I love Indonesia because Indonesia loves me

Some friends I've met during my first week in Wonderful Indonesia! :

while walking down the street in Medan

while walking down the street in Medan

at breakfast, Lake Toba

at breakfast, Lake Toba

celebrating  the Batak people  in traditional clothing, Lake Toba

celebrating the Batak people in traditional clothing, Lake Toba

she insisted on one of her own

she insisted on one of her own

in Lake Toba a couple of Dutch girls and I crashed a family naming celebration (kind of like a family reunion): he is the local gov't leader's "right hand man." 

in Lake Toba a couple of Dutch girls and I crashed a family naming celebration (kind of like a family reunion): he is the local gov't leader's "right hand man." 

Bingo is his name. o. Lake Toba.

Bingo is his name. o. Lake Toba.

The acceptance is a hard-won joy

Very proud and honored to be published in the latest edition of Foliate Oak, and with a story that is dear to my heart. The idea for it had been rattling around in my brain for who knows how long, but I started writing it down in a Saigon coffee shop while watching the insane traffic.

That was in May of last year. It went through at least six iterations and 11 rejections before it found its proper home. And this, by my standards, was a pretty fast accept--I have other stories that have yet to find the right fit after dozens of drafts and declines.

I say this not to complain, but instead to quantifiably demonstrate that this takes time and hard work. It takes thick skin and relentlessness. Now maybe that isn't true for every writer--and the fact that Stephanie Meyer thinks a dozen rejections is a lot and complains that a couple of those were mean, well, I have to laugh. Otherwise I would want to throttle her. 

Then again she made a mint off a story I couldn't get halfway through from all my eye-rolling, so maybe I shouldn't be so smug. 

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Point being, success in this writing game seems to be a function of talent, tenacity, strategy, and luck. One probably needs all four, but the percentage of each will vary for each writer. I feel lucky for the success I've had thus far, and appreciative to all those who have contributed to it. And I'll need more, because I'm not even close to being done yet.   

I've still got what it takes to satisfy your hunger

Food porn**, Malaysia edition:

Pan Mee, Restoran Kin Kin Kuala Lumpur. Delicious soup with noodles, egg, meat with crispy and soft textures--and plenty of chili. As I left the manager politely told me I ate it wrong--you're supposed to keep the broth separate.  It was still good. 

Pan Mee, Restoran Kin Kin Kuala Lumpur. Delicious soup with noodles, egg, meat with crispy and soft textures--and plenty of chili. As I left the manager politely told me I ate it wrong--you're supposed to keep the broth separate.

It was still good. 

Bean paste cakes, Kedai Sin Hua Bee Kuala Lumpur. Tasty--for a dessert made from beans that aren't cocoa.

Bean paste cakes, Kedai Sin Hua Bee Kuala Lumpur. Tasty--for a dessert made from beans that aren't cocoa.

Stingray asam pedas, Asam Pedas Pak Man Melaka. My driver from the bus station to hotel told me to try this local specialty and was I glad. Rich stew, very tasty and spicy--too spicy, in fact, for the woman behind the counter, and she was surprised I liked it. This made me like it even more :)  

Stingray asam pedas, Asam Pedas Pak Man Melaka. My driver from the bus station to hotel told me to try this local specialty and was I glad. Rich stew, very tasty and spicy--too spicy, in fact, for the woman behind the counter, and she was surprised I liked it. This made me like it even more :)  

Pandan kaya puff, Jonkor Street Melaka. Flaky pastry with just the right amount of filling and sweetness--was an excellent snack when I was flagging. 

Pandan kaya puff, Jonkor Street Melaka. Flaky pastry with just the right amount of filling and sweetness--was an excellent snack when I was flagging. 

Roast chicken meal and strawberry float, Kenny Rogers Roasters Ipoh. Allegedly there's still one of these in The States (Ontario California) but I hadn't seen a KRR in decades. Meanwhile there are 87 of them out here so imma call it Malaysian cuisine.  

