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JOKOTAKONG PART 3.2

Goodbye Kaohsiung, hello Sun Moon Lake!  Haven’t heard of it?  Don’t worry, neither had I until we were planning this trip.  When Swag Master first suggested that we stay in Taichung for a day and then go to Sun Moon Lake, I just nodded as if I knew what she was talking about, and then quickly did a Google image search.  It just took one look at the gorgeous photos for me to get behind this idea, and I’m so glad I did!

Okay, first things first: Taichung.  It’s a quick ride from Kaohsiung by way of the bullet train – although I feel for all the passengers that had to dodge us as we barreled into the train with all of our luggage – and our hostel, Stray Birds, was absolutely fantastic.  Seriously, American hotels should look to them for ideas; the lobby is the definition of picturesque, complete with reading nooks shaped like bird houses and wooden birds hanging from the ceiling.  And it is very conveniently right across the street from a store that is filled to the brim with junk food, which we raided.  Twice.  I am now an expert of pocky, and am encouraged by the fact that gummy bears taste the same no matter where you are in the world. 🙂

There’s also a beautiful park that runs for several blocks, and we spent the first afternoon exploring all the cool statues:

It helped that Taichung is not quite as humid as Kaohsiung (amazing what a difference traveling an hour north can make!), so we were able to walk around and enjoy our surroundings and not just melt in the heat. The only other thing that we really did was go to church, and getting there was another adventure, thanks to our amazing cabbie driver.  No, we didn’t have any near death experiences, thankfully; somehow, and I’m still not sure how it all happened, the car turned into a karaoke car, complete with MC and I singing random K pop songs while the driver gave us a thumb’s up and begged for more, declaring in very broken English that he loved it.  Best.  Driver.  EVER.

The mass was absolutely wonderful, thanks to the amazing choir.  The songs that they sang – unbelievably beautiful, that’s all I can say.  I have absolutely no clue as to what they were saying, but it sounded majestically fantastic.  And a special shout-out to the couple that was wearing matching plaid shirts, my first time seeing a couple’s outfit in real life!  This is a thing and I want everyone in America to do it for my amusement.  Maybe I’ll add that in to my next book…

And now, Sun Moon Lake.  I’m not going to describe it, because the pictures say it all:

 

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I know.

Yes, this is a real place, and yes, these are pictures that I took myself.

I KNOW!

It’s the largest lake in Taiwan, going as deep as twenty stories, and has a system of ferries that you can take to visit two villages; there’s another spot, but it’s completely off limits to visitors, reserved only for the locals for worship.  It’s a big tourist destination for the Taiwanese; I think we were the only foreigners there, at least on that day, which was just the perfect day for exploring, might I add.  The sun wasn’t too hot, and there was a breeze that encouraged you to just keep climbing those steps to see the perfect view which, as you can tell, was amazing.

Just when it couldn’t get any better, two things happened: one, we had the pleasure of having the Asian version of Dwight from The Office be our ferry driver.  Seriously, from the glasses to the dour expression, this guy was the Taiwanese version of him, right down to the sense of humor: he played My Heart Will Go On as we were returning from the islands, and we were unable to resist the lure of a song in English.  The other ferry riders were treated to a free concert…I’m sure they were sitting in stunned silence because they were blown away by our talent.  It can’t get better than that, now can it?

But wait, yes it can!  Remember how I was hit by a lightning bolt of inspiration that resulted in Hart & Seoul?  IT HAPPENED AGAIN.  One minute I’m enjoying the scenery, the next a scene is playing out in my head, so vivid that it’s like I’m watching it.  And even better, it’s for the story that’s haunted me since college.  WAHOO!!!  I HAVE MORE IDEAS!!! #jobsecurity  It is for that reason that Sun Moon Lake will have a special place in my heart.

There is one final stop in Taiwan before we get to the grand finale.  Think you can guess what it is?

 

JAKOTAKONG PART 3.1

You know it’s going to be an adventure when your cab driver has a Winnie the Pooh sticker on his car.

The thought warmed the cockles of my slightly travel-weary heart as Swag Master, MC and I clambered into the taxi at Kaohsiung, Taiwan.  Three countries in one week is pretty epic, but there’s only so much airport you can take before the smell begins to seep into your very being.  But I was eager to explore Taiwan, and the first stop on our list was Kaohsiung, home of the Lotus Pond and, well, that’s pretty much it (as we later discovered).  Or at least that’s all we had time to do, since we were only there for a day.

After going through the easiest customs procedure ever – and by procedure I mean I literally just walked through the gate as the agent nodded at me – we stumbled out into the humid early evening, marveling at how a country that is so close to Japan can be so much hotter.  No one spoke English, but the airport employees were eager to help us, and within minutes we were matched up with the Winnie the Pooh driver.

By some miracle he managed to stuff all of our bags AND us in the vehicle, demonstrating a skill of Tetris that should be applauded, before getting behind the wheel.  And just like that, Winnie the Pooh morphed into Lightning McQueen, complete with at least three near death experiences.  Why?  It can be summed up in two words: moped mania.  Taiwan is FILLED with mopeds, all of them weaving in and out of traffic with a bravado more fitting for driving a tank, not a spindly little motor bike.  And rules of the road?

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We did make record time, however, so there’s that.  And we didn’t actually collide with anyone, although I still don’t know how as many moped drivers think nothing of basically using any intersection as a roundabout to circumnavigate pesky red lights.  They make D.C. drivers look angelic in comparison.  I’ve learned since to just not look out the front window…or the passenger window…really any window.  Just sit back and close your eyes and wait for death.  Or your destination.  Whichever comes first.

As soon as the driver got off the main road he morphed back to being Winnie the Pooh; he was very concerned that we find the hostel, and even followed us into the building to show us which floor to go on – he made an x with his fingers, and for one moment I thought he was cursing at us or something, until Swag Master figured out he was telling us to go to the tenth floor.  Oops.

