Monday, April 25, 2011

Another Rainy Day

It's raining. Again.

Our dirt road has washed away and left in its place boulders that my husband I would not dare lift, even together. Amazing, the power of water.

Needless to say, we're stuck at the farm until we can be rescued by a knight in shining armor - the county road grader.

So today, I am working on a new short story, "Haruko's Tsunami." I know in my mind what I want to say, but I'm struggling to get that message to my fingers. In the last hour, I have changed the first sentence three times:

12:05 p.m.
#1) The ground rumbled. There were times when Haruko was not sure if it was the movement of the earth or the frailty of old age that caused her imbalance.

The dogs need out. Then they need back in. Now they're horseplaying. Then . . .
12:34 p.m.
#2) Haruko felt the earth rumble, then watched cherry blossoms fall like snowflakes from their branches. Takeo would come for her again.

Stephen calls me from downstairs. "Baby, I need your help with this computer again."
1:05 p.m.
#3) Takeo would come for her again. Haruko knew this when the earth rumbled. She watched cherry blossoms tremble on branches, let go and fall to the ground below.

Turning blue in the face, I figure I'll check Smashwords again to see if my story had finished uploading. Wow - my very first Smashwords story. But, it's been in the upload queue for almost 24 hours now. #3212 to #2693 to #2112 to #1936. Now, at last at #599. Did I format it properly? What will the cover look like? Just how long must one be expect to hold one's breath?

1:17 p.m.
"Honey, let's go get your car now," Stephen calls again.

I threaten to whine about being in the middle of this blog entry that took me away from my story, but decide I'd better not pass up the opportunity to rescue my car from the bottom of the hill.

1:45 p.m.
Both cars are safely at home. My Smashwords queue is now at #394, and I've rewritten the first line of "Haruko's Tsunami" for the last time:

#4) Haruko stomped her feet until the ground began to rumble. Tired of waiting, she ripped a branch from the cherry blossom tree, and decided to go after him. "Takeo, where the hell are you? I've got a little present for you."

That'll have to do for now. The phone is ringing . . .

Friday, April 22, 2011


Today, we begin a new adventure - chicken farming! I can't help but remember a story from my childhood when I stare down at our ten cute, red balls of fur -- the Rhode Island Reds that Stephen picked up yesterday.

Oh, how their little peep-peep noises take me back . . .

I was probably about six years old, which means my parents had already been blessed with four daughters and at last, a son. We ranged in ages from newborn to six.

I'm sure the whiney noises we made when we saw the cute little chicks for sale at Easter time were not nearly so sweet as the peep-peep noises coming from the crate in the parking lot.

I begged. "Oh please, Daddy. Can't we have one?"
"Pleeeeeease, Daddy? They're so cute," pleaded Kim, tugging on his pant leg.
"I promise I'll take care of it," Cyndie guaranteed as she nodded her head.
Tami, at two, just smiled down at the brood, while Mommy swaddled Chuck and shook her head.

Daddy shook his head, too. "No. I don't think so. Little chicks grow up to be big chickens. Then what will we do with it?"


He drew a deep breath and glanced at Mommy. "Well, okay."

Mommy objected. "Robert, I don't think--"

"Oh, come on, Honey. What's wrong with just one little chick?"

"Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!" we all chimed, then proceeded to argue about which was to be the Chosen One.

As we piled in to the station wagon, we bickered about who got to sit by the window, then we argued all the way home about what to name the chick.

"No, Fluffy!"
"I don't like Fluffy. How about Bunny?"
"Bunny? That's dumb. It's a chick."
At last, Mommy spoke. "Peep-Peep."
We pondered the name for only a moment. "Yeah! Peep-Peep. That's perfect!"

At home, Daddy set up an area in the bathroom for Peep-Peep, complete with newspaper on the floor, a plate of chicken feed and a cup of water. We watched, like proud new parents and patiently picked up spilled food, blotted spilled water, until the dreaded call came from down the hall -- time to go to bed.

"Oh, it can't be time for bed yet."
"Can't we stay up just a little while longer?"
"Peep-Peep isn't sleepy and either am I."
"But she'll get lonely. Can't I sleep in here?"

Daddy came to the bathroom to shoo us all out and off to bed. When Peep-Peep followed with the rest of his brood, he bent to pick her up. "Oh, no you don't. You stay in here." He gently placed her on the toilet seat, then hurried out behind us.

Daddy shut the door just as we turned to say "goodnight" to our new pet. We should have named that little chick "Speedy," for she was faster than any of us could have imagined.

I cried, "Wait," then closed my eyes when I realized it was too late.

