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i suck at writing book summaries

30 Dec

For a part of my assignment, I wrote a book summary for Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. The story is well-written switching between two teenage misfits who become friends and yea, fall in love. An interesting, complicated, super-awkward. Like having Michael Cera playing Park, but wouldn’t work since Park is half-Korean, half-Irish. Unless Cera eats some Kimchi to prepare for the role.

So here is my awkward first attempt capturing the summary of the book.

Park is a high school student who is not popular. His life changes when Eleanor began sitting next to him on the bus. Their friendship begins as Eleanor reads Park’s comic books. The story is told from two different points of view, Park’s and Eleanor’s. During their relationship, they learn about each other’s lives.

Gah. Stream-of-consciousness gets the ball rolling, but then you want it to stop rolling at a certain point. Me like purty things and character development is gud. Then I had to imagine it in a dialogue format. So I chose my friend Albert and imagined him asking me about the book because he enjoys YA fiction.

Albert: What is the story about?

Me: It’s about two high school teenagers who are stuck riding the bus together but eventually become friends through their mutual interest in comics and music. Park had dated Tina, a popular girl, and thanks to that he is not picked on. Eleanor, on the other hand, is a new girl with red-hair who dresses in weird clothes such as men clothing. Park has a peaceful life living with his Korean mother and American father while Eleanor lives with her siblings, mother, and abusive stepfather.

Next, I imagined myself talking with a guy who makes movie trailers for a living.

Trailer Guy: Get to the point. Shorter!

Me: Two high school students get stuck sitting together in the school bus. Through reading comics and exchanging mix tapes, they become friends and soon fall in love with each other. Both of them are misfits in their own ways; Park is a half-Korean, half-Irish teenager who struggles with bouts of anxiety while Eleanor is the new red-haired girl who is bullied at school, wears strange clothes, and lives with her abusive stepfather. Together Park and Eleanor explore what it means to be an outsider in Omaha, a small midwestern town.

It’s better than what I had started with. Sure, not short enough to the disappointment of some figment of my imagination that I labeled trailer guy, who probably lives in some mobile home instead.

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What is the art of writing a book summary? One thing for sure is that it’s short and mostly spoiler-free. I am always amazed when reading book summaries of how the writer captures the book’s essence into a tiny paragraph.

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overdone detailed fiction drivel

9 Jul

If I tried to write a story and you got to see it being formed in my mind, it might turn out something like this…

*

Sean parked his car in the parking lot. It was a red Honda Civic. Actually, it was not exactly red, but crimson red pearl according to the Honda dealership that was exactly 32.522 miles away from where Sean was when he parked his car. (The manager running the successful enterprise has a name, Tom.) The odometer read 20,432 miles, the left taillight was out, and there were some white bits of pigeon poop across the windshield.

Oh, and Sean. Seriously, who do you, dear reader, think Sean was the past three sentences? Was it just some human-size question mark hovering until the author described him, or did you think of him as a tall, mysterious man with a frown visceral as a dark and stormy night? Or a femme fatale who was disguised as a businessman so she can infiltrate a booze cartel and take it down inside out? (Also, a time-traveler from the Prohibition Era who still thought alcohol was illegal.) Of course, being the author of this short blog entry that consists of semi-sensible drivel to make a point of how difficult it can be to write a story without having a porridge that is not too hot to eat or a bed mattress too soft to sleep on, he decided that Sean is just an Asian-American male in his mid twenties.

Of course, the name Sean reminds this author of his friend he had back in high school. Back-then Sean was short, about five feet and two inches. And Asian-American. He was quite a talented student who played the violin well and aced his classes; the author every now and then would be jealous of him. The author hopes back-then Sean, who is probably grown to be today Sean, is not reading this blog.

So it should be reminded that Sean is a fictional construct, a figment of the imagination, the consensual collective delusion, and any similarities to back-then Sean or the author are really just a coincidence. Wait, was that already assumed by the dear reader? The author is now confused, frustrated and constipated.

And don’t get him started on describing Tom.

obsessive compulsive detailing when writing fiction

2 Jul

Whenever I consider writing a story, my eyes stare at the wall in my room with my mouth agape.

How do fiction writers make their characters radiate with such vigor and have the narrative flow like a river in a Thomas Kirkade painting?

I have trouble giving names to characters because they would strongly remind me of someone from my life or the name wouldn’t fit. Then there is trying to develop their personalities…and don’t get me started on describing places.

2013-07-02_23.17.55

I prefer not to describe this.

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One misconception that’s difficult to shake off is to assume I have to provide every single detail and connect the dots for the reader. In theory, that would mean lots of details must be spilling out and all I have to do is get a big bottle of whiteout and blot out the excess. Actually, not much is able to come out because all of those details are all jammed at the door, leaving me mentally constipated.

Of course, it’s the hackneyed yet tried-and-true advice to heed: Write, write write. From all those words and paragraphs that are piling in the junkyard, I would be able to collect a few and tinker with them into bigger ideas, which can yield to great characters and narratives.

