Friday, March 30, 2012

A Disillusioned Old Man

An old man in my writer’s group has never read his work to us and never asked for our advice. He doesn't want our advice. He only wants to complain.

This man self-published his book, listed it on Amazon, and hasn’t done anything else since.

He writes philosophy, and he’s determined to believe no one reads philosophy anymore. The problem is, the only people who’s seen his work are people who read fiction. He’s angry that the world is wasting their minds on meaningless stories. I told him philosophy is one of the oldest genres of all time; surely someone’s reading it.

We tried to brainstorm ways he could get his novel out there, but he shot down every idea we had.

“You can advertise over the internet,” someone said.

“I don’t use the internet. I don’t know how and I don’t like it.”

“Local bookstores would be happy to host a book signing,” another person suggested. “You’re book is mainly religious, and there’s a Christian store nearby.”

“They wouldn’t be interested in my book. It’s not Christian; it’s about religion in general.”

“You could go to conferences and events and spread the word about your book.”

“There aren’t any conferences in this area.”

“You could find people who enjoy philosophy, perhaps at the university, and discuss your book with them.”

“I won't find anything like that. No one reads philosophy anymore.”

Finally, I got frustrated. “What do you want?” I demanded.

He answered easily. “I want to learn and grow. I want to read and gain experience.”

“You do that already,” someone mumbled, clearly as aggravated as I was.

“Good. That means you’re happy and you don't need to do anything else.” I hoped I had made my point and that would be the end of it.

“But I also want money and recognition,” the man was quick to add.

Another non-fiction writer made recommendations on how to improve his book in order to sell more copies. Then the old man said the rudest thing I’ve ever heard a writer say in my life: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to take advice from unpublished writers.”

I wanted to scream, THEN WHY ARE YOU IN A WRITER’S GROUP!?!

At this point, we all gave up. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped.

It’s easy for me to be judgmental now because I’m young enough to feel invincible. I haven't had time to be disappointed. This man is as old as my grandpa, and he's tired of trying. It got me wondering what I would be like if I reached that age and didn’t accomplish any of my goals. Would I be just as bitter and hopeless?

Would you?

I want us all to close our eyes and do a visualization exercise. It’s thirty years from now. It was your dream to get published. But you were never good enough, you didn’t work hard enough, your novels weren’t salable enough, or you were published and the novel didn’t do well enough. 

Now you're at a loss of what to do. Maybe you should rework the novels you’ve written. Maybe you should write a new one. Maybe you should quit and find something else that makes you happy. Personally, I don’t know what I would do.

This is going to happen to most of us. We should decide now what kind of person we will be if we’re caught in this situation. Will you be bitter with the world’s poor taste? Will you keep trying? Will you keep doing what you love, regardless of the outcome? Will you move on?
Think about it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Historical Research: The Greatest Puzzle

Writing historical fiction involves more than reading a book or two. A string of facts is not enough to make a story accurate; you also want to get the feel of a place, a person, a culture. You need tone, atmosphere, and character.

Otherwise, it reads like modern people wearing fancy dresses.

Finding depth behind facts isn’t easy. Still, there’s nothing more satisfying than putting together all the clues and stepping back to say, “I firmly believe this is exactly how it was.” It’s fun for the author, and it’s fun for readers.

Here’s an example:

In Sacred Fire, I needed to know how the Roman people felt about the Vestal Virgins. Were they indifferent toward them? Appreciative? Were the Vestal Virgins celebrities the people knew by name, or an obscure group everyone knew about but no one put any thought into?

The facts tell me the people were respectful. Everyone had to bow to Vestal Virgins when they passed on the street, and the punishment for walking underneath their litter was death. That tells me how the Romans acted, but it doesn’t tell me how they felt.