Roast chicken meal and strawberry float, Kenny Rogers Roasters Ipoh. Allegedly there's still one of these in The States (Ontario California) but I hadn't seen a KRR in decades. Meanwhile there are 87 of them out here so imma call it Malaysian cuisine.  

Skewered snacks, Lok Lok street cart George Town. Lots of food on sticks plus sauces for cheap--how can you go wrong?

Skewered snacks, Lok Lok street cart George Town. Lots of food on sticks plus sauces for cheap--how can you go wrong?

Tandoori chicken and garlic cheese naan, Restoran Kapitan George Town. George Town has a bustling Little India, so of course it has excellent and affordable Indian restaurants--very helpful, as Malaysia was the most expensive of SE Asian countries I've visited thus far. 

Tandoori chicken and garlic cheese naan, Restoran Kapitan George Town. George Town has a bustling Little India, so of course it has excellent and affordable Indian restaurants--very helpful, as Malaysia was the most expensive of SE Asian countries I've visited thus far. 

Steamed rice and soy sauce chicken, Tai Tong Restaurant, George Town. My last dinner in Malaysia and it was lovely--simple and flavorful. A nice way to say goodbye.

Steamed rice and soy sauce chicken, Tai Tong Restaurant, George Town. My last dinner in Malaysia and it was lovely--simple and flavorful. A nice way to say goodbye.

**Which may be the only kind of porn Malaysia would allow. Not that I went looking for it, of course of course.

Malaysia: worst, but still okay

In any list, something must come last: it's just the nature of the way things work. As my time in Malaysia winds down, I think of the countries I've spent meaningful time in on this One Way Ticket and conclude that Malaysia is my least favorite.

Yeah, that's not what it's been for me

And since I'm an introspective sort I've sought to sort out why. Is it due to the crappy rooms? No, I've had those everywhere--I'm cheap, you know. Is it due to my getting sick from something I ate? Nope, had that in Vietnam and Thailand. And Malaysia has lovely scenery and architecture--it's not a bad place, really. In fact, of all the Asia I've seen it's the most like home. America.

Fun size?

Fun size?

And that's part of the problem. People here love their cars. They rush around, always in a hurry. They're not likely to smile at a rando--if they do chat it will be polite, but there will be boundaries. Walls.

It's not like that in Thailand or Cambodia, where smiles lead to conversations lead to invitations to dinner.

Malaysia is also (from what I've seen) a fully developed country. Thus, in addition to being the most expensive SE Asian country I've stayed in, it lacks the "quirks" of Cambodia or the undiscovered wild of Laos. Indeed it's the differences from back home--the unexpected and exotic--that make travel exhilarating. It's the different people with unusual ways that totally work that draw me in and create memories.

I just don't connect with Malaysia that way. Maybe I'm too jaded now, I don't know.

So enough of the negativity. Here are four favorite pics from the four cities I've visited and a little about each:  


KUALA LUMPUR

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My first morning in KL I jumped into the train system for the Batu Caves, a highly-rated Hindu Temple (because these are the things that should be judged, of course). But getting there wasn't so straightforward, and I wandered outside a KTM and/or LRT station getting frustrated as I am wont to do.

But after a breakfast that made me less hangry, I walked on and found the Colonial Walk and River of Life. I spent the next couple of hours admiring KL's old government buildings, mosques, and important historical sites and remembered that this is an essential element of my travels--getting lost and seeing what I can see.


MELAKA

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Chinese New Year began halfway through my stay in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fireworks every night, tourists everywhere. The second night of CNY I visited Jonker Street, where all those tourists converged to shuffle slow, chest to back.

Fun!

Also there, of course, were vendors--food and tours. But while Bangkok and other cities crowd with motorized tuktuks, Melaka deploys bicycle rickshaws decked out in Hello Kitty, Minions, Doraemon, and other "Oooh Oooh! Mommy Mommy can we?!" characters. They also play ice cream cart-annoying soundtracks. And on this night, the rickshaws looped and snaked and corkscrewed in paths beyond my ability to stay out of (maybe if I'd put my cameraphone down). This image captures that chaos.