The elevator itself was an improvement over Hong Kong’s, being bigger and not taking forever to arrive.  But it was literally held together with duct tape.  Duct tape!!!  I know Myth Busters did an episode dedicated to proving how duct tape is THE supply to have in an apocalypse, but I really rather not have my elevator have any, thank you very much.  And the doors!  They are out to get you, so if you’re ever in Taiwan make sure you move quickly or the suckers will try to decapitate you…or at the very least bruise the living daylights out of you.  But riding the elevator was absolutely worth it, because our hostel had this view:

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Hah!  So glad I invested in that new phone, because the camera on it is amazing!

Okay, flash forward to the next day: dressed in t-shirts and armed with water bottles, we braved the heat to grab lunch before heading for Lotus Lake to see the famed Dragon and Tiger Pagodas.  Legend says (ooooh, I’ve always wanted to say that!) that if you run into the mouth of the Dragon and out the mouth of the Tiger, you’ll have good luck.  What that legend does not include is that there are stairs inside both, and if you run through it in the Taiwan heat you’ll be huffing and puffing for a good five minutes afterwards.  I have since resolved to up my cardio when I get home, because apparently I need it.

But would I do it again?  In a heartbeat, because just look:

#mischiefmanaged.

Zapped by the heat, we returned to the hostel to bask in the frigid blast from our air conditioner, and settled in to watch a movie.  MC and I were craving something in English – it does get exhausting being surrounded by people speaking a different language – so we selected the most British show we could find on Netflix: Paddington.

I’ve been craving marmalade ever since.  I had to settle for Pocky, because this is Asia, after all.

The next day we packed up our bags and hopped onto the bullet train to our next destination.  Any guesses where?  Stay tuned!

 

JAKOTAKONG PART 2.2

Contrary to what my Disney loving self may think, there is more to see in Tokyo than just Disney, which brings us to day 2 of Japan!  But first, a quick moment to marvel at our hotel:

 

Sigh.  Okay, onward.

First on the agenda: the Imperial Palace.  Being the money conscious tourists that we are, the three of us hopped onto one of the Disney Resort’s free shuttles and headed to Disneyland, which is oh-so-conviently right by the train station.  And can I just get a quick round of applause for actually walking AWAY from Disneyland instead of storming the gates with the rest of the crowd?  I didn’t even turn back when the ticket guy glared at us and basically refused to help us because we spoke English, leaving us to muddle through using the machine to buy tickets by ourselves, even though his desk was clearly labeled IN ENGLISH that it was the ticket counter.

Nope, not bitter about it at all.

A quick note about Tokyo’s rail system: it’s a masterpiece of lines.  Seriously, take a load of this:

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Uh huh.  That was my reaction too.  Part of me wonders why it’s so convoluted when half the population rides bikes, but there you have it.  And we managed to not only get on the right line, but get off at the right stop, aka the Imperial Palace.  Good luck trying to find it on this map! 😉

Now, the Imperial Palace is actually closed to visitors (boo), but the gardens are free for you to explore (yay!).  It took us a while to find the right gate, but after hiking around half the circumference of the outer perimeter we found it (but not before I scandalized someone by making a joke of drinking the moat water to quench my raging thirst – American sarcasm does not apparently translate well to the average Japanese eavesdropper).  We spend the next hour meandering through the paths, marveling at the centuries-old walls that can still withstand earthquakes, eagerly marching to view the bamboo garden which turned out to just be some bamboo lining the walkway, and cringing away from humongous spiders – it’s beautiful out there, especially on a nice fall day…despite the humongous spiders.

Our feet were getting a little tired, so we sought out the Starbucks by the famous Shibuya Crossing, hailed as the busiest pedestrian intersection in Japan and possibly in the world.

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We came, we saw, we were disappointed; we equated busiest with largest, which it definitely is not.  But that’s okay, because not only was it by a CoCo Curry restaurant, which serves heaping bowls of curry and rice and everything else that is yummy in this world; it is also right by the Disney store!!!! #allroadstoDisney

I won’t bore you with all the little things that added up to one heck of a bill, but needless to say I left feeling like I had finally gotten my Disney shopping fulfilled…just in time for our final stop of the day: The Lion King Broadway show.  IN JAPANESE!!!

All I can say is that you have not lived until you’ve heard a Japanese Timon explain Hakuna Matata to Simba with a Japanese Pumba nodding along in the background.  It’s a surreal experience; you know the general plot, can even pick out key lines, but everything else in between just goes completely over your head.  The audience was very restrained, keeping the clapping to a polite minimum throughout the play…until the end.  They didn’t cheer at the end, didn’t wahoo – just clapped.  And clapped and clapped and clapped.  There were eight curtain calls.  Eight!  Our hands were red and swollen by the time the cast had had enough and waved us away.  They were still smarting by the time we arrived back at our hotel and crawled into bed, but it was oh so worth it.

And thus concludes my non-Disney day in Tokyo…which technically had Disney in it…but whatever.  On to the next destination because, as we all know, “ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE!”

And oh look, more yellow bumper lines from hell.  -_-

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JAKOTAKONG PART 2.1

Next stop is *drum roll*…………..Japan!  The land of anime, sushi, Hello Kitty and, most importantly, Disneyland and DisneySea!

Now, I had no idea what to expect as I boarded that plane for Tokyo.  Would the traffic lights turn yellow before going green, like in Hong Kong?  Would the elevators be tiny and try to close on you before you were halfway inside, like in Hong Kong?  Would there be fifty people per three feet, like in Hong Kong?

The short answer is no, sort of, no and no.  The long answer?  Read on…

The minute we landed in Tokyo I was struck by just how much like home it looked.  Not only were the buildings much further apart than in Hong Kong, but the landscape was that pretty patchwork of farmland that I’ve grown up with, complete with plenty of trees growing all around.  We landed at Narita airport, which is a good distance from everywhere we wanted to be (but also cheaper to fly into), so we were given the opportunity to see a lot as we took public transportation to get to our hotels.  And the first thing I noticed were the bikes.  Bikes EVERYWHERE.  As in, there are so many bikes that they have just as many bike parking lots as they do car ones.

