Monday, February 28, 2011

Raking Dead Leaves

Yesterday, I felt the coming of spring. The air was warm and breezy, thunder rumbled in the distance, frogs croaked near the pond, and dead leaves blanketing my garden beckoned to be raked.

I gathered my gardening gloves, rake and wheelbarrow, feeling the vigor of the first garden foray of spring. That lasted until about the second wheelbarrow dump of the wet, slimy leaves.

Oh, my aching back. My sore knees. The blisters on my hands. And this was only the first of many gardens to clean!

Then, I saw them. Tiny, yellow-green sprouts of daffodils, Stella d'Oro day lilies, loriope, creeping phlox, and a dozen other perennial flowers. As I gently raked the dead remnants of winter away from each plant with my fingers, I could almost hear them take a deep breath of fresh air.

Funny, it brought to mind the editing I'd been sludging through on Broken Dolls over the last several weeks. Cleaning out the dead leaves - pieces of the story that had served a purpose once, but now choked parts of the story that needed to be uncovered. Pulling weeds - unnecessary words that cluttered. Even digging up and replanting - rearranging pieces here and there to make the whole novel better. Like cleaning out my garden, it was sometimes unpleasant, but necessary work.

Now, the garden is clean. My little sprouts can breathe and enjoy the sunlight. Soon, they will burst forth in color for others to enjoy. I can't help but continue my simile thoughts, that one day soon, as with my garden, so goes my book.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Conversation with "Broken Dolls" Character, Sachiko Kimura

This is the first of three conversations I will have with the protagonists of my novel, Broken Dolls. The book follows the lives of nine-year old Japanese American, Sachiko Kimura, her seventeen-year old brother, Nobu, and his African-American friend, Terrence Harris, from 1941 to 1945.

Jan: There are certain events that have happened in our lives that we will never forget. We will always remember where we were and what we were doing. For me, it's the explosion of the Challenger and 9/11. Where were you, and what were you thinking when you first heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked?

Sachi:  Well, I hate to admit that I was snooping in my parents' closet, trying to find where Mama had hidden my Christmas present. As I searched, I heard a voice on the radio in the kitchen. The man was talking about Pearl Harbor being attacked. The first thing I thought of was my brother, Taro, who was in Hawaii. Mama and Papa had wanted him to stay in California to attend college, but one of his friends told him there was good money cutting sugar cane in Hawaii, so he decided to go. I didn't hear the whole story about what happened in Pearl Harbor until later, so I didn't realize it was Japanese airplanes that had attacked. After I learned it was the Japanese, I was not only frightened for Taro, but for myself, for my family. I was already being teased me for being Japanese. Kids at school called me names, and I knew they would be even meaner now. I tried to pretend I was sick the next day, because I didn't want to go to school. But Mama saw right through me, and sent me anyway.

Jan:  So, how were you treated after Pearl Harbor?

Sachi:  The next day, dozens of kids called me Jap -- even more than before. But does the tenth time you're called a name hurt more than the first time? I don't think so. It hurt my feelings the same every time someone said it. Every time they whispered as I walked down the hallway. But it was harder on my brother, Nobu. I remember when he came home that day we'd first heard the news. He slammed the front door so hard the windows rattled all over the house. Then, he started yelling at Mama and Papa about how his friend's father had come outside when they were shooting baskets in the driveway. He told Nobu to go home, to never come back, all because he was Japanese. After Nobu finished yelling at my parents, he stomped up the stairs and slammed his bedroom door so hard a picture fell off the wall.

Jan:  You and your family were sent to an internment camp in Arkansas. They were very dark times for your family. Were there any bright moments that brought you through the darkness?