My biggest clue came from an account by the Greek historian Plutarch, who attended a Vestal Virgin's execution and wrote about it in detail. He said:

“The crowd opens silently for the passage of the hearse; not a word is pronounced, not a murmur is heard. Tears stream from the eyes of every spectator. It is impossible to imagine a more horrible sight; the whole city is shaken with terror and sorrow.”

That told me everything I needed to know. I depicted the Romans as having a sincere love for the Vestal Virgins. Puzzle solved.

Isn’t this fun?


I have another example:

I depicted Tuccia as having a close relationship with her parents. Critique partners asked me if Romans cared as much about their children as we do and whether or not Vestal Virgins were allowed to maintain relationships with their family.

Time to do some detective work!

Vestal Virgins were usually selected by lottery, but parents could volunteer their daughters. Considering the prestige of being a Vestal Virgin, you’d think they’d want to.

They didn’t. Caesar Augustus, who was very religious, once scolded patrician parents for not offering their daughters. He said the girls should be honored to serve Vesta, but that didn’t persuade anyone. This tells me the Romans cared more about their daughters than approval from the emperor or the gods.

As for maintaining relationships with their family, one Vestal Virgin was accused of losing her virginity when a man was found in her bedroom with her. She was acquitted because the man was her cousin; he was buying land from her and they were negotiating the details. This tells me the vestals kept in contact with their extended family.

Here's another clue about their family relationships: a man was put on trial and his lawyer (I believe it was Cicero) argued that they couldn’t execute him because his sister was a Vestal Virgin. He claimed the execution would devastate her, and the people should show her more appreciation.

This not only told me she had a close relationship with her brother, but it reaffirmed how much the Romans respected vestals.


If you’re doing research and find yourself making guesses, don’t give up like that! The clues you need are there. You just have to keep looking.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I'm in the Dumps

I hate writers who complain. I talk a lot on my blog about how writing is the best thing in the world, we should be grateful we have the talent to do it, we knew what we were getting into when we started this, buck up and get back to work.

It’s a lot easier to preach optimism when you’re on top of the world, instead of in the dumps… which is where I am right now.

I blame my pessimistic mood on my new favorite website, “Book Pregnant.” It’s written by debut authors who talk about their experiences as they enter the world of publishing. I love reading about them seeing their book cover for the first time, getting their agents, etc. In fact, it’s exactly how I envisioned my blog when I started it a year and a half ago.

As much as I enjoy it, the site depresses me. When I read posts about getting agents, I think to myself, “That was supposed to happen to me when I started querying a year and a half ago.” When I read about getting editors, I think, “That was supposed to happen to me a year ago.” When I read about book launches, I think, “That was supposed to happen to me six months ago.”

Then there’s the worst of all: When I read about book signings and tours,  I think to myself, “That should be happening to me right now.

My biggest problem is an irrational sense of entitlement. I’m “supposed” to get published when I have the skills I need to write a good book. I do not have those skills yet. Ergo, here I am.

A voice in my head keeps telling me the same thing: “What are you so peeved about? You’re the one who decided to rewrite your book. You’re the one who needs to work on your craft. Every writer goes through this. Who are you mad at? Agents, the world, or yourself?”

I remember one time I came back from roller derby practice depressed because I wasn’t improving as fast as I thought I should be. My first practice was my first time putting on skates, so I was way behind the other girls. My husband told me I was too much of a perfectionist.

Me?!” I asked. I have never once in my life been called a perfectionist. I’m one of those just-get-it-done people. “I am not a perfectionist!” I said.

“You are with things you care about. You put too high expectations on yourself.”

Maybe he’s right. Maybe I need to relax. But it was a proud moment when my roller derby team gave me the award for Most Improved Player of the Year.

There’s nothing wrong with me being disappointed in myself for a while, but when it comes to my book, I’m going to tell myself the same thing I would tell any writer in my situation:

Buck up. Get back to work.