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Maybe that’s why the air was cleaner than Hong Kong’s, although that could have been the area of town that we stayed in.  Needless to say, I was very impressed by both their dedication and thigh strength – I would have died after just a block or two, even if the land is relatively flat.

It took some wandering, but we finally found our capsule hotel, although I nearly wiped out several times, thanks to these annoying bumper things that riddle both Hong Kong and Japan.  Seriously, what is the purpose of this?

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If someone knows, please share, because it’s been driving me nuts.  And it’s EVERYWHERE on the sidewalk, like the root system of a determined weed out to trip clumsy travelers like myself.

Aaaaanywaaaays, back to the capsule hotel.  That’s right, a capsule hotel!!  Call me crazy, since I have claustrophobia and should avoid small spaces like the plague, but as soon as we decided that we were going to Tokyo I wanted to try out one of these famous hotels.  You are literally reserving a bed, and that’s all; each dorm is filled with tons of bunks, and there is a joint shower/washroom area.  Our bunks had curtains to allow us a little bit of privacy, which is nice, and I’ve always thought that it would be kind of fun to try one out. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it is ridiculously cheaper to stay in one – Tokyo is one very expensive city to visit.

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After grabbing some dinner at a local Korean restaurant (because why wouldn’t you have Korean food while in Japan for the first time?), we went back to the hotel, a special woman only hotel that borders a nice park.  As we were getting our numerous suitcases all settled, another guest saw us and came over to talk.  Turns out she wanted to know if we snored.  I looked at her, she looked at me, and we laughed and laughed and laughed…

…I woke up several times that night, terrified that I had actually been snoring and that she would find me.  She didn’t, so I must not have been, and overall I enjoyed my capsule hotel experience.

But I will admit that I was glad to be leaving the next morning, because the next day was DISNEY DAY!!!!!!!  Probably why I all but leapt outside to meet the poor unsuspecting cab driver, who was not prepared for all our suitcases and had to spend a good five minutes playing Tetris to fit everything in.  We actually applauded when he was finished, and piled into the back so he could cart us off to our next destination, the Disney Celebration Resort.  He couldn’t speak much English, and used an app to ask us what we thought of the city.  I, in the spirit of camaraderie, quickly downloaded Google Translate and used it to tell him that the city was beautiful and we loved it.  At least, that’s what I thought it said.  The only English that he spoke was to kindly tell me that “Google Translate sucks.”

I quickly deleted the app and am now on the hunt for a better one.  Recommendations are welcome!

After being dropped off at the hotel, I marched towards the check in counter, invigorated by just being on Disney property…only to be told that I was at the wrong hotel, that I had actually made a reservation at the Discovery hotel, not Wish, and had to literally cross the street.  This must happen a lot, because two employees helped us with our luggage and acted as though it was perfectly normal to cross a busy street while pulling huge pieces of luggage as you tried to sort out just how you made such a mistake.  I was very relieved when I was able to check in the second time around.  The poor gentleman helping me spoke broken English, I speak no Japanese, but we managed to muddle through the transaction together.  The one glitch was when I found out that our special perk, passes that lets us into the park 15 minutes early, wouldn’t kick in until the next day.

“But, we’re going to the park today,” I explained to him.

He blinked at me.  “Works tomorrow.”

“Oh, well since we’re going today, you can keep these for the next customer.”

He blinked at me again…I blinked back at him…and took the passes.  I think he breathed a huge sigh of relief when I finally left the counter.

And then it was time for the park!!!  Tokyo Disney has two parks, Disneyland and DisneySea.  After sifting through other blogs, I determined that DisneySea was the one to go to because there’s no other park like it in the world.  And oh boy oh boy oh boy am I glad we went there, because it was awesome!  Favorite ride, hands down, was Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, for the following reasons: screaming guys sitting behind us, a Japanese Indiana Jones shouting for what I assume was help, and a grand finale of The Stone (Indy fans will know exactly which one) chasing us.  It was awesome!!!!

When I wasn’t freaking out over the fact that I was at DisneySea, I was marveling at the costumes.  Adults could wear costumes into the park in celebration of Halloween, and everyone threw themselves into it with 110% enthusiasm.  From Donald Duck to Zootopia, everyone was decked out in full gear.  I felt positively underdressed with my Minnie Ears, let me tell you.  And they LOVE Duffy the Bear.  Purses, costumes, the actual bear – everywhere you look you see Duffy.  No wonder I caved and bought a pair of Duffy ears, as if I needed an excuse for another pair of ears.

The snack food at DisneySea is just as much fun as the rides; we had the steamed curry chicken buns and Little Green Mochi, as well as an “American” hotdog (it was nothing like an American hotdog, and I may have started a feeding frenzy with the pigeons after feeding my leftovers to them).  I did not try the famed popcorn, having no desire to eat curry popcorn, and definitely not garlic and shrimp popcorn.  Nope, I’ll stick to my regular popcorn, thank you very much.  Boring, but a classic.

There were two drawbacks to the day: one, it rained almost all morning, which is not fun when you are waiting in line for the park to open.  Swag Master, MC and I literally stood nose to nose in a desperate huddle under the one umbrella we had for about 45 minutes. I decided to pass the time by asking them what their deepest darkest secrets are.  The results: MC hates avocados, Swag Master is allergic to avocados, and I like grilled cheese and jalapeño sandwiches.

We are very deep people, obviously.

