Don’t Malign Yourself or Your Writing Gift

I’m close to the finish line on my historical standalone. Through this whole process of writing it, I’ve come to appreciate the mystery genre even more. That plot is not anything to be ashamed of. That movement through a narrative can be beautiful. Embrace your strengths, whatever they are. Writers can get so self-critical and yet I don’t see that kind of self-denegration helpful, at least for me.

Self-love is a term that used so often and sometimes carelessly that I think that it has lost all meaning. Instead, I’ll say don’t malign yourself or your writing ability. Be realistic and clear-headed about your weaknesses, always open to improvement, but on the other side, don’t malign yourself or your writing gift. Because creativity is indeed a gift, and many times we don’t like the wrapping that the gift comes in. We want someone else’s gift that seems grander and more sophisticated. Accept what has been given and roll with it. I’m now traveling downhill with my narrative and I have to say that I’m enjoying the ride.

How to Pivot

I just sat in publicist Dana Kaye (love her!) free one-hour Q&A on Crowdcast. I asked her what was the one thing she’s learned regarding marketing during this pandemic outbreak. She said that the clients who pivot tend to do better. I keep hearing about pivoting, but what is that really? Since I’m a former point guard, I started thinking about pivoting and basketball. I even watched a Facebook Live video of a basketball instructor going over different aspects of pivoting. Here are two things I noted:
 
1) You have to practice pivoting. So even if you know that you have conduct book marketing differently in this season, you can’t magically switch strategies and have it work seamlessly. If you are going to do more virtual programming, practice with Google Hangouts, Zoom and Crowdcast.
 
2) Depending on your unique challenges, you are going to have to pivot differently or perhaps pivot multiple times. A nonfiction author will have to pivot differently than a novelist. A novelist with a large following on Facebook will have to pivot differently than an author with hardly any social media presence at all.
 
There are a couple things from Dana’s session that made me think. One was that people’s schedule has been affected due to the pandemic. Those with children are busy overseeing their education during the day–so perhaps holding a Facebook Live for parents should be scheduled in the early evening or weekends. (This is just an example.) Also that you should not seek to get people on one social media platform to follow you on another. You will be spreading your readers too thin. Instead, if you don’t have that many followers on a certain platform, perhaps you need to figure out ways to create content that will specifically interest them. And social media is not about getting people to directly buy your book. It’s more about nurturing your readers and slowly increasing readership, one reader at a time.
 
I’m currently working to complete my Chicago novel but I can’t wait to experiment with videoconferencing. I also need to consider what I’ll be including in my new newsletter that I’ll send at the end of May. A lot of pivoting will be involved, but in some ways, pivoting has been part of my life for a long time.
 
Photo: My now 10-year-old nephew before the pandemic. Can’t wait to play basketball with him again!

Los Angeles Women Working in the Flower Fields


caption: Issei women, wearing bonnets and dresses, work in the flower fields. (Courtesy of the Mizufuka family. Please do not duplicate.)

(Note: I will be periodically posting excerpts from the many history books I’ve written over the years. This is from A SCENT OF FLOWERS: The History of the Southern California Flower Markets, 1912-2004 [written by Naomi Hirahara and published by Midori Books  in 2004].)

It was not unusual for Japanese American wives and children to work in the fields alongside adult men. Women and girls, with their smaller hands, seemed naturally suited for certain production techniques like the disbudding of carnations. Other tasks often adopted by wives and children were sorting and packing of flowers, usually conducted in a covered area.

This agrarian life was not always suited to new wives from the urban parts of Japan. According to family folklore, Shiku Satow, the wife of Tomijiro, was deathly afraid of insects and removed small bugs from flower using a pair of chopsticks. This fear soon subsided; Shiku, in fact, devoted her life to the grading or classifying of carnations for the family corporation until she retired at age 84.

While the Japanese relied on the hard work of all of its members for both economic survival and success, the outside world sometimes did not look kindly on these efforts. When the Southern California Flower Market was open seven days a week, various regional chambers of commerce attempted to force Japanese families to curtail work on Sundays. The Japanese Association of Long Beach was one organization that supported the elimination of Sunday work at least officially in November 1919. Even the Southern California Flower Market decided in a special meeting to abolish work on Sundays, aside from the picking of flowers for Monday market. Whether the members adhered to this rule cannot be verified.

