Summer Writing & Smiles

Summer Writing & Smiles

I smiled today. It was nearly involuntary. It emanated like a ray of light piercing through a small hole. That smile was summer.

I’m finishing up my second year of living in Saudi Arabia and a whole two-month writing bonanza stares me in the face. Oh sure, there’ll be family and barbecues and fresh berries and cherries. There will be baseball games and fireworks and long bike rides through the forest. And there will be writing.

Summer is when I become a ‘full-time’ writer. It’s when my brain can focus for long periods of time on items I’ve been itching to get at for an indefinite amount of time.  It begins in five days.

I’ve accomplished a lot this past school year. I’ve produced two original shows which I wrote, and I’m very happy with how they turned out. I finished the editing and publishing process for book three of my trilogy. I’ve written four or five short plays. A couple of which have already been produced. A couple more will be part of next year shows. I’ve even made some series in-roads into my 9th novel — some 10,000+ words already on its way.

So as I sit on my back deck, sipping a cold beverage, with my laptop in front of me, I’m smiling at what I hope to be able to accomplish this summer.

Finish novel #9 – It’s my first novel set in Malaysia. It is also looking like my first YA novel with four of the five main characters being teenagers.  This novel premise wasn’t even on my radar until about 6 weeks ago when a curious phrase popped through my mind. That’s how novels germinate for me. Usually a phrase, followed by an image, which grows into an idea worthy of long-format writing.  Then I develop the characters and let the story loose to see where it will go. This one is flowing, so I hope a good month of steady writing will produce a solid first draft.  Maybe by mid-July? Let’s see.

Start novel #10 – Actually, I already have. This idea I’ve been playing with for over a year and a half. I even wrote the first chapter already and I know where it’s going. But it requires a little research, so it will take some more time. I hope to have a solid start to this novel by the end of August. How about half-written? Nice goal.

Play-writing – I never discount play-writing because that’s the form that comes the most naturally to me. I have a show I wrote last year called Crazy Love, but I want to add one or two more pieces to it, so when the muse strikes, I set aside my novels for the afternoon.

Excited for summer? I hope you are at least half-excited as I am, and if you are, you’re plenty excited.

Thirty Years from Tienanmen Square

Thirty Years from Tienanmen Square

June 4, 2019 marks the thirty year anniversary of a dark day in Chinese history – what is known in the west as The Tienanmen Square Massacre.

I remember this day very well. I had just graduated from college a month before. I had just gotten married a week after college graduation. We were in Chicago for a friend’s wedding, and I remember waking up on Saturday morning and watching the broadcast of the Chinese military, under orders from Premier Deng Xiaoping, starting a methodical and violent clearing of the pro-democracy protests which had been going on in the square for some time.

Tienanmen Square is one of the largest city squares in the world. On one end is the Forbidden City, the former home of the emperor, now adorned with the iconic picture of communist leader Mao Zedong. Mao’s massive portrait looks out over the square and keeps a close watch on his own mausoleum on the opposite side of the square where the preserved body of Mao continues to be proudly displayed in a rather grim and solemn granite structure.

Chinese university students had been occupying the square, demanding a fifth modernization to go with Deng Xiaoping’s emphasis on science & technology, agriculture, industry, and defense.  Deng’s leadership had brought China out of the darkness of the cultural revolution which had decimated the Chinese economy and had proven how backward the Chinese regime had become. The cultural revolution ended with Mao’s death in 1976, but its lingering effects had worn down a weary culture. Deng’s modernizations were a welcome shift, but with modernization came new attitudes and desires for more than just economic relief. The students in the square were seeking that fifth modernization: political freedom. They even erected their own version of Lady Liberty to stand in stark contrast to the staunch communist eyes in Mao’s portrait.

The Chinese government could only take so much political embarrassment and bad international press, and on June 4, they moved in to squash the demonstrations. It was brutal. Hundreds died. Perhaps more. No one really knows. Many were arrested and the air of freedom which hung in the optimistic spring of 1989 was violently halted. I watched it all on TV as I readied myself to go the wedding. Little did I know that I’d be standing in the middle of that square just three years from that day.

I traveled to China for the first time in the summer of 1992. I was to teach at an English camp for Chinese English teachers in Dalian. On our way through Beijing, we got to see all the sites including the Great Wall and, of course, the square that was still very much in my memory. Before we arrived in China, we were instructed very clearly not to mention anything about what happened in 1989. Don’t bring it up. Don’t have an opinion. Pretend it didn’t happen.

On the particular day I visited the square, it was a far cry from the images on the TV. There were some vendors and some tourists. Modest lines waited to visit the body of Mao and others queued up in front of Mao’s portrait to tour the Forbidden City. I spent an entire summer in China and heard nothing whatsoever about this historical event. But it wasn’t hard to imagine what many were feeling underneath their skin.

Authority may destroy the movement of freedom, for a time, but it can’t change the thoughts we have within. And who doesn’t want freedom? Who doesn’t want to be able to focus on “the pursuit of happiness?”  Even the great Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh understood this. If you visit his mausoleum in Hanoi, you’ll see etched across the granite facade one sentence: “Khong co gi qui hon, dap lap, tu do” – There’s nothing as precious as independence and freedom.

China is a generation removed from the incident of Tienanmen Square, but I can’t help but think the underlying desire of true political freedom hasn’t change one bit.

beijing-china-4655_1280

Looking for Story that’s a little Different?

Looking for Story that’s a little Different?

