Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Creative Process of Writing: Guest Post by Robert Buschel

Robert Buschel is an attorney in Florida who handles both criminal and civil cases, some of which have been featured on 48 Hours, Dateline, as well as other national news outlets and in People, USA Today, and The Miami Herald. He is a member of the Florida Bar, California Bar and admitted as Attorney of the United States Supreme Court. His first novel By Silent Majority, a political thriller set in the White House, will be published this month.

Robert Buschel:
The Creative Process of Writing

If you’re a true believer, a feeling of outrage or sadness washes over you every time the system doesn’t work the way it’s designed. Then you might figure out, by design it’s not meant to work at all – it’s just a front. Power creates the dynamics that lead to one motive -- greed. Greed, greed for money, influence, recognition, and acceptance give rise to plots and subplots in the my mind. Outrage and sadness set off strong emotions giving birth to these stories. Some of the great stories of corruption, conspiracies, cover-ups, and revenge are born in the smoke filled star chamber of the mind. I don’t think I’m alone in this process. With the proper mental exercise, the universe of creativity is a playground for all.

When thinking about characters I think about the character in the same way like the comedian thinks about his own stage-character. The comedian has to focus on himself and becoming himself; be hyper aware of every detail from voice and expressions. Then the comedian’s routine becomes second nature during a performance. To modulate it based upon feedback from the crowd there has to be a confidence in the material –the monologue and the character created – the comedian.

At the same time, the writer must think like an actor, able to empathize and understand someone who they are not. Understand what it must be like to be an evil woman who works as a housekeeper and a spy, in a part of town where the writer has never been. Then wonder how does she speak? What does she care about? In the end, what’s her overarching ambition? Just answering those questions can develop an interesting character. Of course, what is she wearing will interest other readers.

This process can be described as crazy, but I like watching a conversation between and among characters as if they are acting out a scene from a movie or a play in front of me. Play it over and over in my mind to capture and describe the setting, the narrative, and the action. If it’s a genuine conversation, it will move the story along and convey needed information without being too preachy or heavy handed.

The stories that make up a novel don’t flow out of me in sequence. In order to avoid boredom or “block,” I wrote the end of By Silent Majority after I wrote the beginning. The current manuscript in progress was written the same way with a technique of working my way to the middle. This process allows me to make better references and connections from one point in the story to the consequence later on in the story. It’s fresh in my mind and the consequence can be written with the desired level of causation.

Keeping a journal of sorts has been essential. A novel is one big story that contains many smaller stories. These stories we write down in a book can be used by a character to describe something in her childhood to enrichen the understanding of who is that character. There are pieces of a writer’s life in every story. No story, no matter how long or short, marks a time of contiguous thought in the writer’s life. Technically, all ideas create a snapshot of what was going on in the writer’s life at the time the ideas were written. Remembered dreams and more particularly the feelings associated with those dreams are worthy of recording. Perhaps a character can use the dream. A real dream has an inherent truthful quality to it.

To create great stories, I’ve trained myself to ask, what if this story were different? Stress the part of the story that presses the ethical question. Like a law professor I change the hypothetical but ask would this make the story be different and better? Writers have to hear things differently. Wonder not only about what is said, but what is not being said. In between the sandwich of truth and reality is the great fiction of mystery, intrigue, and thriller.

I don’t think a good writer has to be strange, have mommy issues, or be alcoholic. Some of the great writers seem to be steeped in depression and self-abuse. There has to be more to it than being insane. I might have to apologize, but I think linearly and am normal enough to hold down manage a career as a lawyer. It’s about mastering a process that lets the writing flow. The writer must be able to stare off into space or pace, imagining the story continuing on a canvass in front of you; carefully choosing the detail and subtlety that enriches a story. As the story unfolds, record it with description, action, and dialogue.

Writers have to like the writing and like the process of creating. This is true because getting a novel published (outside of self-publishing) will take a long time and with every writing the risk of rejection and the reality of marketing and brand building is ever present. Do you like every movie your favorite actor was ever in? Probably not. The same with readers; the reader gets to decide, if they like what you’re putting down. Second book was great, first book – didn’t know you even wrote a first book. The timing, the marketing, the changes in the reading landscape, are all forces that can affect the salability of a book – so the writer better enjoy the process of writing, not just the idea of being a world famous author.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Understanding Over-Rice Dishes: Guest post by Ed Lin

Ed Lin is a journalist by training and an all-around stand-up kinda guy. He’s the author of several books: Ghost Month; Waylaid, his literary debut; and his Robert Chow crime series, set in 1970s Manhattan Chinatown: This Is a Bust, Snakes Can’t Run, and One Red Bastard. Lin, who is of Taiwanese and Chinese descent, is the first author to win three Asian American Literary Awards. Lin lives in New York with his wife, actress Cindy Cheung, and their son.