IPOH

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While Chinese New Year was ongoing during my three nights in this little highland town the vibe was decidedly more sedate. Everything just seems chill in Ipoh--despite being the birthplace of white coffee,  a perky beverage enjoyed throughout the country.

Ipoh also boasts strong street art. I snapped a shot of this mural when the woman standing in front noticed. Then she turned to see what the fuss was about. I get it, too--locals don't always appreciate what their town offers. 


PENANG

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Malaysia, while a predominantly Muslim country, has been known for pluralism and tolerance--at least until recently (another similarity to the U.S.). In one day in George Town, Penang, I visited a Mosque, a Hindu temple, a Jewish cemetery, an Anglican church, and a Catholic museum--all while a holiday heavily influenced by Buddhism went on around me. Rightly proud of this diversity, they refer to one stretch of worship sites as the Street of Harmony.

And in case you were wondering, the swastikas in the left background are the good kind, not the evil murdering kind.


And so, as I write this with one final day in Penang, my time in Malaysia is almost done: not the best, but largely not bad. As I move on, hopefully it will remain my least favorite country as well.

And where am I off to next? Hmm. Cliffhanger.

Beds of All Nations: the hotel room designed to piss you off

Fun features I didn't mention in the video:

  • No a/c
  • I had to borrow a fan from the front desk, and it is LOUD
  • Cover band in the hotel bar playing "Higher" by Creed (yes I did mention that but it so bore repeating) 

And I still haven't gotten to sleep--who knows what fun awaits me at 2 a.m.? [EDIT: I got my answer--Germans slamming doors!]

In Malaysia, thinking of death

Death. A lot has been said on the topic and I don't know that I have anything new to add but I hope you'll indulge me nonetheless.

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It's something I've thought about since... well, since ever, at least for a long time. I remember as I little kid taking a paper and pencil to graveyards and sketching images of the headstones, fascinating with the history. I also remember fixating on death--I would awfulize, worry that my father would die driving to visit me on the weekends, worry that when my mother was a few minutes late coming home she was in a ditch somewhere. I tried to hasten my own, from clueless suicide attempts early on (maybe you can od on rescue inhaler but I didn't find a way) to a much more effective attempt at 18 that won me a stay in the ICU. 

Death was the main topic of my earliest short stories, written when I should've been paying attention in middle school music class. Maybe that's a common thread for writers--we have to think about a story as beginning middle and end, and what clearer end is there than death?

Because the truth is, we all die. 

That song has been a motivator in the One Way Ticket.

Look alive. See these bones.

What you are now, we were once.

Just like we are, you'll be dust.

And just like we are, permanent.

So what do I want to do before then? What do I want to leave behind besides dust and stone? 

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These were my thoughts as I walked past gravesites here in Malaysia. Ancient ones like the Dutch Graveyard in Melaka where so many were buried younger than I am now, or the newer and comparatively anonymous ones like in Ipoh.

And they are two separate thoughts. My travels, my experiences, are largely selfish. They bring me joy, insight, whatever--all good things, no apologies for that. And I will carry memories of them to my deathbed but not beyond.

Will I make anything that stays after me, though? Most people get a form of immortality through their children**--passing on chromosomes and collected wisdom from forefathers and mothers. And maybe I'll do that some day. I had plans once, but...

But that's one hope for the writing. Something that those who might never know me can read and gain something from. That someone who is feeling pain or facing challenge can, for a few hours, get lost in the stories I've spun and can smile or learn or just know they aren't alone in all this. And maybe even 50 years after I'm gone, someone might pick up one of my titles and appreciate it, that my words could stand the test of time. 

We all die. But the truth is, most of us want to game it a little bit.

 

**Which brings to my mind the horror of last week in Parkland, Florida. There are parents my age who must bury their children for no good fucking reason. The bitter cruelty of that exceeds any words I could possibly write.