The prescribed laxative: Write, write, write.

typos give me anxiety attacks

9 May

A few weeks ago, I finished hosting my virtual seminar for my Genres and Topics in Youth Literature course with an emphasis on graphic novels. Mine was titled “Nonfiction and Comics: A Novel Idea.” I just received my grade today along with the following comments.

  • Evocative questions
  • Informative, effective and relatable content
  • Lovely and relevant introduction [as shown below]

Compliments are truly the freshmaker for the soul, not Mentos. My handling of the seminar, which was really reading the online discussion posts by my classmates and responding to them, was also noted: “very responsive to your classmates, additional material and ideas offered in your responses.”

And then all that glorious self-esteem boost imploded into chalk dust as I saw that I was dinged half a point for the following sentence I wrote in my self-evaluation:

“Being aware of my classmates may not be familiar with nonfiction comics, it was better to have gone with an overview of nonfiction comics.”

Despite my solid good grade, I couldn’t ignore this glaring oversight. The anxiety I felt was like realizing your pants was unzipped the whole time. You didn’t first have me at hello; you had me with your fly down.

Being a graduate course in the Master’s in Library and Information Science (MLIS for short), I understand the need for the professor to connect with the eight-grade grammar teacher within to enforce good grammar for the good of humanity. Without good grammar, our language would have eventually break down into caveman grunts.

*

My fear of being called out on grammatical errors is this notion that I’m just some fob with English as his second language when in reality I was born in Maryland and English is my native tongue, and I’m someone who happens to get his verb tenses mixed up every now and then. And his Korean is enough to get him by.

I have been tinkering with some soon-to-post blog entries the past week or so, and feel like the idea and the paragraphs are just off-kilter. I also have two papers to turn in on my plate.

Nevertheless, I’m still going to write and post. There’s going to be the occasional lopsided sentences and whenever I see them, I’ll be sure to chiropractorize them real good.

As I still remember what my TA told me in my early years in college, and I paraphrase: ideas are more important than having goody two shoes grammar. No need to vivisect your sentences into diagrams. Just a decent pair of decent hiking boots will do as you walk through the street of the loitering there/they’re/their and the grunting typos.

nc-virtualseminar

i am a blogger

12 Apr

For quite some time, I thought of myself “writing on my blog” or “updating my blog.” I avoided the terms blog (as a verb) and blogger. Probably it was the negative preconceptions like this comic that made me think blogging is some coping mechanism that unpublished writers go through.

Growing up in the 1990s to the early 2000s, I became drawn to the popular dream of being published. I always read books at the public library in the 808’s, which consists mostly of inspirational thoughts about writing. So I began thinking that great writing must start with submitting a bunch of manuscripts to magazines and being rejected some thousand times. (I read too many comic strips with Snoopy getting his manuscript rejected.) I once submitted a collection of poems, and yes, got a small, impersonal rejection letter, which I still keep as a souvenir.

Thus this developed some negative impression of blogging somewhere in my unconscious. Sure, I’ll admit that I did use Xanga in my high school days, but even then, I knew it wasn’t going to be Pulitzer Prize material. I thought great, serious, and awesome writing only resided in magazines and literary journals.

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I must admit, there is that magic when it comes to blogging. Instead of sending your manuscripts to mysterious editors hidden in the shadows of literary elitism, your posts are instantly available to the everyday Joe, Jane, and [insert your name here] browsing on the blogging website and the Internet. You can write whatever you are passionate or introspective about, and reach out to your audience who look forward to reading your latest posts. You can view the likes and respond to the comments in real time without waiting a few weeks if your manuscript got accepted. (Of course, it would be nice to get a physical letter saying your work is accepted.)

I have finally come to the point to admit this: I am a blogger, who blogs.

love the game (i.e. your craft)

10 Apr

The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.
-Jordan Belfort

I love this quote because it calls on the excuses you make to yourself. It doesn’t pat you on the head that it’s okay and sprinkles sugar all over your face, but instead it points out what you haven’t been doing. Of course, you can react harshly and end up doing nothing at all.

*

So what are my goals in life? Cartoonist, librarian, writer, and thinker. The boundaries between these endeavors blur. I thrive on creative activities and feel that satisfaction on a completion of a blog post or comic, but I also do enjoy organizing and recommending books to read. A balance of the creative and clerical is my yin and yang, giving me space and structure.

While browsing Doris’s blog where she shares her fabulous fashion design sketches, I came across a quote that she posted from the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.
-Jiro Ono

I’m going to risk sounding like another job guru dude just without the book tours and my face on the book cover, but the occupation you have right now doesn’t have to define you, unless you want it to. Because you’re not a full-time artist right now doesn’t mean you’re just a “part-time artist” in the symbolic sense.

You’re really half the artist when you neglect to continue toiling in your craft or compromise by creating what’s popular right now than what you really want to express and communicate.

*

I found out about this hip-hop group Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on the radio yesterday. So I listened to their album on Spotify and their first song, “10,000 hours”, was the good swift beat and rhymes to my lazy rear that I needed. I don’t want to spoil the song by posting the lyrics, but I’ll describe the background to the concept of 10,000 hours.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell has an idea that if you put 10,000 hours into doing something particular, like drawing or writing, you can be an expert in your field.