Friday, March 23, 2012

How to Focus on Your Book

Lately I’ve had trouble focusing on… well, anything, but especially my book, Sacred Fire. I’m supposed to be revising it, but sometimes I’m in the mood to think about my other WIPs. In a day my mind might wander to the deserts of Kenya, the voodoo temples of New Orleans, the Portland waterfront, or a medieval battlefield.

There's nothing wrong with letting yourself work on other things when you need a break from a project. But there needs to be a limit. Right now when I sit down to a computer, it’s nearly impossible to get my brain back to Ancient Rome.

I need to focus. But how?

Here are a few things that usually work for me:

Pictures

I used to have a collage of Vestal Virgins above my desk, but it was too busy. Instead, I downloaded all my photos into an electric frame to make a slideshow, which I put next to the tv. I have one picture of a vestal on my desk at home, my desk at work, and one by the bed. I could also use the pictures as a screensaver or make a photo album.
Sometimes I get a little sick of looking at the same pictures of Vestal Virgins I’ve look at for the last five years, but more often than not, they get me excited about my book.

Music

Music is a very powerful way to invoke emotion and create mood. Unfortunately for me, I don’t have access to any Ancient Roman music (except for the soundtrack of Gladiator, which I’m ashamed to say makes me think about Rome). For Fierce, I could listen to African drummers, and while I worked on Hunger, I listened to a lot of romantic songs.

Trust me, it works.

Reading

Sometimes I’ll read over my research books when I need to focus. They remind me why I wanted to write my story in the first place. You don’t have to write historical fiction to use reading to your advantage; anything that inspires you – novels, websites, travel guides – can do the trick.

Reading over your book is also a great way to get back into the mood of writing. If you don’t feel like working, try just reading a page instead. More often than not, you’ll get sucked into it.

With Fierce, I compiled a notebook with printed web pages, pages from books, pictures, etc., and I’d look through it every now and then. I love my notebook.

Work Diary

I’m a firm believer in keeping work diaries. When the writing is going well I don’t maintain mine, but when I’m struggling I keep track of my progress, issues, and goals. It works miracles for me.

Rituals

Some authors have a writing routine that helps them focus; they write at the same time every day, they start each session with the same exercise or the same music, etc.

In my article Use Sleep to Your Advantage, I talked about how studies show you can retain information better if you read it right before bed. I try to shift my attention to Sacred Fire while falling asleep, either by re-reading a history book, looking at the picture of a vestal on my nightstand, or planning a scene that needs work. Often I’ll wake up in the morning still thinking about it.

Etc.

At work, I was using the title of a future book as a password to one of the programs. I realized every time I logged on, I’d think about that book.

I read one author who said when she was done with a writing session, she'd plan what she would work on the next day and write it on a sticky note. When she got to work the next day, she’d read the note and know what to do.

I made a Facebook page for my book, and I love going on it, clicking on the links, watching the videos, looking at the pictures. I recommend making one, and if you do, let me know. I’d love to see it.



Those are all the ideas I could come up with. Do you have any other methods to help you focus?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Student Driver's Encounter with Death

When I took driver’s ed, my instructor had some pretty crazy stories (as you can imagine).

Although his students had been in several accidents, none of them were the student’s fault. One of my favorite stories was of a student driving behind an 18 wheeler. They reached a four-way stop and the truck tried to make a right-hand turn. He didn’t have enough room and had no choice but to back up. A line of cars was so close behind the student that he and his instructor had no choice but to lean their seats back and watch the windshield shatter on top of them.

My ultimate favorite story was of a student’s first time on the freeway.

A girl was in the driver’s seat (don’t you dare make jokes about women being bad drivers) with the instructor in shotgun and a boy and a girl, who were complete strangers, observing in the back. The instructors at that school always make their students drive on the freeway at least once, but they don’t tell them that until they’re practically next to the onramp. That way, the student doesn’t have time to freak out.

Their method didn’t help this particular student. When he told her she was about to drive on the freeway, she gripped the steering wheel and her eyes bulged with fear. “I don’t think I can do this,” she said.

