An Open letter from Honolulu to Kim Jong Eun, Supreme Ruler of North Korea

Kim Jong Eun, Supreme Leader, Pyongyang, North Korea

Dear Comrade Kim:

Aloha!

I was watching the television news when they said that you were threatening to attack Guam and Hawaii with nuclear weapons on missiles. I live here in Honolulu and I wish you wouldn’t attack us. Please don’t.

Why you pick beef wid us?

Why you give us stink-eye?

we owe you money o wat?

They say you are just making empty threats to get attention. I dunno  -It might be funny in a way except that most kids who throw tantrums don’t own nuclear weapons. From what I read, you have a wife with a new baby at home and a demanding job. You look like you don’t get enough exercise. You need a new barber.

I have some advice for you.

First, read this post. You don’t have to get up being mad with the South Koreans all the time. You can take charge of your own life and get new friends instead of relying on those guys your dad picked out for you.  The seem like stick-in-the-mud guys. You could use some better wingmen. And I’m not talking about Dennis Rodman either.

Bottom Line – come visit!

It’s been along winter and I think instead of dropping the big one on Honolulu you should just take the wife and kids here for two weeks in the sun.  There’s lots to do on Waikiki.

Let’s get back to Aloha.

That is what life is about. We’d be happy to teach you about it.

 

 

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Exhuming a skeleton and trying to make sense of it

Somerset Maugham once wrote:

“There are five rules of writing and nobody knows what they are.”

Which sums up the way I work.

My second book, The Sacrament of the Goddess, is a lot closer to completion than it was in August, when I logged the first 200 words. It’s been a hoot, and the first challenge was learning how to write in the third person. If you think that is easy, you try it. Go ahead!

He thought it was easy at first. Just like being God, he chuckled to himself. I can see into the brain of any character I choose. The person next to him on the bench at Starbucks asked him what was so funny.

“I can now control a woman’s thoughts,” he said, “and know with certainty what they are thinking.”

She got up and sat in a different part of the coffee shop.

I had a recent exchange with one of my beta readers that went like this:

If you really must know and will promise not to tell, it was only after the bones were laid out on the ground, sets of bones, sometimes a femur had been stolen by some stray dog, that I started looking for the organs of each character, I knew I would find them if I looked under the piles of leaves and after all, I enjoy the woodsy smell of mouldering plant life.

The bones

Autopsying a victim of By way of saying that I knew I would have to learn things as I went along and not think that it would all spring forth in a torrent that needed no editing like Kerouac. I wrote the plot first, just the action elements only. Other authors do it other ways.

I did know what the ending was going to be and I wrote backward from there. I got the action sequences down, just the events, the bones, and played with those for awhile. I wanted to have enough drama in the plot to make it a Bollywood movie. I had two heroines and the first impulse was that they would both be a love interest of the hero. Also, I included an inventory of women’s health issues specific to the setting. Between them, the two women were going to experience the Perils of Pauline.

Paying my dues

Over the course of four trips I have lived in the setting of the novel for eight months. I have lots of notes of daily life and culture there, and it is easy for me to conjure the setting. I scavenged my blogs for entries that could become book chapters, such as poisoning via Amanita Phalloides mushroom.

There were times when researching the background of the book required a detour, such as the military history of the Nepal civil war. Detailed factual exposition of how to go about attacking a town in a river valley. Likewise going over medical details of types of surgery that appear in the book. (don’t try this at home, folks!).

When I got to about 40,000 words, I needed to keep track of things more closely. From my first book, I recalled printing a copy every now and then, using it to make notes, and transferring the updates into the computer version at intervals. It is a good feeling to lug around a copy of the manuscript. At last something tangible. Yes, this phase involved killing of trees.

Mysteries of Nepali culture

I queried my Nepali friends on points related to cultural practices, and Skyped a bit with one particular friend on the subject of out-of-wedlock pregnancy, arranged marriage, the Gurkhas, Nepali slang, and courtship. This was helpful.

Should I have two heroines?

The idea of two heroines was unworkable. (Polygamy is legal in Nepal and at one juncture I considered the ending in which he marries both. Rejected. We need a happy ending!). I wanted to emulate the kind of page-turning twists of plot typically found in a Bollywood movie, but this got to be ridiculous. Especially since I wanted to use the book to discuss serious issues such as sexual violence against women, and the role of women in general. So anything that objectified female characters would be out. This does not mean they can’t be beautiful or feel attraction to the male characters. I means I have to respect them for who they are.