Second drawback is that one of the rides that we went on, which what I thought was supposed to be like the spinning tea cups in Disney World, was a disappointment.  I boarded that kelp cup all primed and ready to spin us to infinity and beyond, but was horrified to discover that the ‘wheel’ is just a prop, and you can’t actually spin yourself.  I was not amused by this, not amused at all.  Only shopping at the gift shop soothed my disappointed nerves.  Speaking of which, a note for any Disney pin fanatics: Tokyo Disney, or at least at DisneySea, is not into pins.   I know, THE HORROR!  What they like is food, so if you like cute snacks you’re in the right place.  But pins?  I managed to find two.  Two!  Great for my wallet, but a little underwhelming for my collection.  Guess this means I’ll just have to go to other Disney locations!! 😉

Because we had such fantastic luck on getting on all the rides we wanted to, we left the park relatively early, around 2:30, so we could collapse back at the hotel.  The plan was to finish the day by watching a movie (Disney, of course), but we were so tired we couldn’t even manage that.  But being tired after a day at Disney is the best kind of tired. #livingthedream

I’ll stop here, because a) I have to proof read this tome before posting it and b) I have to save more for the next posting.  Until next time!

JAKOTAKONG PART 1

Japan + South Korea + Taiwan + Hong Kong = JAKOTAKONG, aka the best (author research) trip ever.  And our first stop is Hong Kong, so greetings from Hong Kong!

This trip has been in the works for two years, a result of watching Asian dramas for years AND beginning to work on Hart & Seoul.  Swag Master, my sister MC and I cooked up the idea, initially deciding to go to South Korea and adding on more countries as we got more ambitious.  I don’t know how many hours I spent scouring the internet for ideas of what to do, and it felt like it was so far in the future that I’d never actually go, so now I can hardly believe that I’m here.  Heck, I can hardly believe that I made it through the 15 hour flight (during which, might I add, I did not sleep, so I was awake every painful hour), but the swelling in my ankles is proof that it actually happened.  Some people need compression socks, I apparently need a compression body suit.  -_-

We finally emerged from the plane eeeeeearly the next morning, were given horrifically vague directions on how to get to our hostel, got lost in an upscale mall, and eventually wound up getting a cab ride in a car that was too small for all of our luggage plus us – all of our luggage was crammed in the trunk, and the trunk door was held down with bungee cord.  Thankfully we didn’t go over any big bumps, or else we would have been stranded in Asia without half my wardrobe.  Tragic thought.

Because we couldn’t check in until the afternoon, we came up with the brilliant idea to sight see all day in both an effort to pass time until we could check in and to stay awake.  In hindsight, this was a HORRIBLE idea, as I was literally walking into walls from exhaustion just a few hours later, but at the time we thought it was a good plan.

We explored Kowloon Park, which is this beautiful oasis in the otherwise extremely crowded city.  Seriously, space is at such a premium there, it’s $5,000 USD per square foot – it’s a wonder that anyone can afford to live in Hong Kong.  I for one was very grateful for the extra space and time to just meander through the pathways of the park before we hit our food tour.  Scheduled for 3.5 hours, we were supposed to try 6 different local food as we explored the city, but we made it half-way through the tour before my exhaustion hit full force.  Amazing how exhausted one can be after essentially 48 hours of no sleep.  Who knew?

After a restless night’s sleep on a very hard mattress, the next day we did a little shopping, rested, went to church, rested, and finished the day with a junk boat tour, which enabled us to see all the buildings on the coast light up as the sun set.  It was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous, plus none of us got motion sick – win win!  And then we rested again.

The next day we got up early once again, this time to hit the airport.  The fact that we were clearly foreigners fascinated a group of people, who made it a point to pepper a lot of English words in their Cantonese conversation; one woman in particular listened intently whenever we spoke to each other.  Not that our conversation was all that stimulating, as we were all still jet lagged and had yet to have a good night’s sleep, but whatever we said must have amused her since she kept on eavesdropping until we reached the airport.

And that, my friends, was my adventure in Hong Kong.  Stay tuned for the next destination!  And for those who have Instagram, never fear, pictures are coming.  Till next time! 🙂

 

 

 

How to Survive Editing a Novel

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It has happened, dear reader.  It has finally happened!  I was toddling through my day yesterday, minding my own business and being occupied with getting stressed at all I had to do at work, when it happened.  An email notification popped up on my phone, and I automatically opened it, assuming that it was yet another reassurance from a cruise company that NOW was the time for me to run away AND save money (not a bad sell, actually).  But, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, it was not that at all; it was an email from my publisher.  More specifically, an email from the editor, complete with a manuscript absolutely dripping with red ink notes.  Do you know what that means?

IT’S EDITING TIME!!!!!  Duh duh DUHHHHH!

I love editing, I really do.  There’s something about the challenge of trying to tighten up the story, move parts around so that everything flows better, and take out unnecessary words while adding just the right ones that gets me excited.  Although, I’ll admit, I had to remind myself that when I opened up the email – what if the editor hated it?  What if the story was awful and I’d have to start from scratch?  *GASP* What if I was a horrible writer?!?!?

Just as I was about to spiral into an existential crisis of impressive proportions, my eyes zeroed in on key words in the message: “fun”, “enjoy” and, most importantly, “believable.”  Immediately my existential crisis morphed into a giddy whirl, and stayed that way for the rest of the day.

So where do I go from here?   What’s the editing process?  It varies for each writer, but I personally am a very linear writer.  Although ideas come to me randomly, I tend to go step by step through the story so that I can connect all the pieces, which is exactly what I did when working on Hart & Seoul.  I have that same mentality for the editing process, which is outlined below:

  • Have the nerve to open the file from the editor
  • Do an initial read through over all the notes to get a sense of what the overall changes are going to be
  • Get Thai bubble tea to fortify myself (preferably Kokee Tea)
  • Begin editing by working on grammar (it’s easy and I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment that I’ve made progress – yay me!)
  • Take the biggest thematic problem and see how I can weave it more into the story, which will impact the smaller critiques along the way
  • Have a home made cookie to refortify myself before delving into the smaller details of the story
  • Repeat as necessary

Editing shouldn’t be rushed – you want the best quality work to be presented to your readers, and racing to get through the edits only makes more work for you in the long run.  But at the same time, it’s important to stick with a schedule so that you don’t get distracted, or worse, discouraged.  Celebrate the fact that you actually have something to edit!  Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Ellen Oh, who was talking at a local high school’s book club.  She told everyone that the hardest thing to do is to actually finish a book, how so many gifted writers are not published simply because they did not complete a story.  But if you are passionate about your work, believe in it and don’t give up, you will be published – and she’s absolutely right!  My book, if nothing else, is proof of that; it took a lot of rejections and pep talks to get me to this point, but here I am, about to begin editing a story that will be published in just a few months.

