Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Travelogue: Newport Beach

What: Shakespeare by the Sea
Where: Newport Beach
When: Saturday, July 19th 


It's funny. As a child, when I thought Shakespeare was the worst thing anyone could read. (Little did I know of Milton and Melville.) I never thought, as I grew older, I'd come to appreciate the action, the drama, and, yes, even the language. I never thought I'd seek out performances of the bard's musty 400-year-old play.

But that's what happened.

Opening Scene of Hamlet
Shakespeare by the Sea is a nonprofit organization that provides free summer performances throughout Southern California.  The word "free" caught my ears. This year, they were showing Hamlet at Newport Beach, and I was so excited I actually went out and read the play. I'd somehow missed it in high school. (Though I made up for it by reading MacBeth twice.) 

I recruited my friend Ashley for the day trip, and we packed the trunk with blankets, cushions, and an honest-to-God wicker basket complete with red-and-white checkered cloth. The play didn't start until 7:00 pm, so we had the whole day to play. Ashley closed the trunk. I whipped out my maps.


Desert Flowers
Upper Newport Bay Preserve is a boomerang bend of river ambling through the city. Natural wildlife grows tangled around the water. As we stepped out of the car, we were blasted by the scent of desert sage. The sky heavy with clouds, giving the air that just-about-to-rain aroma that mingled so pleasantly with the herbs. Swooping green ferns and cauliflower white flowers sprinkled with paprika sat along the curb.

Brightly-colored joggers, dog-walkers, cyclists, and even some equestrians trampled the tar road. We preferred to stoop into the rough trails of the overgrowth. We followed  dirt paths to the river and saw sandpipers pecking in the wet dirt. But there were also signs of human life: hobbit-hole shelter made of branches, graffiti on trees, a broken American flag. But when Ashley found a sleeping bag, we figured we'd gone too far into someone's camp and quickly headed for safer ground.

Most likely, we weren't supposed to climb the trees, but we did. We found a sociable tree with low, accommodating branches. When I sat in the center of its trunk, I felt like a forest queen upon my leafy throne. But there was also a haunted tree. That's what I called it. It looked black and dead, and its thick canopy blocked out the sun. When we stood underneath the branches, the humidity was sucked away and the temperature dropped. The wind began to blow. I wasn't scared, but I didn't feel like climbing that tree.

At home in a tree

After lunch at Veggie Grill, Ashley and I went off to look for a free beach--a more complicated undertaking first supposed. We finally came to Corona Del Mar and spent a good half hour circling a residential block, waiting for a patch of curb to open up.

Corona Del Mar
The beach greeted us with the briny, rotting smell of the ocean. Little sandflies swarmed the drying brown kelp. The shore was packed with families. As the tide pulled in, little kids ran toward the sea, and when the wave crashed, they turned and hightailed it back to dry sand.  Ashley and I played a similar game of chicken, walking the line between wet and dry, hoping stray waves wouldn't swamp our ankles.

They did. They were cold.

The houses near our car were gorgeous. They were full of windows and colors and each had a different style: mission, old Victorian, modern abstract. I stopped to take pictures, which turned out to be a good thing, since that's how we found Little Corona Del Mar, a quieter beach with its own tide pool.

It was about 4:00 and high tide, so there wasn't much to find. Even so, I picked up muscle shells with the most dazzling cobalt blue insides. (I put them back on the sand, since we weren't allowed to take anything home.) I also saw dead sea urchins in various states of decomposition. Some were moist and covered with purple spikes, others were brittle and green. All had a hole in the bottom where a seabird had sucked the life out of it.

Colorful houses by the beach


We came to Bonita Canyon Sports Park a full two hours early, mostly because we'd run out of budget-conscious activities. It turned out to be a good thing. Even though shirtless actors were still assembling the stage, a good eight rows of families were already spread out on the grass. Ashley and I staked out our patch of park, and spread out our dinner. We ate vegan cookies, cherries, a peanut butter sandwich (just me), and kettle corn. Yum.
Ashley Models Picnic Basket
Why do people still like Shakespeare? That's the question the city coordinator asked the crowd while we waited for the show. The language is almost indiscernible. But I think that can work to the play's advantage. An actor can't stand on the stage and rely on words to carry the audience through. They need to act--to move, to gesture, to scream, to cry. 