“Sure you can. Turn right and get on the onramp.”

Her knuckles and face turned white as she turned.

“I really don’t think I can do this,” she said again.

“All my students drive on the freeway. You’ll be fine.”

Her breath quickened until she was practically gasping. “Please don’t make me do this.”

“Calm down and speed up so you get to 60 mph.”

She was halfway down the ramp when she couldn’t take it anymore. She shouted, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I CAN’T DO THIS!” She took her hands off the steering wheel, covered her face, and screamed.

From the rear-view mirror, the instructor saw the two students grab one another and clutch each other’s hands.

He grabbed the steering wheel and tried to keep it straight while the girl continued having an emotional breakdown. As she sobbed into her hands and he tried to keep them from dying, he heard whispering from the back seat:

“Dear Heavenly Father, we ask thee for protection at this time and to bless the driver with the presence of mind to keep us safe…”

“Are you praying?!” he asked.

They got off at the first off-ramp they could. The driver took her hands off her face and the boy and girl in the back relaxed their grip on one another.

The instructor was furious. He would never be bested by a student, so he spun to her and jabbed his finger at the road behind them. “You are going to turn around right now and you’re going to do that again!”

There was an audible gasp from the backseat.

The driver tried to take deep breaths as she turned onto the onramp and the instructor braced himself for another meltdown. In the back, the praying had grown rapid:

“…andpleaseblessourinstructorwithwisdomandtheotherdriversthattheywillbeawareofus…”

“Shut up!” said the instructor. “I can’t hear myself think!”

They drove one mile and got off with no further incident.

The instructor told us the boy and girl in the backseat later got married. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, they have a unique story to tell their kids of how they met.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hilarious History Videos

I just discovered a show I've fallen in love with: Horrible Histories. It has little skits that poke fun at history. There's a ton of them on YouTube, if you want to check them out.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Wife Swap: Spartans and Athenians


I love how when she passes out, he catches the spear and lets her fall.

Victorian Paramedics


I'm going to try burying string the next time I get sick.

Tudor Song


...and of course we can't leave out the oh-so-popular Tudors.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Beauty Mishap

My mom went to cosmetology school when I was in high school. She went nuts experimenting with different products, giving everyone she knew free facials and make-overs, plucking my eyebrows against my will. 

I got to try all kinds of fun stuff -- and yet, I still got acne. I don't think there's a face wash known to man that will give me clear skin.

She particularly enjoyed giving herself body wraps. Once I went with my husband's family to Florida, and no one would swim in the ocean because a storm had washed loads of feathery sea weed to the shore. Because of my mother's sea weed body wrap, I knew that was one of the best things for your skin, so I jumped in. 

I came out looking like the creature from the black lagoon, but my skin was soft!

My mom also got into artificial tanning. It isn't easy putting that stuff on without getting streaks, but she got pretty good at it.

One day, my dad saw my mom's tanning lotion on the counter and decided he wanted to give it a try.


When he was done, he went up to my mom.  "How do I look?" he asked.


Her jaw dropped. My dad had squirted a glob of it on his hands -- without putting gloves on -- and smeared it all over his face. He didn't put any on his neck. As soon as she saw his brown-splotched face and stained hands, she burst out laughing.


I happened to walk in at that point and saw what looked like dirt all over my dad's face. "Why are you so dirty?" I asked.


This got my mom laughing even harder.


If my dad's face wasn't so dark, I imagine it would have turned bright red.

Monday, March 12, 2012

WANTED: Strong Female Characters

Sarah Connor: strongest woman ever
Back when I was researching agents to query, I read about an agent who was interested in “strong female characters.” I was thrilled because Sacred Fire has a strong female character, so that meant she would like my book.

Then I got to thinking; is Tuccia actually strong? She’s insecure. She shrinks from being a Vestal Virgin because she feels inadequate. She blames the goddess Vesta for her best friend’s death but is too faithful to let herself be angry. When she faces her own execution, she decides her life was a string of doubts and regrets. She’s kind of weak.