Another issue was women working in the fields. Again chambers of commerce sought to change the Japanese growers’ cultural values and discouraged them from allowing their wives to do manual labor on the farm. Even the Flower Market agreed, telling its members that women should not work even on weekdays. If they did work, however, women should wear women’s work clothes–probably referring to aprons and white cotton caps with scalloped edges.

A Japanese American leader at the Long Beach meeting elaborated on the role of women in the family: “For our point of view we are in fault in using women, for their supreme duty is to build the home; that is what she is, she is queen of the home. We must better our living standards and thus overcome the anti-Japanese feeling in the community. Women’s main duty is to attend the home, to care for the children. I know there are economic reasons which we cannot apply to all; but I believe if you can help it, do not put women in the field. Keep your wife at home, and you will see improvement at once in the home.”

In spite of the rhetoric and public announcements, most Japanese farmers seemed to ignore these directives. Why listen to these leaders when they needed to put food on the table for their growing families?

Topsy-Turvy World

  

I was a bit depressed this afternoon because it’s finally starting to sink in that this new way of life is not just a two-week or a month-long situation but something long-term. Everything we’ve experienced or known so far is now topsy-turvy. I’m a person who likes to plan, knowing full well that plans do change. Now I’m realizing I can’t even attempt to plan because this is such unchartered territory. I mean, we can look at the 1918 influenza or what my parents went through–the bombing of Hiroshima, but this is a very specific time with new global connections, high-technology and economies.

On a very micro, personal level, Tulo is old, estimated age of 14 years, who probably has Cushing’s disease but I don’t want to put him on strong (and expensive) medication. He has to pee all the time, especially at night, so even though I took him on two walks today, I go out at sunset for his third. And lo and behold, the sky is gorgeous, streaks of pink against the blue, and I find myself angry. Like why is the sky so beautiful? Does the Heavens know how we are suffering right now? Nonetheless, I chase the skyline–not only because I want to take pictures to put it on social media (!) but also because I want to capture its fleeting beauty. As my dog and I walk home, I tell myself that I need to savor these small, good moments even though in some ways, it’s weirdly painful. And walking underneath some trees, I smell jasmine (a good sign because I heard you lose your sense of smell when you have COVID-19). It is strong and fragrant. I don’t know if I can be as fragrant during this time of unknowing. But the fact that I saw and smelled must mean something.

The Great Pause and Writers of Color

I’ll be honest with you all. I’m decimated by this Great Pause and how it will affect writers and specifically writers of color. Just when it seemed like we were gaining traction in certain circles–the publishing world seemed to finally be listening to Latinx writers and their criticisms of AMERICAN DIRT and #ownvoices contracts seemed to be flourishing. Young friends were getting streaming deals for their diverse content. The African American mystery writer, Barbara Neely, whose novels made me feel less alone, was chosen to be feted at the Edgar Awards.

Now we have to take some steps back. Okay, Naomi, don’t be so dark. I know my family are fighters–damn, we survived a nuclear holocaust, so we got this, right?

A part of me just wants to be more passive and “realistic” and continue to look at my projected income and expenses in the next few years and cross out some numbers. I still am going to do that in anticipation of a worst-case scenario but it occurred to me this morning that I have also consider a best-case scenario. A scenario in which we fight this force with ingenuity and optimism.

This is going to require all the smarts, skills, creativity and camaraderie we can muster. If we are complacent and think that life will be restored exactly how we left it pre-coronavirus, we will most likely be battered by the killer wave that’s coming for us. There’s no doubt that we need to do something different.

On Sunday I participated in a virtual Potluck and Poetry reading on the video conference platform Zoom, organized by Scott Oshima, Sustainable Little Tokyo Program director. In this session in which we were eating our individual meals in different locations, I was exposed to the literature and concerns of Tongvans who are native to Southern California. For a couple of hours, I was transported to a world that I didn’t know but should know.

Frankly I was skeptical of what an online exchange could do for me, but you know what, it was actually sustaining. Nothing will beat a face-to-face meeting, but the use of this technology is an alternative that has possibilities.