Writer. Traveler. Happy. Really?

 
it must be true--I mean, it's there on  linkedin  and everything

it must be true--I mean, it's there on linkedin and everything

There's a tension between these three claims. As a writer, especially when banging out longer forms narratives, I thrive on routine and a borderline boring environment. I don't need much--a comfortable workspace, relative quiet, easy access to food delivery when possible.

These are hit and mostly miss when traveling. Maybe because I'm on an unemployed aspiring writer's budget, but my hotel rooms tend to be "cozy", food is far more interesting in stalls and hidden holes in their walls, and, on nights like tonight, the sounds of tuners and rice rockets buzz up alley funnels and right into my ears. 

I heard you coming, asshole

I heard you coming, asshole

Plus the whole point of traveling is to get out of my hotel room and see the world--otherwise I could've stayed in that corporate life, where I had status and spent time in the best windowless conference rooms.

all that remains of my platinum--a broken bag tag. fitting?

all that remains of my platinum--a broken bag tag. fitting?

A fellow consultant once said to me "Know what's better than having status? Not having status."

Each day I see it's true, whether getting rained on in Laos, getting tested in Cambodia, or getting no sleep tonight in Kuala Lumpur. No matter how bad it has been, it's better than having my soul slowly sucked away. 

So yes, I am happy. Loving life (which, historically, is also not a common claim writers make). But that doesn't resolve the tension between writing and traveling, the push vs. pull of often diametrically opposed desires. With the novel nearing queryable status, it now demands my attention.

But so does Malaysia. 

I'm still not sure how to harmonize these competing demands. Maybe I could think of a solution if I could get some sleep...  

The week that was

The week that was

Sometimes kids are just willful. That's okay--they're testing their boundaries, finding their autonomy. But sometimes it leads to them leaving class and coming back with a naked toddler in their arms. Happens all the time, right?

Maybe that's only a thing here.

Read More

Cambodia: Kingdom of Contradiction

Cambodia contradicts itself at turns without breaking stride or word. So it should be no surprise in Battambang, when I turn one way to see this

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then turn the other to see

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It's a place where you look up to see Khmer-era temples built on mountaintops

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Then look down into caves where Khmer Rouge killed thousands of innocents.

 

Nature's beauty, man's ability to create, man's ability to destroy all collide. I think ours is the only species that actively seeks to undo the actions of other members of same. It's our great strength: the worst of us brings out the best of us. But it's also our great weakness: why does it take bad shit happening for us to get outside of our selfishness and self-imposed daily life constraints to actually take an interest, to reach out and help

So what about me?

I've been blessed and fortunate in my life and certainly in recent years. I worked jobs where I made enough money to leave them behind and go on this journey. Along the way I've been shown kindness and gained more than I've given. So before I came back to Cambodia I searched for a way to give back. I found a small school that needs volunteers, and so for the next two weeks I'll be teaching here.

It's a small thing. I'm still far more indebted to life. But I'm excited to be doing something--to salve in a tiny way the terrible wrongs done over the decades that still plague this place. And I'll get to work with some great kids. 

Back on the farewell tour: things I knew I wanted, things I didn't

New Year's Eve--four days left in Krung Thep so down to last boxes for checking. I'm a fight fan so I knew I wanted to take in a Muay Thai event. Three options in Bangkok:

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  1. Rajadamnern Stadium. Home of the biggest shows, and the biggest prices to boot: 1500 baht and up. Too paeng for this farang.
  2. Lumpinee. Most tickets are similarly priced as above. Also I'd heard some (possibly unfair) criticism of the venue so didn't give it much of a second thought. Especially when there's:
  3. Channel 7. Live televised shows every Sunday afternoon. And the price? Free.

Dii mak!

And everything I'd read was that this was real Bangkok, a real local experience. So I get to rub shoulders with those I've lived among for the last nine months and...

oh.

oh.

Well, it's about the fights--and they were exciting for sure. Sample: 

Two young men giving their all to take care of their families and put on a show. How can you not smile? 

