Taiwan

Getting Creative with Audience: Live-Blogging _The Business of Being a Writer_

This is Part 11 of a multiple-part live-blog of Jane Friedman’s The Business of Being a Writer. Parts 1-10 can be found here.

Writer and editor Jane Friedman believes writing can be a career, and her latest book, The Business of Being a Writer, lays out just what components go into writing as a business. It should resonate with everyone out there who writes or would like to write for a living. It’s my hope that teachers of writing, especially at the MFA level, will also take up this refrain. 

I’m working through Friedman’s book right now, and I am finding places where my own experience either bolsters or informs Friedman’s neat summation and gentle advice. For the duration of my time through this first read of The Business of Being a Writer, I will be posting these experiences for you. I invite you to share widely, and add your own experiences to the comments. Each post will begin with a quote from Friedman’s book, and end with some actionable tips that you can put to work in your own writing career.

In a section on Building a Blog Readership, Friedman posits a few methods. One is “Create Guides on Popular Topics,” and in it, she writes,

“If you’re a nonfiction writer, then this probably come s naturally. Put together a 101 guide, FAQ, or tutorial related to your topic or expertise…If you’re a novelist, this strategy may take some creative thinking. Consider a few examples…”

Friedman then goes on to list a few tactics, including a travel guide if your book is strongly regional, a list of favorite reads by genre/category, or an FAQ around a strong “avocational pursuit” that influences your novels.

Please indulge me while I do a little beating up of myself. For bucket’s sake, my novel is based in Taiwan. And Las Vegas. And New York. My character is obsessed with self-help books. And diaries. 

Listen. You are never going to be able to hit all the marks when it comes to marketing your own books, or building your own platform. Someone somewhere is going to look back on your marketing efforts and see big, black, gaping holes, and if you’re very unlucky, that someone will be yourself, say, two years after your book has been published.

Woe. Oh, woe.

Listen. This is why they created the Internet, so that we can correct our own mistakes. And now, I would like to tell you a little bit about Marty Wu’s Taiwan, or, rather, the Taiwan that *I* know, which made me feel like my heroine needed to go there.

Taiwan 101, for those who might someday want to visit

Nomenclature

My mother calls it “Our Little Sweet Potato Island.” This image has stayed with me for so long that, whenever I look on a map for Taiwan now, I half-expect to see a tiny orange blob in the middle of the ocean, Not only that, I expect to see little tendrils of roots, sprouting into the water on any map.

My late dog used to lie on his belly on the floor, one leg tucked in and the other–*sproing!*–canted out at an angle. From above he looked like Taiwan, and thus like a sweet potato.

Black-and-white dog lying on belly with one foot out

Do not call Taiwan the sweet potato island when you visit. No one will know what you are talking about.

You might see it on older maps as “Formosa.” This is the name the Portuguese gave it in 1542. It was named this for a very long time, well into the 20th century. Although it carries with it a lot of baggage, my parents, at least, never seemed to mind it being called that, since it translates to “Beautiful Island.”

Language

“I speak only Taiwanese, not Mandarin,” is a common refrain for me when I go back home.

The people who have come over from the mainland to make their homes on Taiwan are usually perplexed. “But…are you uneducated?” one said to me. Silly cow,** I said back, this is Taiwan.

In the south, more people speak Taiwanese than in the north. In Taipei, the capital, you will find people who speak English. And most signs are spelled out in both phonetics and Mandarin, although Taiwan seems to have not decided on a system of romanization of the Mandarin.

Ah, the Mandarin. Yes. This is the official language of Taiwan. This is a hangover from the many years we were occupied, and then, the post-war years, when we were under martial law. Also, Taiwanese can be written, but it doesn’t have a strong written tradition.

Which I kind of love. Hearing a story told in my native Taiwanese is probably close to one of my top ten experiences.

Weather

Hot. Sticky. Rainy in the afternoons, providing brief respite from the humidity. Winter is the best time to visit Taiwan, hands down. We took a November visit one year, and although it rained a fair amount, it was still utterly beautiful. I’ll always aim for a winter or late fall visit. I’ve also been in December, and I loved it then, too, although the humidity made it feel like it was summer.

Bring layers. Light sweaters are a good thing.

Geography

In the mountains, there is coffee and bamboo.

There are hot springs in vinegar distilleries, at which you can taste the produce.

