Wednesday, July 31, 2013

First Anthology Review for the Tomorrow Anthology

The first review for the Tomorrow Anthology from Kayelle Press featuring my story "Mokushi" can be found at Amazing Stories. It is fantastic. Read it here.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Mokushi Author Interview

Kayelle Press asked me to answer some questions regarding Mokushi, my story in Tomorrow, Kayelle Press’ collection of post-apocalyptic stories. Most of the questions are about the story itself, but several are about writing and the writing process. Check it out here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Man of Steel - Inner Journeys

SPOILER ALERT! DON'T READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT THE MOVIE SPOILED FOR YOU.

Okay, this isn't totally relevant to Asian books, but I like movies as well and every now and then I like to dissect them for story. We saw Man of Steel last weekend (yes, in the midst of the flood in Calgary, we went out for an evening to enjoy ourselves). My wife's only comment, after Superman emerged after a long fight in Smallville with General Zod's minions was, "I want his hair gel." Of course, Supes hair was impeccable even after all that combat. He's Superman, after all. Other than that, she wasn't a fan of the movie. His inner journey was much more interesting to her than all the fights and destruction.

Rushing to the defence of the Man of Steel, I said you can't have the inner journey without the outer journey. The movie was entirely about Kal-El's search for acceptance. He was an alien on Earth. Would humanity accept him? His father didn't think Earth was ready for him to appear and that humanity might reject him. So, he stayed hidden. Then, along comes General Zod who wants Kal-El to help him restore Krypton. Kal-El is Kryptonian so of course he should be with Zod and his minions. Earthlings are weak and Kal-El should shun them for his true brethren.

The rest of the movie was both an internal and external struggle for Kal-El to answer that question and I think the climax, although a bit overdone, was appropriate. Kal-El made up his mind - save Zod and his true home or save humanity and his adopted home. We all know the answer to that question.

For me, you needed both journeys and the story felt complete for me. Man of Steel was a good example of how to write an inner and outer journey of a character.

Now all I have to do is find that hair gel.

ADDENDUM

Larry Niven wrote an interesting article about Superman entitled Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex. I read it in high school (a loooong time ago), but after seeing the Gillette advertisement before the Man of Steel movie began ("How does Superman shave?" it asked), I remembered the article and looked it up. I've linked it above. It's hilarious reading.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Shanghai Steam Nominated for an Aurora Award

The news has already been out for a while, but I thought I would let you all know. Shanghai Steam has been nominated for an Aurora Award in 2013 for Best Related Work - English (read: anthology). Follow the link to the 2013 Ballot. If you are eligible to vote, I encourage you to sign up and vote for your favourite Steampunk Wuxia Anthology.


Friday, June 21, 2013

It's Been a Long Road

It has been way too long since I've said anything on this blog or updated it. That stops now. Mobile computing with the iPhone and iPad as my trusty tools have made tweeting and blogging so much easier. I can do it on the CTrain on the way to work. So, I'm going to try and post at least once every week. Watch here for more news. Oh, and I even changed the look. Let me know if you like. I'll be changing the background image.

As for the past few years (yes, years), I've been very busy. In the writing department, there has been a anthology (Shanghai Steam) that I edited and a couple of short story contests I helped judge. In all, I thought I was doing slush. At last count, I read or critted over 320 stories in just a year and a half. That includes the almost 100 stories we received for Shanghai Steam.

If you want a copy of Shanghai Steam, follow the link under Published Books to the right. It will take you to your purchasing options.

But the big news for right now is my new story, Mokushi, is being published by Kayelle Press in Australia. You can see the cover of the anthology below. My story is the first one in the anthology and I couldn't be more excited. Check it out and let me know what you think.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011


I was greatly disturbed by this book.

You see, according to Rory Miller, author of Violence: A Writer's Guide, I’m a nice guy. Just one of the vast majority of ordinary folk who avoid conflict and know nothing about real violent behaviour. That means that probably I don’t do anything above merely manipulating people to get what I want (according to Rory Miller, indirect violence such as subtle manipulation and coercion, is still violence - just not violence that causes bodily harm). Any level of violence above that, including aggressive, assaultive and murderous behaviour would (and probably should) disturb me.