Whether this is true or not, I must agree that investing lots of hours into your craft will cultivate you as an genuine artist. Sure, you’re going to create plenty of bullshit along the way, but you take it and use it as fertilizer. An overlooked doodle can inspire an amazing portrait; a scrap of sentence written in the margin can sprout a novel. Sounds crazy, but if you keep a sharp lookout, you will be able to spot it like a skilled gold miner. Those invested hours will help you to develop that eyesight.

Or you can just take the blueshit pill and be trapped in your delusion of grandeur without ever having made an impact in the real world.

the 3:05am epiphany

18 Mar

Again, I have another case of insomnia; however, when it happens, it’s because my brain is busy churning out ideas. So it’s a good thing, like a close friend calling you in the middle of the night with great news he has to share in person and when the conversation is over, you see the sunrise.

So my brain is at some 24/7 diner chewing on some thoughts while my body is an old man tapping the window at the diner to “keep down that racket.” But the metaphorical senior citizen gives up and joins the brain at the table. The brain is to be blamed for this unusual figurative speech written at 4:50 A.M. Anyways, I digress, and it’s already 4:52 A.M. Where did the time go? Fiddling with this paragraph.

*

My twentysomething life right now has a flexible schedule: a graduate student pursuing MLIS via distant learning (i.e. online) at SJSU, a part-time library page on Wednesdays and Saturdays, a part-time middleman for two companies (note: will come back here when I’m more alert to rephrase this job title, and there’s a story about how this employment came to be), and an artist.

That last word, artist; I have mixed feelings about it. It’s an identity that I like and strive to be. Yet, what concerns me is that people seem to be more focused on being perceived as an artist by others than creating worthwhile art, whether it be stories, essays, drawings, short films, blog posts, pottery, and so on. Or even a more frightening thought, trying to create art in the same way preparing a Big Mac: plop some buns and patties together, sprinkle some lettuce, and squirt the magic sauce.

For me, I have made lots of such Big Macs, big time.

Junior high: I churned out lots of poetry. As in, butter gone bad.

Freshman year of high school: I shared with my new circle of friends a poetry packet entitled Me and My Purple Clouds. I should kickstart a time machine so I could go back and change the title to Me and My Stupid Ego. And then punch my high school self in the face, well-aware I will experience a brief moment of pain but it should clear crap poetry from his brain. Saving myself from myself.

Throughout High School: Bought what I considered too many self-help books on how-to-be-a-writer. Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul is the tell-tale sign, and it’s still sitting on my shelf. (Note to self: donate it soon.) Dabbled in Xanga.

College: Took a few fiction workshops. Out of the dozen stories I turned in, I remember liking one, but I forgot what the title was. Tried to start some blogs here and there, and it never panned out. (This blog, however, is doing quite well, thank you very much for the visits, likes, and follows.)

This is really a brief summary of me clobbering meat bits and bread together. So okay, I may have been a tad bit cynical and self-deprecating about being an artist and making figurative Big Macs. Maybe to the point of discouraging an aspiring artist from considering to create ever again; he might vow to a life of penance and shove a calculus textbook up his rear end.

What pithy advice can I offer to remedy this, as to save the trip to the emergency room for bowel obstruction? Well, the only word of advice I can offer is persist. And this comes from a handwritten letter from a Pixel animator, Austin Madison.

*

This brings us to the epiphany I had at 3:05 A.M. Of course, I need to give a small letdown to you. Counter-intuitive, I know. So it’ll make more sense, somehow. It’s now 5:16 A.M. Random? Yes, and to prove my point, I shall digress.

(Digression #1: When trailer for 300 came out, my college roommates and I saw the trailer multiple times. Much hype surrounded the movie that by the time I exited the theater, I thought it was an okay movie. But that scene with the tree? Disturbing. Let’s just think happy thoughts about the movie instead.)

(Digression #2: Whenever I check my grades on my paper or exam, I always imagine that I got a C. Then when I look, I feel good when I see it’s either A or B, and if C, meh. Low expectations somehow help, but do not overdose.)

Okay, now the epiphany:

In person, I can be easily misunderstood; in art, I create so I can be understood.

In reality, I can communicate well and be easygoing, like ordering a Filet-O-Fish without any problem, but I do have my occasional awkwardness and quirks. There has been many moments in my life where people have been put off by my faux pas. Burnt bridges abandoned, jokes gone south, and good intentions soured. In other words, I’m imperfect, like any human being with their shortcomings and talents, shame and potential.

When in the realm of art, whether it’s skiing through the white page with a pen or sculpting a statue, it takes on this surreal dimension. Where all of your memories (good, bad, sublime, traumatic), convictions and doubts, dreams and nightmares, and all the components that make you…you, surge into what your hands are crafting.

Don’t fret on trying to get people to see you as an artist¹, but rather focus on the endeavor at hand, and create something worthwhile so you can be understood.

Author’s Note: I’ll admit that I like to eat the Big Mac. Just my 5:32A.M. self approved it as a metaphor for this post. No Big Macs were consumed during the writing of this post.

¹This can be substituted with cool, nonchalant hipster everybody knows and loves.