Author Archives: Mj

About Mj

MSW, Music Therapist, Author, Adoptee

My memoir!

CoverBeyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity is now live! If you have not yet purchased your copy, don’t delay. I have a few books left, and signed copies can be purchased right here on my website.  Just click on Shop to order. Kindle and hardcover editions are available via my author page at Amazon, and you can also find the book at Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.org.

If you enjoyed reading the book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, or wherever you purchased your copy! Unfortunately, I am unable to ship internationally; however, those copies can be ordered through Amazon and Barnes & Noble online. To learn more about the book and to read an excerpt, click here, and to read reviews, click here. Thank you for supporting Beyond Two Worlds!

 

Taiwan ROCKs Seattle 2017

group photoIt’s always hard to say good-bye. My daughter and I spent a weekend in Seattle, WA for the annual Taiwan ROCKs event where adoptive families with kids from Taiwan get together, catch up on each others’ lives, and make some fun memories. Each year, the event is held in a different city. There were about 16 families and 25 kids adopted from Taiwan, not including non-adopted siblings, and one sibling adopted from the DRC. We’re now heading back to CA. It was an experience I’ll always treasure. We met so many wonderful families!

The event began on Friday night with a pizza fest at Angle Lake, a park within walking distance from our hotel. There were water features + playground equipment, and the kids looked like they were having the time of their lives. This year’s event was organized by Molly Gleason O’Brien and Kerry Murphy, two local moms. Lexie and I were warmly welcomed and were struck by the support and friendships extended to us. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Tien, the very woman who helped me find my birth family in Taipei, standing across the way talking to a family. Then it dawned on me that Tien lives in Seattle – I’d forgotten! Almost every family there, if not all, were connected to Tien in some way. We spent the afternoon with Tien yesterday touring the city and eating lunch. It was lovely to spend time with her after our trip to Taiwan together in 2012, 5 years ago. My how time has flown!

TienOn Saturday evening, I talked to the group after a BBQ dinner about my new book, “Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity.” My heart melted afterwards when young adoptees came to introduce themselves and get a copy of my book. The best part of the trip was getting to know these kiddos and their parents. We talked about how much international adoption has changed since the era when I and many other adult adoptees were adopted. I was struck by how many families had already taken their kids back to Taiwan. Some adoptees had the opportunity to meet their birth mothers and extended biological families. The trips were prompted by their kids’ curiosity about their early beginnings. It was unheard of years ago for adoptive parents to encourage their kids to explore their birth cultures. I found that the parents at the event are well-educated and culturally sensitive. They understand the importance of open dialogue with their kids. I was very inspired by the support the families provide to each other and to their kids as they continue to ask questions about their birth heritage. One mom told me that her daughter, age 11, wrote an essay about her adoption/birth family and loved to write. Most of the adoptees fell between the ages of 6-10. It was such a great pleasure to talk with them and learn their stories. Some of the other evenings events included rock painting and slime-making!

Taiwan ROCKs has approximately 400 families within its network. I was told that the Seattle ROCKs event was one of the smallest compared to past years. Nevertheless, I enjoyed every minute of it. Tien told me she believed that approximately 1,000 Taiwanese adoptions have occurred since the 1990’s, and most likely more, including adoptions that were private, or occurred without the assistance of an agency. Adoptions from Taiwan have declined significantly, as have international adoptions across all countries. There is a whole generation of young Taiwanese adoptees who I hope one day will support one another and perhaps even write their own memoirs! Thank you to the families who attended Taiwan ROCKS 2017 for your support and for making Lexie and I feel like a part of the group! We hope to keep in touch.

Taiwanese American film festival

TAFFYesterday, I had the great pleasure of attending the first annual Taiwanese American Film Festival at the Downtown Independent Theatre in LA. It was super fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The purpose of the festival is to celebrate the achievements of new and rising Taiwanese American and Taiwanese international cinema artists. It was established by the Taiwanese American Professionals of Los Angeles. The event showcased film screenings by filmmakers from all over the world. It gave me a sense of pride as I reflected upon my own ever growing exploration of what it means to be Taiwanese American. The festival offered morning, day, and sunset sessions with an industry panel and a night block featuring an awards ceremony and closing feature. There was a closing party afterwards (which I didn’t attend, but am sure was loads of fun).

