Saturday, 30 January 2010

Passing The Buck

My daughter has lost her passport.

"Where did you last see it?" we ask. "And when?"

"I don't know!" she wails. "I had it the other day. I saw it on my chest of drawers -- I know it was there!"

I feel like wailing myself: I've got a manuscript to rewrite. I ought to be doing that, not searching all over the house for a lost passport.

"So you keep it on your dresser? That's the only place?"

"Sometimes I keep it in my bag and sometimes I keep it on my dresser."

I happen to know that those aren't the only places she keeps it. Our daughter is smarter than my husband and me, but she's also as scatterbrained as they come. She goes through umbrellas and swimming suits like nobody's business. Last year she managed to lose her cell phone on a dolmuş, causing all sorts of inconvenience. But this is the first time she's lost her passport.

We turn the house upside down. Drawers, bags, pockets, shelves -- all are searched. Every time I look at the computer, I feel guilty. I ought to be writing...

"Not there, I've already looked there!" our daughter cries, seeing us rifle through drawers she has already been through. But the problem is we haven't been through the drawers.

"Just to be on the safe side!" I tell her, reminding her of my lost earrings. I bought the earrings three weeks ago, then promptly lost them. I went through everything in my bag, turned out my drawers, combed over the top of my dresser, but it was no use: the earrings were gone. Two days ago, I was amazed to find them on top of the dresser.

The earring story cuts no ice with my daughter, however. "I've looked everywhere! If it was here, I'd see it!"

We look everywhere. We don't see it.

My husband is not pleased. "Do you think you could have thrown it away?"

This isn't an impossibility. People in this family have been known to put important items into plastic bags when they go shopping. I've found money and credit cards in Tesco bags and once almost threw out a camera someone had left in a plain white plastic bag. Sometimes after the excitement of a shopping trip, the purchase is extracted from the bag which is then abandoned on the floor. Decluttering is something I now do automatically. I make no apologies for this: leave your receipts and Extremely Important Documents lying around on the kitchen counter and I am your worst enemy.

I go through my entire plastic bag collection, which is voluminous, making a few unpleasant finds (bread crusts in one bag, furry with mold; fish bones in another, the smell magically contained all this time) -- but no passport.

Every possible scenario is explored, but that passport is gone. Our daughter, in her anger and frustration, blames our kitten. "She could have done something to it! She's always playing with my stuff!"

I feel a little sorry for her. Up until last year, she had an older sister to blame. Now she's reduced to pointing her finger at the cat.

"The cat couldn't have hidden your passport," we tell her sternly.

"But sometimes she takes stuff of mine! I found my socks under the bed -- and my wallet!"

"Come on," we sigh. "Where could she possibly take your passport?"

The kitten is going through a bad patch right now: at a mere four months, she's already in heat and not happy about being confined indoors. Perhaps that is why she chooses to pee in my hat just as I have settled at the computer and begun to write.

There is no way I can write with a peed-on hat. That manuscript will just have to wait.

Yep, that cat has got a lot to answer for. Maybe she's the one who took my earrings.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

This Blog is Powered by Slugs

I have a guilty secret: I enjoy checking my site meter to see who has visited this blog. This strikes me as a hopelessly nerdy thing to do, but there it is. Every so often, I'll find that someone from Kyrgyzstan or New Zealand has come for a visit, however brief, and that always makes my day. I live in hopes that I'll get someone from Papua New Guinea some day, or maybe even Sao Tome et Principe. And I can't live without my dreams.

Ever since I started working full-time, I haven't been able to post as frequently as I used to, so there are times when very few people drop by. Sometimes, the site meter doesn't seem to change at all and I worry that I haven't been as positive or as entertaining as I should. But no matter what, I still get a steady trickle of visitors. And here is the most wonderful thing I have learned through my site meter: People visit this blog because of slugs.