Deciding what to save for a future book – the sequel?

this also created a writer’s problem – to say the least. In real life, surviving a rape (which one does character does) is life-changing. She doesn’t simply pick up and resume normal life. But yet, though I have cared for victims of rape and assault, I knew I needed to research this as well. So I bought a book about the topic of recovery after sexual trauma, and studied it, along with doing a websearch or two. Now the book would also portray PTSD and counseling. All this was before the tragic and horrific events in Delhi this past fall.

Grasping just beyond reach

I was up to 115,000 words, and I was lost in the woods. I wanted to weave the two main women in and out but I simply didn’t know how – I am not that good a writer. I took English in college, but throughout my life I have not found much in common with English majors. I hang out with nurses and doctors.

That’s when I sought advice from beta readers. I knew I had a great story but I was picking at the edges of it. I had exhumed a pile of bones from a shallow grave, and was sorting them out like a forensic anthropologist. One beta reader told me I had more than one skeleton; another told me that a pile of bones doesn’t tell the story of the whole person.

In other words, clear out one major section involving the PTSD victim “…and save her for her own book – the sequel – which will do her justice and give her the space she deserves.”

She was clever enough to say “I fell in love with (the hero) and couldn’t get enough of him.” Ahhhhh…..

Excising the second heroine was brilliant advice. It took out about 37,000 words and left me with about 76,000 – enough space to fill out the remaining events. The goal is to end up with 80- 85,000 words these days.

Howls of wonderment and delight

The next beta reader turned out to be the truest possible friend.

“It was so bad I had to put it down,” she said, “You simply don’t have a clue how women think.”

And best of all, she got very specific as to why she thought that. She also got very defensive, wondering whether that was too blunt. She was expecting me to react the way a person does when they have received a fatal gunshot wound (but haven’t died yet). For the record, she is too kind to ever fire a shot at somebody.

Yes folks, I laughed out loud. Truth is, I don’t know how women think. Not a clue. Despite a lifetime of study. Despite eminent credentials. She had a point there! I want to meet the fellow who does.

My reply? “I need this feedback. I am trying to improve my writing, I am learning as I go.” And a lot of gratitude. When a simple thing such as writing in third person was new to me, I was going to have even more trouble with point of view. Even if you understand it, you have to be able to write it, which is also difficult.

To put it bluntly.

“Joe – you need professional help!”

One reader is a published author in her own right, and she suggested I get my hands on “The Breakout Novelist” by Donald Maass, and start thinking about the whole project in a different way. I had a story to tell, yes, that was for certain. But would anybody want to read it?

So the next two months of writing were focused on character development. Making each person three-dimensional and more nuanced. Relating this to plot trajectory. As they would be in real life. Even a good person can have bad days. A villain may have some redeeming features that create tension. Every person does not speak the same or have the same level of self-awareness.

I also subscribed to blogs by writers and read a few books recommended for me. The revision process included ways to re-tell certain parts of the story using point of view of the people who were in those sections, which was a gateway to the soul each time. In other words, I did a revision in which sections of cut-and-dry description were replaced by passages that focused on how the event was perceived. Shortened the technical descriptions of certain surgeries and the blow-by-blow of the battle.

I heard back from more beta readers, one of whom didn’t have as much to say about the characters but who found all the typos and fixed my problem with the way commas are used. This was also valuable.

Sensuality

The Goddess referred to in the title. You can't explore Nepal without delving into religious themes as they impact day-to-day life.

The Goddess referred to in the title. You can’t explore Nepal without delving into religious themes as they impact day-to-day life.

There are two passages where the physical attraction between the hero and heroine are explored. This is a major plot element and I felt I had to describe it. The anticipation, the tension, the nuances of emotion in the prodrome – these act to set up the climactic scenes. Writing erotica is fun. Not as easy as you might think. Probably not something you should write at Starbucks – too many people are watching. But – fun. Not easy to get feedback on though. It pushes buttons for some readers. Still needs work. I admit it, I don’t tend to read erotica on a regular basis, and not out of context. I certainly never wrote any in the patient’s charts at work, or in the policy and procedure manual or course syllabi. Some female friends shared with me the names of their favorite writers who excel in this area.

returning to the subject of PTSD

My beta reader who prodded me on the emotions also got me thinking about PTSD again. A major section is about the battle that hit the town. They all have PTSD. None of them will be the same. Oh. Maybe this was obvious for some folks, but it was still an insight for me. From my own experiences with death in the hospital setting, I know that medical folks don’t always think of death the way others might. So – let’s explore that for a wee bit.