Yet as the author, I can feel the strength of her convictions, her integrity, and her refusal to be anything less than perfect. Her determination to rise to her calling causes her pain, but ultimately drives her to become the most famous Vestal Virgin who ever lived. If that isn't strength, I don't know what is.

I realized I don’t know what qualifies as “strong.”

This has been a personal dilemma for ages. As a teenager, I believed a woman was only strong if she could do everything a man could do. Sarah Connor from The Terminator was my hero; in fact, during a brief lapse in judgment I considered joining the army so I could be as cool as her. I even gave my name to a recruiter. My dad had a heck of a time getting him to quit calling us.

This mentality quickly became disappointing and exhausting. Men are biologically stronger than women, and I have no desire to lift enough weights to rectify that. They have a different types of aggression, energy, and skill sets than we do. I can’t be a man, and frankly, I don’t want to be.

I decided strength means having the willpower to always get what you want. A strong woman has a don’t-talk-back-to-me, I-don’t-care-what-nobody-thinks-of-me, get-it-done-yesterday attitude. When I got married, I discovered another definition of that behavior: selfish. Sometimes strength is not getting what you want and letting it be.

My next idea was that strength is not having flaws. Being perfect would certainly require strength, but it makes for a lousy main character. Surely that’s not what the agent meant.

Then I thought strength is the ability to conquer flaws and challenges, though having flaws and challenges in the first place negates the concept of strength.

I eventually decided never to separate my characters into “strong” and “weak.” Everyone has strengths, and everyone does strong things. They also give into their weaknesses.

When we think a person is either one or the other – whether in fictional or real-life – it means there’s another side to that person we haven’t discovered yet.

From now on if anyone asks me if my female characters are strong or weak, I’m going to say, “Yes.”

Friday, March 9, 2012

How to Use Historical Research

I once read a historical fiction that was just okay. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t anything special. After finishing the book, I read the author’s note and was shocked to see that she had done an enormous amount of research. She read over two dozen books on her topic and spent who knows how long on some very thorough websites. This author knows her subject!

The reason this surprised me was that, honestly, she could have written the same book by reading a few Wikipedia articles. She had her facts right, but it had no flavor. The book didn’t delve into the spirit of the time period.

For example, she read not just one but several books about medieval warfare. She could have described her battle scenes just from watching Lord of the Rings. There were horses, swords, and blood, but nothing to distinguish the setting from any other. 

Moral of the story: Research is pointless if you don’t know how to use it.

Think of all the books you’ve read that take place in modern times. Those authors know everything there is to know about the twenty-first century; clothes, food, entertainment, current events. Yet many mainstream novels are bland with hardly any description. Knowledge of our surroundings does little to help our ability to describe them.

Here’s some advice that can help:

Copy Details While Reading

When I do my research, I take note of as many little details as I think I might use in the future. While reading about Rome, I learned that the only women who wore togas were prostitutes. I thought that fact was interesting, so I wrote it down even though I wasn’t sure I’d use it. Later I needed to add a prostitute to my book, so I had her wear a toga.

I also found out Romans didn’t have toilet paper, but had a sponge attached to a stick that they kept in a bucket of vinegar. Everyone in the household used the same sponge (yuck). I didn’t end up using this detail, but I put it in my notes just in case.

Seek Out Details While Writing

Often in the middle of the writing process, I’ll find an opportunity to add a fact I don’t know. Example, my characters might be eating breakfast and I don’t know what Romans ate for breakfast. They might go to the market and I don’t know what kind of objects Romans might buy. These are all easy to find on the internet, so I often stop what I’m doing, look up what I need (write down the source of my info, of course), and add it before I continue.

If you don’t like the stop-and-go tactic, you could add notes in the middle of the text, such as ADD BREAKFAST FOOD HERE, or make a separate list of things you need to look up.