Yep, that's my big draw. I'm the slug lady, the one who wrote about how to eat slugs. I feel like such a total hypocrite: I've never eaten a slug in my life! But that doesn't seem to matter to any of my visitors. Even though I don't supply glossy photographs of myself dining on slugs, or post recipes for slug chowder, slug marinade, or slug pate, they still come to read what I have to say about slugs. Which is essentially that they eat up the things in my garden and are difficult to deter -- and that it is actually possible to eat them.

Every week or so, when I check my site meter, I find my slug post is the one constant. Here is just a sampling of the google questions that have led readers to my blog: Can u eat slugs? / Slugs, people die eating / Eating slugs okay? / Can I eat a slug? / Why can't people eat slugs? / How to eat slugs? / Can vegetarians eat slugs? / Slugs poisonous? / Do people eat slugs? / Australian slugs poison? / Raw slugs bad for u? / Can my cat eat slugs?/ How do slugs taste? / How do you cook slugs? Nutritional value of slugs? The most common question seems to be about the nutritional value of slugs and I am always so sorry I can't supply a breakdown on the protein, vitamin, fat, and mineral composition of slugs. Can anybody out there do this? If so, please let me know -- you would be performing a real service.

One person's google line made me smile: Resident slug lady. Doesn't that just conjure up an image?

Most of the people who come to read about slugs are Americans, with a large majority being from Oregon and Hawaii, where I bet the slugs are big, numerous, and juicy. But it's not just Americans: people from Algeria, Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Canada, South Africa, Mexico, Germany, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea come to me for my slug expertise. And I could go on there, but I don't want to bore you.

I have found myself worried that this world-wide interest in the edibility of slugs could be due to the worsening economy. This is a real, heartbreaking possibility and I would hate for it to be true; I've heard many stories from both Koreans and Japanese about eating slugs during the war when little other food was available. But I really think that it has to be something else: natural curiosity.

I know that there must be a lot of people like me out there, people who lie in bed at night and wonder about things. Like where dust comes from, for instance. (I've heard what they say about pollen, animals, fabric, soil and tiny bits of organic matter; I've heard how we lose 35,000 dead skin cells a minute and how all of that adds up to dust. And I'm not buying it: does all of that stuff really turn into the fluffy drifts that live under your bed? Something fishy is going on with dust, isn't it?)

There have to be other people who wonder why some people cannot whistle no matter how hard they try, just how long they could manage to live without money, how many months it would take someone to walk the entire California coastline, whether it's possible to make your own crackers, how easy it would be to learn to juggle, or how to truly motivate people who don't want to learn. There must be other people who wonder why we can't be kinder to each other, when a vaccine for AIDS will be developed, whether bullies are mainly a result of nurture or nature, and when we will enjoy decades of world peace. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine what a compelling subject slugs were. Or how many people really wanted to know whether you can eat slugs and if so, how to do it.

I started this blog to make myself known, to meet other writers, gain an audience for my long, drawn-out stories, and indulge my nerdy desire to explore all sorts of issues that interested me. I never imagined that I would be instrumental in showing people how to eat slugs. That I would acquire fame and an eager readership as the Resident Slug Lady.

My life is all about writing and teaching, I suppose. And certainly about serendipity.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Test Terror

Today we tested our students on their English proficiency. We assessed their reading, writing, listening comprehension and speaking ability, and we might as well have skinned them alive and bathed them in boiling oil.

"Don't worry," I whispered to a white-faced girl who was waiting for us to evaluate her speaking ability. She blinked and gave me a watery smile. "Teacher, very excite," said the boy sitting next to her, waiting his turn. "Very nervous." He thumped his fist against his chest to show me how hard his heart was beating.

I nodded sympathetically. "I know exactly how you feel," I told him and the girl, but I don't think either of them heard me.

My students think that I couldn't possibly understand how they feel. They believe that teachers are born into this world wise and all-knowing. That they've never shuffled through notes until dawn, to awake full clothed with heavy eyelids and a heavier heart; never sat there the next morning, trembling, waiting to receive their exam sheets, blood 90-proof caffeine.