And that was the author’s point.

I found this book because I am writing wuxia – Chinese martial arts fiction, and I was doing research. Aside from a few schoolyard fights and a few years of Karate, I have very little experience. And aside from a few short chapters in writing books and a few web pages, there is very little solid information out there about writing action scenes*. So when I happened to find this little book at Smashwords, I was intrigued immediately. Now, just by the description I knew this was not going to help me with my martial arts fiction. The author is writing about realistic fights, not stylized, choreographed action sequences. But I needed a baseline for my own writing plus, I have other stories which rely on realism in fight scenes, so I put down the $5.00 for a PDF copy of the book.

I was not disappointed.

The author cuts through the bull**** and tells it like it is in simple, sometimes grammatically incorrect, language. The book looks and reads like it was slammed out in first draft in MS Word. It barely goes over 80 pages. But that is enough for the author to give the reader everything he needs to know about the world (professional and otherwise) of violence and violent behaviour. With his credentials, he does appear to know what he is talking about. Whether he is correct or not remains to be seen (but I wouldn’t suggest trying this stuff at home). He gives the reader a bleak and uncompromising look at the world of violence and even gives readers dire warnings about how real life muggers and crack-addled street thugs think (or don't, depending on your point of view).

The author then goes on to describe various weapons from blunt force weapons and knives to guns. He discusses how each are used and the mindset you have to be in to use such weapons. The book also points to several online resources such as real life videos (The Russian Mugging video is brutal and not for the faint of heart) or extra online material from his own website. It is all there to hammer home the idea that the violence we see on television and the movies and read about in books is vastly different from reality.

And why did he write such a book? In the penultimate chapter of the book, the author goes on a rant and discusses what bugs him about books and movies that "get it wrong". He even describes Hannibal Lechter as a scary bogeyman, but hardly a realistic portrayal of a psychopath. He wants writers to understand what real combat is like and how real fighters and killers think.

After that, it’s up to us as writers to pick up the mantle and write realistic fight sequences in our stories. Should you buy this book? If you are a writer who writes fight scenes, yes, certainly. Writers are immersive. We try very hard to understand the human condition and write about it. So if someone who purports to know what real violence is like, I would certainly give him a try. Just be prepared for some disturbing information. Whether you use these ideas is up to the individual writer.

So now that I know the facts, will I heed his words? For martial arts fiction, not likely. That is the stuff of heroic fantasy and I’ll probably continue the fictional dance. I imagine many other writers will do the same in whatever field they are writing because sometimes realism gets in the way of good storytelling. But in the back of my mind, at least I finally have a baseline of realism to fall back on for my other projects.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll heed his warnings and understand how a real street thug’s mind works.

*If you can point me to a great resource on writing martial arts or action scenes (online or in a book) please direct me there. I would certainly appreciate it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Con-Version 26 Retrospective

Conversion 26 has come and gone. I could take the time to dissect it, to let you know what I thought was good and bad about it, but I think I'll take a different approach. Here was what I thought was noteworthy, from my point of view, about the Con. I’ll let others do the autopsy (bones, bugs and all):