“Come for the exotic food and fascinating setting; stay for the characters.”
—The Boston Globe

Ed Lin:
Understanding Over-Rice Dishes

If you’re dining solo and looking for cheap eats in Chinatown, it’s a buyer’s market.

The sub-$6 meal in Manhattan’s enclave is ubiquitous, though one should be picky even at that price point.
Roast Pork, the Chinatown Happy Meal, $5.50

The bottom of the rung is the carton of streetcart noodles at $2 a pop. They are never really that good (noodles strewn across a hot grill tend to harden into plastic-sheathed wire) and are meant to satisfy a craving rather than hunger.

Instead, one should pay up the $5.95 or so for an over-rice dish, which many restaurants list on a separate section on the menu. For one thing, it allows one to have a meal while seated and for another thing, an over-rice dish is a solid meal.

The bonus is that there’s an endless variety, sometimes even more so than the offered entrees, and they accommodate all diets and allergies. Gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, seafood only, no seafood, no problem. Every taste is accounted for except for those of people who don’t like white or brown rice. And if you don’t like rice, then get the hell out of Chinatown—now.

Also, never confuse over-rice dishes with fried rice. Fried rice is essentially leftovers thrown together in a wok and has its own charms, especially to those nursing hangovers. Over-rice dishes are single-portion meals.

I’ll tell you two of my favorites.

In the early 90s, my favorite bachelor meal was lemongrass chicken over broken rice at a Vietnamese restaurant that was run by ethnic Chinese. That sauce alone had a distinctive flavorpoint and yet hit several notes simultaneously like a two-handed piano chord: lemon, lime, mint, salt, chili, and scallion so fresh it nipped my tongue like a raw onion. The broken rice was a perfect vehicle to deliver the sauce since a rice grain broken in half has more surface area (and a larger interface through which to soak up sauce) than a single whole grain.

The chicken itself? I like to think of chicken as a good rhythm guitarist. Show up, play on the beat, have a meaty texture, never be cut and dried, and let the sauce/seasoning play lead.

I think fish sauce was in there, as well, and even though I’m allergic to all seafood (I break out), I still scraped it all up with the flat side of my fork.

Wait, you say, a fork? Yes, a fork! Chopsticks are for eating out of a bowl. Over-rice dishes are served on plates, so don’t reach for the chopsticks—grab a fork.

My other favorite over-rice dish is that Cantonese soul food, roast pork. Your typical Cantonese place has a number of meats hanging in the window. Make sure you get roast “pork” and not roast “pig.” The former is roasted with barbeque sauce and the latter is an entire pig roasted plain until the skin is crisp, similar to lechón. For the purposes of an over-rice dish (simple, tasty and filling), you will want the barbequed pork. The roast pig is best as an entree as it needs to have its profile filled out with added sauces and stewed vegetables. You start futzing with what needs to be added, it reminds me of the mid-80s, when people began walking around with portable equalizers to supposedly get better sound from their Walkmen. You want the best sound possible from your music? Stay at home and fire up your stereo system. You want to eat your roast pig properly? Bring out your friends and have a full meal with it.

I digress.

Roast pork, also known as char siu, with its sweet and tangy glaze, only needs the plainest of rice to complement it. The pleasant patches of fat in the meat nearly serve as the vegetable component to the dish by providing a contrast in texture.

In the late 90s, when I was working at a wire service on the 5pm-to-midnight shift, I would pick up a carton of roast pork over rice for $1.85 and head to the much-missed Music Palace movie theater for a double feature before work. They didn’t care if you brought in outside food, even though they certainly were no slouches with their own offerings, which included several different herbal iced teas, almond cookies and packages of dried squid.

I would chow away while watching Stephen Chow with the other working stiffs in the theater, which really brought home the original support base of over-rice dishes. They are inseparably a food of the working class, the people who didn’t have the time or money for otherwise eating out and worked odd-enough hours so they’d likely be eating alone.

While rice itself is a staple of the Chinese diet, one must also consider that when Chinese people try to go upscale, they eliminate it. The hoity-toitiest meals at weddings and other festivities are all meat and seafood dishes to show how prosperous the hosts are. Whenever I find myself at such functions, I always miss the rice. And my fork.