Sound track

The book is about hospital care and deals with death. A couple of the deaths stand out for the personnel, and I wanted to portray the mixture of emotions to accompany. this will seem a shock to some lay readers I suppose, but the staff of a hospital does not weep for every single death. They don’t have time. How does their PTSD affect their coping? Again I wrote these sections at Starbucks. I used my headphones and listened to sad love songs in Hindi as I wrote and revised. Drawing from my own experiences in health care and trying to convey the essence of grief and loss.

Anyway, into the present day, I feel as though I myself have survived a major battle of the Nepal civil war and I am sadder but wiser. I feel as though I have also been through a(nother) major relationship with a woman which broke my heart and hers before we got back together. Oh, we’ll have some things to work out, but I enjoyed it. Along the way I reported for duty every day and stood at some of the same bedsides that were so familiar to me from Nepal. Or at least, that’s how it feels to create such events and bring them to life. All this without leaving Honolulu.

I am now resending it to other beta readers. I have something more in line with what the vision was. I know it will need more work. I am taking a break from intensive revision for a bit, until the next phase is revealed. Later this week i will send it to a professinal editor.

I will end this with a question to my readers.

Can you recommend any authors who do a good job of portraying the woman’s point of view? esp if they are a male? I need to get a feel for this…..

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Royal Elephant Brass Band at Honolulu Mardi Gras Feb 12th

Let the good times roll!

Mardi Gras 2013 is Tuesday February 12th, and the Honolulu downtown merchants association s once again sponsoring a block party downtown in the Arts District.

The Royal Elephant Brass Band and anti-Poaching Society will perform of course. After all, we are Honolulu’s only authentic New Orleans Brass Band. We expect to be leading street parades over the course of the evening.

We invite you to join the second line.

 

 

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writing process update 2013 New year’s day

Update on writing second book about health care in Nepal

Realize I haven’t updated this in a while. I have been busy with all kinds of things – wonderful things!

I finished the so-called first draft in early December. it was 113,000 words. I was at a point where I needed to get feedback on it before taking another look at it. but by no means ready to be sent off to an agent or publisher. One of the worst things an author can do is to send something like this before it’s ready. I needed to take some time away from this project and also to get some new perspective on it.

Beta readers

It was time to send it to some beta readers.  people who could critique it for what it was, and who could tell me if it was plausible, etc. so I did.

I still await some of the beta readers, but I did hear back from the early ones, and they told me two things:

1) get a copy of The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass. Which I did. Now, on the previous book, I knew I had a story to tell but I also knew I was a writer with limitations. For that project, I bought a book about writing, and used it to teach myself to be a better writer than I was. ( the book was The making of a story if you must know). I gave that book to my daughter when I was through.

Back to Maass. this book is engaging, and brings up the issues of point of view, conflict, and tension. He gives a set of prompts to apply to critiquing your own work, which I found to be very helpful.  I knew I had a story to tell, with great characters and plot, but I wanted this to be the best it could possibly be, and to do justice to the residents of this book I needed to present every single on as a three-dimensional person who the reader could love ( or hate. or at least, understand).  And so, the process of revision includes systematically applying those prompts to my Work-In-Progress. ( henceforth referred to as my WIP)

2) cut out 35,000 words. and save it for a sequel. It’s difficult for any writer to hear somebody say that a third of the book needs to be chopped, but my beta reader had the sweetest possible way to phrase this. she said “I fell in love with (female character number one) and I couldn’t get enough of (the male hero of the novel). I was so enthralled with those two, that I skipped over all the sections of (female character number two) to see what happened to them. It was only then that I read the sections I skipped. they were really great but I bonded with the first story so much that I just think you have the makings of a second book already.”

So, I removed those, and voila – the WIP got tighter and more readable and more fun. Also, it’s back to a manageable size – now at 83,000 words. At the original length I was going to have to do some serious editing. Now, I can focus on the story as opposed to getting forced to think about length with every single word that was put on the page.

anyway, the beta reader process continues.

about characters in 3-D

the people you meet in a book are memorable if they are real. In real life, there are heroes who have flaws. A hero can do something amazing part of the time and also be a jerk at other times. Likewise, a villain can have some redeeming feature; or else when you learn more about them you realize the tragic parts of their life story that made them into the jerk they are today. I desperately want to convey that in my book. And that is what I am working on now.