My friend and I arrived just in time for the Opening Shorts Block. These films ranged from stories that focused on family, culture, and the past. As audience members, we had the opportunity to vote for our favorite film afterwards. I enjoyed all eight, but one in particular really resonated with me, “My Adoption.” The director, Chuang-Chieh Liao, discovered he was adopted in his adult years, and his film explores this newfound knowledge in a conversation with his adoptive mom. Interestingly, Chuang-Chieh was adopted by a Taiwanese family in Taiwan. He wrote the film as an international student during his first quarter at DePaul University in Chicago where he was pursuing a MFA. He stated about the film, “I just wanted to face the fear that was always in my mind. I had lost part of childhood memory. Three years ago, I found out that I was adopted. That’s when the memory came back to my brain. After I came to Chicago, I decided to call my mother and ask the details about my adoption for the first time.” 

I don’t want to give too much of the film away, but the emotions behind the question that Chuang-Chieh asks his adoptive mother are quite tender, and we see how deeply he struggles to grasp at answers. Some members of his family were very conservative and opposed his adoption. As a result, he grew up without their love and support, and his adoptive parents were blamed for their inability to have a biological child. Especially poignant, we see childhood pictures of Chuang-Chieh with his adoptive parents in flashes as he converses with his mother over the phone. His parents loved him – it’s obvious, and we learn why they withheld sharing his adoption for so long. As I sat and watched this film, I was reminded that whether adoption occurs domestically in the US/abroad or through inter-country adoption, adoption is complex. But also, adoptive parents love their children. I’m not talking about abusive parents, neglectful parents, or parents who adopt for the wrong reasons. And this post doesn’t address the corruption that exists in adoption. Adoption is just complex on many different levels. It’s a tangled web of emotions and discovery across the lifespan that takes time to unravel, and it’s certainly a life-long journey for the adoptee, biological parents, and adoptive family. I”m sure that Chuang-Chieh continues to process the decision his adoptive parents made to adopt and love him despite such opposition from their own family in Taiwan. There is a social stigma that exists in Taiwan (and other Asian countries) towards adoption, especially if the child has a special need.

I wanted to know more after watching this brief, yet powerful film. It was one of the shorter films, approximately 4 minutes, and subtitled in English, as most of the films were. Unfortunately, Chuang-Chieh wasn’t present at the festival. I would have loved to talk to him about his experience and film. How cool it was to see a Taiwanese filmmaker explore his own personal experience of adoption.

My friend and I missed the Centerpiece Shorts Block, as we had lunch with some of her friends at a nearby restaurant, but some of the shorts are available to watch on Vimeo. Click here to see a listing of all the films and synopses. We did attend the Industry Panel featuring 5 actors/producers/writers: Lynn Chen (actress) of “Saving Face,” by Sony Pictures, Alan Pao (Producer) founder and CEO of Tunnel Post Production, Kai Wu (Writer), Charles Yu (Writer) and Kelvin Yu (Writer/Actor). Kai writes for the NBC TV series, “Hannibal” and CWs, “The Flash.” Charles writes for HBO’s “Westworld” and has authored multiple books. Kelvin currently writes for the Fox animated series, “Bob’s Burgers” and the Netflix comedy, “Master of None.” Very interesting and entertaining to learn how each of the panelists began their careers.

I hope that you’ll take a few minutes to watch, “My Adoption,” by Chuang-Chieh Liao. I’m linking his short here via Vimeo. Thank you, Chuang-Chieh, for making such a meaningful film that will surely resonate with other adoptees.

 

 

book launch party

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If you’re in the Long Beach area or nearby locale, please stop by and visit me at Gatsby Books on July 30th for a book launch party. Event starts at 3:00 pm. If you plan to attend, kindly click Going at the Facebook RSVP link so I can plan refreshments accordingly. See ya there!

a certain slant of adoption

Scribble black backgroundHello folks! It’s Sunday morning, the skies are gray in my lovely locale. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying the weekend, despite the clouds. It couldn’t have come sooner.

Today, I wanted to talk about adoption…well, duh. I have something more specific in mind. For the past 7 years, I’ve actively searched for and read blogs, books, scholarly research, adoptee group sites, birthmother sites, and adoptive parent sites seeking connection, knowledge, resources, and validation. There are as many views on adoption out there as the colors of the rainbow. As an international and transracial adoptee, my own perspective on adoption has evolved. I don’t think it uncommon for our views to change as we experience personal growth and for lack of a better term, mature. Adoptees have strong inclinations regarding adoption rooted in their own life experiences, and multiple factors shape those attitudes. I’ve spoken with adult adoptees who are not terribly interested in connecting to their cultural roots or birth heritage, nor searching for their birthfamilies. Perhaps there’s a glint of interest, but there is not yet a compelling enough reason or desire to follow it. There are other adoptees who speak strongly against international adoption and for reasons that are quite justified. International adoption has a jaded history, and there are countless adoptees who were adopted illegally, through unethical adoption practices – in some cases both the agency and adoptive parents were plainly aware of the falsification of information. These deplorable practices still occur around the world. There is evidence, and though the U.S. attempts to keep the public aware of these dark practices, they continue.

