Thursday, April 25, 2013

Watching the Boston Marathon Bombings from Japan

Watching Home from Far Away: On Watching the Boston Marathon Bombings from Japan

Guest post by Tracy Slater

On April 16th, 2013, I had an experience many expatriates have probably shared at one some point: sitting in my living room watching news unfold on a TV screen, news occurring in a place that’s both home and half a planet away.

The sun was filtering through the soji-screen covering the windows of the tatami room where our TV sits, in the apartment I share with my Japanese husband in Osaka. Pale morning light spread across the straw-matted floor in front of the screen, where in slow-motion, Marathon runners buckled and tipped, gray smoke propelling outward in angry billows. Event officials in bright yellow jackets swarmed over gray metal barricades. Spectators sat clutching limbs or carried wounded strangers, their faces all etched in shock.

I was watching my home, Boston, after the bombings at the Marathon. Behind the slow-moving mayhem on the screen, I could see the street corner where my drug store was, the store fronts I had passed and sidewalk I had tread hundreds of times as a life-long Bostonian, pre-marriage and pre-expatriatism. As a teenager, I’d lived just two blocks from the first bomb; as an adult, just a few blocks further from the second, until, at 36, I fell madly in love with a man from Osaka and left my hometown for his.

The carnage in Boston, as I watched it in Osaka, felt both very close and very far. It was nighttime now in Boston, and the footage I was watching was a few hours old. In the morning sunshine, I sat and watched and was shaken and sad. I thought about the darkness shrouding, at that very moment, the streets of my home where the bombs had detonated, now reflected back to me in a way that felt both immediate and time-delayed, viscerally near and ineffably out-of-reach.

My body itched with the impulse not just to do somethingnot just to react in some way besides gaping, as I stared dumbly at the TV—but to somehow dispel the weird duality of experiencing home and its pain from the remove of continents. I wanted suddenly to, somehow, literally touch the streets of my neighborhood as they were now touching me in my chest, at the same time that they remained flat and grainy and intangible from behind the sturdy glass of the TV screen.

So I did the only thing I could think of, as not just an expatriate but a writer abroad: I wrote. I wrote about how, although I left my first love, Boston, for my second love, my Japanese husband in Osaka, I never lost my primal connection to the city I will always call home.  Although it could do nothing for the lives and limbs lost in Copley Square that day, writing reminded me of why, no matter where I go and what new things I see and learn, I’ve always belonged to Boston first, and always will: just one tiny, inconsequential blip of an offering for a city I knew would need somehow to start to heal, and I’d have nothing much to offer it while it did. Except, of course, my love.

If you’re interested, here is what I wrote. Either way, I hope we as expat writers all keep telling the stories of where we are from, and of how that very telling helps each of us hold and share and even create anew our connection to and our pride in our home, even from oceans away.

Tracy Slater is a freelance writer and the founder of the award-winning global literary series Four Stories. Her book The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East and West, is forthcoming from Penguin’s Putnam imprint.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

How to Plot a Novel

At the Zurich Writers Workshop in Zurich last weekend, Writer Abroad got her second confirmation that yes, her novel has structure. This was a great relief, after struggling for a couple of years to make sure her plot made sense.

Structure is highly recommended for anyone writing a novel. It’s essential for everything, from making sure your story has well, story, to making sure your story will be marketable.

But how do you plot a novel?

How about reading a book first?

Writer Abroad used Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks, to help her understand how to plot the main points of her novel. It's the most useful book she's read on the subject so far.

At the workshop last weekend, the instructor, Lee Weatherly, used a Three-Act Graph Worksheet to help the writers figure out if their book had structure. So here’s a quick test from the points on her worksheet. If you can answer the following questions, you probably have a story that makes sense (and if this sounds like Chinese, read Story Engineering or read Lee’s book, Write a Blockbuster and Get it Published):

What is the main character’s goal or problem?

Act One: what is the set-up?

What is the inciting event?

Act Two: How does the hero attempt to overcome the problem? Is there cause and effect and escalating tension?

What is the high point?

What is the rug-pulling moment?

What is the hero’s darkest moment?

What is the climax?

What is the resolution?

Structure may be hard (and feel almost impossible) to get right at first, but then it makes everything else easier—even writing the synopsis.

A synopsis, as Writer Abroad learned over the weekend, is just a way for agents to figure out if your story has structure. So your synopsis doesn’t need to be a scene-by-scene blow of your book (whoops!), it just needs to answer the above questions. For Writer Abroad, this was a real revelation and allowed her to trim her two-page synopsis to one (well, almost one).

Anyone else have good resources to share for understanding story structure?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

International Writing Round-Up

The New York Times had an interesting (if depressing) piece on The Slow Death of the American Author.

On a positive note, ALLI, The Alliance of Independent Authors, aims to democratize writing and publishing and is always looking for new members.

JJ Marsh, author of the Beatrice Stubbs series, has posted a useful list of the top ten bookmarks for independent writers. 

And as usual, Erika Dreifus can be counted on to post Monday Markets for Writers. A great place to learn about jobs and opportunities.

English writers take over German-speaking Zurich this weekend during the Zurich Writers Workshop, which will feature authors Sam North and Lee Weatherly as authors in residence. To meet the authors without attending the workshop, join the apĂ©ro from 7-9 p.m. at the James Joyce Pub on Friday, April 12. 

Anyone else have some interesting things to share?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Can you be both fiction and non-fiction?

Writer Abroad has led a pretty ordinary life (if you can call going out your door and being surrounded by the Swiss German language and a gigantic medieval clock tower ordinary). 

The only problem with being ordinary? It isn’t so good for memoir writing. That's too bad, because Writer Abroad loves memoir. And she's written one too.


Writer Abroad hasn’t been a Prisoner of Tehran. She never went Running with Scissors. And she hasn’t spent A Year in Provence.

Instead, she’s spent seven years in Switzerland—a country most publishers don’t care about.


Writer Abroad sometimes laments her ordinariness. Because for every Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life that is published, there are at least one hundred A Million Little Pieces.

So what is a happily married non-alcoholic drug-free mother of a normal baby non-fiction writer to do?

Write fiction, of course.

But can a non-fiction writer be a fiction writer? Are we naturally born one way or the other? 

At first, the fiction form seemed to resist Writer Abroad’s sarcastic first-person style of writing. After all, the first full-length book she completed was her memoir about life in Switzerland, which is now sitting in one of many fate-to-be-determined piles.

But can you write fiction with a memoir voice? Writer Abroad doesn't know, but she did. She just went with it. She figures maybe the style will be innovative for fiction. Or maybe it will just suck. There are about 2,000 words to go to finish the first draft of her first novel. And then Writer Abroad will hopefully have some perspective to decide if a memoirist at heart can really write novels too.

Are you either fiction or non-fiction? Or do you think we can be both?


Related Posts with Thumbnails