Anyway – thanks for reading this – and Happy New Year to everyone

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about the writing process Oct 16th

summary:

I’m now up to 70,000 words on my second book. The goal will be to get to about 110,000 words I think; but this does not mean that I am two-thirds of the way done.

For wisdom on this, I go to Winston Churchill.

Once I do get to 110,000 words, when I have written the whole thing out, I will begin the process of editing, which for me will mean re-writing it about a hundred times.

Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction is the term for the second book. It will be set in a certain time and place,and there will be a high standard for accuracy as to what it would have felt like to be there then.  For me, this means placing the events, characters and plot in Nepal, since I have done a lot of research already. Does that surprise you?

The Civil War in Nepal

The story will take place during the recent civil war, with especial attention to the battle of Beni in 2003.

Collectivist culture

a theme that runs throughout is the tendency of Nepali people to do things in groups. Every time anything happens, a crowd gathers. If something is going to happen, people will gather a crowd. Exactly who is in the crowd, or not, is a very interesting question. People are defined according to the crowd to which they belong.

Erotica?

well, no. Not erotica, per se. But there will be a plot that involves romance. I think this will engage the reader. To write a passage describing romantic attraction between characters, has been a lot of fun so far. I need to become a better writer.

The Title?

has been chosen. It is “The Sacrament of the Goddess”  which refers to an episode in the book. Many of the key characters of the book are Buddhist, and the Goddess in question is Green Tara.

Research

This not simply writing a story, it involves study and research. I have used the internet extensively for research. I use the notes from my four trips to Nepal. I have hired a guy in Nepal to do some specific research for me. I expect that I still will be working on this in summer 2013, and so I will visit some of the locales mentioned in the book and interview some people.

stay tuned!

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“Moonrise Kingdom” movie review – best film of 2012!

Moonrise Kingdom Summary: run to see this movie. Best action/adventure flick of the year.

Okay, so I have been out of touch with pop culture for the past ten weeks or so. Last time I went to the movies I saw the trailer for Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Prior to that I did see Hunger Games, which I liked – but all summer I have been in the wilderness of the Cherokee National Forest and environs. Hiking. Nodding off to sleep by the light of the campfire…..living away from the grid. Not just going without TV, but no phone or internet. Drinking water that came from the ground, not from a faucet. Going for as long a thirty-six hours without seeing other persons. On those days when there were people at the shelter, recapturing the art of conversation with total strangers around a picnic table at some remote location.

Because of this, I am hopelessly out of touch. Never did see the Lincoln movie….. reliable people told me that once you saw the trailer you could skip the actual movie. It was nice to go to the movies again.

Action/Adventure?

Yes. this is the category if you ask me. You don’t need to blow up more and more stuff or kill a bunch of people in exotic ways, to qualify – and as a matter of fact, those movies that just go from one stunt to another are boring after awhile.  I strongly dislike violent movies. Seen too much of the result in real life.

Wes Anderson

Okay, so I admit that I never gave Wes Anderson much thought.  I saw Darjeeling Limited, which I liked because it was filmed in Rajasthan… but have never seen any of his other movies. Until now.

The Best Movies

The best movies are  the ones which completely transport you to another time and place. Latcho Drom was one such – a movie about the Rom people – also known as gypsies. The Cup was another great one –  sure, it had a plot, but it was fascinating to watch scenes such as how they make dinner in a Tibetan monastery.  Amelie.  Then of course,  Slumdog Millionaire. Oh sure, there have been mainstream movies that met this- such as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but I have to admit, my taste runs toward foreign movies or what might be called “art house” flicks. My all time favorite movie? Casablanca with Bogart and Bergman.

