QueryTracker is excellent!

After a shamefully long absence, I re-upped my subscription to QueryTracker — for writers seeking an agent (which is a rather Sisyphean task), it’s a great way to find agent contacts that match your project, and also to keep track of where you’ve submitted your work. The site also does a rating system and has a back-end database so you can see how long on average it takes agents to give various types of responses.

Does it work? Will it help me find a book agent? I have no idea. I’ll let you know if anything comes of it. But it’s very well done, and had a recent site redesign. It’s quite nice to look at and to work with, and at the “Pro” level it only costs $25 a year. For that small amount, it’s well worth supporting the guy who takes care of the site. Clearly he puts a lot of work into it.

book club questions: HARRISON TWEED

QUESTIONS FOR BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION

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  1. Lacey’s story is revealed slowly throughout the book, and her full blood relationship to Harris is not explained until the end. What do the final revelations explain about Harris’ concerns and motivations throughout the novel?
  2. Harris’ parents are barely present, but the impact of their decision to leave him over each summer is fundamental to Harris’ fears and character development. How does your understanding of his parents change by the end of the book?
  3. There are many misdirections and plot reversals throughout the book, and Harris often speaks or acts out of an incorrect understanding of what’s going on. How does his confusion relate to the reader’s experience?
  4. The author does not explicitly state whether the visions Harris experiences are real or hallucinations. As a reader, what do you believe? How does leaving this up to the reader impact the way you experience the book?
  5. Harris’ “inner voice” is very different from the way he interacts with others. How would you describe Harris based on his thoughts vs. his interactions?
  6. Harris’ thoughts are often fragmented as if the reader is inside his head, rather than using devices such as italics or explanatory words such as “he thought.” What effect did this have on you as a reader?
  7. How does the author balance the fantastical or hallucinatory elements of the story with the rough physical experiences Harris goes through?
  8. All of the main characters keep secrets and motivations hidden throughout most of the book. Compare that to real life.
  9. Discuss how the author uses cloth as a symbol. What other symbols or themes does the author explore?

Cool Moms Book Club

Last night I took a 15-minute stroll down the hill to join about 15 awesome people at the Cool Moms Book Club for the end of their latest book discussion. The moms and their kids (boys around 13 years) read my book HARRISON TWEED!

It was great fun for me to hear their feedback (all of it very positive, definitely thoughtful and meaningfully critical), answer questions about the book and the writing process, and read a short excerpt.

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And of course, dessert—including theme-appropriate marshmallows amid several bits of book-inspired cloth. The host wore tweed, naturally!

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I’m very fond of young Harris and hope to see him continue his adventures as he enters high school. Meanwhile, the discussion showed the book being enjoyed by both a young adult audience as well as their moms!

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I was very impressed by the thoughtful comments as well. Seems like the Book Club Questions I put together for the event were helpful. Definitely interested in doing more events like this, and I was thrilled to be the invited guest!


Have a  book club or other group? Want to read this book? I’d be happy to get the book to you in iBooks or Kindle form and speak to your book club if you’re in the Bay Area, or over Skype. It’s fun!

email-me

harrison tweed – update

Today I finished the second draft of my new novel, HARRISON TWEED. Quite happy with it.

Here’s a one sentence summary:

When HARRISON TWEED escapes his injured aunt’s attackers, he flees across country with the ghost of a young girl, to find his estranged uncle and unravel a past of lies and occult murder while learning the secrets of his family history.

 

You can find out more on the Books page for HARRISON TWEED.

 

Beijing 5: odd duck

I had been walking all day, starting south of QianMen in one of the old Beijing Houtongs, remnants of a much older Beijing. I worked my way through the crumbling old neighborhood to the LiQun duck restaurant mentioned in a guidebook, a small, out of the way place where the only English I heard spoken was the word “Duck.”

“Duck?” Yes, I nodded. Duck.

They brought me a whole, massive roast duck, shiny and red, a duck that until its recent loss of motility had been as well fed as I was about to be. Carved into neat stacks of thin slivers, it overflowed two large plates. Add dishes of sauce, sliced cucumbers, sprouts, thin pancakes to wrap it all in and a large Yangling beer so as to avoid the dangers of tap water. Enough food for my whole table. Unfortunately I was the only one sitting there at the time. Apparently I ordered the People’s Liberation Army Officers’ Mess Hall Happy Meal.

After honoring the duck who gave its life to fill my table, I spent the entire day waddling it off. Tienanmen Square (Chinese for “You can’t get there from here”) is enormous, much larger than I had imagined. It’s more Official than ugly, and sized for a few million people.

I was a half hour too late to see the Maosoleum, where the frozen popsicle of Chairman Mao’s body is brought upward daily out of the deep freeze to be displayed to the flag waving crowd. When I was a kid, everyone “knew” that Walt Disney had cryogenically frozen his body somewhere deep in Cinderella’s Castle. Apparently Mao had heard this as well, but actually had it done.