• Ethan Phillips and Robert Picardo standup routine with both of them playing their Star Trek: Voyager characters. Wonderful performances.
• Hamburger and hotdogs for a banquet meal.
• A red-faced Ron Friedman and actress/songstress Chase Masterson and no photos.
• Seeing H.A. Hargreaves and family for the first time in 30 years. He received his Aurora Pin for his Aurora nomination in the early 1980’s.
• H.A. Hargreaves accepting Rigor Amortis, the anthology with my first short story publication, 30 years after he signed a copy of his book of collected short stories.
• Literary Panels. Feeling inadequate on those panels.
• Robert J. Sawyer. Surprise, surprise, surprise. He was here and he’s a friends with Chase Masterson.
• Meeting Marina Sirtis and John deLancie in person.
• Hugs from Brian Hades and the rest of the Edge Books group.
• Finding out that Rigor Amortis can go mainstream as an Edge Books imprint for distribution in regular book seller channels. All we have to do is sell 600 copies … soon.
• Getting advice about Worldbuilding from David B. Coe.
• The Dalek. And Dr. Who.
• Reading my story in Rigor Amortis aloud to an audience for the first time.
• Rene Bennett’s flash fiction story that won Writer’s Idol. Wonderful. And she wrote it the night before.
• Weregeek.
• My creative writing teacher, Betty Jane Hegerat, has read my story in Rigor Amortis. And she liked it. What a wonderful feeling.
• IFWA’s Monster Mash.
• Actually getting some much-needed sleep throughout the Con.
• Sentry Box (and all other bookstores in the city) running out of David B. Coe’s first book in his fantasy series Winds of the Forelands.
• Pho. And Denny’s. And Humpty’s.
• Free drinks at the Con Suite.

This Week’s Reason to Read:

Under Heaven: If you haven’t been paying attention to Canadian Spec Fic, then you don’t know that the incomparable Guy Gavriel Kay has published his next novel set in a world inspired by the glory and power of Tang Dynasty China.

In the novel, Shen Tai is the son of a general who led the forces of imperial Kitai in the empire's last great war against its western enemies, twenty years before. Forty thousand men, on both sides, were slain by a remote mountain lake. General Shen Gao himself has died recently, having spoken to his son in later years about his sadness in the matter of this terrible battle.

To honour his father's memory, Tai spends two years in official mourning alone at the battle site by the blue waters of Kuala Nor. Each day he digs graves in hard ground to bury the bones of the dead. At night he can hear the ghosts moan and stir, terrifying voices of anger and lament. Sometimes he realizes that a given voice has ceased its crying, and he knows that is one he has laid to rest.

The dead by the lake are equally Kitan and their Taguran foes; there is no way to tell the bones apart, and he buries them all with honour.

It is during a routine supply visit led by a Taguran officer who has reluctantly come to befriend him that Tai learns that others, much more powerful, have taken note of his vigil...

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's Here, Reanimated and Better with Zombies!!!


Wow, how time flies. Two years since my last post. Lots has changed. Technology has changed (I love my iPad but I'm writing this blog on a netbook - soon to have Scriviner) and the book market has changed (e-books are all the rage). Well, my online sabbatical ends now.

First, the good news. I can now call myself a published writer. My first published short story, "Travelling a Corpse Over a Thousand Li" appears in the zombie romance anthology, Rigor Amortis. The book is published by Absolute Xpress, a small imprint of Edge Books. It was released today and can be purchased at Amazon.com (not Amazon.ca ... yet). The book cover appears at the side. More to come, of course. I've been working on quite a bit over the past two years.

Let's see...I've got a first draft of my novel, "The Last Miko" done. It is currently in re-write. I've got two short stories on the go as well - both for short story anthologies. I hope at least one of them sells.

In the meantime, I am judging for the Robyn Herrington Memorial Short Story Contest (both High School and Adult level) which is being judged at ConVersion 26 (which I have previously placed first and third), critiquing stories for the Conversion 26 workshop and prepping for my first author reading at Pages in Kensington on Wednesday, October 20 at 7:30 p.m. More info to come when I know more.

Whew. And on top of that, I'm going to have more "Reasons to Read" - all Asian fantasy or Asian fiction by other authors. If you've been paying attention, the first fantasy novel will be obvious. If not, well, wait until next week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Am I the only one who is bothered by this?

Okay, I'm a bit late here. This offer just expired. Still, it is representative of a lot of deals Chapters/Indigo offers to their iReward customers.

Take a look at the coupon on offer here. It allows you to take 10% off any book in the store. That’s good.

But if you are an iReward card holder, you get 20%. That’s even better, right?

It is if you actually GOT 20%. In reality, you get 19%.