EEEEEECK!!!!!!!

Before I go off to actually begin editing, I wanted to share another update: next week I’ll be going off on a grand adventure to several AMAZING countries.  This is technically a trip that I’ve been planning for two years, but it oh so conveniently will include one special country that I need to visit for research for my next writing project.  *HINT HINT HINT*  I’ll be sharing everything on Instagram, so feel free to click on the link in the sidebar to join in on the adventure.

While I’m traveling, my blog posts will be sporadic, but I’ll be posting updates and news whenever I can.  And hopefully I’ll have a cover design to share with you soon.  I’ll admit, I have no idea what they will come up with, but they did ask me for some ideas, and I have a feeling that the artist is going to do amazing things.

Now, I must go and submerge myself in all that cyber red ink – see you on the other side!

The Making of A Novel Part 2: To Plot or Pants?

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Before I launch into the whirlwind that is my writing ‘process’ (if you can call it that), I want to do a special shout out to the fantastic Torva at the Fair Oaks Mall Verizon location, who not only found me the perfect phone, but did it with a smile and infinite patience.  I was there for over an hour as she tried to find me every possible discount that a gal can get.  Plus, she’s a ONCER!  Obviously that’s why we got along so well.  #captainswan#ouat.  Because of her awesomeness, I now have a shiny new phone that’s lavender glow is perfectly off set by my brand new cell phone case.  Better yet, I have the perfect excuse to buy a BTS pop socket!  THANK YOU TORVA!!

Alrighty, back to the title of this post: to plot or to pants?  That’s the eternal dilemma of writers everywhere.  But what is plotting and pantsing?  Here is my quick guide to what those two terms mean:

Plotting = you map out everything that’s going to happen in your novel, and pretty much know everything before you begin writing the book.

Pantsing = the opposite of plotting.

Hey, I may not be subtle but I am succinct.

Remember Swag Master?  Well, she is absolutely a plotter.  Takes it to a whole new and impressive level – she doesn’t just do research, she BECOMES the research.  As a result, she is not only well prepared when she begins writing her story, she can also spout off the most random tidbits at the perfect moment (my personal favorite is when she informed me that the sound of the ocean is actually millions of bubbles bursting beneath the surface).  It’s like she’s the embodiment of Jeopardy.

I, on the other hand, am more of a Wheel of Fortune person, squinting at the screen and guessing which letter goes next before I can see the big picture.  Which is why I am, without a doubt, a pantser.  I happily throw myself into a project with absolutely no clue as to what I’m doing or how I’m going to do it.  You are literally flying by the seat of your pants as you write…and I tend to fly so high I’m practically out of the stratosphere.  Plotting, to me, is this uber mysterious and intellectual method that masters of writing have used for centuries.  Take Shakespeare, for instance.  He had to have been a plotter, what with all those hidden nuances and jokes that make up his works.  Shannon Messenger, who we’ve already established is my favorite author, has a process that is so beautifully detailed that it’s basically the book itself.

Being a pantser is not all that bad though.  I mean, yeah, obviously a downside can be stress.  Besides the fact that you may be just as surprised by the plot twist as your future readers, there’s that stress of not knowing where exactly your story is going.  But hey, that can be fun too!  And it gives you a flexibility to your writing that is quite freeing.  Case in point, after grappling with one character revision after revision, I essentially killed them off in the final draft I completed before submitting it to the publisher.  And this character had, up to that point, had a lot of screen time, so to speak.  But I was able to do it without completely derailing the story – muahahaha!!!!

I try not to let the power of being a writer get to my head.  Emphasis on the word try.

But one thing I learned while writing Hart & Seoul is that while jumping in head first might feel exhilarating at the time, when you are writing a novel it is best to do at least some research ahead of time.  In my defense, though, there was no small part of me that was convinced that I actually wouldn’t be able to finish writing a complete story.  When I did finish the first draft – in one month, mind you – I was so shocked that I immediately began working on the second revision…which I also finished in a month…and then I immediately started the third revision…which I also finished in a month…and then my brain fired me and refused to work with me for several months.

During that time I read all the YA books that I could get my hands on, taking to heart the advice one author (and I can’t for the life of me remember which one) who pointed out that reading books is the best writing class you can take.  Of course, I took that one step further by also watching all the K dramas that I could find – all for research of my novel featuring a K-pop star, you understand.  And yes, I’ll be posting my top dramas…once I can tear myself away from watching them.

I think moving forward, I’m going to try to combine the best of both worlds: instead of being a plotter or a pantser, I’ll try to be a planter.  Oh, that does sound good, doesn’t it?  And, really, it doesn’t matter how you tackle your writing, as long as you actually tackle it.  I’m glad that I was totally pantsing during those first drafts of Hart & Seoul, because I proved to myself that I could indeed string together enough letters to make into words to make into a plot to make into a story.  Honestly, I doubt I would have been able to do it if I had plotted it all out – my brain just doesn’t work that way.

And by the way, in a lot of K dramas, the episodes aren’t actually all filmed before the series airs.  The producers often wait to see what the audience’s reactions are to characters, and the writers adjust the storyline accordingly.  Know what that means?  They are TOTAL pantsers!!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to enjoy a Harry Potter day, complete with appropriately themed snacks and comfy Hogwarts gear, because what better way to spend a day off?

