Friday, November 28, 2008

More Reading For You

I've been having all sorts of Thanksgiving adventures - cooking, eating, taking sick people to the hospital, playing football with the Marines, etc... - so I'm just too busy to write. Tomorrow we do our official Thanksgiving, with a few friends from the 'hood. So I'm elbow-deep in turkeys and desserts and all the rest of it.

But I have a new article for you to read. Thanks to my blogless friend Kim, as well as my virtual pals Simple Answer and Jill at the Perlman Update, for their insight as I researched this article. Also thanks to Jessica, who offered her thoughts even while in the midst of her move to Baku. And thanks to the rest of you who helped me out, but didn't want your names mentioned. Here's hoping I sound as though I know whereof I speak.

Please, if you like it, stumble it, digg it, or tell all your friends that I'm the next Hemingway. Or, you know, don't.

Happy Thanksgiving, and I'll be back with an update soon, I promise.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Baby Lily

Some dear friends of ours had a baby on Thursday night. Little Lily Christine was born… and then she died. And I sit here at my computer, trying to think of a way to make sense of this terrible, terrible loss. I can’t wrap my head around the kind of pain her parents are suffering right now, and I can’t think of any way at all to make it better.

I know my friend’s arms are aching and empty right now. She’s far away, in Texas, so I can’t even give her a hug. But I can ask you all to say a prayer for her, for her husband, for their sons, and, of course, for baby Lily: that she is safe and warm somewhere right now, and that she knows how much her parents loved her.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Giving Thanks - An Article

Here's my latest from Beijingkids Magazine - don't forget to stumble it or digg it or whatever it is you young'uns do these days.

And speaking of Thanksgiving - I just put in my order for a turkey. $70 for a 16 pounder. Yes, you read that right: I just spent seventy dollars on a bird. I haven't even started purchasing the rest of the necessities.

Better get going...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Writing Advice

A few weeks back, Shay's teacher asked me to come in and talk to her class about writing. The kids are working on personal essays, which is kind of my thing, so I read them a story I had published about Shay, then talked about where I get my ideas.

The kids were so wide-eyed and fascinated - it made me feel like a real writer. In fact, they sent me a thank you card afterwards, and one of them wrote "you are the best writer I have ever met." Cue warm fuzzy feeling.

Today an actual real writer arrived at the school. Eric Kimmel has published zillions of children's books, and the PTA arranged to have him fly in for a visit. He is doing workshops with all of the elementary grade levels. He met with the kindergarteners today, and Aidan was just thrilled to meet him – they’d been reading his stories for weeks in preparation for the visit. Mr. Kimmel also did a seminar for parents, during which he dispensed some advice for aspiring writers. Gutsy Writer asked me for some advice awhile back, but I wasn’t sure what advice I might have. Mr. Kimmel suggested reading a lot, writing every day and starting out by pitching magazines. Check, check and check. He also pointed out that people living this overseas lifestyle have lots to offer, as we have experiences and stories that no one else out there has. True enough.

Of course, as he pointed out, you can’t be afraid of rejection. The rejection letters used to bother me, but I grew accustomed to them rather more quickly than I’d expected. Now? Eh, whatever. I’ve written plenty of stories that were rejected numerous times before finding a home. So I don’t take it very personally when I get a rejection. And I love when I get personal rejection letters, from editors who took the time to read what I sent them and offered up encouraging words. Once, when I was first starting out submitting, I wrote a story and sent it off to a little publication. The editor wrote me a personal note telling me she loved my story, and while it was wildly inappropriate for her publication, she actually sent me a list of other pubs I should query. I was floored by her kind words and graciousness to this very green writer. And the story did eventually find a home, in the Washington Post.

So – nothing new in Eric Kimmel’s advice to aspiring writers. Read. Write. Submit. Repeat. But it was good to be reminded of the work that’s involved in trying to make a living off of one’s words. I guess I’ll just keep plugging away at it and wait for fame and fortune to find me. If only I didn’t move every few years, perhaps fame and fortune could find me more easily.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My Day - Juxtapositions

I had a spare hour this morning, so I tackled the kids’ drawers. I pulled out all the clothes that aren’t season appropriate (this because Kyra insists upon wearing shorts and sundresses if she sees them). Then I boxed them all up to take to the charity store down the street, figuring some hypothetical poor kids might need them.

