First Person Female

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s taken me a while to grab hold of my female voice. Maybe a psychoanalyst can figure out why, but then again the reasons may not be germane.

After my third Mas Arai mystery (that series is all written in the third person), I wrote a middle-grade book, 1001 CRANES. I initially started it from an adult woman’s POV, but my agent at the time, shook her head. “Naomi,” she told me, “the teenage voice in flashbacks is much stronger than the adult one.”

Darnit! Foiled again. So I went back and rewrote the book as one for a younger readership. The protagonist was first fourteen but then moved back to twelve. It was written in the  first person.

Somehow 1001 CRANES opened a dam for me. I was able to reclaim an adolescent girl’s voice. Although it wasn’t a bestseller, it was well received and was recognized by the Asian American Librarians Association. Delacorte issued it as a Yearling paperback, belonging to line which I had voraciously read as a child.

From that protagonist, Angela “Angie” Inui, I was able to grow into twentysomething Ellie Rush and then twentysomething Leilani Santiago in Hawai’i. I’ve also written a number of short stories in both first and third persons in the female voice.

The standalone historic thriller that I’m writing right now is also first person female. She’s Aki Ito, again a twentysomething woman, but this time a Nisei in the 1940s. I’m enjoying the writing process immensely. I can meld my passion for history with my love for women on the cusp of adulthood. I’ve attempted for years to get into the head of a “typical” second-generation Japanese American women. I want to capture the optimism and practicality of this generation yet also dive into the darkness of trauma. Even as a journalist and social historian in the Japanese American community, I’ve always tried to reconcile the smiling faces and immaculate appearances of Nisei women with the stark reality of their incarceration experience in World War II camps.  Were they in denial? Were they putting up a show for the cameras? And how were they able to keep their hair so well styled?

Writing this in first person is essential for me. I want to remove any filters or interpretation that an omniscient narrator can provide. Every writer brings their unique strength to a creative work. I feel as a postwar Nisei myself and historian of Japanese America, I can bring Aki Ito alive in her own words.







Flowing Freely

Every November I find a group of people who are doing NaNoWriMo and swim behind them in the water’s wake. NaNoWriMo is the annual write a novel–well, 50,000 words in one month–campaign. I first attempted to sign up but didn’t like being tied to a certain word count goal, especially if my actual output was recorded and publicized on the organization’s website.

But I like having a push, which NaNoWriMo certains provides. I belong to a group where we cheer each other on; there’s also a Twitter feed where we can post our successes.

This year is a strange one for me because I’m finding that rather than swimming to keep at least a arm’s distance from the fastest writers, I’ve started swimming in another lane entirely.

It may be because the bones and meat of my story were starting to develop from last year. The constitution of the story–its personality and voice–has been determined. The skeleton–the plot–already outlined on Evernote. I now look forward to entering the story, not to meet any word count, but to see it stand on its own.

I see some common themes appear, but I’m also grateful to see how this novel will be different from the others. Either way, it’s wonderful to be in the flow.

WRITING WEDNESDAY: Plotting Using Evernote

My friend, exhibition developer Heather Lindquist, turned me onto the application, Evernote, when we were working together on the book, LIFE AFTER MANZANAR, which was published last year. Evernote, which can be a free download, is a quick way to create notebooks of pages. These pages can have notes or images and she posted the various photos (we had a total of close to 100) into different notebooks. From there we both could work on captions as well as see where each photo should fall within our text.

I liked it so much I used it in curating an exhibition on Terminal Island for the Maritime Museum in San Pedro. Again, I could share the images easily with the designer and see if they would work well in communicating a good narrative.

For my latest historic thriller set in 1944 Chicago, I brainstormed as usual in physical notebooks, jotting down names, storylines and recording important nuggets of research. When I was about one-quarter into the writing of the book, I decided that I need a more structured outline for the rest of the manuscript and decided to experiment with Evernote.

So far it’s been working splendidly. I’ve plotted the entire book on Evernote and it has the capability of being synchronized to another device, so I’ve downloaded the program to my phone. There’s also a scannable app so that I can take a photo of a document and have it immediately go to Evernote as well.

Having Evernote on my phone makes my novel writing process totally portable. While I’m waiting in line at the post office, I can click on my outline and see what I’m missing or what is misplaced. I’ve railed against technology and cell phones at times, but even I have to admit that there are times these new developments can prove to be useful.


New Discover Nikkei Serial: Silk

To mark the 150th anniversary of the first Japanese sojourners to create a silk and tea enterprise, the Wakamatsu Colony (1869-71), I’ve started a new serial for the Discover Nikkei website, “Silk” The first chapter is from the POV of Jou Schnell, the wife of the colony’s founder. Enjoy! The serial will appear on the fourth of every month. At some point soon, I’ll add a list of all my online serials on my website.