The actor who played Hamlet got that. He was all of the place in the best of ways. At the line, "for you, yourself, sir, should be old as I am, if, like like a crab, you could go backwards" he actually hunched down and scuttled back.

I must admit, when I read Hamlet, I didn't really get the main character. I found him odd and unsympathetic. Much is made about Hamlet feigning madness, but he never actually soliloquies that this is his plan. For all I could tell, he really was crazy and Claudius was secretly the hero for trying to get rid of him.

But seeing the actor's masterful performance gave me a better understanding of the character. I caught glimpses of the noble, pleasant Hamlet that must have existed before his father's death. Alone, he seemed to be grieving and depressed, but around others, he overcompensated by forcing a merriness that occasionally erupted into torrents of anger. I could see how this could be construed as madness.

Hamlet tormented by the ghost

At the end of the show, the coordinator revealed we had a crowd of 1500 people. Wow. We stumbled through the dark toward our car. Poor Ashley. For the next few hours, she had to listen to me rant about Shakespeare like a misguided fangirl.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Weekly Update: 7-25-14

Last Saturday, I went to Newport Beach to watch Shakespeare by the Sea's rendition of Hamlet. (Details soon to come.) This Saturday, I'll go to the Getty Villa in order to view an exhibition of Byzantine art. (Hey, this is making me sound all smart and cultured. Cool!) Between the two day trips, I did try to squeeze in writing, self-publishing work, and various chores. 

My biggest accomplishment by far was cleaning the kitchen--and I mean cleaning! My aunt and I went through the spice cabinets and refrigerator and threw out two trash bins of expired food and other nastiness. My second biggest accomplishment was finishing a very crucial chapter to my Coffin  stories. But even though I felt I did nothing but work the whole week, it didn't seem like much got done. Pieces, but not the whole.

So this was a typical day. Wake up at 8:00. Eat breakfast, play around on candy crush, start writing by 8:30-9:00-ish. Finish by 2:00-3:00. Spend the afternoon cleaning the kitchen and/ or shopping for household items. Make dinner from 5:00-6:00. Eat, do dishes. It's now 7:00. Relax until 7:30.  Spend from 8:00-11:00 researching publishing, blogging, or making cards. Rest an hour, go to bed. 

I severely underestimate how long it takes me to do everything, then I get mad at myself for not doing enough. But this week, I've resolved to get over that and stop demanding so much of myself. Healthy self-esteem, like my desire to clean, comes and goes in spurts. Life quickly wears down the sparkle and order all too soon becomes a mess.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Short Story: Forgotten Remembrance

While I stand on the crowded subway station, she comes up to me.

I've seen her before, always lurking from a distance and biting her lip. But something has shifted. She walks towards me with her chin high and quivering. 

"Do you know who I am?" she asks.

"No." I walk toward my gate. 

"I've known you my whole life," she says. "When we were children, we passed notes in class. And when we were adults, we shared secrets and built a life together."

"I don't remember having met you."

"You didn't. Not in this life."

I bring up the newspaper, not so much to read as to put a barrier between us. But her eyes remain embedded in my mind. Sad brown eyes in a pale green face.

"You don't remember, do you?" she says. "The time when the world was real, when our bodies were physical objects, not images of the mind. Before they trapped us in this prison of virtual reality. I was your wife once."

"I'm sorry," I say. "I don't know what you want."

"My name," she says. 

"I don't know it."

"But you have it," she insists. "It's written in red ink over your heart. You placed it there ages ago, so that you'd never forget me. As your bodies changed, you kept it. I need to know. Tell me who I am." 

