Tag Archives: Writing

fame

MjWhen I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a famous actress. I had this little silver crown that my mom brought home from a New Year’s Eve party, and I’d set that atop my head, put on my little white crocheted poncho and pretend that I was being interviewed. My mom would peer into my bedroom and ask who I was talking to. I was inspired by old musicals. My favorites were The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and An American in Paris. There was also a young girl whom I idolized, the daughter of my second piano teacher. The girl was very pretty and participated in lots of beauty pageants. I mean, this kid had a display of trophies that filled half her bedroom. I remember seeing her perform in a play with my Brownie troop and thinking, “I could do that.” I was far too shy though to really pursue acting. In college, however, I auditioned for a small part in a play called Open Admissions by Shirley Lauro. It was during my sophomore year. The role was for a a character named Kitty Shim, an 18-year old Korean college student. I was a shoe in, as I was the only Asian, female or male, in my entire college. I learned an accent by going to a local Chinese restaurant and talking to a waitress. I even recorded our conversation on cassette tape. Isn’t that funny. The student who played Ginny, one of the leads in the play, was very kind and later told me  that she thought I  had talent. She was in a number of plays performed at Centenary College’s Marjorie Lyons Playhouse. I held onto that compliment, and it opened up a whole new fascination that I wanted to explore.

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” – Jim Carrey

Oaplaybillcover-originalWe took Open Admissions to Regionals that year, and I received a small, but positive review for my role. Later, I participated in a theater student’s class assignment, playing the role of Lady Roxane in a scene from Cyrano de Bergerac. It was just me and a guy in the scene. I was told that the theater department director gave me positive remarks. I remember feeling so nervous about that and relieved by the words of encouragement. I was bitten by the acting bug and eventually auditioned for other plays. Performing on stage was euphoric. Unlike a piano performance, I didn’t feel pressure to perform perfectly. Any mistakes or memory lapses at the keyboard meant failure. Perhaps that’s why to this day, I struggle with performance anxiety. I never landed any leading roles, just minor parts, I think primarily because I didn’t know anything about acting and probably wasn’t that skilled. Furthermore, I was terribly insecure, and did I mention shy? I wasn’t capable of showing very much emotion. Most of that came from deep-rooted identity issues that I was not even conscious of at the time. I hardly felt comfortable in my own skin.

After college, I taught piano for awhile in a couple of after-school programs at St. Mark’s Episcopal and a Baptist church in Shreveport. A year later, I moved to Florida where I began taking acting classes. It was such a fun, reckless period in my life. I had a college degree in music, yet was waiting tables at Friday’s. And, I was really the worst waitress ever. It’s almost embarrassing how bad I was. I auditioned for commercials, community theater and dancing roles at Disneyland. Eventually, I auditioned for a Studio Tour Guide position at Universal Studios Orlando, which was just being built at the time. There was a grand opening with lots of celebrities weeks later. I was so excited when I got the position. Then came memorizing a very large script. My peers and I spent hours performing, improvising and critiquing each other in preparation for giving studio tram tours. I was in a group of other “want-to-be” actors and became friends with many of them. We had such a blast working together. I was an idealistic, naive young woman with a lot of ambition, but not a lot of smarts. And it was a time of great freedom. I was landing roles in commercials and community theater, waiting for my “big break.” That arrived when I got a bit part in a made-for-television movie, which earned me my SAG card. No, I never saw the movie and am not sure that it ever aired. Shortly thereafter, I moved to Los Angeles to further pursue acting. I did not get very far. My priorities changed after getting involved in a church and meeting my husband. For someone Asian with little experience and few substantial acting credits, it was difficult to get a callback amidst all the competition.

Sometimes I regret spending so much time chasing a dream that was way beyond my reach. “I should have just continued to teach piano. I should have continued my music studies,” I tell myself. I’ve come to realize that the desire to act stemmed from a need to be seen and heard. On stage, people see and listen to you. You’re literally center stage. And, you get immediate feedback from the audience – that connection was like a high. To cause someone to laugh or to feel something was extremely gratifying. I also loved the camaraderie that came from being part of a cast, a not so dysfunctional family. Growing up adopted, I did not have a voice. I didn’t know how to find my voice nor did I have the ability to identify my feelings or the trauma that caused some of my insecurities. I did not know how to connect with others in a meaningful way. I believed that acting would somehow give me the voice I lacked. I craved adulation, but what I really needed was self-acceptance. It would take years to grow that and a voice.