 

The Making of a Novel Part 1: NoVa Teenspiration

Over the past three years I’ve dreamed of my book being published.  Yearned for it.  And, in my more dramatic and giddy moments, pretended that I already was an officially published author and ready to talk to people about my book.  And one of the first questions any author gets is, “What inspired the story?”  And here’s where I’d always fumble.  Do I tell the truth?  That I’m a huge K drama (and now BTS!) fan and that the idea came through the exhausted daydreaming of someone who has a subscription to both Drama Fever & Viki?  Well, technically I just did, but there’s got to be more to it than just fangirling, right?
Although hey, it’s some pretty epic fangirling, I must admit.
But yes, there is a bit more to the story than just me wondering what life would be like if Goo Joon-pyo came to life.  Any BOF fans out there??  AAAALMOOOOST PAAAARADIIIISE!!!
Heeheeheee.  Now, on to the rest of my tale.
A librarian is used to getting up on Saturdays.  All of us, some more often than others, have to work on Saturdays, and we get up with varying degrees of enthusiasm.  No surprise to anyone if I confess that while I can manage to get up early on Saturdays, I normally loathe to do so.  So much energy…and on a weekend…ugh.  Just ugh.  But on that special Saturday three years ago, I all but leaped out of bed, with enough enthusiasm to make Pollyanna look clinically depressed.  Why?  Because it was NoVa Teen Festival Day!
Grabbing my special bright red volunteer t-shirt and getting dressed in my comfiest jeans and shoes, I skipped to my car and hopped onto the highway, gloating at the lack of traffic.  In just a few hours countless teens would pour through the venue doors, and this year I had been elevated from the status of door greeter to panel moderator.  Gasp!  It was for a small panel, yes, and no one else in the room would care, but my excitement could not be diminished.  In the immortal words of SpongeBob SquarePants, I WAS READY!
Hah!  Little did I know that a few short hours later I wouldn’t give two hoots for being a panel moderator.  How can you when you are hit with a meteor of a story idea?  But before I go into that, does everyone know what NoVa Teen is?  Probably not, especially for my international readers.  HI INTERNATIONAL READERS! *waves both hands in joy*  And no, of course I haven’t been stalking my blog stats, especially since I shared the blog’s link on Reddit.  Pfffft…what an idea.
Erhem.  Moving on.
NoVa Teen is, in short, awesomeness.   It’s this AMAZING (and I’m not just saying it because I work on it) free festival where YA readers can meet authors for free.  There are free breakout sessions, of course a book sale with all the authors’ books, free swag give aways, food trucks, and an epic book signing at the end.  It’s an amazing day for any who loves reading YA books, and kudos goes to all the volunteers that run it.
And it’s free.  There, my plug for NoVa Teen is officially done.
The next few hours went as I had expected, an interesting combination of exhaustion and boredom for the volunteers.  You can be working working working to get something done on time, and then wait around for an hour or so until the next assignment comes up.  I usually jump in and help with the book sale if needed, try my luck at all the food trucks, and try not to obsess over all the authors that walk by me – no promises if Shannon Messenger ever comes.  Favorite.  Author.  Ever!!
After running around doing I can’t remember what, I marched to my assigned room and got ready with my questions, fumbling with my little notes as I tried to hide my nerves from all the people pouring into the room.   I don’t know why I was so nervous, because really I’d only be asking questions if the audience didn’t have any, and they always do, especially since the authors are always so friendly and happy to talk with everyone.
There was that one moment of panic when I forgot how to pronounce one author’s last name, but other than that it looked like it was going to be just a regular panel.  The authors were funny, the audience engaged, the conversation flowing – I sat back on my stool and began to relax, the sounds of the group lulling me into a hazy daydream.
I need to start a new drama tonight.  Is there anything good that’s been released?  Am I in the mood for a historical drama?  Or maybe contemporary.  Definitely contemporary Serious?  No, need comedy…wouldn’t it be funny if there was a drama about a K drama star that moved to America?  No, not a drama star, a K-pop idol, since most of them are singers anyways.  Yeah, a drama about a K-pop idol who moves to America…oooh, to escape the media because of a secret…
 
OH.  
 
MY.  
 
GOSH.
 
That moment, right there, will forever be called my Charlie Brown moment.  Why Charlie Brown?  One of the authors was speaking, I know she was, but all I heard was “Wha wha wha wha”, just like the adults in Charlie Brown.  I’d like to think that I kept a calm, professional expression on my face, but I have a horrible feeling that I actually looked like this:
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Oh yeah, subtlety is my specialty.  Not.
Aaaand I’m pretty sure that I nearly fell from my seat to boot.  Not surprising, as I literally felt as though a lightning bolt had hit me over the head.  It’s a miracle I didn’t shriek and really embarrass myself.  Remember that story that I had been working on (or rather, the first three chapters) since college?  Completely gone from my memory.  All I could think about was this story and how to get it out of my head as soon as possible, and I couldn’t wait to get started.
I somehow made it home in one piece, which is no easy thing when your mind is racing with a million writing scenarios a second.  I also think I drove just as fast, because I made record time.  One of the first things that came to me was the title, and that’s about the only thing that hasn’t changed in the many many MANY rewrites of this story.  I got to work on it the next day, with a 500 word goal fixed firmly in my mind.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, since I was exceeding that by an additional 1000 words a day, I managed to get a first draft completed in exactly a month.
The book has come a long way since that first very very VERY rough draft, but I’ll never forget that day when the idea came to me.  Some ideas just demand to be written, and Hart & Seoul is one of them.
And dang it, but that song from BOF is now stuck in my head.  And so, dear reader, I must inflict the same fate on you.  Caring is sharing, and all that.

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BTS!!

A bajillion fans.  29,348 steps.  12.59 miles.  7 idols.  One concert.  It can only mean one thing:

BTS is THE K-pop group, so of course I had to go see them in concert.  Wouldn’t be responsible of me as a writer to do anything otherwise, right?  Right.  And it was 1000% worth every penny.