As the reviews of THE FORGOTTEN CHILD TRILOGY have started to come in, there has been a distinct trend. This book is unique. Take a look at a few snippets from reviews about this series:

“once in a great while I run across something so different, so moving, that I am left astonished”

“What a silly little book! So why is it so compelling”

“… odd yet interesting …”

“Not at all what I expected … can’t wait for the next one”

“This was a really odd story, but I loved it.”

“Unlike anything I’ve ever read before.”

“This is one of the strangest books I have ever read.”

“This unusual series blends magical realism into a high octane adventure. I guarantee you’ve never read a similar series. I know I haven’t!”

How about you? Ready to read something out of the ordinary? Give THE FORGOTTEN CHILD TRILOGY a chance.

Book 1: A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far

Book 2: The African Connection

Book 3: A Parting in the Sky

Trilogy ALL COVER

 

 

 

When was the last time you … ?

Think. What do you love to do but haven’t done it for a long time?

I know. There are reasons why you haven’t done it. Everyone has excuses.

I’ve done something this past week that I haven’t done in about a year and it’s been real enjoyable: guitar playing and song composing.

I won’t go into all the ridiculous reasons that my guitar was packed away awaiting a move that never happened for a year, but I can attest that it really has been a year without playing it.  And I missed it.

And it struck me how that cliched comment about “it’s like riding a bike”  came to the forefront of my mind when I put the fretboard in my hand for the first time in 12 months. My brain and fingers remembered everything. It’s pretty remarkable. I forget stuff all the time, but all the chords and finger positionings came naturally like I never stopped playing.

I plucked out some chords to the melody I created that matched some lyrics I made which are related to a new novel I’m writing. Yeah, a bunch of strange connections there.

But the point it this: I enjoy playing guitar. I enjoy writing lyrics. I enjoy composing songs on the guitar, and it felt great to do it again.

What about you? What do you love to do that you haven’t done in a long time? Try it out again. It’s been far too long.

I’ll leave you with some of the lyrics to my untitled new song.

RANDOM UNTITLED SONG LYRICS

Part of me is reaching, to set upon the stars

To grasp a piece of heaven, to lunge to places far,

       Part of me is crying out, to reach inside your heart,

  But I hold no ill will.

           No, I hold no ill will.

Part of me is trying. To understand this world.

Untangle all the colors that blindness tends to swirl

And form the ground beneath our feet that heaven’s gate unfurls

But I hold no ill will.

Yes, I hold no ill will.

The past it paints its canvas black with speckled sparks of light,

Glimpses to remind me of where I’ve been,

 The future holds the promises of many well-fought fights,

But I’ll never turn away from where I’ve been.

                 Cause I’ve seen the poorest soul be trampled to the ground,

 And I cannot turn away from where I’ve been,

        And I’ve seen the lights of fame adorning all around

Yet even more, it grips my breast, and hold it tight onto my chest

               All the places, good or bad, I’ve ever been

(copyright 2019 Mark W Sasse)

Setting: Real or Fictitious?

Choosing a setting for a novel isn’t always an easy task.  A writer friend advised me once to chose a fictitious setting for one of my novels, and she was absolutely right. In that case. The advantages of choosing a fictitious setting are many. Such as:

  1. The writer can make it look and feel however he or she wants.
  2.  There are no preconceived notions in a made-up setting.
  3.  It encourages the reader to use their imaginations much more to create the landscapes and sights and sounds of the locale.
  4. No one can say you got it wrong! Let’s face it, if you use a real location and aren’t really specific about it, mistakes can be made. Readers don’t like to read something incorrect about their hometown. I know, I’ve heard from one before when I misspelled a city’s name. Oops. Yes, embarrassing!

On the flip side, real setting can:

  1. Ground a story in historical details which might be crucial to the point you are trying to make.
  2. Enables the readers to readily identify with a scene. For example, if you put your story in Manhattan, everyone can easily imagine what it looks like even if they haven’t been there.
  3. Readers can be attracted to storylines which take place in their backyard or their home country.

As you might imagine, there’s no right or wrong answer about picking a setting. You just need to determine if a real location will make the story more effective or not.  My novels about Vietnam – The Reach of the Banyan Tree  & Beauty Rising absolutely depend upon the stories taking place in Vietnam. They are strongly mixed with history and real places and people that putting them in a fictitious setting would completely defeat their purpose and water them down to nothing.

However, my novel A Love Story for a Nation is set in an unnamed country. I did this on purpose as the story centers around one man’s struggle for freedom in a country under a dictatorship. These common themes can be seen in many countries around the world and it did not need to be specified. I remember one of my reviewers was confused at first because she couldn’t figure out where the story took place until she commented that it could have taken place anywhere. Yes, that’s the point.

In my other novel Which Half David I was playing a lot off of my southeast Asian experiences in creating a diverse culture that was a mix of many of the places I had lived and visited. So I decided to create a brand new island nation that would be a cross-section of those places. I think it worked well. I’ve seen this also in one of my favorite novels The Ugly American by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. It’s setting is the country of Sarkhan which is a mix of Thailand and Vietnam. The history of Sarkhan mimicked the post-WWII Vietnam history but the language and culture of Sarkhan was closer to that of Thailand.

As I’m starting writing my next novel – first two chapters finished – this topic has reared its head again because I still haven’t decided how to set this novel. I think it will end up being set in Malaysia. I’m still weighing the pros and cons.

So, think it through and get it right! Then commit to the setting with all you got.