Serious, y'all--how can some of you not be smiling? What are you watching, big beard? Not impressed? Then get on down there!

Serious, y'all--how can some of you not be smiling? What are you watching, big beard? Not impressed? Then get on down there!

Important to note, however, that gambling is NOT allowed, as all these signs attest:

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And Thais are a rules-following sort, so...

oh.

oh.

And we saw a title change hands. At least, the back of it:

hope I made good smiling background for the Channel 7 viewers

hope I made good smiling background for the Channel 7 viewers

After this the plan was a quiet, introvert-friendly New Year's celebration: order a pizza, drink cocktails, watch the fireworks.

But dating a Thai isn't always simple. Because she has family, and they have get-togethers for holidays, and they invite you. And you can't say no, because that would be rude (and even though you are rude, you don't want them to know that).

So before long I'm sitting in the soi, struggling to communicate my appreciation for gracious hospitality. "Dii!" Smile. "Chai." Smile. "Aroi mak!" Smile. "Khap khun khrap." Smile.

just how we do it in Krung Thep

just how we do it in Krung Thep

And how gracious is that hospitality? Check the prawns:

That's a Thai pointing at things.  It's a thing .

That's a Thai pointing at things. It's a thing.

Long before I'm saying "Im lau im mak!" I realize this is what I most wanted. In my last days here, one more real Krung Thep experience. Because while weather, topography, architecture, and attractions all contribute to a given location, I've found it's always the people that truly make a place. And in a city full of kindness, the family I spent New Year's evening with was among the most. Still, I wanted to show my appreciation beyond poorly articulated Thai and crooked smiling. Thankfully, I get that chance after I push away from the dinner table, full and happy, while others in the family have yet to be fed themselves:  

What's shakin? Bacon.

What's shakin? Bacon.

And I still got my fireworks:

Like so much of Krung Thep, pictures don't do it justice.

Like so much of Krung Thep, pictures don't do it justice.

Sawasdee bpii-mai! Happy 2561!

Back on the farewell tour: and how do we feel about leaving again?

 
More than one thing can be true.
— Mike Wilbon**

Less than a week left in Krung Thep and my feelings are mixed, but not that straight-forward: more like all of one, then that gets wiped out by the next that comes crashing in, then the next next obliterating that one and filling me to the outer layers of epidermis and thongs.

I feel ready

My time in Bangkok has been positive and very necessary. The stability gave me time to write, saved me money, and let me roam while providing comfort. It's a great city for a farang.

But it also becomes difficult/expensive to maintain visa privileges in Thailand unless you're employed by a Thai company--and that's not the deal for me right now. Plus I've struggled with the language, and it becomes isolating, even for me, to go days without a decent conversation (you should see the excitement in local eyes when you say "Phom puud pasa Thai nik noi" turn to disappointment when they discover just how little Thai you puud).

Much as I love this place, I don't fit. Sometimes literally.   

my apartment stairwell

my apartment stairwell

Plus, I want to explore all I can of these kingdoms and republics before the money runs out. So it's time to ramble on. But then...

I feel sad

I've been lucky in this life so far: parents and siblings still alive, I'm pretty healthy. So my greatest sadnesses (aside from the deaths of extended family and a dearly beloved mentor) come when I leave those I love. Had a lot of that on the 2017 farewell tour, shed a lot of tears. Those feels came back last night when my Thai friends (after a little birdy told them) organized a going-away dinner and tacked on a game night afterward.

Photo credit: Ashley (or in Thai, AshLEEEE)

Photo credit: Ashley (or in Thai, AshLEEEE)

Besides being travel buddies and islands of bilingual relief in a sea of mae ruu, they are sweet, and funny, and giving. They've made me feel at home half a world removed from mine. And as I walk away from them, and a city that has sometimes frustrated but deeply enchanted me, it's hard not to stumble. 

And then...