Don’t know who BTS is?  It’s hard to describe this Korean pop group to people who are not fans, but the closest thing that I’ve been able to come up with is this: imagine seven good-looking guys with the popularity of the Beatles, the dance skills of Michael Jackson, and the voices of *insert favorite singer here.*  That’s BTS (which is the abbreviation for Bangtan Boys).  They’ve performed at the AMAs, been guests on multiple night shows, and have sold out show after sold-out show while managing to put out record after record AND film music videos and what’s basically a reality TV show of their adventures.  Oh, and they just so happened to address the UN.  So, ya know, there’s that too.

I mean, the fact that their fans are called ARMY pretty much says it all.  And when I say ARMY, I mean ARMY; BTS has a fan base so big that every time tickets have gone on sale, the website servers have essentially crashed because of the sheer volume of people trying to access the site.  Every.  Single.  Time.

And yet, by some miracle, I got tickets.

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I know!

Well, technically, I wasn’t the one who got the tickets; that feat is thanks to a friend who has chosen the name Swag Master to be used whenever I refer to her.  While I was at a writing conference trying to learn all things authorly (and yes, I did just make up that word), Swag Master was hunched over her computer, typing away like mad as she managed to snag tickets for us, an endeavor worthy of the many exclamation marks in the texts that were waiting for me when I got out of one of the breakout sessions.  I remember doing a double-take at the messages, my mouth opening and closing in shock as I processed that fact that WE WERE GOING TO SEE BTS LIVE!!!!  Forget being authorly, this called for some conference ditching and Korean food eating!

A round of applause for Swag Master, if you please.

Okay, so fast forward several months to this past weekend, specifically Saturday, which in my mind will forever be BTS Day.  Since the performance was in Newark, NJ, Swag Master and I decided to spend the day in New York City.  We were hoping to go to a store called the LINE FRIENDS store, which has tons of cute merchandise featuring the characters of this free texting app…and, of course, the new BTS line of goodies.  A line of goodies that BTS ever so helpfully filmed looking at in a LINE FRIENDS store…so now the whole ARMY knows about it.  And I think they were all there by the time we made it to the store.  At first glance, it didn’t seem so bad.  Sure, it was so crowded that you could barely move, forcing you to charge to any available space that magically appeared.  But there was still stuff on the shelves.  Only the line for the checkout wrapped aaaaaaallllll the way around the circumference of the store, so even if you did somehow find what you were looking for, you’d have to wait in line for literally hours before paying for it.  So instead of spending money at the LINE store, Swag Master and I made our painstakingly slow escape and sought refuge across the street at the Disney Store, aka my home away from home.

After a very successful bout of shopping, I was ready.  I’d already faced the crowds of the LINE store; bring on BTS!!!

All I can say is holy guacamole.  These guys…and their singing…and their dancing…you know what?  Google them.  I didn’t record anything because I’m the goody two shoes in the crowd and took the warning of no photography to heart, but just about everyone else had their phones out and recorded everything.

They started with Idol, their latest release, the perfect song that had everyone screaming and jumping and screaming some more, and the crowd just got more excited over the next two hours.  We were so excited that when they did the ‘last’ song of the night, we all flat out refused to move, waiting a good five minutes before the guys came back to perform three extra songs.  They are just as charming in person as they are on camera, and you can tell how close they all are.  And at the end of the show, each one took a turn telling everyone how grateful they are for the support and love that they have received from their fans, and can I just say that I loved how they bowed to the audience?  Not one of those theatrical bows that we use at the end of a show, but a traditional Korean bow that shows how much they appreciate us.

And do you know how we showed how much we appreciated them?  Besides the screaming, of course.  Fun fact, many K-pop groups have a special light designed specifically for their fans, which can be synced up to be matched with the music’s tempo during the show.  So they provide the music, the fans provide the light show.  Here’s the BTS light stick, version 3:

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And thank goodness I shelled out the almost $60 bucks for it, because I honestly wouldn’t have known what to do during the show.  The line to buy one was long – but then again I’d come to expect that with anything even remotely associated with BTS- and at one point I overheard one man exclaim in bewilderment, “This is the line for the ball?!”  But the minute my ARMY light stick glowed in time with the others I was so glad I’d bought it, and soon enough was waving it around as enthusiastically as the rest of ARMY.

Now, this was a fun trip, but at the same time I was mentally taking notes.  One of my main characters is a K-pop star, so I’d be crazy not to.  So although I may not have been jumping up and down like most of the others, it was only because there were about a thousand ideas running through my head.  Well, that and my feet were killing me.  29,348 steps is no joke!

It took BTS forever to leave the stage, thanks to our impressive lung capacity and insistent waving of lights, but eventually they were gone, the lights were back on, and we were all shuffling out in dazed exhaustion/joy.  We had seen BTS live!  They weren’t just people on the computer screen – they were real people!  We all trickled out to find restaurants to refuel and rehash ever single moment over a plate of fresh pizza.  For the record, I had three slices.  #noregrets

And that concludes my BTS adventure.  Have any questions about it?  Comment away!  And tune in next Friday when I share just how I got the idea for Hart & Seoul, the first in a series of behind the scene info on the making of a novel…but first, there’s a slew of BTS videos that I need to watch.  And gear to buy, preferably with sequins.  Lots and lots of sequins!

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A Spoonful of Confidence…

Welcome back, dear reader!  Just give me a moment while I throw cyber glitter into the air to celebrate that not only have I survived my first blog post, but I’ve written another one.  VICTORY!!!

You should have seen me on Monday; I don’t know how many times I checked my WordPress app, cackling with glee as people viewed the blog.  I almost feel sorry for my family; I kept shouting updates to them, whether they wanted to hear them or not.  SOMEONE ELSE JUST VIEWED IT!  I HAVE ANOTHER FOLLOWER!  THIS IS LIKE HIGH SCHOOL BUT I DON’T CARE!