In the fine, fertile fields of the west, you’ll find such fresh vegetables that you’ll never want to season with anything but a little bit of salt, ginger, and garlic ever again.

Further southwest, mudflats are everywhere, and so are oyster beds. Have some oyster and dried-radish omlette; you’ll never be the same.

In the woods, out on the flats, in the cities–wherever  you go, eat the fruit.

Cuisine

Oops. See “Geography,” above.

Places I have Been and Loved

Anping Fort, or Fort Zeelandia: I love it because it is the last memory I have of my second uncle before he passed away. You will not have these memories, but you will find it very weird that there is a Dutch fort in the middle of Taiwan. Also, around the fort there are people making candy and you should buy some and eat some.

Kaohsiung: I love this city. Another uncle teaches at the medical college there, and my cousin teaches Mandarin for foreigners at yet another university. My aunt, an artist and loosely the inspiration for Marty’s aunt in the novel, had an exhibition at the art museum here. You will not have such memories. But you can walk along the Love River, and go to the wonderful department store, and have good coffee and a kick-ass Taiwan breakfast, all within just a few miles of each other.

Taroko Gorge: The waters through this gorge used to run so clear and so blue, but then there was an earthquake in 1999, one that really rattled the entire island. Since then, the locals say, the waters are still blue, so deep is the gorge, but they are very, very cloudy. It doesn’t matter. This is an extraordinary place and you will walk away knowing there’s nothing else quite like it in your recent history and probably in your near future.

TouLiu: This is home for me. It means nothing to you, except we grow great fruit and coffee. If we go together, though, I will make you visit. There is a street here called “Taiping Old Street” which is…I don’t know. It’s the place I eventually set some key scenes. But it’s also a place of great pain: the Japanese occupied Taiwan for a very long time, and this stretch of shopfronts has been preserved to recall this era of architecture and history. How strange, to remind oneself every day of this period, while you are going about your daily marketing.

japanese colonial architecture on Taiping Old Street in Taiwan

Anything else you need to know

Call me. I will talk your ear off. I will show you my photos. The place will steal your heart, and then some, and you will be happy you went.

Mostly, though, you are likely to be interested because you know me. Maybe you have read my novel, and you are a little bit interested in the things that drive Marty.

What drives us to visit a place, after all, but the stories we’ve heard about it, and the stories we hope to find for ourselves?

I do have tips for you:

  • When you get an idea for anything tangentially related to your book, write. it. down. You do not want to be kicking yourself for later.
  • Don’t forget to review this sheet of paper on which you will write things down. Do not pull a me.
  • Think of your book as a reader might. What things will this reader discover in your pages that would make them curious, or want to Google something or another?

What exciting things can you think of to do with the book you’re working on, or the books you’ve published? Tell me in the comments below.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Jetlag is the master of my universe

3AM. I’m so backlogged with posts that I can’t even think right. I still want to post our Niagara adventure, and I really, really need to update my book review section.

Part of the problem: I’ve been writing so much for classes that it feels like there’s very little to say here. Of course that’s not true…I’m a firm prescriber to the belief that life is in the details. But while I do appreciate them everyday, I’m no longer of the opinion that every detail is worth a blog post. (This is something everyone who’s ever read this blog should be thankful for.) But there is a happy medium, somewhere. I just haven’t found it yet.

In other news, we’ve added more stamps to our passports. We’ve recently returned from Jim’s first visit ever to Taiwan, my home country. Jim is my first friend EVER to see my home. In the days and weeks leading up to the trip, I wasn’t so much anxious that he’d like the place–after all, it’s where I’m from; part of what forms me, and I can’t change that–but I was really freaked out that everything would go smoothly.

My dad is the eldest son of his family, an honorable position, and my mother is the youngest daughter in hers–a coveted position in terms of sheer spoiling. It’s my mother’s family whom we visit the most when we’re in Taiwan, and this trip was no different. So yes, my brother and I still get spoiled when we go home, and yes, I expected some pampering, but I did not expect to have my cousins do everything for me.

—-

MARKERS YOU WILL ALWAYS BE EIGHT IN SOME PLACES IN THE WORLD EVEN WHEN YOU ARE 37 AND YOUR HUSBAND IS 40.