To figure out how, you have to look at your bill. The bill takes 10% off the top as you would expect from the deal. No problem there. But then, iReward card members get an additional 10% off the discounted price, not 10% off the original price. The latter would give the iReward card holder 20%. The former nets 19%. Chapters/Indigo saves themselves 1%.

So, if you spend $40.00 on books and you have a iRewards card, you would get 10% off ($4.00 off) for a discounted price of $36.00. With the iRewards card, you get an additional 10% off ($3.60) for a grand discounted total of $32.40 – a difference of 40 cents, which is exactly 19% off the original price – not 20%.

Now, if Chapters/Indigo had hedged their bets and said “iRewards card holders get an additional 10% off”, I probably won’t have much to quibble about. But they don’t. They make a blanket statement that iRewards card holders get 20%. It isn’t even mentioned in the fine print.

I know what you’re thinking. iRewards members are still getting a substantial discount and in the example above, all I am doing is quibbling over 40 cents. That’s very true. On an individual basis, my complaint is only over small dollar amounts. It’s probably the reason most people just suck it up. Even on a $100 purchase (pretty easy to do these days), you’re still only talking about a loonie.

But, taken at the corporate level, Chapters/Indigo makes an additional $10,000 for every $1,000,000 in books they sell. That’s more than chump change. If we take Indigo’s 2008 second quarter profits (I couldn’t find Chapters) of $191 Million dollars and use that to figure out what they might get, that comes out to be over $600,000.00. Now not all of those sales are from iRewards holders or even books, but if a third of it was, that is $200,000 in extra profit (not revenue) they would not have had if they calculated things properly.

So, is saying you get 20% and then only giving 19% in discounts still not a problem? I would like to hear your comments.

This Week's Reason to Read: Shimura Trouble by Sujata Massey - Alas, this is the 10th and the final book in the long-running mystery series which combines Japanese culture and murder mysteries and spins it with a little romance. I always found the series to be a light entertaining romp. The series took a turn several books ago and has never looked back. Now, the series last book is finally available in trade paperback, which should make it easier on the pocketbook for some. Here is what the publisher says about Shimura Trouble: In Agatha-winner Massey's engaging 10th mystery to feature antiques dealer and part-time spy Rei Shimura (after 2006's Girl in a Box), Rei and her father, who's recovering from a stroke, travel from California to Hawaii for a family celebration with previously unknown Shimura relatives, who turn out to be involved in a legal battle to recover land stolen from them during WWII. An appealing protagonist and memorable supporting characters blend smoothly with lessons in Hawaiian and Japanese history in a tale sure to win new readers for the series.

That's a Rap, Folks - World Fantasy 2008

I just returned from a whirlwind four days meeting and greeting some of the greatest authors and publishers in the industry. These are the people I aspire to be. The guests of honour included David Morrell (the creator of Rambo was Canadian – go figure), Barbara Hambly and Tom Doherty (the big kahuna at Tor Publications). They were all gracious, friendly and warm. I was fortunate enough to meet these and other extraordinary authors and publishers and get to know them as people. Some, like David Morrell, have inspiring life stories that are more fascinating than the stories they tell, and knowing their life stories helps you understand their work in meaningful ways. It makes me wonder how someone like me, who came into this avocation so late in the day, is going to fare with such luminaries gazing down.

IFWA was well represented too. There were two book launches by Calgary ’s own EDGE publications that featured IFWA writers: Gaslight Grimoires (with Jeff Campbell) and Tesseracts 12 (with Randy McCharles). Many IFWits talked up their latest projects to the powers that be and might even miss the Slush Pile when they send out their work.

To give me hope, publishers all seemed to be saying the same thing: they are looking for anything that is different – including fantasy fiction with an Asian edge. They’re looking for what I’m writing and that gives me hope that I will stand out of the slush pile.

Some Highlights:

- David Morrell’s two hour workshop on the Author’s Voice – the golden orbs of wisdom he gave everyone who showed up were priceless. I found my dominant emotion that night and noticed it throughout my work. It isn’t pretty, but it’s the truth. Now I have to re-read his writing book, The Successful Writer.