Thank you for making that Monday extra special for me! 😉

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Okay, onto the next post.  With a show of cyber hands, how many of you are writers?  Poetry, novels, flash fiction, fan fiction, memoir, sci-fi, graphic novels – if you pen it, you’re a writer.  Keep those hands up if you get the inevitable question, “Oh, are you published?”  I don’t know how many times I’d get asked that when I mentioned that I write, and a part of me always squirmed when I had to reply that no, I wasn’t.  I think it’s something that we all face, this expectation that you are only a writer if you’ve been published.  But, as one friend has pointed out to me, writers are those who create to help process – doesn’t matter if others are going to read your work, you just need to express it.  So, whether you’re published or not, or don’t even want to be published, wave that hand proudly in the air.  You ARE a writer.

Of course, I say all this on a blog that essentially is about how my book is getting published, but you know what I mean.  So why exactly did I decide to pursue publication?  Oh I don’t know – some might call it insanity, and there were definitely parts in the process where I thought I was insane.  But hey, what’s a little insanity among artists, right?

I always knew I wanted to write stories, had been doing it since high school…yet threw myself into pre-nursing classes as soon as I graduated.  Never mind that I all but bombed chemistry (believe me, I do not say that phrase lightly, given the subject; it’s a wonder I didn’t burn down the classroom), hate math with every fiber of my substantial being, and at times have the attention span of a gnat – I was bound and determined to save the world…although technically I think the world needed saving from me.  Seriously, you do not want a nurse who hates needles or blood working on you, right?  Right.

It took a year for me to see the light – thanks to a particularly dry lecture on kidney function – and then it hit me.  Maybe I couldn’t actually help in a medical crisis, but I could certainly write about it!  Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth, oodles of cozy mysteries – I too could write like that!  After making the announcement to my relieved parents that I was not actually cut out to be a nurse, I immediately switched over to English studies, eventually focusing on Creative Writing at GMU.

I was filled with confidence as i marched to my first writing class…until I realized that people were actually going to read my stories.  Not only that, I had to actually finish one.  And to a perfectionist who could never get beyond the first three chapters of any story (write chapters, stop, obsess over flaws, give up in frustration, wait a few months, start from beginning, repeat), this was quite the daunting task.  Luckily for me, they were short stories, and were overall well-received.  And the more I wrote the more determined I grew to not only become a better writer, but to become published.  I wanted to share my story, whatever it may be, with the world.  Bonus if I actually got paid to do it!

But I just couldn’t get past my perfectionist ways, and for several years worked solely on those first three chapters of one story, getting frustrated with the flaws in my writing, giving up, then returning a few months later to start all over again.  I’d begun to believe that I’d never escape that rut, that I just wasn’t meant to complete anything, when I happened to stumble across a library’s online calendar of events and discovered that two of my favorite authors, Megan Spooner and Amie Kaufmann, would be doing a free event at the library to connect with their readers and sign their latest book, which of course I’d pre-ordered months ago and was just itching to have signed.  So I convinced my sister to come with me to keep me company, bundled us into the car, and drove almost an hour to get those coveted signatures.  I would have been completely happy with just that alone, but while I was at the event I heard the single most important writing advice that has probably ever been uttered.

Let me set up the scene for you: the library’s small community room was filled to the brim with YA readers, all of us perched on our hard plastic chairs as we geeked out over being near Amie and Megan, who are absolutely hilarious together.  They talked about their writing schedule and the adventures of being a writing team while living literally across the world from each other- Amie lives in Australia, Megan in the U.S. – dropped hints of the book, talked about upcoming projects…and then the inevitable question of what advice they had to young writers came up.

I nearly fell on my face as I leaned forward to hear some complex suggestion that only an experienced writer could come up with.  Truly, this was a moment of great importance.

Amie opened her mouth to speak first, and I held my breath, pen poised over my notebook to scribble down her words, ready for the writer’s cramp that I’d be sure to get jotting down the no doubt complicated writing procedure they swore by.

Ready for it?  Brace yourself, because this will blow your mind:

Just write.

….

Two words.  That’s it.  Just.  Write.  Yes, they sounded extra impressive thank to Amie’s accent, but still.  Just write.

The tension in me deflated, leaving me wilted in that cold plastic chair, my mouth agape as I struggled to take it all in.  Of course, she had more to say, something along the lines of writing the first draft is the most difficult part, because it’s easier to edit something that’s already there than to start from scratch.  And then Megan joined in by adding that one technique that works really well for her is to set up a daily word count goal.  The words she writes may be crap, but by golly she’s going to meet that goal.

Now, of course I’d been told this in college; all my writing professors had emphasized time and again the importance of practicing and sticking to a writing schedule.  But for whatever reason (I blame puberty), those two words had more impact on me than two years of writing workshops.  And as that realization sank in, a small bubble of hope took residence in me, a little germ of confidence that maybe, just maybe, I might finally be able to start that one story I’d been working on and *gasp* actually finish it.

Spoiler alert, it worked.

Setting up a daily word count goal did wonders; I lowballed it by deciding on 500 words a day, and more often than not would triple that.  So not only was I writing, but I gained more confidence as I exceeded my goals, which is how I finished the first draft in a month.  Now, that first draft was complete and absolute crap, but it was something.  And just as Amie had said, it was easier to edit something already written.

Second spoiler alert: that crappy first draft was of Hart & Seoul…which was 110% not the story I had promised myself I would finish.  If you had told me that I was going to write a contemporary YA novel featuring a K-pop star, I would have very nicely offered to buy you ice cream to soften the blow of informing you that you are insane.

But when an idea hits, it cannot be ignored, and I learned a valuable lesson: be open to change!  You never know where it might take you.

And no matter what kind of writer you are, whether you are pursuing publishing or just love to quell all those voices in your head (can I get an AMEN to that one?!), I echo the best advice a writer can get:

Just write.

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P.S.  I can sum up the topic of my next post in two words: BTS Concert.  This is going to be epic…