Of course they are wrong: all of us have been through this. "Oh, exams! I've forgotten," one of my colleagues said rather breezily during our short break. But I remember my exams with perfect clarity, especially the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, otherwise known as the Nihongo Noryoku Shiken, which I took decades ago. Even now, I can see one of my old exam books and feel my pulse pick up just like that. Really, the trick would be forgetting.

I took the test on Pearl Harbor Day. I only realized this when a Colombian woman on the train happened to mention it. This interesting coincidence didn't improve my mood. I had been studying Japanese for ages, and specifically for the Proficiency Examination for over a year, but I did not feel ready. It had snowed the night before and the roads were slippery. I felt sick and wobbly and utterly miserable and if it weren't for the fact that I'd shelled out a lot of money for the exam, I'd have been tempted to stay in bed.

The test was held in Aoyama Gakuin, a private women’s college. There are four levels of the test, the lowest being level four and the highest level one. Level four is for people who have put in only a few months of study and want to waste their hard-earned cash on a certificate. Level three is harder, but it still doesn’t offer much of a challenge. Level two is when it starts getting tough; people who’ve passed level one are considered ready for Japanese universities. My Japanese teacher had persuaded me to go for for level one. Five minutes before I arrived in Aoyama, I wished to God I’d applied for level three instead.

When I got off the train at Aoyama station, I didn't have to ask for directions: there was a huge throng of people all traveling in the same direction. A small number were obvious foreigners, i.e. European or African-looking. The not-so-obvious ones were Asian, and many of them could easily have passed for Japanese. Until you heard them speak.

A man with a name tag and a bullhorn kept bellowing, "Levels three and four over here!" for the benefit of those who had not spotted the 4-foot square signs with LEVEL THREE and LEVEL FOUR written on them. He said it in Japanese, then English. "We’re over here," an American reminded me, as I walked past. I squared my shoulders and kept going.

The level two and one rooms were the furthest away from the entrance. Shortly after passing the level three room, I'd noticed the crowd was 85% Asian. After we passed the level two room, the crowd was 99% Asian, and people were giving me looks. I ignored them, but I had my registration form at the ready in case anyone really challenged me. A few people tried to tell me in English that I'd missed the previous levels, so I took to saying: "Level one! I’m level one too!" After that, they ignored me.

There were over a hundred people in the level one room. One was a man from New Jersey who claimed he wasn’t nervous. Two were men who looked to be from India. The rest were Chinese. I owe much of my fluency in Japanese to Chinese, Korean, and Brazilian speakers of Japanese, but in the level one room, I felt sadly estranged from the Chinese. None of them knew that I was Mary, the Friendly Japanese-speaking American. I had the distinct feeling they thought I was The Stupid, Stubborn Foreigner who Lost her Way but Never Knew.

Just before the test started, the girl in front of me asked to borrow an eraser. She said she'd been studying in Japan for six months, working illegally as a waitress during the day. My jaw dropped: only six months? I'd been studying Japanese for over six years and I felt ill-prepared. "I thought I'd put an eraser in my pencil case," she whispered, "but I went to bed so late last night, I guess I forgot." She heaved a deep sigh. "I'm so tired of studying Japanese." I handed her the eraser. "Me too!"

The test started at ten and finished at four with a two-hour break for lunch. My heart rate stayed at around 110 beats a minute the entire time. It was like going through a high impact aerobics class without the high impact.

The time went by in a haze of nerves and misery. There were short multiple choice reading passages with hundreds upon hundreds of Chinese characters (even in Japanese, they call them kanji, 'Chinese characters'); there was a graph with numbers on it which immediately sent my mind into a frenzy of panic which had nothing to do with Japanese: Oh no! Math! There were of fish and corresponding descriptions you had to match: A blunt snout, a large, fringed dorsal fin...

