered what everyone was chanting. I wanted the game to just end. Yu Darvish, who looks like a pop star (he's half-Japanese!), was not having a good evening. I wanted to go home.

Japan went on to win, thanks to Ichiro, and I thought we would finally be able to leave this tortured environment. Except, there was my lovely husband, befriending a nice Korean man. "The Japanese are smart," he said. "They played us too many times and figured us out."

"The Japanese are sneaky," I said.

He agreed. "Where are you from?"

"California," I said.

"Hunh. But like, where. Like are you mixed?"

See, this is the thing. Asians always know.

Well, out it came, and then the conversation turned into a discussion of America, and how glad we were to live in New York, and how Korea was up and coming, and how Japanese husbands aren't nice, and Japanese women are going to Korea to look for husbands because Koreans are more sensitive, and how Korean women are more beautiful, and how the Japanese are Koreans anyway, and how awful Japan was during the war . . . and I was glad I lived in New York where we could have these conversations without too much difficulty.

And then we exchanged names--his was Paul--and talked about life and politics and the news, and this morning, I wished I had gotten more information, because I really liked him. And I'm SO glad this baseball thing is over.


New York Public Library Young Lion's Award, Cont'd

Fiona McCrae at Graywolf sent these photos to me yesterday, and I thought I'd put them up for friends and family to see. Here I am with Salvatore Scibona, not long after he won the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award (hell of a title) and Jessica Kane, whose novel was just acquired by Graywolf. We are publishing siblings. This is fun. It is fun to meet other people who have been through "the process" and someone for whom everything is still quite fresh.

And here I am again with Jessica and Tiphanie Yanique, whose collection of short stories will be published by Graywolf. Yay! Another publishing sibling. I found this essay by Yanique online; she writes about women and writing and our secret superpowers (a feeling which I understand completely). A snippet of her essay:

It’s like this: If you get the job or you get the book contract or you win the prize, it’s a shock. It’s unfair, they say. Perhaps you won because you’re a woman, they say…and if you’re a woman of color then it’s definitely true, and if you’re a woman of color who is from a small island that should only produce beaches and daiquiris (not writers, not intelligent things) then even the other women believe it’s unfair, and even the man you love doesn’t think it’s much to celebrate.

It’s like this: an editor says “we already have (insert the black Caribbean writer you know). We can’t have another.”

And it’s like this: I’m secretly a talented novelist. This cheerleading uniform is only a disguise. I’ve got superhero powers. I can even make myself disappear.

Oh, yes. Writers have super-powers. Hee hee. The pen is mightier . . .

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


New York Public Library Young Lion's Award

I was invited to the New York Public Library Young Lion's Award this past Sunday because Graywolf author, Salvatore Scibona, was a finalist for his book, The End. It was the first time I'd ever met Salvatore, though we know a few people in common, and I found him absolutely delightful and we both giggled about how lucky we felt we were to be with Graywolf and under the Fiona umbrella.

I met another young writer named Jessica Kane, who has just been signed for her first novel, though she's already published a collection of short stories. Suddenly this is a city in which I know so many people who write, and write well.

The people-watching was great fun. I wish I had taken a photo of a young man I privately referred to as "Lord Byron." He turned out to be Austin Scarlett, the designer, who rose to fame on Project Runway. See? This is what happens in New York when you go to an award ceremony in a library. And of course, there were lots of fancy editors and agents and writers, and yours truly, observing and mentally taking notes.

I've never seen anyone more perfect for a shoujo manga.

You can't tell, but that is Ethan Hawke at the podium. The Young Lion's Award was partly founded by Hawke, and he and his friends Billy Crudup and Zoe Kazan read selections from each of the finalist's books. Actors do not necessarily make great book readers.

We were ecstatic when Salvatore won; I'd never been at an award ceremony before, and certainly not for one in which the person I was rooting for actually won, so I think I squealed at an acute decibel. Salvatore thanked "Jesus, my mother and Barack Obama," which made us all laugh, then went on to give an impromptu and heartfelt speech. I was thrilled for him, and spent the rest of the evening so excited to be in the company of so many talented people striving to do interesting and ambitious work.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Happy Wednesday

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Girls Write Now

I raved about Marlon James' new novel, The Book of Night Women, and so was excited to hear him read this evening at the annual Girls Write Now event held at the New School in New York. James didn't disappoint. He was funny and charming and read a section of his book in which the protagonist, the young slave girl Lilith, is taught how to read. Reading, she is told, will make her "free" if only for a moment. Inspiring words for a mentoring program which pairs young high school girls from New York City schools with professional writers. Annette Gordon also spoke about her childhood love of fiction.