- I met new friends and got re-acquainted with many others (John Mansfield – my how your beard has grown).

- “When all else fails, if you can’t make the reader turn the page, at least make sure you don’t end a sentence at the bottom of the page.”

- Kij Johnson’s tattoos. She does rock climbing too. The next novel in her Heian series (The Fox Woman and Fudoki are the first two) is still in the works.

- Canadian Fantasy is not much different than other genres of Canadian literature – they are all stories told with an outsider’s point of view and none of that nasty racism and sexism.

- Gayleen Froese was at a panel. Alas, Ryan States did not attend as well and Gayleen was there for only a few hours. Still, it was great seeing her again.

- Jeremy Lassen of Nightshade Books (publishers of the Inspector Chen series and 9-Tail Fox). It would be very cool to be associated with such an eclectic group.

- There was a lot of Adria spotting and some catch and release, but no definite captures.

- Tad Williams’ speech about “American Fantasy under the glorious regime of President-for-Life Bush” at the Closing Banquet was hilarious. I hope someone got it on film and puts it on You Tube.

- I almost caught the cute and fuzzy Black Death, but did not succumb. I thought about getting the Common Cold, HIV or perhaps the Flu but decided to wait to get them after the Con. Apparently, the Clap was very popular. A couple of IFWits got a Brain Cell to prove to their friends and family that they have one.

Props: My congratulations and thanks go out to everyone at the Con Committee who spent countless hours and countless dollars over the past few years to make such an event possible in Calgary – Randy McCharles (how many more cons next year?), Kim “Running on Adrenalin” Greyson (get some sleep, okay), Cliff Samuels, Danita Maslankowski, Kim Nagata (oh my gosh, the food, the food) and Eileen Capes and all the tireless Con Committee Members and volunteers who contributed to the smooth running of the Con. My hat is off to you all. You have earned a much needed rest.

And now, I’ve got a massive bag of books to sort through. Where to begin … ?

This weeks reason to read: Along with all the luminaries I met at the conference, I also found (or heard about) a lot of Asian fiction that I had not been acquainted with. You can bet that I picked up as much of it as I could. I’ll have more of my findings in the weeks to come. In the meantime, here is one I never expected to find: Yume no Hon (The Book of Dreams) by Catherynne M. Valente. It is the story of a woman, Ayako, who wanders through dreams and myths, receiving lessons from the mountain and the river. Yume No Hon is an internal landscape painted with thoroughly poetic turns of phrase and a slim volume that packs a great deal of punch.

Note: the list of authors writing about a Fantastic Asia keeps getting longer. Thus, I have adjusted the list to your right with updated links to all those authors and what they write. I try and include everybody, but there is a lot of YA that would also fit into these categories as well and I just don’t have the space.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Writer's Rededication to the Rules

The Canadian general election is over and the Liberals got the Green Shaft (sorry, couldn't resist). As the Canadian parliament returns to the job of governing, it will have to rejuvenate itself and abide by a new set of rules.

As a writer, now is the best time to rejuvenate myself as well, and abide by the rules of writing. What better place to begin than by looking at William Safire’s Rules. William Safire is the author of the New York Times Magazine column entitled “On Language”. He is also the author of the book “How Not to Write.” In this lighthearted look at grammar and language, William Safire lays out the rules of grammar and then tells us how to break them. I know I’ll be abiding by these rules every day.

If you don’t get what Mr. Safire is trying to accomplish with these rules, you will by the sixth rule.

1. Do not put statements in the negative form.

2. Remember to never split an infinitive.

3. It is incumbent on one to avoid archaisms.

4. The passive voice should never be used.

5. Proofread care- fully to see if you words out.

6. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.

7. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

8. Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.

9. A writer must not shift your point of view.

10. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

11. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!

12. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

13. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

14. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.

15. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

16. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.

17. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.