When the lunch break was announced, I turned to the girl in front of me. "How are you finding it?" She shook her head. "I have no chance of passing. I will have to go back to China." Suddenly I felt ashamed at how easy it all was for me. Not the language part –- that was surely as hellish for me as it was for her. After all, she was Chinese and she already knew plenty more than the 2,000 characters you needed for the test. But I came from a wealthy country; I was a native speaker of English with a college degree, so I had skills I could sell in Japan: teaching English, rewriting, proof-reading. All this woman had was a six-month visa and a crappy job. "Maybe you can come back next year?" I asked. She shook her head. "No. I will go back to China and work in a factory," she said with a sad smile.

The man from New Jersey popped his gum and said he'd done fine. So we did what foreigners often do in Japan: we sized each other up and tried to gauge who had the best Japanese. What had he gotten for number sixteen, the thing about the Industrial Revolution? What had I put as the second kanji for chosakuka, writer? We finally gave up when we realized we were evenly matched.

Listening comprehension was left to the very end. Stupidly, we had to turn the page in the middle of some questions, even as the tape was playing. The tape recorder was at top volume, but with over a hundred people turning their pages all at slightly different times, it was very easy to miss key words. Each item was only played twice. After two or three such experiences, we all got great at turning our pages quietly.

When we finished, we were all asked to have our ID cards ready. The assistants looked from our cards to our faces and asked us for our names, as they had done at designated times throughout the day. They hardly looked at me and the man from New Jersey, but paid careful attention to the Chinese.

As we left the room, all of us –- Chinese, Indians, Americans –- were suddenly mates. Wah, that was ridiculous! You’d think they could have put the page breaks AFTER the questions instead of RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE! Two women from Shanghai wanted to know where I'd studied Japanese and for how long. A thin fellow from Wuhan told me that a friend of his had studied at my university in Southern Japan. A man from Beijing agreed with us that the listening comprehension questions themselves were not hard, but the page-turning had been a real headache. Half a dozen people voiced their amazement that I could speak Japanese.

We milled out of the Aoyama-Gakuin, a crowd one hundred strong, all talking a mile a minute. What about question, two ladies talking –- one says, "Do you want to come to party on Saturday?" And second lady says, "No, sorry, I am too busy, cannot come." Then she says "But wait – perhaps –-" and tape finishes! What do you put for that: she go to party or she not go to party? All of a sudden, we had no end of things to say to one another.

The station was on the other side of the street and we all jay-walked, every single one of us. A policeman could have arrested the lot of us and made a fortune, cars could have mown us down –- we didn’t care. We were all high on post-Nihongo Noryoku Shiken. My frayed nerves were beginning to relax; suddenly I felt positively euphoric. I would go back home, tell my supportive boyfriend all about the day, and have a beer. No, not a beer -- I would have several.

"Teacher, very excite, VERY stress," whispers the white-faced girl sitting opposite me. "Very nervous!"

"Think how relieved you'll feel tonight," I say. "And do you drink beer?"

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Dancing Around The World

When I was eight, we had to do square dancing in P.E. and it was sheer torture. All the boys I got partnered with had sweaty hands and irritating smirks. None of the halfway decent ones were available. Inevitably, I found myself stuck with some awful boy with slicked-back hair and a goofy expression, or a lumbering idiot who liked telling jokes about poos, who clowned around at lunchtime by drinking his milk through his nose. I was terrible at dancing myself: I could never remember when to do what or where to put my feet.

At university, my friends danced while I sat and watched, struggling to work up the courage to join them. They did the Latin hustle, the bump and the funky chicken; they waved their arms around, they dipped and bobbed and gyrated and danced stiff-legged while I chewed my lip and studied them. A few times, I actually went out onto the dance floor myself. I did my best to copy my friends, but it was tough going: I never knew how to hold my body, where to put my feet.

I took an African dance class when I was twenty, but the minute I caught the teacher smiling at me, I stopped dancing. I suspected that her smile was not one of encouragement. A few years later, I signed up for a jitterbug class with a friend. She was great; I wasn't.

During the summer in Japan, I watched as people did bon-odori, special folk dances the whole community takes part in. Old men and women in their street clothes or kimono, girls in yukata, everyone danced, moving their bodies gracefully. Every dance was different. One step forward, two steps back, spin, arms held up to the sky, arms sweeping down to the ground, two steps forward, turn around... Egged on by friends, I tried bon-odori a few times. Surprisingly, it was a lot of fun. I was awful at it, though: I could never tell when to do what.