I put my hand over my left breast pocket. The tattoo was a relic of my youth, or so I thought. Yet it had some special meaning to me. No matter how many times I shifted bodies, no matter how many old memories were destroyed or deleted, I kept the name upon me. It was the one thing I couldn't bear to lose.

I whisper the name to her.

She smiles. "Thank you."

She fades into the air in the blink of an eye.

* * * 

This story came about due to a 5-minute writing prompt based on the sentence: "That's strange, I don't remember having met you." I'd just added in the sci-fi element when time ran out. I was originally just going to post it in its unfinished state, but I decided to tack on an ending, just for the heck of it. Hey, it's something at least.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Weekly Update: 7-18-14 Alas, Poor Strawberries

Like a murderous chef, I've taken ripe strawberries, laid them prone on the cutting board, and hacked mercilessly at their bodies until red juice seeps through the white plank. This bloody pulp I then add to my diet lemon lime soda, stirring 'til it becomes a froth, and drain with large gulps into my parched throat.  Of late, nothing can quench my all-consuming desire for these innocent fruits of summer.

By the way, I finished Hamlet yesterday. Shakespeare always leads to write descriptive flourishes.

The reason I picked up this particular play, aside from my regret of never reading it in high school and my desire to feel smart, is because this Saturday, my friend and I are going to Newport Beach to see Shakespeare by the Sea perform the tragedy of the Danish prince. It's a free show and a chance to play the day away at the beach. I've cleared my weekend specifically for this event.

Unfortunately, it also meant trying to cram too much stuff into a tired little 5-day week. I worked on editing The Changelings, finished a chapter of Three Floating Coffins, got a crown put over my sad little root canal, and completed the process of getting a DBA. I had hoped to research more about publishing and school districts, but ran out of time. Oh, well.

This week is Shakespeare, next week is a trip to the Getty. Fun times ahead.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book Review: Unremembered

Title: Unremembered
Author: Jessica Brody
Genre: YA, SF


She can't remember her name. She can't remember how she ended up floating in the ocean, the sole survivor of a horrendous plane crash. She can't remember the locket around her neck or what the inscription means: S+Z=1609. All she knows is that she's no ordinary girl.

Violet eyes. Airbrushed beauty. A brain like a computer. Superhuman strength.

Who is she?


I'm going to spill the beans and tell you that her name is Sera.  Beyond that, I hesitate to say, because the mystery is the sole driving force of this book for the first 150 pages. Sera basically adjusts to life with her foster family, tries to piece together what happened to her, and gets more and more hints that she is not normal. I kept waiting for a plot twist.

The second half starts to pick up by introducing a romantic subplot and science fiction elements. The romantic flashbacks are warm and rich and filled with emotion--but it loses its potency, because it's already happened. We don't get to see them falling in love. The science fiction elements are creative, but they strain on the edge of credulity.  I had trouble suspending my disbelief.

I also had problems with Sera. As much power as she's given--and she's given quite a bit--she hardly uses it. Her brainpower is canceled out by the fact that she makes incredibly stupid decisions. There are reasons for this--her amnesia being one of them--but even so, would it be so hard to don a disguise when scary men are chasing her? I found it difficult cheering for a heroine who should be a superhero always needing to be saved by males with guns. Even the moment when she stepped up and had her heroic moment, seemed too little, too late.

I really wanted to like this book. I met its author, Jessica Brody, at Literary Orange and she seems to be a wonderful person. She really sold me on her story, even though I'm not really into "Bourne Identity" sort of books. Unremembered wasn't bad. It was just sort of ordinary.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Weekly Update: 7-12-14

This has been a rough week. Really rough. It's been a week, where I stopped procrastinating and got much needed stuff done, only to remember why I procrastinated in the first place.

The most painful example being my teeth.  After having two root canals earlier this year, I followed up by getting five cavities filled. And that was painful enough, until one turned into a root canal--my third of the year. Now my whole mouth is sore and I'm wondering how I'm going to make it through this summer. I had put together a budget showing I'd just scrape by, but that was before getting another $1500 dentist bill.