18. Always pick on the correct idiom.

19. The adverb always follows the verb.

20. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

This week’s Reason to Read: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - Usually, I would recommend the latest Asian fiction novel to introduce to as many people as possible the wide range of Asian-style fiction out there. I had to digress this week because one of my favorite fantasy authors has released a new book in hardcover. Billed as a children’s fantasy, the book is about the graveyard adventures of Nobody Owens, Bod to his friends, who was raised and educated by ghosts and guarded by a being neither living nor dead. There are many dangers in the graveyard, but if Bod ever leaves, he will be attacked by Jack, a man who has already killed Bod’s family. This book sounds like it will be a great addition to any library – great reading before Halloween.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Write Dharma 3 - A Writer Writes, Always

Family and work have overtaken my time this past few weeks. With the end of summer and the passing of Conversion, it is time once again to re-dedicate myself to my writing. This month, IFWA begins a new year. Aside from new membership fees being due, a new Writing Contract will be written by all IFWA members.

My own goal is to finish up Jiang Shi this weekend. Aside from that, I want to write every day ... and when the brags come up next month, I want to be able to say I did just that. I will write even if it is for five minutes a day (fiction and this blog counts - my job is contract writing so that doesn't count - it's much too technical).

I am trying a new technique with Jiang Shi. I want it to read like a movie, so I am doing it as a screenplay first. After that is done, then I will make it into a short story. Wish me luck.

This week's Reason to Read: Heaven’s Net is Wide by Lian Hearn – When I was first introduced to Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori, I was quite skeptical. The first tale came across as being wish-fulfillment. But there were aspects of Ms. Hearn’s writing that kept me turning pages, least of which was her detailed descriptions of all things Japanese (even though this is set in a mythical Japan, the influence of Japan is clear).

The trilogy, which began with Across the Nightengale Floor eventually expanded with two more books - a sequel and a prequel. These two novels are bookends to the original trilogy. Now, the last book, Heaven’s Net is Wide, the prequel book, is available in paperback. If you have not yet entered the strange and mythical world of Hearn’s Three Countries, you owe yourself the trip.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How Green is My Grammar?

Even after writing for the last few years, I cannot say I'm an expert at English grammar. I'm not bad and I've internalized most of the rules of grammar. But don't ask me to conjugate verbs. That would be painful. Sometimes, what I need is the grammar police, but aside from an IFWA member, they don't really exist.

Or do they?

Jeff Deck and Ben Herson of the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) have been travelling throughout the United States stamping out as many types as they can find "in public signage and other venues where innocent eyes may be befouled by vile stains on the delicate fabric of our language." You can see a map of their travels by clicking on the link to their website.

In an interview, Jeff Deck said he has had a passion for eradicating typos since he was young and with this tour hopes to raise awareness of typos. He also said the most frequent typo he finds is the misuse of the apostrophe.

Not everybody values their form of public service. On August 11th, they plead guilty to conspiracy to vandalize government property in Grand Canyon National Park when they used white out and permanent marker to correct a typo on a historical sign that was painted over years ago. They were sentenced to a year's probation and banned from National Parks for the period of one year.

During that year, it would be amusing if the members of TEAL travelled through China correcting the grammar on "Chinglish" signs. Although the Chinese government tried hard to exterminate Chinglish signs for the Olympics, I'm sure a few like the one shown here got missed.

This week's Reason to Read: The Last Concubine by Lesley Downer. The author of Madame Sadayakko: the Geisha that Seduced the West and other non-fiction works about Japan has finally written a novel about Japan. The Last Concubine is an epic novel about Japan in the 19th century. Sachi is only 15 years old when she is given to the Shogun as his concubine. She escapes amidst civil war after the Black Ships arrive and she begins a journey of self-discovery.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Write Dharma 2 – There’s Something About Ami

I just finished the Conversion Writer’s Workshop and had part of the novel I am working on, The Last Miko critiqued. The workshop was a fantastic experience and I got a large number of good crits for my novel. I also have a lot of thinking to do. It was our facilitator who gave me the bombshell.