Make the World Unique

Every place and every time is unique. Think of how different Texas is from California. Think of how different the US is now from how it was the 60’s. When you write about your setting, ask yourself: What makes this time and place different from any other?

What are your character’s values, experiences, worries? What’s popular? What do they get excited about? What were their surroundings like at that exact time?

Example: Sacred Fire takes place during the Second Punic War when Rome was still a Republic. Historians hold the Republic on a pedestal as a time of Roman valor and shun the Empire as a time or corruption (which is why everyone writes about the Empire.) The Second Punic War had a strong effect on the Roman people – they all thought they were going to die – so Rome was different during this time than any other time in history. In order for my book to succeed, I need to demonstrate that.

Get Nervous

When I first started Sacred Fire I didn’t read much historical fiction, so I didn’t know it was okay to make stuff up. I knew nothing about Roman history and was terrified of being criticized for being inaccurate. I trusted myself so little that I double-checked everything.

One of my characters bought a necklace, for instance, and I didn’t dare guess what kind of jewels a Roman might use. I found a picture of a necklace excavated in Pompeii made of emerald and mother of pearl, so I have her wear that necklace.

I believed this nervousness turned into a strength. Even if I had guessed my facts without getting caught, my book wouldn’t have been as interesting. I could have had my main character eat chicken for dinner without knowing whether or not the Romans ate chicken, but that doesn’t sound as interesting as dormice, snails fattened on goat milk, spiced sausages, oysters, or bread dipped in wine. I wouldn’t have come up with something like that on my own.

Here’s a rule of thumb I swear by: the truth will always be better than anything I can make up.

Enjoy Yourself

And above all… have fun! Learning about your time period should be exciting! When the research starts to be a drag, you won’t be able to utilize it as well.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Books I Read in February

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

In a mysterious circus that only opens at night, two magicians are forced to use the attractions as a competition. The contest is deadly, the contestants are in love, and the spectators don’t know what’s real and what isn’t.

This book reaches unparalleled levels of awesome. I was swept away into the magical world of the circus – it’s one of the most visually stunning books I’ve ever read. This is the kind of book I hope I have dreams about later!


(By the way, this was a Nanowrimo book.)

Peony in Love by Lisa See

This novel tells the true story of three famous Chinese woman writers from the point of view of a ghost.

“Peony in Love” is in my top 15 list of favorite books. It was beautiful, heartbreaking, mystical, and fascinating. Chinese death rituals are described by the person to whom they matter most: a ghost who needs her family to perform her rites in order to survive. She is able to influence the people around her – including the writers who this story is about – and through her struggles, she grows from a young girl to a woman.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

In turn-of-the-century Mexico, youngest daughters can’t marry until their parents’ deaths; since Pedro cannot marry Tita, the youngest girl of the De La Garza family, he marries her sister in order to be near her.

This easy read is primarily about sex and food. (Surprisingly, it’s not as sexually graphic as you would think.) I enjoyed the magical realism and the deeply-felt Mexican culture expressed through Tita’s gift with food. But I liked the movie better.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

When war plagues Shanghai, Pearl and May escape to America to live in Los Angeles’ Chinatown.

One thing I love about Lisa See is that although she only writes about Chinese culture, all her books take place in a different area and time period. Each story is completely original. Since this novel is primarily American, it gave me a fascinating perspective into an aspect of my own history I was unfamiliar with: how we treated the Chinese during the Communist scare. I can’t wait to learn more in her sequel, Dreams of Joy.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sophie Perinot and Blog Tours


Today's a big day: The Sister Queens, the debut novel of my friend Sophie Perinot, has launched. This is the first time someone I know has published a debut book, and it's so exciting!

The Sister Queens is about two 13th Century sisters who were queens at the same time; one of France and the other of England. 

The timing of her launch couldn't be more convenient for me. After putting so much thought into traditional book tours (see here and here), I got to thinking about blog tours. I know even less of what those are like, except that they’re easier and more effective (though perhaps less fun).