1. One entire branch of your family calls you and refers to you by the nickname they gave you when you were two. (In my case, “Gee Gee,” pronounced with hard “Gs.” It means “little screamer.” Shut up.)

2. When you have a problem, like, oh, I dunno, say your husband leaves your iPad in the seat pocket of a train, your entire family gets on it. Also, everyone knows about it in about three seconds.

3. Your entire family asks if you have enough money to spend. EVERY DAY.

4. No one lets you pay for anything. You have to resort to things like “going to the bathroom” and then stopping by the hostess’ booth to hijack the check. This leads to a bizarrely joyful sensation when you do get the check, or the chance to pay for anything. You feel like fistpumping: “YES! I GET TO PAY FOR SOMETHING! OWN IT!!”

5. You get patted on the head. Your hair gets ruffled. People say things like, “Good GeeGee. She comes home every once in awhile. What a nice girl.”

6. Your older cousin accompanies you to a business meeting and sits on the other end of the couch. For an hour.

—-

So. The anxiety. There were parts of  Taiwan that I hadn’t explored in ages. My progress through Taiwan is hampered by my incapability to read or comprehend Mandarin. Taiwan is weird that way, and Taiwanese, too–it’s rooted in Mandarin, which I never learned, but it’s a language entirely on its own. My cousin Jill helped me with EVERYTHING. She booked train tickets and hotels, arranged for permits, and in general was a gracious and lovely and fun host. The absolute care with which she handled everything made me feel a little flustered. I mean, how do tourists who don’t even have my basic knowledge of a working language do it?

—–

A STORY ABOUT A FREELANCE WRITER AND AN ENDANGERED BIRD

Once upon a time, there was an endangered bird called the Black-faced Spoonbill. A fledgling writer in New York heard about its endangered status and went on a mission to spread the word about a salt refinery going into place that would decimate one of the birds last remaining overwinter sanctuaries.

The girl made arrangements to fly to a small tropical island to visit the birds and the fishermen who were fighting to save it. She booked plane tickets and set up interviews and eventually wrote an on-spec story that never ran.

Legend goes, the girl’s family still marvels over her initiative and bravery at such organizational skills. Alas, the girl herself has no recollection of how she did all these things. Further study is, perhaps, warranted.

—–

Eventually, it all went to plan: We spent a full day in Taipei and then went to dinner and then took off the next morning for the Taroko Gorge–yet another place we want our friends to see–and then it was off to Kaohsiung for dinner with our uncle and hanging out with family I already knew Jim would love–and then I took him home, to TouLiu, and to my hometown, and to the house that robs me of any other standard of living.

Once, we owned rice paddies from our front doorstep to the foot of the mountains to the east. Once, water buffaloes and peasants worked the fields. Once, peeping frogs and squeaking bats and the plop-plop of rain were the only ways you could tell where things were in the deep dark of a night in the Taiwanese country; once,  I could walk down the alley and go to the corner store for breakfast and they would say, “Your mother went to America, didn’t she? And you came back? Welcome home.”

—–

ELEMENTS OF ARCHITECTURAL STUDY, AN IMAGINED LECTURE BY A PROFESSOR OF ARCHAEOLOGY AT YUNLIN POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY

“In this example of late Chin-dynasty architecture, we see clearly many markers of status: The horned roofing structure, the hand-painted rafters, the elaborate carvings in the area above the family shrine.

“Likewise, the person who designed this house clearly loved nature–note this inscription above the doorway to the kitchen, which evokes the memory of birds floating gracefully within flowering plants as they sing their songs.

“Finally, we note the pillars of the great hall itself, the way the short set of stairs sweeps up into the entrance to the grand hall. Visitors were made to feel as if they were not only being honored, but also as if they were in the presence of something honorable.

“In that vein, we take a trip down the road of local lore. It’s rumored that, on these very steps, the designer and first owner of this house, a scholar and elected official in the Chin dynasty, a man we’ll call Mr. Wu, received a notorious chief of Japanese warrior thieves. Our Mr. Wu had been asked by the emperor at the time to ‘do something’ about the warrior thief problem, and so, feigning illness, he sat in a wheelchair with a wicked saber hidden beneath a blanket on his lap. He summoned the warrior thief for a visit. One did not ignore an invitation from Mr. Wu.

“Our Mr. Wu beckoned the warrior thief closer. As he stepped within striking distance, Mr. Wu stood.