I have several friends who are adoptive parents and have adopted children internationally from China, India, Africa, Ethiopia, and Russia. They also have very strong opinions and attitudes about international adoption. Sometimes – maybe even frequently – my friends and I do not see eye to eye; nevertheless we remain friends. I strongly believe in family preservation and the support of services to keep children with their biological families. As an adopted person, I cannot see past that. And yet, we live in a world where adoption is still thriving, although in decline internationally. I feel conflicted at times because I have my own very strong attitudes about adoption and yet I am supportive of my friends and other adoptive parents, and that will not change. I am for the welfare of children whether adopted or not.

What I particularly struggle with across the landscape of adoption is judgment and how we judge one another based on our attitudes and opinions towards international adoption. I know that I am judged by others for what I believe and support. I don’t necesarrily like being judged; the word ‘judge’ itself is so harsh. And yet I also judge – it’s inevitable. We all do because it’s human nature. I have no control over what others think and say, but I can temper my own thoughts, words, and actions. I’ve gone through the gamut of emotions related to my own adoption/identity and international adoption in general, from curiosity and awe, to self-loathing and anger, to grief and loss and depression, to acceptance. Like so many adoptees, ignorance makes me angry. It’s complex. There’s a lot of ignorance surrounding international and transracial adoption – adoptive parents experience it, too, and people can say some really dumb things. Sometimes I laugh it off, and other times I get angry and vent to a trusted friend or another adoptee who gets it. There is healing and validation in sharing our experiences.

And what about birthmothers? Of all involved in the adoption ‘triangle,’ their voices and stories are the least heard. And yet, I am certain that they have also experienced trauma, separation, grief and loss, and judgment. We know that women throughout the world have been forced to ‘give up’ their children through coercion for generations (Australia, Brazil, etc). And their children were later adopted by families/individuals from other countries. Societies often judge unwed, single pregnant women who are then stigmatized and left with few options.

What to make of all of this? I will be judged by what I say and do. That’s life, and I can accept that, as painful as it may be. There are a lot of adoptees and other folks out there with some very strong voices and opinions about how things should be. What I won’t accept is bullying by others who believe that everyone should share the same attitude and carry out the same actions. That’s just unacceptable. Adoptees do not all share the same points of view. Similarly, adoptees, adoptive parents, and birthmothers have vastly different experiences. Sometimes what we see on the outside is not what’s on the inside. I realize that we may not always agree, but we can certainly respect one another and our own personal and matchless journeys. We can look for ways to inform others who have not walked in our shoes. I’m speaking as one adoptee to another – I hope to support you wherever you are in life and wherever life takes you. I do believe that collectively, we can make a difference.

what I’ve learned about writing a book

Letters and fountain penI have always loved the written word. From sounding out those very first simple sentences in elementary school – remember, “see jane run?” – to finishing the complete Nancy Drew mystery series as a kid, I have loved to read and always will. Thank God for bifocals and 60 watt light bulbs (if you’re over 45, you’ll get what I mean). I never dreamed of writing a book, but it’s an accomplishment that I’m now proud of, and I’m happy to pass along my experience of writing a first book – from the creative process to self-publishing. I’m going to start by sharing 7 tips on writing a book. As the saying goes, live and learn! I would certainly approach the whole process very differently, so here goes…