Well, it gives me a reason to go back to Beijing. Can’t see everything in one trip.

In the endless flat plaza of Tienanmen Square, children call out to me, and Chinese tourists come up to say Hello or take their pictures with me. Some really are tourists, I’m sure. Anyone who can speak a few words of English. Others want to walk with me, “practice their English,” see the sights with me—as long as those sights include a stop at a local teahouse where, I’m sure, my bill would somehow end up much higher than it ought to be. I politely demur and insist on going where they will not follow. The men’s room works well for this.

Here’s a tip: if you’re walking in Tienanmen Square and very friendly young Chinese claim they’re also tourists and want to see the sights with you, head toward the giant portrait of Mao outside the ticket gates of the Forbidden City. That place charges admission, so it’s bound to shake off any lampreys.

The Forbidden City is huge. They don’t call it the Forbidden City Block, after all. Emperors had to stick palace after palace in the place just to have places to rest as they walked in their enormously heavy Star Wars outfits from one end to the other. It’s quite impressive, and the GPS-enabled headset was well done, but I got Ming’d out after a few hours in the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Mental Cultivation, Palace of Oh My God My Feet Are Killing Me!

As sun set, I continued northward skirting Jingshan park through another old Houtong where Deng Xiaoping had lived. Here in the remnants of old Beijing beyond the Forbidden City, where once the relatives of the emperor, courtiers and eunuchs lived, the extremely wealthy now live in large homes connected side by side with poor families crammed into squalid 10 meter rooms, a warren where multiple families share a single cold shower from a barrel on the roof and babies squat to crap in the alleyways.

Still further north I came to a series of beautiful lakes surrounded by bars, restaurants, gardens: Beihei, Quianhai, Houhai. A truly lovely place to stroll, where young lovers boat on tranquil waters reflecting multicolored lights from shore. I joined a group of giggling girls at an outdoor grill and pointed my way through roasted spiced meat on a stick and some sort of sugared fruit before continuing northward past the tourist areas, through the quiet areas around Xihai lake and onward toward a subway station.

Ten hours of a most excellent walking tour of Beijing, a city not known for being walkable!

I ate quite a lot of good food on this trip, though what sticks in my mind (and my teeth) are the challenging fare I consumed…

At lunch with the China development team: Pigs foot and a bowl of gelatinous sea vegetable soup that was filled with tiny white wormlike fish that had little black spots for eyes.

At a mountain retreat with Wang Ping and Justin: a trout I caught in a heavy net, well seasoned and full of bones.

At the infamous Wangfujing night market: ostrich on a stick, raw sea urchin I ate directly from the spiny urchin body, fried scorpions, odd desserts.

I didn’t try the bloated and extremely nasty looking silkworms, though in my defense I did try silkworms two weeks later…at lunch with my team back in San Francisco!

Beijing 4: lady bar sex sex sex

The man crab-walks up to me and asks, “Lady bar?” and I imagine some sort of chocolate covered ice cream on a stick, but that’s not what he’s asking, so I politely decline. Not hungry, anyway. I wasn’t expecting to find Gentleman’s Mammary Clubs or porn shops in China, but you can hardly exit a dumpling shop, walk two doors down and take a surreptitious left without running into one. We actually did see a club called “Lady Bar Sex Sex Sex.” Maybe these grow from tension caused by the “One Child” policy, or maybe I have that backwards and the One Child policy grew out of a preexisting preoccupation with bonking.

Just like home.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. China hasn’t run out of people, so they’re obviously getting plenty of horizontal time. But I’d read that the government has a very strict anti-pornography policy, so I am surprised to see so many places that appear to flaunt that. Perhaps I should have ventured in after all. Purely for cultural research, of course.

I’m not sure what I would have found in the store we passed labeled “Adult Appliances” though. Sexy washing machines in flagrante frottage with naughty microwaves, coquettish double ovens slyly winking behind their thick thermal glass. Kitchen aids.

On my last night in town I walked an endless road alone, and long after dark I left the tourist areas, heading down quieting streets toward the still-distant subway station. The line of street lights dribbled their yellowish glow on sporadic groups of locals in the solid but seedy old neighborhood. I had enough confidence in myself (tall, vigorous, oblivious) and my map (iPhone, Google, well charged) to continue my walk despite the generally dilapidated appearance of the area.

Quiet. Very quiet now, and dark. I passed two brothels. Not the Lady Bars catering to Western tourists, but real neighborhood brothels where everybody knows your name, with red lights outside and in, and thinly dressed, thinly waisted women of ages from too old to probably too young sitting on ordinary chairs and watching for customers. It might have been a sweatshop, but they weren’t making shoes.

Walk on by. No stopping. If anyone asks, “Looking for a good time?” I’ll reply, “I’m already having a good time, thanks.” But nobody does. There’s something comforting about being left alone. I continue northward toward busier neighborhoods, and an eventual subway station.