I have my own history with mentoring programs, of course, and can see how once my father's estate is settled, I'll join the waiting list of women wanting to mentor young girls through the act of writing. Highlights from the evening: a mentor and mentee pair wrote and sang a song about how they hate Mondays: another pretended to be younger and older versions of the same person and reminded each other of youthful ambition and the right to enjoy adult success: a mentee's essay about her grandfather's death prompted a mentor to write about her grandmother's funeral in Japan: a girl read about her childhood in Tibet while her mentor wrote about life in the 50s in the Midwest. Watching the pairs read their work, I was reminded of how much I had wanted to be a writer. Creativity is always tied to childhood and to play; it's as an adult that you discover it isn't natural, that people will tell you that you aren't good enough, and that red tape makes things so difficult. I would love to have had a mentor at that age.

Also at the event: Ron Hogan, the always glamorous Lauren Cerand and Maud. The evening concluded with burgers, fries and a shake, and the 7 pounds I lost eating Asian food for a week are returning as we speak. Never mind. Dinner with friends is a good thing, and I finally met the incredibly elegant Tayari Jones, and music critic Garnette Cadogan. I've been back in NYC for just over 24 hours and have been reminded again of why I live here.

Friday, March 06, 2009


In Praise of Copy Editors

I'm always impressed by someone who does something well. A few days ago, I received my copy-edited manuscript in the mail, and sat down to get to work. After examining all the papers in my packet, I sat back and thought: Whoah. This isn't exactly going to be easy after all.

I think that the term "copy edit" isn't really accurate. A good copy editor is much more than someone who simply fixes commas and hyphens--two things which I am in the habit of abusing quite regularly. A good copy editor is an extraordinary kind of reader, like an editor, but with an eye for things other than overall plot lines, and character development.

Yes, my manuscript has been marked up to demonstrate where I forgot to capitalize something, or got all German and capitalized a noun that didn't need to be. But this copy editor also included a series of notes for me. She writes, for example, that I have a tendency to use the following words:

"smiled, grinned, very, sighed, a little bit"

She suggested I run a global word search to see just how often my characters smile (a lot, I guess) and to decide if I really want them looking like this. It's fascinating. Almost like a little psychology test where we see what Marie thinks her characters do all the time which, the difficult material aside, involves looking happy.

She did all the things you dream a careful reader will do for you--noting where I might have screwed up a season, wondering if the inclusion of a detail was supposed to mean something ("wearing indigo and straw hats"--were the hats made of indigo and straw? Were the clothes indigo colored and the hats of straw?), checking all the Japanese terms that are familiar to the west--excuse me, the West--and those that are not. I was fascinated. And flattered that someone would put this much work into something I had created.

God bless copy editors. It's a rare and important skill for anyone who cares about turning out a good book. Long after the deep editing phase of this publication process has finished, I find myself wanting to try to make the book even better for another person I have never met, but who has given it her professional all to try to make me better. So, thank you, mysterious person!

(Edited to add: Apologies to the copy editor for all the typos and errors in this and other posts on my blog.)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Some Spice

Over the weekend, I had lunch with some California friends and recounted my tale of discovering a pile of discarded marijuana leaves in the woods. We were eating Japanese food. One of us picked up a bottle of shichimi, which is a kind of seven-seed-powder used for spicing up food, and noodles in particular. Did you know, said my friend, that in Japan, shichimi has hemp seeds? When they make this stuff for export, they have to keep out the hemp seeds.

I thought of the little bamboo container of shichimi I had bought from some famous store in Kyoto under my friend Isao's instruction--when it comes to food, I always do as he says. I'm still a goody-goody, you see, and so I paled. But I brought shichimi into this country. Authentic shichimi.

That's okay, I was told. They just can't import it. And then he went on to tell me about a friend who used to go to ramen houses, and pour out the shichimi on the table, just to pick out the hemp seeds. I was very embarrassed for this friend. But then I tend to get embarrassed on behalf of people who confuse pretension with enlightenment.

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