  1. Determine what your intent is in writing your book. If your primary goal is to make money, you may be sadly disappointed (unless you’re like E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey – no I haven’t read any of her books). I knew that writing a memoir about my adoption journey would likely not appeal to the general public – it’s an extremely narrow category; however, I felt strongly that I had a story to share and a passion for telling it. So if you have a burning desire to share a personal story or journey that changed your life or the lives of others, then do it! I think that many adoptees want to tell their stories, and it’s important to do so. International adoption is complex, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, and we need to share our stories and provide greater education to the public regarding the untruths and misperceptions. My book will not be a bestseller, and I’m okay with that. It’s tough marketing and selling a book that is targeted at such a small audience, but I’m still glad I wrote it. What I’m saying is be realistic about the outcomes in so writing your book.
  2. Figure out your target audience. This is extremely important. For example, is your book a self-help book? Who do you want to read and buy your book? How will it appeal to that particular audience? How can you broaden your target audience? I hoped that other adoptees, adoptive parents, and adoption professionals would want to read and buy my book, and of course, friends. I had also hoped that a wider audience would show interest in my book because of its universal message of searching for identity and for one’s roots. Alas, it has been very difficult to garner greater interest in my book, I believe primarily because the scope of it is considered narrow and doesn’t quite have the appeal retailers are seeking. That being said, it also takes time and creativity to sell your work, so patience and hard work are necessary. I’ll get to that later.
  3. Get a good team of editors. It’s imperative, especially if you’ve never written a book, to hire a team of professional editors. There are different types of editors: content editors, copy/line editors, proofreaders. So let’s start with the content editor. I’m a social worker, so I’ll use the analogy of macro to micro. A content editor will take a look at your work from a macro-level or “big picture” point of view. He/she will evaluate the pulse of your story and make sure the manuscript is well-written. Is the theme/plot of the story well-developed and organized? Is the story-telling paced appropriately and are the characters and plot believable? Are there any contradictions, factual errors, inconsistencies or discrepancies? Is the story attention-grabbing? You get the idea. The content editor will make suggestions to re-write, move, delete, or add sections to your story. His/her work is more subjective than the other forms of editing and involves a lot of thought and decision-making. A copy or line editor will look at your work at a micro-level. She/he will get down to the nitty-gritty and evaluate grammar, syntax, sentence structure, accurate word choices, verb tense, capitalization, spelling, spacing, missed and repeated words, paragraph and sentence length. He may suggest reorganizing chapter titles, subheadings, etc. As a side note, use Microsoft word when writing your manuscript so that editors can track changes, and you can review comments and make changes in the document. You can also hire a proofreader. Proofreading is a really good idea because sometimes even editors miss things. Proofreading occurs right before your manuscript goes to print. A proofreader will go through your formatted manuscript and focus on finding any overlooked misspellings, typographic errors, accuracy of page numbers, table of contents, and any formatting issues. Like I said, it’s easy to overlook errors. Bottom line – Get yourself a team of editors. The editor I hired was fantastic – she was/is a content editor. She was supportive, made loads of suggestions and had that big picture mentality as she evaluated my work. If I were to write my book all over again, I would have spent the extra money to hire a copy editor and maybe even a proofreader, but we were trying to save money.  It takes a lot of time and effort to scour through an entire manuscript looking for errors and proofing it. Both a professional copy editor and proofreader give you added assurance that your manuscript is ready for print free of errors. Do not skip out on this important step!
  4. Research publishers. I chose to self-publish my book for many reasons. There are loads of articles out there on self publishing vs. traditional publishing. Self-publishing has become increasingly popular because it’s so much more accessible than traditional publishing, and royalties are supposedly higher, but the jury is still out on that. Some of the reasons why I chose self-publishing include, 1) I had complete creative control over the content and design of my book, plus the copyright. 2) Timeline – there were no deadlines, and self-publishing is much quicker to market than traditional publishing. 3) I had no intention of getting and paying for a literary agent. I recommend doing your research on self-publishers; there are many out there, and they all offer and do relatively the same thing. Look at the fine print and make sure you’re getting exactly what they tell you you’re supposed to get with the package you purchase. And, look for a self-publishing company that allows you to hold all rights (copyright) to your book. I selected AuthorHouse based on my editor’s recommendation; however, I ran into several problems with this publisher, which I won’t get into in this post. You could have a completely different experience with them. A self-publishing company will offer multiple services depending on the package you purchase, e.g. editing, copy editing, cover design, print, marketing/promo materials, multiple editions of your book (e-book, softcover/hardcover), etc. Self-publishing companies will likely pressure you into buying more stuff on top of what you’ve already bought once your book is off to print, e.g., exclusive book tours, exclusive marketing – features in prestigious magazines, promises of turning your book into a movie, exclusive this and that. These extras all sound amazing, and you will be made to feel as though you’re something special – these extras are available for thousands of dollars more, however, and there is no guarantee that any of those platforms will sell more of your books, so be careful.
  5. You need a budget. It’s very exciting to write a book and get it published, and as I mentioned previously, self-publishing allows you to do that within your own timeframe, and you can get it to market quicker than traditional publishing. However, be prepared to put down thousands of dollars if you decide to use a self-publishing company. I purchased a mid-range package from AuthorHouse, and with the cost of a consulting editor (not from AuthorHouse) and purchasing books to sell from AuthorHouse, I spent well over $5K, which is pretty good for self-publishing. I bought 100 copies (softcover) of my book from AuthorHouse because the profit margin in sales on Amazon and B&N online is laughably low compared to selling my book at retail price ($13.99/ softcover) myself. There is no guarantee that you will recover the money you spend on your self-published book. Marketing and promoting your book yourself is crucial. I’ll get to that momentarily.
  6. Don’t rush the creative process. When you have a story to tell, or an event in your life occurs that’s exciting, you want to share it quickly with those around you. In writing, the creative process takes time. My mistake was rushing this process, primarily because I was so excited to get it out. Writing has always come very naturally to me, so the process of writing did not take long. In fact, when I finally decided to write a book, the words came very organically. There were many revisions and additions along the way, thanks to the help of my editor; however, I wish that I had taken more care and time to write my story. I was not working when I first started writing. I had a lot of time to play around with thoughts and words. Then the process was interrupted – we moved from Arizona to California, the holidays arrived, I began searching for a job, I got a full-time job. My hope was to complete the first draft before we moved – that was very unrealistic. I was still working on the manuscript when we moved during the holidays. I also signed on with AuthorHouse before year’s end because they had a special running. Unfortunately, once I signed on with AuthorHouse they pressured me into completing the manuscript, even though there were really no deadlines. At that point, I had several more chapters to write. They called me incessantly at first until I finally told them my manuscript would take “x” amount of weeks to complete. They again began calling asking about the manuscript once that period was up. By that time, both my editor and I were feeling pressured to get the manuscript ready for print – the end result was, unfortunately, not the desired outcome I’d hoped for. Nevertheless, it’s been a learning experience all around, and next time I write a book, I’ll have that much more knowledge. I suggest not signing onto a publisher until your manuscript is completed, even if they’re offering some reduced price packages that appear advantageous. Take your time in writing your story.
  7. Marketing your book. It is up to you to sell your book should you self-publish (either by way of a self-publishing company like AuthorHouse or other online format). Another option is to hire suitable professionals to assist you with marketing and selling your book, but that will cost more money. It’s difficult to get print distribution in bookstores and libraries when you self-publish. This is where traditional publishing has an edge, as that is essentially their model of business and what they do. Be prepared to work hard at marketing your book should you self-publish, and don’t get discouraged if you’re turned down by bookstores. There are other ways to get your book out there: word of mouth, personal website, author events/book release parties at venues other than bookstores, and network, network, network. It’s extremely helpful to get as many reviews as you can about your book (positive ones, of course) and display those in your book if possible and on your website. You can always add reviews to your website once your book has been published. Finally, be patient. I’ve been told it can take up to 2 years or longer to recover the costs of self-publishing and building an audience for your book. And in the end, you will feel more empowered by having written your book!