He said that every writer has two minds: a craft/technique mind and an artistic/muse mind. Writers who are good at craft will write competently and formulaically, whereas writers who are good artistically will surprise. You can’t craft surprise. The best writers, the ones who are recognized for their work, use both minds. He said I am a good craft mind writer (like himself) but I seem to be pulling punches. I had to put a sharp edge into my writing. In other words, I had to let my artistic mind take over once in a while.

I know what he means. I don’t often let my artistic mind take over because I am so focused on craft and I don’t really trust my muse. But when I do, sometimes, I do something right.

Case in point: Ami. More than one person, in fact half of the workshop participants, said they loved Ami. Not liked, loved. Ami had a short, five page appearance in Chapter 2. I didn’t do much with her either. She was a foil for the main point of view character. Yet they loved her? She was amazing. They cared for her. I was quite taken aback by these comments. Then someone asked me how I did it. How did I get everyone to care so deeply about her in so few words?

The answer: I don’t know. Ami came out of nowhere. I originally wrote her in an earlier draft of Chapter 2 but then scrapped the whole thing and started fresh – new setting, new characters, new plot. The draft I submitted to the workshop hadn’t even been polished. I guess I discovered the diamond at the core of Chapter 2 and her name is Ami. And I still don’t know what I did right.

The only thing I can think of is that my muse was kind to me that day.

This Week’s Reason to Read:Shanghai by David Rotenberg

Most noted for his Zhong Fong mysteries (also set in Shanghai), Canadian author David Rotenberg has written a thick, page turner of a book that will remind readers of the Clavell's novels Shogun and Tai Pan. The novel centers around two families, both descendents of Emperor Qin, the first Emperor of China, locked in a multi-generational feud. This is not-to-be-missed reading.

Monday, August 11, 2008

All Eyes Trained On Beijing

The Eye of Jade
by Diane Wei Liang


Rating: ***

Culture Shock: ****

To celebrate Beijing’s 2008 Olympics, for the next two weeks I am going to review novels set in modern day China. This is the first.

Although you may not be aware of this, but there are quite a few English language mystery novels featuring hard-boiled Chinese detectives. Two that come to mind are Zhong Fong by Canadian author David Rotenberg and Inspector Chen by Qiu Xiaolong. Both of these detectives are male and both work, for good or ill, within the confines of the Communist system in Shanghai .

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang gives us a new protagonist in this otherwise brutal profession: a female private detective living in Beijing. Mei Wang, a former member of the Communist Party’s Ministry for Public Security opens her own private detective agency against the wishes of her sister and her mother, both whom feel she doesn’t have enough guanxi, or contacts, to make it in business. She is far from being a hard-boiled style of detective, though she does ply through the seedy streets of Beijing. Instead, she represents the clash of cultures; the battle which is going on in modern China everyday. She is a modern, female capitalist finding her way through the maze of China’s Communist traditions.

I enjoyed reading this book. It does not read like a conventional mystery novel. After introducing us to Mei, it meanders through her life taking us on a trip into her past and to her sister wedding before plunging us into the main mystery involving her uncle's request to find the Eye of Jade, a jade seal lost during the Cultural Revolution.

When the plots do run into each other, the collision is satisfying and says a lot about life in modern China . Some readers might get frustrated waiting for so long for the author to get to the point, but the details about Chinese society under Communist rule and good character development will keep the astute reader turning the pages.

This book is an easy and breezy read for the summer cottage. I await the second Mei Wang novel, Paper Butterfly, due out in May, 2009.

Rating: ***

Culture Shock: **** Details about guanxi and life in modern China are well detailed and easy to understand.

This Week's Reason to Read: The Ancient Ship by Zhang Wei

Originally published in 1987, two years before the Tiananmen Square protests, Zhang Wei's award-winning novel is the story of three generations of the Sui, Zhao, and Li families following the creation of the People's Republic in 1949. It is a bold examination of a society in turmoil, the struggle of oppressed people to control their own fate, and the clash between tradition and modernization. Translated into English for the very first time, The Ancient Ship is a revolutionary work of Chinese fiction that speaks to people across the globe. It was released to Canadian booksellers on August 8, 2008, just in time for the Beijing Olympics.