I feel scared

Because when I left last time, I came to a farang-friendly city where I had at least a friend. And while I'll have the same (a brother, in fact) at my next destination, the time there will be--unless plans change dramatically--much shorter. After that, I'm on to lands where I know not a soul. Lands where English and kindness to farang (or whatever I'm called there) and maybe even cell service aren't guaranteed. I'll be pushing outside of my comfort zone father than ever before.

And that's the point. That's where growth happens. That's the kind of fear I'm here to push through.

It doesn't make me any less afraid. 

 

**I'm sure somebody said it before him, but PTI was a long-time thing for me so I'll give him the dap.

(Sky)train of thought and memory

With my time in Bangkok speeding to a close, yesterday I daytripped with friends to Samut Prakan. 

Afterwards, riding the BTS from the Bearing terminus with a little birdy at my shoulder, I was struck by out of sequence nostalgia.

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At On Nut station, I remember my second week here. I was excited. Amazing though Songkran was, I looked forward to seeing the city without the parties and tourists--the real Krung Thep. I bounced to an airbnb apartment near On Nut and definitely experienced some Thai culture, though not like I imagined. I'll spare the details, but the lessor's laid-back attitude on providing me access to the room, proper working equipment in the room, and my having to sneak in and out of the building itself (since he failed to mention the management doesn't allow subletters) tested my mai bpen rai. Mak. But it taught me that the things I get so easily twisted up over don't matter much in the end--and my anger and frustration only hurts me so best that I just get over it.

Plus I got this, so not a bad week at all.

no pain

no pain

Three stations later we reach Thong Lo, and this is where it all began: where I stayed my first week, when I did Songkran, and Wat Po, and the Golden Mountain. Where I saw the glitter and gleam that is Bangkok. Where I felt the crippling anxiety of being alone and pushed through. Where I clogged my toilet by putting toilet paper in it because, isn't that what you do?

Not here.

But you learn.

Sà taă nee dtòr bpai, Asok. This connects to the MRT, and the hotel I spent three-plus weeks on two separate occasions. Great street food, comfortable for the price--it was the next-best home away from home I found here. It's where I sat on the floor, angry and frustrated and determined following another rejection of my most personal short story, and wrote this blog post. And where I revised and revised that short story that will some day be published, I'm certain of it. It's also where I started my YA novel in earnest, which absolutely will some day be published.

now the nominees for least exciting screen shot of the year...

now the nominees for least exciting screen shot of the year...

This is what writing is made of. Dogged, stupid refusal to quit.

On we roll to Phaya Thai, where the Airport Rail Link connects. I remember riding into here on that first arrival, and a month later after my first border run to the incredible ass-kicking Vietnam. Phaya Thai is also the stop for the language school that added a little Thai to my vocab and extended my visa a few months without needing so many pesky border runs.  

Then to Anu Sao-wa ree Chai sa Mhor ra Phoom.

a.k.a Victory Monument, which has a fascinating history all its own I hope to go into later. Image credit: Bangkok.com

a.k.a Victory Monument, which has a fascinating history all its own I hope to go into later. Image credit: Bangkok.com

This is my stop, because it's a short walk to my apartment and home for the last six months. It's where I've felt truly settled. It's where I finished the first draft of that third novel I'd been working on. And the second draft. And third and fourth and fifth. It's where I started querying agents, then stopped because I realized it was almost ready but not quite. And it's where I made a deposit payment to my developmental editor, because I'm so damn serious about getting it published. So fuck you, Stewie. 

And thank you, Stewie. Thank you for being the motivating voice in my head, encapsulating my fears and driving me to more.

I don't know where I'll be when my editor sends those edits (I have a guess on the country). I don't know where I'll be when I start querying agents again (I have a guess on the month). And I don't know where I'll be when my agent says yes, when my publisher does the same, when I'll hit the shelves or the best-seller list. But I know where it truly took shape. I know the genesis of the story, and how its roots run from Tennessee through North Carolina and across continents to here.