The spirit of New England. Norman Rockwell. The Boy Scouts. (oops, the  khaki scouts)

Being a native New Englander, and having been an Eagle Scout, and  being the official bugler….deciding I  wanted to camp with girls instead of a bunch of twelve year old boys – if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you already know that much about me.   You may not also know that I own a Davy Crockett hat, (“coonskin cap”) complete with raccoon tail (gift from my daughter) – but – I do, and it was

The Hero of the movie is a “Khaki Scout” and we get to see him deal with bullies and True Love, as the rest of the characters evelove in their attitude toward him. It’s not easy to be twelve. The coonskin cap was a nice touch.

a delight to see the hero of the movie wearing one.  And so for me this movie evoked a personal sense of wonderment.  I love the coast of New England, with all its quirks. It’s not just the geography I am talking about here. It’s the way the buildings are, the way the people act, and the way the society runs. The minute detail given to  props and background is letter perfect. People in New England are every bit as unique and wonderful as an Amazonian tribe, it’s just that there is no warpaint or feathered costume. The customs are a bit more subtle, and easy to take for granted. Here is a movie that shows the time and place quite well.Boy Scouts? Khaki Scouts?

I suppose for legal reasons, they could not call it the Boy Scouts, but this movie captured the tone of scouts exactly on pitch.  I started Boy Scouts in 1966, the year after the fictional setting of this movie. The movie was set in Maine I suppose – Maine has the bulk of the islands in New England  – though they never pinned it down; the final credits said it was filmed in Rhode Island. The credits also indicated that Wes Anderson’s dad was a scout leader and the film was dedicated to him. It’s so easy to make fun of the Boy Scouts, and Anderson’s glee was obvious.  I actually thought the scouts were treated with just the right mix of respect, satire and humor, and the scene in the treehouse reflected well on the moral development of young men. ahhhhh…… joy!   Somewhere I still have my merit badge sash. To think of it makes me smile. Was I really just as nerdy as the main character in the movie?  Any boy who has survived the age of thirteen can answer that question for himself.

Emotional subplot, motivation, etc

These are key to any story. The characters walked a very delicate line in this regard. The adult characters were three-dimensional, and Bruce Willis was astounding given his previous action/adventure roles. To get great actors such as Harvey Keitel into small character roles was brilliant.  I thought that they were believable and delicious.

On a personal note, my interest is always picqued when I see a certain shade of radiant coppery-colored red hair – very few such persons here in Hawaii. I howled with wonderment and delight that the main heroine, as well as the one who plays “Social Services,” were crowned this way . OMG.

Homage

The filmmaker was sufficiently confident as to make small references to other films as a sort of inside joke. For example, a scene where the heroine poses for a provocative sketch in her underwear, ala Titanic. Dancing on the beach (my family owned a “hi-fi” just like the one in the movie…) just like in Risky Business. A chase scene out of Indiana Jones.  The phrase uttered by the young hero just before he is struck by lightning.

In summary, just a delightful film. My nomination for best film of 2012. Go see it.

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simplify and minimalize your life?

Today, my friend Tom Jamrog wrote in his blog that he has tackled his hoarding problem head-on.

The Minimalist Movement

He hauled stuff to the dump; he gave things to Goodwill. But most of all , he mentally let go of the need to have “stuff.” He gave the link to a very interesting blog on Minimalism,  which provides a sort of philosophy of why minimalism is something we need to consider in twentyfirst-century America. The Minimalists give you a 21-day plan to free yourself… based on the idea that it takes three weeks of daily practice before something becomes a “habit.” They advocate such things as selling your car, eliminating extra bills, etc.

Zen Habits

There is also a terrific blog named Zenhabits.   The writer(s) of this blog offer a perspective on how to live an intentional life, one in which the activities are focused on a goal or purpose, not on blind acceptance of consumer culture, and which promotes the idea of simplicity in life. It is a way to achieve internal peace and harmony.

Re-entry shock

I have been trending in this direction for awhile, ever since my first trip to Nepal in 2007. While there I saw a paradox of people who had nothing ( as in, no possessions) but who were still largely leading happy lives ( okay, well, my book is about the dismal state of health care in that country – not quite “happy”   for those who had health problems). When I returned had a full-blown case of re-entry shock. This led me to reconsider the materialistic approach of the average American.

Backpacking as an expression of Zen

When not in Nepal, I have completed two summer long backpacking trips. This is also an exercise in zen – deciding to let go of as much material possessions and mental clutter as you possibly can.  Seeing how well you do.

Advice to nurses

On my other blog, I spend a lot of time giving career advice to nurses who are entering a very complex and daunting work environment. I think most nurses go into the profession with the excellent zen-like goal of compassion and lovingkindness, but can lose sight of this along the way. I think nurses need to find a balance between the pace of work life and the need for inner peace exemplified by these blogs.

This does not mean that nurses have to accept every thing that comes their way – it does mean that nurses save their energy to fight the battles worth fighting for to make better patient care.

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