Ballet was easier than bon-odori, though more physically demanding. When my youngest daughter was old enough to start ballet, I asked the teacher if I could join in to encourage her. I was awful at ballet, but the teacher liked me: she asked my husband and me to play the king and queen during the class dance recital. We still have the videotape somewhere: you can see me resplendent in crimson gown and silver tiara, engaged in a discrete tug-of-war with my husband as I set off towards the wrong exit.

In Scotland, I went to ceilidhs. These are traditional Gaelic social dances where you dance to live music, generally featuring fiddles, tin whistles and accordions. In our town, ceilidhs were generally held at the Catholic and Presbyterian churches.

The Catholic ceilidh was wonderful. Some dancers were good and some were not, but it really didn't matter. Everyone danced with everyone else. Grandmothers danced with their grandsons, sisters danced with brothers, strangers grabbed the hands of strangers and pulled them onto the dance floor. I got pulled onto the dance floor too. I was awful, but nobody really cared, so I didn't either.

The Presbyterian ceilidh was not a success. Too many people were good dancers, and the atmosphere was all wrong. I sat in a corner and watched everyone until a friend finally persuaded me to join. I was awful and I know for a fact that everybody noticed. I'm not a Catholic, but I made it a point to go to their ceilidhs after that. Catholics in Scotland know how to have fun. And they definitely know how to show other people a good time.

Turks love dancing. When I come back to class after the break, my students have Arabesque music blasting out of my CD player; a few of them are dancing, eyes closed, hips swaying, arms held overhead.

The other evening, I went to a party at work, taking my youngest daughter along. We sat and watched as girls in shimmery costumes belly danced, rotating their pelvises, swiveling their hips, shimmying their shoulders. They tossed their hair about a lot too, and flashed their eyes. The music was so loud you could hardly hear yourself think.

After a while, the belly dancers left and the band got even louder. Colleagues stood up and wandered out to the dance floor until it was standing room only out there. But the dancers didn't care: they swayed and shimmied and gyrated and flashed their eyes. Turks dance with their arms held high overhead, hands and fingers very much a part of the whole process. It wasn't just the young and fit who were dancing either. Middle-aged men were out there, grinding their hips and grinning away; full-figured women in their fifties were moving on the floor, eyes closed in rapture, fleshy arms held high overhead, wrists rotating, hands twitching like small birds, fingers waving.

I watched carefully, trying to figure out how they did it. "That looks like fun," I had to admit as a woman my age twirled around, arms held high, hips swiveling, an expression of rapture on her face. My daughter turned to look at me. "Mom!" There was such desperation in her eyes, I had to smile. And I almost wished I'd had more to drink.

Next time I go to a place where there's dancing, I believe I'll leave my daughter at home.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Embracing Your Inner Nerd

I come from a long line of nerds. In my family, we were so nerdy we didn't even know what 'nerd' meant. And most of the time, excluding the hell of our teenage years, we didn't really care.

Wikipedia (See? Nerd-like, I have provided a link) have a good definition for nerd: a term often bearing a derogatory connotation or stereotype, that refers to a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests that are age-inappropriate rather than engaging in more social or popular activities...a nerd is often excluded from physical activity and considered a loner by peers, or will tend to associate with like-minded people.

Obscure, age-inappropriate interests was us to a T. My sisters and I were, over the years, totally obsessed with the following subjects: Vikings, Romans, Germans, Spanish, Chinese, buttons and stamps (we had massive collections),Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, cats, Victorian literature, and poetry.

Not surprisingly, my sisters and I had a tough time finding like-minded people. We had a few friends, but like us, they tended to be nerdy too. My sisters were a little more athletic than I was, but that isn't saying much. I was the pathetic kid who always got picked last at every ball sport; in fact, I often caused quarrels -- "That's not fair--we had her last!" -- "No you didn't, we did!" while I scowled and stared at the ground. Middle school and high school were no fun at all. I'd go through labor again before a week's worth of junior high, and believe me, that's saying a lot.