Although I’m much more comfortable with who I am and what I’m about, I’m still haunted by my own insecurities. To this day, I struggle with anxiety, disordered thinking around food and body image and self doubt. I’m a perfectionist and an overachiever. What I’ve learned is that the very things I sought in the past – status, achievement, beauty, a bigger paycheck, are the things that bring me the least amount of joy. It’s just taken me a Very long time to figure that out, and sometimes, it’s difficult to strike a healthy balance. Like you, I’m a work in progress. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll go back and audition for some community theater 🙂

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

 

 

music to my ears

One of the things I love about Saturday mornings is doing absolutely nothing. I love to start the morning slowly with no agenda. This morning I practiced yoga, had a cup of black tea and made pumpkin pancakes. Then I listened to Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto (No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73) performed by pianist, Maurizio Pollini, and conducted by his son, Daniele Pollini, with the Sinfónica de Galicia. It literally brought tears to my eyes – not only the beautiful performance by a much older Pollini, but to see father and son perform together. How meaningful that performance must have been for them both. How often do musical performances you listen to bring tears of pure bliss?

Piano, of course, is my favorite instrument, not that I’m biased or anything. I truly, deeply, madly regret not continuing to play the piano after I graduated college. I didn’t touch a keyboard for what must have been 15 years, maybe more. Why? I think there was a certain level of inadequacy that I felt as a pianist. My college piano teacher was very inspiring, yet because of my own issues, I never quite met her expectations. I don’t think I was capable of it at the time, as there was so much exploration that needed to take place surrounding my identity and self. I eventually began teaching piano and had my baby grand shipped out to California from Louisiana. We barely had space enough for it to fit in our tiny condo at the time. I joined the Music Teacher’s Association of CA and opened up my own studio. Still, I didn’t play very much; however, I did teach for about ten years, until I went back to grad school for social work.

Long before social work, I took classes at ASU as part of the master’s program in piano pedagogy and performance. I began studying under a doctorate student in order to get to a level where I could audition for the program. Sinjin, although nice, was not the greatest teacher. I had lost a great deal of skill as a result of not playing for so many years and was attempting to re-learn some of the pieces I’d performed in college. In hindsight, that was a huge undertaking, and as a result of over-practicing, I developed carpel tunnel syndrome in my right wrist. Cortisone shots were painful, and I was told by the doctor to stop practicing. That was not going to happen. I practiced several hours a day, as long as the cortisone provided relief.

At my lessons, Sinjin loved to change the fingering of almost every piece I was practicing in some of the more difficult passages. Weekly, as though this would help. That’s like asking someone to change the lyrics in a song repeatedly and re-memorize them over and over, only worse. It required more work, and with constant change, muscle memory was almost impossible. On top of that frustration, I sensed from Sinjin that I just wasn’t good enough to be in ASU’s master’s level program. There were many, many young, talented students, and I was very intimidated by them all, not to mention the program director, who was a bit of a snob. The snobbishness throughout the piano department irked me, so I dropped out. I did not want to spend my days practicing nine or ten hours knowing that I may or may not be selected to enter the program while, at the same time, feeling less than.  Eventually, I studied music therapy thinking that I’d rather use music as a tool for healing. Although I loved the idea of helping others through music, I had to leave that career because it just wasn’t lucrative enough, although I continue to keep my certification current.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally had my baby grand piano tuned for the first time since moving to California – that’s two years with an out of tune piano. It sounds great now. I just wish that I could play like I used to and have to admit that it’s quite disappointing to not be able to pick things back up. I try to remind myself that at least I can still read music and play simpler pieces. Interestingly, I learned that my new piano tuner is also adopted. It’s ironic to me how I randomly end up within the same orbit as other adoptees. For example, when I worked at Arizona State Hospital, I learned that my co-worker, Greg, was an adoptee from Brazil, and the psychiatrist I worked with had three internationally adopted children. I don’t know our piano tuner’s story, as my husband had a conversation with him after he came back a second time to fix a sticking key. I was, unfortunately, at a work-related event. I hope to learn more one day though.

Despite my inability to play as I once did, I still love music almost more than life itself. I remember times practicing in college getting completely, utterly lost in the music that I was playing. I honestly had a better relationship with music than with people. Kinda sad, but true. Music doesn’t judge or have expectations like people, and it’s easy to form an attachment to. I hope one day to use music therapeutically more frequently with adoptees and adoptive families. As Victor Hugo said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” 

I’ve included below the YouTube video of the Pollini & Pollini performance of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto. Enjoy.