“The blade went neatly through the warrior thief’s neck. It is rumored that Mr. Wu sent the head to China, as proof of having followed the emperor’s request to a T, and then went in search of the Taiwanese wife that the warrior-thief had taken from her home. He took her under his wing, made her a concubine, and took care of her children for the rest of his life.

“But I digress. We have here in front of us two of the columns that came down during the earthquake of September, 1999. Let us study them now. Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about the internal workings of the house, the large center courtyard, and we’ll have in an expert on family living in that era.”

—–

The rest of the trip was awesome. I sincerely hope that the occasion arises for more Western friends to see both my homeland and my home, the structural body itself, before one of these things falls to progress and concrete rot.

As evidenced by the three national parks we visited the other of these things seems to be well on its way to preservation, not progress–it’s a good thing.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The Return of the Desk Zombie

I’m back at my desk for the first time in about a month. I can hardly believe it’s been such a long time, and I will readily admit to missing the small space that I’ve made my cubicle, with its crammed bulletin board and random toys over its working surface.
I feel like I haven’t had too much time to think. There have been very few down weekends since May, when we moved here, but the time’s been filled with good things, things that make me happy and proud, and things I’ll be able to talk about for the rest of my life–or, at least, until the Next Big Thing comes along. I’m worried that I’ve set the bar so high this year that every other year will pale in comparison.
Thing is, I didn’t really consider what a big year it’s been for me until my friend Ed pointed it out, while I was nearing the end of my deployment in Taiwan. I was moaning about post-deployment blues (which feel remarkably like post-race blues, actually) while online with him, and he said something like, “It’s been a very big year for you, Yi Shun. Turn that frown upside down!”)
I’m sure he only meant it as a flip comment, but I’ve been carrying that idea around with me for weeks now.
Post-deployment has been interesting. Certainly, my world is larger, my parameters for judgment are different, but it’s only obvious in small increments–like the other day, when I was showing a friend some photos of Taiwan after Typhoon Morakot, and she said, “God, it must have been terrible to see,” and I followed automatically with “It was a disaster area.”
I mean, duh. I can’t really say that anymore, without having the automatic snapshot pop into my mind.
Or when I found I’d gone weeks without regular TV of the brainless-sitcom (or even crime procedural) sort, and didn’t miss it, or much care. I’ve regressed to a certain level of childhood, it seems, where books were all that mattered. I don’t mind it.
Lara asked what it felt like to be in the field. It isn’t like anything, really. It’s like, you get there, you do the job, and you don’t do any processing until you get good and home and you’re way out of the situation. People who’ve never been in a situation where action counts most of all can’t understand it, and that’s OK.
Some part of you just takes over. The best, most useful part of the 9-day training course, by far, is when you’re sitting in the middle of class and someone standing just outside screams, “Fire! Fire!” and they make you go outside, run laps with your kit, unpack and repack your stuff, and then settle right back into class, as if nothing ever happened. It’s that ability to zip in and out of situations that they’re looking for: Address the immediate need, get back on track.
My patience for small things has slid rapidly downwards, although my taste for drama remains the same. I’ll still entertain calls about boy problems from my younger cousin, for instance, but I’m much more likely to snap, “Oh, Christ, who cares?” when she veers away from how he’s making her feel and rapidly into the “Why is he doing this to me?” school of thought. (She might argue that it’s always been this way with me, but I think it’s gotten worse.)
The amount of stuff in my house has become somewhat offensive to me. When you live out of one 35-litre pack for a few days and you do it just fine (okay, with meals out thrown in), you start to wonder why you have five hundred pairs of shoes, some of which you can only wear for two hours before they start to Piss You Off.
(That’s not to say that I’ll stop painting my toes before races and long training sessions, or that I’ll actually get rid of all of my shoes. Some things a girl just cannot give up. My immense bag collection, however, might do with a little pruning.)
My need for silence has increased exponentially. My preference for reading as a past-time is becoming a problem. I still love the city and all of its trappings, but I love this city most because of its lack of provincialism. I’ve been thinking about re-introducing myself to music as a past-time. (I have a keyboard, a saxophone, and a guitar in my storage room. I can only play two of those instruments, and only one of them kind of well.)
Mostly, I am tired. And hungry. For some reason I skipped dinner last night, and all of my English muffins are frozen.
And if you’re wondering why I’m thinking about the things that have happened over the last year, it’s because I turn 35 on Tuesday. Tuesday. 35. Mmmmhmmm.
Here are some photos from Taiwan.