My parents were both spectacular nerds. They got married very late, in the early 1950s, meeting through a Christian match-making service where they were able to view each other's particulars on file cards. My father was impressed that my mother liked poetry and was learning Spanish; my mother was impressed that my father read books and did not drink or smoke. She overlooked the fact that he did not have a job; he overlooked the fact that her height was listed as 6' 2". (The agency had made a clerical error: she had told them 62 inches in order to avoid the shame of having to say "five foot two").

As kids, I loved my parents, but I was embarrassed to death by them. I was embarrassed by their disparate heights: my father, rail thin and just under 6' 4", stood over a head taller than my slightly pudgy mother. I was also embarrassed by the fact that our parents were more than a decade older than our peers' parents and had met through a match-making agency, which struck me as terribly shameful. The younger, trendier parents of our friends had met at dance halls or universities or clubs. If any of them had met each other through a match-making agency, they were too savvy to tell anyone. So was I. For some reason, this question came up a number of times; I always half-lied and mumbled that they'd shared a common love of Spanish, books, and poetry.

Nerds tend to give rise to nerds: my parents were so old that I hardly had a chance to meet my grandparents let alone get to know them, but from the sound of things, they were mostly nerds too. Strangely enough, though, I married a non-nerd; I think something in me yearned to even out the gene pool. My husband grew up athletic, sociable, and quite gregarious.

The gene pool evening out didn't really work: both of our daughters take after me.

My oldest daughter knows the Chinese celestial gods and the seven celestial warriors for each god. She can bore you senseless with fan fiction and used to entertain me for hours with passages from The Lord of the Rings. But she has inherited a little of my husband's sporty non-nerdiness: she's a great swimmer and socially gregarious.

My youngest daughter can sit in her room downloading anime fanfiction until the cows come home. She can bend your ear about things like the history of tea in China, the meanings and origins of different clan seals in Japan, and the Korean syllabary. She is learning Korean, Chinese, and Japanese, and enjoys tutoring me in Turkish (the blind leading the blind maybe, but it's still impressive). She knows the Turkish national anthem and can belt it out on the piano; she knows all the capitals of just about every country on earth, including Kiribati and Sierra Leone. She can tell you all about the hexidecimal representation of color (please don't ask me) and has a total of eleven Yahoo accounts. She has lectured her friends on the differences between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean (language and nationality) and complained at a restaurant that had the characters for 'Shanghai' (上海) upside-down. She loves to design her own desktop background, and at age 9, was able to tell her business management teacher the keyboard shortcuts for 'copy', 'paste', and 'cut'. And she couldn't ride uphill on a bicycle if her life depended on it.

Sometimes I feel like we ought to be doing more interesting things. Surely a teenager should be socializing and having fun with her peers? On New Years Eve, my husband and I were shattered, having spent the entire day teaching. "Do you want to do anything special?" I asked our youngest, thinking she might like to go out.

She looked at me shyly. "Want to sporcle?" (Sporcle, in case you don't know it, is pretty much Nerd Central, along with Free Rice.)

And so we sporcled out the old year, together, my girl and me. We had a blast too: African capitals; countries with K; recognizing countries by shape. Ahhh...

What can I say? Like mother, like daughter.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

On Writing...

Anne Spollen has tagged me for a writing meme. I love being tagged for memes like this; they make me feel like a serious writer rather than a procrastinating dilettante. And in 2010, I'm going to work a lot harder to become the former and stop being the latter, so the timing on this is just right.

What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?

The last thing I wrote is the end of my novel Foreigners. I've rewritten it about fifty-eight times now. It's better than it was -- enough said.