Header Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

Taiwanese American cultural festival

May is winding down, and boy has it been a busy month. May is officially recognized as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Celebrations occur throughout California during the month including the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and the Taiwanese American Cultural Festival, which is held annually in the Bay area. TACF is sponsored by Taiwanese American Professionals-San Francisco and Taiwanese American Foundation-No. California. This year, TACF featured a collection of nearly 50 works by authors, writers, poets, and creatives who are Taiwanese American or have ties to Taiwan, and guess what? My book, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity was one of the works featured! For the entire list of books showcased and brief descriptions of each book, visit Taiwaneseamerican.org.

Thank you, Ho Chie Tsai, for gathering this wonderful collection of books highlighting Taiwanese American storytellers. I wish that I could have attended the festival and seen the display in person as well as all of the other festivities. I’ve put several of the books on my to-read list.

If you’d like to purchase an autographed copy of my book, just follow this link.

Here are some photographs from the Taiwanese American Cultural Festival 2018!

Photo credit: Anna Wu Photography

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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!

 

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.

poet jena

I am so happy to share the following piece below with my readers. It was written by one of the people I hope most to meet one day in person. Ma-Li and I connected a few years ago when she contacted me with news that she was also adopted in Taipei from The Family Planning Association of China. We are just a year apart in age. I was so excited that someone who once lived at  the same orphanage contacted me. Ma-Li currently lives in Germany, but was raised in the UK by British parents. She is a gifted writer and poet. You can read some of her beautifully written poetry at Poet Jena’s Blog. Please stop by for a visit. Here’s a little about Ma-Li in her own words:

Ma-Li2I am a writer, a poet, a thinker, a philosopher, a storyteller, a lover of children and animals and beauty –  an artist, love-junkie and music addict which, in terms of taste, can mean anything and everything…. ! My background is a ‘story within a story’ in the way that there is a ‘play within a play’ in William Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Hamlet”.  It involves being given up to adoption at an early age and adjusting to foreign cultures.  It is a story of a lonely upbringing and at the same time the never ending search for identity.  Above all, it is the archetypal journey from the life saving pages of a diary begun as a despairing teenager to the crystallization of thought as found in the adult poetry of my current writing.

By Ma-Li:

In an television broadcast I caught by non-coincidence, I was reminded of the adopted part of me, what in the end may only amount to a story in an ocean of stories, but still, I felt immediately connected to this interviewee, this woman called Sarah Fischer.

Existence beyond duality says we are all ONE. To find a little piece of ourselves in another is the seed of the hope of this awareness.

Others who have lived a part of our own lives strike us to the very core, or so I have always found. They awake inside us what it is we mean to ourselves. Or what we may have believed we have meant to ourselves for the longest time. As if by magic, there is the sudden and extremely moving recognition of a deep knowing – a sense of timelessness almost.

But perhaps what resonates for me most is when she says, to paraphrase, – it was of great importance to her that the man she met and eventually married had ‘roots’.

Something else which touched me deeply: in order to find out that Germany was her true home, she had to first undertake a trip around the world.

It reminds me that no matter in which ways we choose to do it, whether adoption or by other means, the underlying journey of which this globetrotting, to me, seems to be only an allegory, is one of self-discovery, and moreover, ‘re’-covery. And in it, one sees the soul’s intense longing to finally be acquainted with itself. And what relationship is there or was there ever going to be which is more essential than that?

Sarah Fischer, Globetrotter | Talking Germany | DW.DE | 01.03.2013

http://www.dw.de/sarah-fischer-globetrot

In her current book, “Heimatroulette”, Munich photographer Sarah Fisher describes her search for her own roots. She was adopted by a German couple as baby.

A few closing words from Ma-Li:
I came into contact with the writer of this inspiring blog some time ago during my own attempts to uncover aspects of my adopted past.  It is now coming up to more than forty years since the day that I myself got on that JAL airlines plane headed for a new and unknown life. Finding her was not only a surprise, but a huge unexpected delight. Imagine someone so close in age to me and even having been born in Taiwan!  And that is how the connection began. At present, time will not allow me to write more than this.  Suffice to say that like all adoptions it is a story, and a somewhat involved one at that, whose multifaceted details are to this day still not all known to me.  But for better or worse, adopted, I am. And nowadays I am starting to come around to the thought that the adoptees journey is not as rough a one as I might have believed in the beginning. Although we have never met in person, there is somehow a sense of closeness for me to have met someone such as this, in that space, as her blog so aptly says, “beyond the two worlds”. Simply put. It is an honor to know you Marijane.  And, without having ever been adopted myself our paths might never have crossed.