Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Peace on Earth; Good Will toward Men

It feels so close, I can almost touch it.

By dinner time on Christmas Eve, my two sons will be home, and with the rest of the family we'll gather round the table and eat dinner as a family. I'll try to make a toast--to us, to life, to happiness--but I'm sure my voice will catch in my throat, my eyes will fill, my younger son will laugh, my older son will smile, and my husband will finish the toast for me.

We're incredibly lucky and I know it.

Not that it's been an easy year, but it's been another year in our lives and that counts the most.

I spent Monday baking cookies and chex mix, finalizing my grocery lists, wrapping the last few presents, and thinking back on Christmases past.

This afternoon, I'll bake several batches of Christmas cut-out cookies, wrap the stocking stuffers, and settle down by the fire and read for awhile. Tomorrow, I'll worry until one old jeep pulls into the driveway and one airplane arrives from Seattle.

Then, all I'll have to do is enjoy having all of us under the same roof for a few days.

And we'll make memories that will carry me through until the next time.

And that's what I wish for all of you--warmth, family, memories. Sweet times. Hold tight to all of them.

All the best for 2010.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Food, Glorious Food!

I'm guest posting at (Never) Too Many Cooks today. Check out my musings (and recipe) on Risotto.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Holiday Gift Ideas and Writers in Their Own words

I hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings filled with family and food and laughter. I don't know if you're like me, but I don't even really think about holiday shopping until, well, until the pumpkin pie is gone. So, like, now. And then I start realizing, whoops, I better get cracking. And then I worry about what to get and when to find the time to shop.

Well, worry not because BOOKS are always the perfect gift (and the perfect fit. Plus, they are so so so easy to wrap!). And I have two to recommend, via the GCC. Without further ado, let me introduce Wendy Tokunaga and Melissa Senate.

Wendy's new book, LOVE IN TRANSLATION is for anyone who’s ever dreamt of finding love and family in an unexpected place... Michelle Redmond, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog calls it “A delightful novel about love, identity, and what it means to be adrift in a strange land. This story of a search has an Alice in Wonderland vibe; when Celeste climbs down the rabbit hole, one can't help but follow along.”

And Melissa's book, THE SECRET OF JOY, starts with the question: What would you do if you discovered you had a half-sister you never knew existed? "The Secret of Joy is a warm hug of a book. Insightful, wise, and romantic, it's as inviting as the small-town life it depicts." –Claire LaZebnik says, "The Secret of Joy is a warm hug of a book. Insightful, wise, and romantic, it's as inviting as the small-town life it depicts."

Let's hear from them in their own words:

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

Wendy: In this case I was driven by the character. I wanted to write about what it’s like to be a female gaijin (foreigner) in Japan, a place that despite its sophistication still can be construed as somewhat xenophobic, with many Japanese displaying a weird fascination mixed with disdain toward people who are different, especially Westerners. I also wanted to write about a cross-cultural relationship and how love can transcend culture, as well as the power of music. So with all this, I had to put a plot together, which came second. But this plot also spawned other themes: the meaning of family, identity, and what it means to discover your own voice.

Melissa: Several years ago, I received a startling email: I think you might be my half sister. Whoa. I was, indeed. I didn’t know how I felt about everything such an email had swirled up, so I ended up writing about a woman who discovers she has a half-sister she never knew existed and set her off to find her. Only the very nugget of the idea is based on my own life; I flipped everything else on its head. But the emotional force driving the story is very real.

I often steal from my own life when I start to write a new book, so in that sense I’m driven by plot, but because I never base the characters on myself or anyone I know, the characters take over completely and drive the plot themselves.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

Melissa: I love Joy Jayhawk, the main character’s half sister. I share some of her trials and tribulations, and I understood her reserve and emotional journey in a way that made me feel so close to her.

Wendy: I have a special fondness for Mariko. She’s a native-born Japanese who grew up frustrated with the social restrictions placed on her in Japan as a Japanese woman. She married an American and ended up living in the United States. But a family issue has brought her back to Japan and her American-influenced personality makes her stick out like a sore thumb. She’s much too direct, laughs too loud, and has a penchant for using every English swear word possible. But she also doesn’t give a damn what people think about her.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

Wendy: I work in my own home office when I’m writing new material for a novel. Once I’ve written a significant amount of pages (or, more like when I just can’t come up with any more to write!) I print them out and go to a coffee house or somewhere, read the pages and make notes. Then I will go back to my office and input changes. Then hopefully I’ll write more new material, though that is what I find the most difficult.

Melissa: I fell madly in love with this beautiful mahogany secretary-desk that is completely useless for writing, so of course I bought it with a matching beautiful chair. The desk is tiny and barely holds my laptop and the glass of Coke Zero I can’t seem to write without. But the desk itself inspires me! My writing process hasn’t changed since my first book (and I’m now on my 10th, though I keep hoping it will): I write and revise as I go, so it takes me a verrrry long time to write a first draft. The good news is that when I’m done, I only have to do a second draft to edit, then a third to polish. I wish I could just write a draft all the way through, letting it be shitty, as my hero Anne Lamott advises, and just getting it all down. Maybe one day.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

Melissa: When my characters truly begin telling the story for me, when the words come that easily.

Wendy: Definitely the revision process. I like kneading and massaging the rough prose I’ve already written.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

Melissa: Trust your gut. It knows.

Wendy: In the words of Anne Lamott, you are allowed to have a shitty first draft. And it’s nothing to be ashamed about.