Come back here and look for new ideas that we need to employ. If you want to contribute a blog post, let me know at bachi@naomihirahara.com.

Here a debut writer shares what she’s doing to launch her book “in the middle of a global pandemic”:

Launching a Debut Novel in Middle of a Global Pandemic

This Season of Discovery

What a difference a week makes!

Just last week I was writing about my quandary about attending a couple of out-of-town mystery events and now both have been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. Since Sunday I’ve been sheltering in place with my husband and, of course, Tulo.

It’s an uncertain season with many people suffering, either physically, financially and emotionally. I mourn that. I’ve been spending my time writing and cleaning our second bedroom for a possible displaced college student. This bedroom has been in disastrous, my dumping ground for research and correspondence. In sorting through papers, I found a memo pad with the name and phone number of my first acquiring editor. I realized that was from 2003, when the first Mas Arai mystery was purchased by Bantam Dell, an imprint of Random House. I also came across the commemorative booklet that I had created for my father’s funeral in 2012. It reminded me of my parents’ legacy as Hiroshima atomic-bomb survivors. They both went through one of the most horrific singular events in the 20th Century. It was something that did haunt my father at times, but he mostly led a life of joy–joy for fishing, joy for games, and joy of family.

Hold onto those things during this season. We will get through this.

Coronavirus Dilemma: Cancel or Not to Cancel?

It’s so stressful to figure out whether to cancel out-of-town book appearances during this time when we don’t know enough about the coronavirus.

This is my writing year, so I don’t have much lined up but I do have two events (more than a hundred people) for this month. I will be attending Left Coast Crime San Diego, but always planned a low-key presence. I have one panel, an improv performance, a small celebratory dinner for one of the honorees, and a few small get-togethers. I’ll be driving and I’m not staying the conference hotel (more because of financial reasons plus I was considering bringing Tulo–I’m not going to).

The following week, I was planning to travel to Chicago participate in Murder and Mayhem writers conference at Roosevelt University and Noir at the Bar at one of the Chicago’s new bookstores. I also intended to do more research on my manuscript-in-progress, which is set in Chicago. As I’m a working novelist, I usually travel bare bones–like Spirit Airlines with one bag without my laptop and staying in my own room in a hostel-like hotel. Thinking of about this kind of solo discount travel through LAX with also the looming cloud of the coronavirus did me in. I’m healthy, but I do have regular contact with my 83-year-old mother. And my old neurotic dog will probably have a nervous breakdown if I’m away for a length of time.

So it’s yes to the drive to San Diego with proper precaution (bringing Lysol and sanitizing wipes) and limited activity and no to Chicago. I’m sad about the decision about Chicago, but it feels right to me.

No Writer’s Block Here

I recently heard that writing leads to more writing, which I’ve found that is true. While being immersed in my novel-in-progress, I’ve been called to contribute some unrelated essays, short stories as well as new installments to my serial, Silk, on Discover Nikkei. What I’ve found is that the words and ideas have come easier than usual. A relief, because as I age, I seem to be checking the thesaurus more for synonyms because a word seems out of reach.

This weekend I met a high school student who asked me what I do about writer’s block. “Are you a perfectionist?” I asked her. She reluctantly admitted that she was and I told her that perfectionism holds creativity back. How can you be creative if you are afraid to make mistakes? I told her about Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD, which is my go-to resource for writing. As I’ve referred to here, she writes about shitty first drafts. Know that the first words you type in your computer may be terrible. Awful. But when you move from that and dig deeper, you may uncover the glimmer of a beautiful mineral hidden beneath the surface. Keep digging and keep polishing. If you don’t break ground, you won’t discover anything underneath. I told this young woman to just start typing, “I have writer’s block. I don’t know what to write. BLAH BLAH BLAH.” Inevitably when you start doing that, truth emerges. A story appears. A characters speaks.

I’m a strange one because some people have been very hard on me, but I give myself a lot of grace (maybe too much!). Grace perhaps comes from my faith or my late father. I love giving grace and mercy to people around me, so I figure I need to sprinkle some on myself. It’s not that I don’t have high expectations for myself, but I know that I will be missing the mark as I go through life as a writer and person. The worst is not to try when you’re capable.