This is the front gate to my home in Taiwan

This is the front gate to my home in Taiwan


The entryway to our Great Hall. It came down in the 1999 'quake.

The entryway to our Great Hall. It came down in the 1999 'quake.


This is one of the five dogs that runs about our house. This one's name is Ah-Huei, or "Little Flower."liberry
This is the hallway just in front of our Great Hall. In earlier times, when I was young, it was lined with chairs for receiving dignitaries and other visitors.

This is the hallway just in front of our Great Hall. In earlier times, when I was young, it was lined with chairs for receiving dignitaries and other visitors.


This is the Ameican House. We don't own it anymore, but I wish we did.

This is the Ameican House. We don't own it anymore, but I wish we did.


This is my great grandpa. I wish I had known him.

This is a small part of my incredible, happy family. Love them, and miss them.

This is a small part of my incredible, happy family. Love them, and miss them.

This is my great grandpa. I wish I had known him.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

On perspective after Typhoon Morakot

…I should really have a think about that headline. Is this really going to be about perspective? Part of me is tempted to troll the web for other disaster-relief volunteers, see how their perspectives changed after their first real-life experiences, but that would be cheating.
The other part of me is just temped to lay the whole thing out in schedule terms, see if that helps me to make any sense of it.
Overall, I’m deeply impressed with the ShelterBox operation. I knew that we were fast, but I wasn’t aware of the real-time pace of work. My team lead, David Ray, only just graduated from the 9-day course a year ago, and has already been on four deployments, to Pakistan, Sudan, Somaliland, and Sri Lanka, I think. He’s itching to get one more in before class starts, and I can understand why.
In many cases, I know we’d have moved faster, if it weren’t for the lifetime pace of Taiwan itself. We really do work 24-7 when we’re in the field, whether it’s working to create plan As, Bs, and then Cs and Ds or actually delivering ‘Boxes and finding the best ways to get them to their destinations. We didn’t see other aid agencies until a full week after our team first landed on the ground.
This isn’t giving anyone a really good idea of what happens during a ShelterBox deployment, and maybe that’s just because it’s largely impossible to describe. We get in, we establish partnerships, we find some way to recon the areas, we ensure the ‘Boxes are cleared of customs and ready to go, then we deliver the boxes. Following that, we set up a couple of tents, make sure everyone’s all set, and we’re off to either the next area, if it’s that kind of disaster, or off home, if it’s that kind of disaster. In my first three days there we recce’d four sites and established need in two.
The fact that I had a language advantage was great, but it added to my feeling that I’ll need at least three deployments under my belt before I consider myself fully competent in the tasks that make up a ShelterBox deployment. I could read between the lines, which made for some frustrating times, and I could also tell when things were sliding downhill.
Anyway, here are some photos.

Sometimes we carry our boxes by hand

Sometimes we carry our boxes by hand

Uploading them by excavator is easier, though.

Uploading them by excavator is easier, though.

I love this photo, of the local police chief of Lai Chi and the demo tent we set up for them.

I love this photo, of the local police chief of Lai Chi and the demo tent we set up for them.

I like this photo of the hound of one of our Rotary Chia-Yi people. She's just had pups, which is why she looks a little disgruntled.

I like this photo of the hound of one of our Rotary Chia-Yi people. She's just had pups, which is why she looks a little disgruntled.

What kind of vehicle was this?

What kind of vehicle was this?

we saw a lot of this

we saw a lot of this

the villagers of Ruei Tai were terrific teammates and quick learners

the villagers of Ruei Tai were terrific teammates and quick learners

Mr. Lai (no relation), to my left, is the kind of neighbor you want--although his own business and home weren't damaged, he called for help for his neighbors in the village of Ruei Tai, just up the street.

Mr. Lai (no relation), to my left, is the kind of neighbor you want--although his own business and home weren't damaged, he called for help for his neighbors in the village of Ruei Tai, just up the street.

More later, I suppose, as I process this thing. Lara sent a note that listed, although I know she didn’t mean it to sound this way, a number of ways in which something like this could change a girl. I may have to drag that out and use it as a rubric.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.