We heard one final "peep," then heard Daddy click his tongue and say, "Oh, my goodness." Not sure what was the more pitiful sound.

That night, I don't know who I felt more sorry for, Peep-Peep or Daddy.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's a Small World After All

It's a world of laughter
A world of tears
It's a world of hopes
And a world of fears
There's so much that we share
That it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all 


When I was a child, my family made annual treks to Disneyland, where my favorite ride was "It's a Small World," a magical boat cruise through world villages, serenaded by the theme song in a variety of languages. True, it might have been considered cheesy by some. But I still remember gazing at the happy faces of the singing dolls and feeling a lump in my throat as I wished the world really could be that happy.

Every once in a while, though not often enough, I experience a moment that makes me realize that our world really is small, and I am grateful to find how similar we can be, even to someone who lives half a world away.

On Friday, I met Zehui, a University of Arkansas student who is here from China to obtain her master's degree in Communications. She is working on a research paper on the Japanese-American internment camps and after finding my blog and website, emailed me to ask if we could meet to discuss my research.

I don't know what was more exciting - that someone other than friend or family had spent some time on my website or that someone was interested in the subject matter of my book, Broken Dolls.

I asked Zehui how she became interested in the internment. She told me she had originally planned to do her paper on the Nanking Massacre, but while researching the special collections of the university library, she became intrigued by information she found on the internment of Japanese Americans. I understood, having also found fascinating archives, including journal entries, letters, newspaper articles, etc.

Zehui told me she was surprised that so few people know very much about the internment, and that most did not know there had been two camps in Arkansas, Jerome and Rohwer. In doing my research, I too, have been surprised at how unfamiliar people are with this part of our history. However, most people I've spoken to have a desire to learn more about it.

But my real "small world" moment came when Zehui told me she thought it was important for history to be reported objectively and without personal opinion or emotion. It is the very thought I have had myself about history, an opinion that was born fom reading the book, "Lies My Teacher Told Me," as well as traveling to other countries and seeing the contrasts in how history is reported.

Zehui and I both believe that the past must be reported objectively. It's tempting to teach historical events with a "nationalistic" tone, and I will admit that I have been one to be drawn to the nationlism. But we both agreed, that if we don't report history as it happened, without spin or fear of how it will "make us look," we will not learn its lessons and are destined to repeat it.

Zehui's and my histories are likely very different. Not only are we from different countries, we are from different generations. In fact, she is probably younger than my own two children. But, I left our meeting feeling we had much in common, and I was grateful for the chance to get to know someone who is from the other side of our very small world.

There is just one moon
And one golden sun
And a smile means
Friendship to ev'ryone
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It's a small world after all

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Creative Non-fiction and the Paprika Incident

Wikipedia defines creative non-fiction as a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not primarily written in service to its craft. As a genre, creative nonfiction is still relatively young, and is only beginning to be scrutinized with the same critical analysis given to fiction and poetry.

In this blog post, I will attempt to show the difference between "technical writing" and creative non-fiction. First, the technical writing of an incident that happened yesterday:

STEPHEN: What are you doing?
JAN: Making egg salad.
STEPHEN: Why don't you make deviled eggs?
JAN: Egg salad is easier and it tastes almost the same. It just doesn't have paprka.
STEPHEN: I love deviled eggs.
JAN: (Laughing) I remember an argument that Mary and I had once about whether paprika had any flavor or not.
STEPHEN: Yeah? What was the argument about?
JAN: Mary thought paprika did have a flavor, and I said it was only for decorative purposes.
STEPHEN: How old were you?
JAN: Probably about fourteen.
STEPHEN: I can't believe you can remember that far back.
JAN: Of course I can remember. I remember both times in my life I was wrong.

Jan and Mary almost 40 years after the "Paprika Incident."

Now, here's the creative non-fiction version:

     One spring morning, Jan decided she was in the mood for an egg salad sandwich for breakfast. Her mouth watered in anticipation as she peeled each egg.
     Her husband, Stephen, watched from the kitchen table. "What are you doing?" he asked, then took another sip of coffee.
     "Making egg salad," she said, tossing the last peeled egg into a bowl.
     "Why don't you make deviled eggs?"
     Jan mashed the white orbs with a fork and scooped a dollop of mayonnaise into the bowl. "Egg salad is easier and it tastes almost the same. It just doesn't have paprika."
     "I love deviled eggs," Stephen said, turning a page of his newspaper.
     Recalling a conversation from high school, Jan laughed. "I remember an argument that Mary and I had once about whether paprika had any flavor or not."
     "Yeah? What was the argument about?"
     "Mary thought paprika did have a flavor, and I said it was only for decorative purposes."
      "How old were you?"
     She stopped mixing and thought about the day she and Mary sat in the cafeteria at school, talking about paprika when other girls their age were talking about boys. "Probably about fourteen."
     The newspaper rustled as Stephen folded it. "I can't believe you can remember that far back."
     Jan tasted the egg salad, deciding it needed a little more salt. "Of course I can remember. I remember both times in my life I was wrong."
     Stephen rolled his eyes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Conversation with Author, Denton Gay