The process of writing a book and getting it published is all part of a very steep learning curve. The tips I’ve included here just scratch the surface, but I think are basics for anyone who wishes to write a book. I do have hopes of writing more books, but still have much to do in selling the one just published! I hope these tips are helpful to you. Feel free to reach out, and I’d be happy to share more. In my next post, I’ll be discussing my own creative process in writing Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity. Stay tuned!

To read an excerpt from Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity, click here.

To purchase, click here.

Pre-Order Your Book

CoverHello out there! I’m very happy to announce that you can now pre-order your copy of my new book, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity. Please spread the word and encourage your friends and family to purchase their book on the Beyond Two Worlds website. Just click on the “Shop” tab above, which will direct you to PayPal. All books purchased through my website will be signed and autographed.

About the Book:

What if your life story wasn’t what you thought? Experience a true story about two worlds and a woman’s search for truth, forgiveness, and love.

Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Marijane was adopted by an American military family at four months old. She grew up in a middle class neighborhood where hers was the only Asian face amongst a majority of white.

Raised to believe she was Vietnamese and Japanese, she never doubted what her adoptive parents told her, until one day, she found her lost adoption papers. This discovery unloosed secrets that had been buried for decades, causing her to question her own identity and origins. With brave determination, Marijane set out on a journey to reconstruct her past and resurrect a birth heritage that had long been forsaken. Her journey took her halfway across the world to eventually reunite with her birth family.

Beyond Two Worlds is a poignant telling of one woman’s quest for identity and belonging despite insurmountable odds, and will be of help to those seeking connection to their original families.

Coming Summer 2017!

Read an excerpt from the book here.