Sachi:  Yes, but not for awhile. After Papa was killed by those boys, the ones Nobu thought were his friends, I didn't think I could be any sadder. Then, we found out we had to leave our homes. I had to leave most of my belongings behind. When we arrived at Santa Anita, a racetrack they had converted to temporary housing, the smell was awful and we even had to share bathrooms. But, you know, there were parts about being there that I liked. All the people were Japanese. I no longer felt different from everyone else. Nobody called me names anymore. Then, some of our friends were sent to assembly center camps in California, some to Utah. But we were sent to Arkansas. Arkansas! I'd never been so far away before. There, the air was so hot and sticky, even fanning myself didn't make me feel cooler. But, it was also there that the most wonderful thing happened. I met Jubie Lee Franklin. Funny, fearless, downright naughty at times, and she became my very best friend. And though her skin was black, she wanted to be blood sisters with me -- me, a Japanese girl. I can still hear her words, can still see her with her hand over her heart. "It don't matter what we look like. Auntie Bess always tell me ever thing that's important sets right here in my heart."

Jan:  If you could tell the world something about yourself that we don't know, what would it be?

Sachi:  I wish I could be more brave. That might sound strange, coming from a young Japanese girl. But I have grown up learning the Japanese way of "saving face." Many Caucasians don't know what that means, so I'll try to explain. It means never doing anything that might bring shame, either to me or my family. One must behave, not speak out of turn, be respectful. Imagine the fearful thoughts that go through my head when I want to speak up, or try a new adventure. Will it anger someone? Bring shame? So, rather than take the chance, I refrain. I wonder what chances I have missed at discovering something new about someone or something else, or even about myself. Maybe that is one reason Jubie Lee was brought into my life. I don't need to worry about saving face with her. No, she wants to see every kind of face I have, whether it's a smile, a scowl, a tear or a frown. She wants -- no, demands -- to see every part of me, not just the honorable ones.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Worst Valentine's Day Ever

I was watching CNN this morning, and one of the "on-the-street" questions asked was "What's the worst Valentine's Day gift you've ever given?" Some of the answers were pretty funny - like the man who answered, "a toaster."

I tried to think of the worst gift I'd ever given or received, and I couldn't really think of anything. I did, however, quickly recall my worst Valentine's Day ever.

It happened in my senior year of high school. I was the president of the "S" Club, a girls' service organization.

One of our major fundraisers every year was Val-o-Grams. Upon receipt of a paid order by any student, we made Valentines by hand out of  red construction paper and white lace paper doilies. These Valentines were then delivered to classrooms throughout the day by one of our "S" Club members. When the happy recipient received it, inside he or she found the heartfelt prose of a secret, or not-so-secret Valentine. Either way, for those of you who can remember "being in love" in high school, it was a VERY big deal to receive such a message in front of all of your classmates.

So, what made it so awful, you ask?

Imagine ordering one, full of expectation of gratitude from your Valentine - but your Val-o-Gram wasn't delivered. Or, imagine expecting to receive one, your heart beating with anticipation as the "S" Club cupid enters the classroom - but your name wasn't called for delivery.

Now, imagine being president of the organization that misplaced an entire page of Val-o-Gram orders.

Frantic complaints by two or three very unhappy people was all it took. Their love notes had not been delivered! I shuffled through stacks of paper, and to my horror, discovered that we had neglected to make Valentine's for an entire page - approximately 30 people.

Valentine's night, some of my fellow "S" Club members and I, sacrificed our own Valentine celebrations to complete the orders we'd missed. We issued sincere apologies the following day, and with faces as red as the Valentines, delivered them.

The saying, "Better late than never" didn't make me feel any better.

The event has gone down in the annals of my most awful moments. At the time, I thought I'd never live it down. Today, thankfully, I can look back on it fondly as a typically traumatic teenage event. I can even smile about it.

Still, at times I wonder if those missing Val-o-Grams might have changed history.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Facebook Flash Fiction - Nature's Gym

Who's the Facebook Flash Fiction?
Being snowbound can lead to boredom, which thankfully, can also spark a bit of creativity. There are so many stories to be told behind many of the postings and pictures on Facebook. I thought I'd take the opportunity to create my own.

Now, I don't personally know some of my Facebook friends, so many, if not all of my flash fiction will be just that - fiction. And, to protect the innocent, I'll only use first names. :-)

And now, I'd like to present my premier Facebook Flash Fiction. It's a story about Linda - who, by the way, is a good friend of mine - and her marvelous attitude about the world.