And I know Krung Thep will always hold a special place in my heart, for what I've done, what I've seen, what I've felt, who I've met. They call it the City of Angels. And I... I will spare you any cheesy quips I could come up with off of that. 

But I am truly blessed and fortunate. 

For the writers: beta reader questionnaire

One challenge I've faced in the writing process is getting good feedback from beta readers. Do I simply ask them what they think? Do I ask different questions of each based upon their likely strengths and interests? Do I pepper each with dozens of questions until they hate me more than Herbalife?

But now I've come up with this one weird trick: I developed a simple questionnaire and appended it to the end (call the Department of Redundancy Department) of the manuscript. It worked well. I got multiple answers to my baseline concerns, and it gave me a starting point for follow-up conversations. I think it also helped my readers, since they didn't have to guess at my needs.

And here it is: feel free to use it as-is, modify it, or simply use it as a starting point for your own. Hope you find it helpful! 

FEEDBACK FORM

 

Thank you for reading my manuscript, _______________. Youve given me your most valuable asset--your time--and for that Im truly grateful. May I also ask for a little more time, and your opinion, in answering the below questions? Of course you dont have to answer any of them, but the more feedback you can provide to me, the better I can make the story.

  1. Did you enjoy the story? If youd paid money for it, would you feel satisfied with the decision?
  2. In one (or more) word(s), how would you describe your thoughts/feelings about the story?
  3. What did you find surprising or unexpected? Was that a good thing or a bad thing?
  4. Did you find the characters relatable? Likeable? Any in particular you did or did not like? Why?
  5. Did how you feel about any of the characters diminish your enjoyment of the story?
  6. Did you find the plot believable? Any holes or moments where you had to suspend disbelief? Did any of that bother you?
  7. How did you feel about the ending/resolution?
  8. Did any parts of the story drag? Anything you would cut?
  9. Were any aspects confusing?
  10. What do you believe is the correct age group for this story?
  11. Is there anything you would recommend be changed?
  12. Any other comments or feedback?

Book report: John Green is mean

On deciding that my latest story was best told as YA fiction, I began reading the category's recent classics since writers read. In these posts I'll talk about those stories and what they've meant to me. CAUTION: SPOILERS FOLLOW.

fault.jpg

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

John Green

First impressions matter, and the first sentence of Fault jumps off the page. It also cheats, since it contains seven clauses. In writing, cheating works if done well, and Green does it very, very well.

Speaking of adverbs, he uses three -ly words in that first sentence. I'm sure this is a horror show to writers like Stephen King, but again, it works.

and they ensure we drive quickly, smoothly, and quietly

and they ensure we drive quickly, smoothly, and quietly

Another key takeaway for me was the narrator Hazel's voice. She speaks full and smart and pleasantly sarcastic, which is impressive for someone with terminal cancer. I liked her instantly. And while writing characters with strong voice has never been a problem for me, writing characters likeable to anyone but me has been. But I gained some insights on how to do it from here.

Which brings us to the co-protag, Augustus. He's charming a.f. I couldn't help but root for him. But I also remember watching Game of Thrones and instantly liking Ned Stark. That was an error. 

So I knew better this time. Don't care about characters--especially the likeable ones--because bad things happen.

And as I disclose in the title of this post, John Green is mean.

Because he made Augustus so damned compelling it still upset me when shit went sideways. Which taught another lesson: go for it. Don't be afraid to push every appropriate emotional button.

While I did love Fault, I didn't love everything about it--the cables suspending my disbelief weren't strong enough to withstand a couple of plot turns. But I checked in with several reader friends and they weren't bothered, so it taught me another lesson--don't be afraid to push the rational bounds if it makes for a better story. Sometimes you need to blur reality's edges a bit to reach the greater truth. And while I rooted every event and scene in my new novel based in reality and fact, I was more willing to walk along that edge.

It's clear why Green is among the overlords of the genre: Fault is a smart, powerful read, full of joy and angst. He takes readers on a ride and is happy to thrash them about on the journey.