I stopped at Starbucks on the way to the charity store and picked up a mocha (31 kuai – about $4.50!). Then I headed for the store, just a five-minute drive away, on the outskirts of the little Chinese hutong between my big house and the boys’ big school. When I pulled up, I saw a crowd about fifty deep outside the store. I parked my van next to a pile of rotten greens and crushed eggshells, making sure I didn’t run over any of the mutts pawing through the trash in search of something edible, and went to see what was going on.

Apparently, the charity store was having a sale. Normally, they collect things and then redistribute them to local charities in need. But it seems they had a lot of clothing piling up that wasn’t needed – wrong size, wrong season, whatever. So they put it out for sale to the villagers, at a cost of 10 pieces per kuai (about 10 cents). They figured if they just handed it out, someone would grab it all and re-sell it, but if they sold it, even for a very low price, it would get to the villagers who needed it.

Hence the crowd. Parent were crowded around tables in front of the store, under the watchful eye of the volunteers, looking for clothing they could use. They saw me approach and eyed my bags of clothing – probably hoping it would be dumped onto the table. But no – I dropped it off inside to be sorted.

“Ten pieces per kuai,” said the store manager, “but they’re still choosing carefully.” I’d just tossed 35 kuai on a mocha without thinking about it much, but here were these poor people, no longer hypothetical, searching for bargains out in the cold.

From there I hopped in the car and went two blocks further, pulling into the gate at my sons’ private school. From the parking lot, you can see the rooftops of the hutong where I’d just been. On cold days like today, smoke rises as they burn coal to stay warm.

The school has a heating system.

So anyway. Someday I’ll try to turn these impressions into an article. For now, just a pre-Thanksgiving reminder that I’m warm and well-fed.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Did You Miss Me?

I told you I'd be out of touch for awhile. But I've just sent off the second of three articles I aimed to get done by today; the third I can finish tomorrow. The third is "on spec" anyway - that means the magazine has asked to see my revisions, but they haven't guaranteed they'll buy the finished project. Hate that! But it's a magazine I've long wanted to get into, not for the money, which wouldn't be great, but for the prestige. So we'll see. The first two stories are already sold, so of course they had my attention first.

We went to the Marine Corps Ball last night. I went to my first ball back in 1999, in Moscow. They have a traditional opening ceremony - my favorite part is when they present a slice of cake to the oldest marine present and then to the youngest. The oldest - you'll see her here - was born in 1922. The youngest was born the year I graduated from high school. The gentleman standing with them is the current U.S. Ambassador to China.

And there we are - such a cute couple, aren't we?

We were out until 1 a.m., and I still got up at 3 a.m. to feed Ainsley. So I'm exhausted. Good night; more from me later.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Spring Forward, Fall... uh, never mind

Just a little reminder to those of my fans who like to call me up (that'd be you, mom): here in China, there's no daylight savings time. So we are now 13 hours ahead of east coast family and 16 hours ahead of west coasters. Right? That's what I think, anyway. You do the math.

In other news, I was randomly strolling around the internet and I came across this article by Shannon Lowe, who blogs over at Rocks in my Dryer. (Sorry I can't provide the link to her blog - it's one of those blogs I can almost never access from here behind the Great Firewall.) Anyway, she writes an interesting article about expat moms, and in it, she quotes me! I'll try not to let the sudden fame go to my head.

It's been a busy day of candy-snarfing and paper airplane contests. We had about 400 trick-or-treaters at the house yesterday - they come from neighboring areas of town, and they even bus in from the Embassy. Kyra was hilarious. I explained the concept of trick or treat, so she went to the first door, said "trick-or-treat," and then gave them the candy from her bag. Same at the second door. And the third. Finally, something clicked and she figured it out. "Look, mama!" she said, "Candy!" And she held it up to the light to admire. After that, she'd run to each door and accept their offering. Then she'd look in the bag and look back at the people in the doorway, wondering what other magical things they might do.

In other news: The Embassy has moved at last! So I had a husband this weekend, and possibly will have again in the future. Weird, huh?

I will not post much this week. I actually have three articles due by Friday. One is done but awaiting revision, one is outlined but not researched, and one doesn't even exist in my head yet. So my mornings will be full of words, but alas! none for you.
Please. Write your own stuff.