The first thing I wrote that I still have is the first draft, in hard copy, of my first MG novel. It's atrocious: bristling with too many tags, non sequiturs, side plots that meander, superfluous characters, and the word rather used several hundred times. Once in a blue moon, I force myself to take it out and look at it. It keeps me in touch with my writing 'roots' and reminds me that no matter how dissatisfied I may be with my writing, I've come a long way. It's like taking a peek into my kids' rooms: they're appalling, but there has been a definite improvement. That has to count for something.

2) Write poetry?


3) Angsty poetry?

Yes. Don't laugh, it's NOT easy. (And I'm not saying it's good angsty poetry.)

4) Favorite genre of writing?

This is my problem: I can't decide. I like writing non-fiction, MG, YA, poetry, plays, and fiction. I tell myself this is why I'm still not published in a major way. But who knows? Denial is more than a river.

5) Most annoying character you've ever created?

My kids. (I am shamelessly copying Anne on this one. Her answer is too good not to duplicate. I blame my plagiarizing students.)

6) Best plot you've ever created?

I can't answer this -- yet. I think it's the plot of the MG I'm currently trying to sell. If I manage to sell it, I promise to come back and declare myself.

7) Coolest plot twist you've ever created?

See above. I feel silly answering this one when I'm still in limbo. Once I'm published, I'll come back and answer this.

8) How often do you get writer's block?

Never. My problem is organizing all my thoughts. Having too many, all over the place, is almost as bad as writer's block, though.

9) Write fan fiction?

I leave that to my Eldest Daughter who writes brilliant fan fiction. I'm just proud to know what it is.

10) Do you type or write by hand?

I write grocery lists by hand. Everything else I type.

11) Do you save everything you write?

No, but I save a lot of stuff I really have no business saving. Every once in a while I go through my files and delete like crazy, cheeks flaming, heart pounding. Sometimes I lie in bed worrying about people finding the awful poetry I've forgotten and left somewhere.

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?

Yes, all the time. I hate wasting stuff, and I'm convinced that if I just spend enough time thinking it through, I can make it work.

13) What's your favorite thing you've ever written?

Foreigners. But that may change.

14) What's everyone else's favorite story you've written?

Sadly, I don't enjoy a wide readership. But friends used to rave about my letters.

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

Not since my diary, age sixteen.

16) What's your favorite setting for your characters?

Coffee houses. Schools. Kitchens. Come to think of it, those are my favorite places too.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Two: Foreigners and an MG called Benmore which I'm trying to whip into shape.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?

Yes, several, but you've probably never heard of them. Still, they gave me a huge boost and I'll be eternally grateful to the people who picked me.

19) What are your five favorite words?

Umm, let's see. What about crimson, emerald, iridescent, cardamom and cinnamon. Though I'd like to publish this would tip the scales if I ever heard them.

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?

None. There are little bits of myself in my characters, but I'd never put me in a novel. I can do a lot better than that.

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?

They come to me in the early morning hours.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?


23) Do you favor happy endings?

I like hopeful endings because I think there is always hope. Happy endings strike me as being incomplete; there is no such thing as a happy ending because there is really no such thing as an ending.

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

Yes, compulsively so: I'm an English teacher. (I copied that straight from Anne too, but it's exactly what I'd have said and entirely true, so there you are.)

25) Does music help you write?

No, but it doesn't get in my way. I've written whole chapters with Rammstein, Dir en Grey, or Queens of the Stoneage blasting away in the background. And every time I hear a certain Red Hot Chili Peppers song, I remember the play I wrote a few years back.

26) Quote something you've written. I’m a woman of words; I’ve always got an internal narrative going, constructing or embellishing some kind of script in my mind. For things that have happened—things I regret, things I’ve done or forgotten to do—you name it. Is it because I want to explain myself, justify my actions? I’m not sure and who cares? I talk, therefore I am. And before you get the idea I’m a boorish windbag, I’m an okay listener too.

Now Hajime, the man I’m nominally married to, is a guy who’s managed to get through life on the fewest words possible. He was born that way, I think.

I'm going to tag Wendy Tokunaga and Robin Altman on this one because I'd like to read their answers. But if anyone else is tempted, be my guest!