All in all, I saw in Fault what a cruel person John Green is, and I rather enjoyed it.

Misquoting Charles Darwin for Selfish Purposes

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change."

--Charles Darwin**

My writing has over the years been fueled and clouded by several substances... 

A near constant has been Irish coffees: caffeine for energy, alcohol for lowered inhibition, warmth for comfort when recalling difficult ish and turning it into literature suitable for consumption.

But while lots of things are cheaper in Thailand, Bailey's isn't:

that's $35.15 American

that's $35.15 American

There's a knockoff called Kelly's that runs about 430 baht, but when I went yesterday to the one store I've found that carries it, I found that's now past-tense.

Curses.

So I fired up ye old Google to find a substitute, while also considering is it worth it just to shell since I'm already here and in the grand scheme...  

IMG_0109.PNG

Wait, what? You can make Irish cream?

Sho nuff--even without a cooktop. Which is good, since I don't have that. Or an oven. Or a microwave.

And I made it, and I like it better than Bailey's, and it was cheaper, and while all of that is interesting (?) none is especially relevant. This is about adaptability and how we can all adjust to situations we couldn't even imagine previously.

When my marriage was mid-implosion in 2014, X and I spent a lot of time talking.

A lot of time talking (she's a psychologist so what would you expect?). 

Among many memorable things, she asked "What is it you're wanting to change? What don't you like about this life?" She genuinely wanted to accommodate (within monogamous reason). And truth was, I couldn't even articulate what was missing. We had an outwardly lovely aspirational life--two fancy cars, four BR house, six-figure income, sufficient footwear.  

how many pairs of feet do you have?

how many pairs of feet do you have?

Everything I could want. Except happiness.

Post-separation and divorce my life changed to one hedonistic and Nate Dogg-inspired. I also spent more and more time with my first love--writing. I wouldn't survive the corporate life much longer.

A year ago I was making preparations and adaptations. I sold off damn near everything and traded PowerPoint for the One-Way Ticket. Since then I've visited six countries. I got a real taste of Thailand as predicted. Now instead of deciding on blue suede vs. brogues, I choose sneakers or flipflops, and have a week's worth of clothes as long as I re-wear stuff.

Through it all I've carried inspirations from people who've adapted to challenges I couldn't imagine. And I've shed a few tears along the way.

always nice when friends read my blog

always nice when friends read my blog

And I finished a workable, submittable novel. My life is so different, so changed, by all I've been able to do and see. I am blessed and fortunate. It's been everything I wanted and couldn't articulate.

Change is on the horizon and I'll need to adapt again. It will suck sometimes. But that's no different than any of y'all's lives--and I see how very strong the people in my life are. The strong survive because the strong adapt.

Adapt. Change. Nothing is the same.

So we keep moving.

**Okay, not exactly. But that's the gist.

A brief post on writing

I recently returned from a trip to Korea (South and, briefly, North) and Japan and have thoughts from that I hope to share--just not today.

But here's a picture--North Korean soldier facing me from the background, South Korean closer and facing away. And I'm standing in North Korean territory: don't tell the dotard.

But here's a picture--North Korean soldier facing me from the background, South Korean closer and facing away. And I'm standing in North Korean territory: don't tell the dotard.

I can't because I'm still deep in the montage, now on the fourth draft of my first YA novel.

Michelangelo said "The sculpture is already complete within the marble block... I just have to chisel away the superfluous material." I think of writing as the same but in reverse--the words are already there, scattered like gravel at my feet. It's my job to drill those rocks with wire and pull them together. And through revision I pull them in tighter and tighter. Discard rocks that don't fit. Over time they mesh together and become cohesive.

And the story is getting there. With each draft it feels tighter. With each draft I become a better writer. It's exciting. It's challenging. It's rewarding.

This is what it is to enjoy the journey and the process. To have a sense of intrinsic satisfaction, derived only from myself.

That said, when it does get published, I hope you all buy and enjoy it, because this writing thing is communication, too. And I'd like to eat.