Who will be next?


One day, during the Great Blizzard of 2011, Linda flipped on the light in the garage. She scratched her head, wondering where in the world Neal would put the snow shovel.

Talking to herself was not something she admitted to a soul. Still, she had a solitary conversation as she perused Neal’s well-organized tools. “Where is that silly old shovel, anyway? I guess I'm just going to have to clear a path myself. After all, I must get out for my daily walk down the lane, else how am I to keep this girlish figure?”

The closet door squawked as she opened it. “Ah-ha! There you are, you contrary shovel. Now let’s get busy. Nosiree. I’m not going to let a measly 24” of snow stop me. Nosiree.”

Her boots crunched with every step she took into the bright sunlight. She squinted her eyes and took a breath of cool, fresh air before shoveling the first scoop of sparkling white snow. "God's diamonds," she whispered.

The shovel became even more contrary as she shoved it into the snow. “ Ugh,” she groaned. “Shoot darn. This pretty white fluff is heavier than I thought.”

Another scoop, then another. She panted, then flexed her muscles. “Why, this is almost as good a workout as arranging rocks last summer.”

Scoop. Pant. Scoop. Pant.

Deer paused and gazed at her in sympathy, while birds flitted around, pecking at seed she'd sprinkled for them earlier.

At last, after two hours, she’d cleared a path.

She wiped her brow and smiled at the hill of relocated snow. “What a nice workout. Nature’s gym.”

The brisk, cool air exhilarated. Until . . . oh, not again! An unwelcome surge of heat blasted on her neck, her face.

"Why, it's -31⁰ out here. How can I be hot, hot, hot?"

Suddenly, that pile of snow she’d conquered looked mighty inviting.

“I think I’ll just take myself a little plunge,” she exclaimed. Then, she leaped in and fluffed snow around her like a soft, white blanket. “Ahhh . . . God provided a little side benefit to nature’s gym. Relief from my personal summer.”

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

True Confessions of a Snowbound Writer

I have been a very bad girl. (I'm grinning as I imagine eyes widening in great anticipation of reading a blog about my (mis)adventures into "bad girldom.")

Well, let me tantalize you by confessing that in my seven days of being snowbound, I have succumb more than once to at least three of the Seven Deadly Sins. (Definitions given below provided by Wikipedia - Seven Deadly Sins.)

1) Gluttony - over-indulgence and over-consumption - What is it about being snowed in that makes me so hungry? Is it a fear of running out of food, being stuck on top of this icy, snow-covered hill, unable to get to the grocery store for more? Is it boredom? Is it my empathy for the wildlife I watch from inside my wood-stove warmed home? I don't know what it is, but I've had an insatiable urge to nest, to cook, to EAT.

2) Sloth - laziness and indifference, failure to utilize one's talents and gifts - This is THE deadly sin for a writer. I can't believe with all of this spare time provided by the beautiful, tiresome snow, I haven't written a single morsel of a new story. What's the deal? How often during frenetic times of my life, have I longed for stretches of time that would allow me to write, write, write? Okay, I'll admit that I have done a bit of editing, but not one single new word have I been able to squeeze through my keyboard and onto a page. I've spent some time (time that I should have been writing) reflecting on reasons for my slothly ways. Restlessness? Yes, I do feel a bit like a caged animal, which makes it hard to concentrate. Lack of pressure? I do, after all, work best under pressure. I need a deadline! Perhaps I am a passive agressive writer. That's right. By not writing, I'll show . . . I'll show . . .who?

3) Wrath -  also known as "anger" or "rage" - GET ME OUT OF HERE!
Really, that's a slight exaggeration. I count my blessings to have such a warm, comfortable home in which to be trapped. But, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

Three sins out of seven, huh? Maybe that doesn't quite qualify me as a bad girl.The remaining four sins are:


Okay, maybe I have succumb to one or more of the remaining four. But, those confessions will have to wait for another blog entry.

For now, as another 4-10" of snow ascends upon us, I am going to try to redeem myself - at least in my slothly writer ways. I will write. I will write. I will write.