Sophie Perinot is currently on tour, and I plan to virtually stalk her until it’s over, both so I can learn what tours are like, and also because I want to read everything she writes. She’s a fantastic blogger. (See her personal blog and Book Pregnant.) She’s so open, entertaining, and informative that following her journey thus far has been a treat. 

Click below to see where she’ll be and when.The Sister Queens Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Friday, March 2, 2012

Meeting Lisa See

Those of you who were reading this blog during the whole HNS conference know I have a tendency decide I want something and get stuck on it. (I publicly sulked about not being able to go to the conference for a month until a blog follower finally loaned me the money. I have the best followers.)

After writing my post about Lisa See and Book Tours, I decided I wanted to meet her when she came to Jackson and couldn't talk myself out of it. Luckily my boss was okay with me taking half a day off work and a friend of mine was willing to make the four-hour drive.

The book store was at the top of a small shopping center, and the way the ceiling leaned in and the shelves stretched from the floor to the ceiling made me feel like I was walking into a cozy packed attic. 

A large poster of the book cover, Dreams of Joy, sat by the doorway with the date of the event. Inside, her books had their own table where they waited to be signed. I realized it's not just the author’s presence that sells copies; the bookstore advertized her novel before she arrived. Even if only a few people show up to the actual signing, many more people will have heard of her just by passing the store.

I was excited to meet Lisa See not just because I love her books, but because I've emailed her once or twice, so I felt like I had an "in." The first thing I said to her while she signed my books was, "I don't know if you remember me, but I sent you an email with some questions about foot binding..."

Instead of lighting up with recognition and complimenting me on the intelligent questions I sent her, she pointed to someone behind me in line and said, "I answered some questions for her too! It's so nice when I go on tours and meet all the people I've communicated with online."

Pooh.

About a dozen people showed up for the signing, one of whom was a 13-year-old girl mentally prepared with a list of cute interview questions, such as, "Do people sometimes confuse you with Amy Tan?" and “Did you like the movie they made of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan?” and "Do Chinese really believe in zodiac signs?"

(Lisa said some believe in the zodiac and some don't, but this year there will be an increase in Chinese babies; everyone wants a child born in the year of the dragon.)

The reading started out with Lisa See talking about her life, her family history, her books, and more or less reciting speeches I had heard her give on YouTube. I realized that if I'm getting sick of my book already, I better get over it; after a book gets published, you have to talk about it every single day for a loooooong time. 

Halfway through my phone rang, and as always when this happens to me, I was tempted to play innocent and glare at the person next to me. I did the right thing, though, and turned my phone off.

Lisa opened the floor for questions and I learned more about her travels to China. Apparently the dialects in China are so different that she has to hire seperate translators everywhere she goes, sometimes even when one location is only a few hundred miles from another. People will often draw characters on their palm with their finger to be understood.

Foot binding came up, of course. She said Asian men found small feet so attractive that villages would have beauty contests where the women hid behind a screen so their feet were the only parts you could see. They would pick the best pair of feet and declare their owner the most beautiful woman in the village, even if the screen lowered to reveal a seventy-year-old woman.

Lisa was so cool. Someday, I want to be able to share amazing stories of things I’ve done and places I've traveled in the name of research. (Seeing the Pope and getting bewitched by a voodoo priest is a good start, but I think Lisa See could talk about her adventures for days.)

Afterwards my friend and I went out for Chinese because we had a craving for it. We wandered around an Asian market trying to find foods we had read about, like salted plumbs. Then we went home. It was a great day.

Now I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to go on a book tour: going to stores, libraries, conferences, and universities to do what I saw Lisa See do, keeping it up every day for three months. I’m trying to visualize the drawbacks; all that driving, getting lost, no one showing up to the event, rude fans, living out of a suitcase.


The verdict is in: I totally want to do a book tour someday.
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