I first met Denton at a meeting of Northwest Arkansas Writers' Workshop. I remember being held captive by his psychological thriller, Fatal Mistakes, which was published last year by BookLocker.

Denton attended the University of Arkansas and obtained a BA degree in Psychology. Although he did not pursue a career in the field, his interest in human behavior is reflected in much of his writing. He is also a member of Ozarks Writers League and Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc..

As I've gotten to know Denton, I not only enjoy conversations on writing, he is also one of my favorite people with whom to have a "political" conversation.

However, for this interview, I kept the subject about writing. :)

JAN: Midwest Book Review recently rated your book, Tailspin, as "Highly recommended. Thoughtful, humorous and charming reading." How did you come up with the idea to write a political satire through the eyes of a dog? Did any special dog(s) help with the characterizations? Any special challenges?

DENTON: Several years ago, I was sitting on the deck behind our house, gazing out at Beaver Lake, contemplating issues facing the United States when the thought struck me, my d---n dogs could do a better job running the country. The first question was how could a dog do that? The answers to questions like that kept coming to me, so I wrote this book. Naturally, the two main dog characters were drawn from my two dogs. Fortunately, both were smart, telepathic dogs and they were able to guide me along the way. Writing this was a ton of fun, and marketing the novella has proved to be the biggest challenge.

JAN: Your book, Fatal Mistakes, is a psychological thriller that weaves a story around teen pregnancy issues and revolves around a protagonist who, with the help of a therapist, deals with a variety of emotions. What was the catalyst for this story?

DENTON: Years ago, I saw a lot of friends involved with decisions surrounding teen pregnancy. Many of them were, like most of us during that time in our lives, immature emotionally and prone to make mistakes. And because people tend to repress emotions for various reasons, these decisions can result in unforeseen consequences. The decision to use a male protagonist stemmed from influences in the screenwriting world where everyone wants to do something that hasn't been done before. So, I thought it might be intriguing to write about abortion from a male viewpoint. For me personally, this book served as a vehicle to fulfill my fantasy of being a psychotherapist.

JAN: You write non-fiction and screenplays, as well as fiction short stories and novels. What do you enjoy writing most?

DENTON: Writing screenplays rocks. They are not the most fun to read, because the writing style leaves much detail to the director. But it is that economy of words that draws me to it. For me, any fiction writing involves visualizing the story, so the preference boils down to one of technique. Unfortunately, screenwriting is the most difficult form to sell.

JAN: Has your background in psychology or the insurance industry given you more writing ideas?

DENTON: The world of psychology offers unlimited writing ideas because the field deals with human behavior. If Fatal Mistakes receives a good response I'll likely write another psychological piece. And with so much attention on healthcare and insurance issues, I'd like to write more on the subject, though it will likely be in the form of newspaper, magazine, or blog work. Like most writers, many ideas spring from my imagination and experience. The challenge is where to focus your efforts.

JAN: What question have I not asked that you would like to answer?

DENTON: Beneath the surface of all your work one sees a concern about social issues in a thematic sense. Why? Because I think all good writing should make human beings consider who they are and how they should be in this world by using their own head and heart for answers.

JAN: You are initiating a group for writers to brainstorm and focus on the marketing aspects of writing. Tell us something about that.

DENTON: In today's competitive environment writers need to be thinking about audience and markets even before publishing their work. You can bet that a potential publisher will be asking questions along those lines. Most writers like to write but do not like to market their work. For many, this is a burdensome, difficult task that requires a good deal of research and knowledge in order to become effective. By sharing what we've learned and experienced with others, we can benefit each other. This group is in the formative stage so I don't know how effective it might be. (If you are interested in participating, please contact Denton at

Denton also has a website, that contains information and advice for people who have been affected by an automobile accident.
Visit Denton's website:
Contact Denton:
To purchase Tailspin as an Ebook or paperback:

To purchase Fatal Mistakes as an Ebook or paperback:

Leave a comment by Monday, April 18 to be included in a drawing for an autographed copy of Tailspin!