Anyway, I did manage to squeeze in some writing, but that's been furstrating, too. My Coffin story is coming to a climax, which means I need to tie up all the loose ends, but they don't wanna, and I don't know how. So I have to figure that out. In the meantime, I'm trying to edit The Changelings down, start up a publishing conpany, and figure out how to make money.  I'm stressed, stressed, stressed.  And that's all there is to it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Winter Dragonfly Press

Today I registered Winter Dragonfly Press as my Fictitious Business Name (Doing Business As...)
 with the Orange County Recorder. This is the first step to setting up my own publishing business.

Why Winter Dragonfly?
Because I Googled Red Dragonfly and found the name was already taken.  I thought about carrying on the color theme with Crimson Dragonfly or Autumn Dragonfly. I decided to go with winter, because it has the most personal meaning (I was born in January) and because it sounded the best.
It was simple enough to go on the website and fill out the information. The fee for registering is only $23 and its good for 5 years. The next step is to go to the Orange County Recorder Office (the North branch is in Fullerton) and complete the process. Then I'll have to run an ad in the paper announcing my new name. My uncle, who's done this before, assurees me that it's cheap. Guess we'll find out.
After that, I'll have my own shiny business, I'll be able to open my own bank account, and I'll have something to put under "Publisher" when Amazon asks.

* * *


Bright and shiny Monday morning, I visited the Record Office in downtown Fullerton. It's adjacent to a little bakery that participated in Cupcake Wars. Anyway, just after 9:00 AM, I turned in my paperwork, flashed my ID, and paid the $23 fee.

They gave me a list of newspapers where I could publish. Unfortnately, none of them had a price. Or a web address. To get a hold of them, we had to call. (I say we because I, chicken that I am, made my aunt do it.) The first three papers all quoted the same price: $45. I just picked one at random. First we had to fax them the DBA form (which meant hauling it to our local office supply store), and then we had to call to give them my credit card number. It was kind of a pain and it took more time than I'd have liked.  But it's done. I think.


City fee: $23
Newspaper ad: $45
Fax: $1.49

Total: $69.49

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Book Review: The Forbidden Game

Title: The Forbidden Game: Collector's Edition (Includes Volume 1: The Hunter, Volume 2: The Chase, and Volume 3: The Kill)
Author: L. J. Smith
Genre: YA, Paranormal Romance, Fantasy


"Danger. Seduction. Fear."

So promises the mysterious white-haired boy in the game shop as he hands Jenny an unmarked box. Jenny just wanted something to amuse her friends at her boyfriend's birthday party. But this Game will open the door to a world where magic is real, where dark secret are exposed and illusions have the power to kill.

For Julian, the boy in the game shop, is no mere mortal. An ancient being with the power to control shadows, he's watched Jenny since she was a child and he'll use this Game to possess her, if he can. If Jenny wants her freedom, she'll have to win. But she'd better learn fast, because they're playing by his rules and only by outwitting the master of shadows can she and her friends hope to survive.


I found The Forbidden Game while browsing the children's section of a used bookstore, and the word "Game" immediately caught my eye. To me, the word promises fun, danger, and strategy. Toss in a dollop of magic, I'm there. Unfortunately, the actual game part of The Forbidden Game was a little disappointing. Each of the three volumes center around a different children's game: Shoots and Ladders, Hide-and-Seek, and Treasure Hunt. (The last one is my favorite as it makes good use of the creepy carnival setting.) Obviously, the magic elevates it the games to dangerous levels. So what's the problem?

Julian. He has all the power to make the game and no incentive to follow the rules. In Volume 2, for example, the game is Hide-and-Seek, but the players are unable to hide from him. Thus, they go about there normal lives until Julian decides to strike by sending a black pit to swallow them up. The only way to free the players is to find Julian's home base, but since he operates in the shadow world, there's no way to find it.  Jenny is reduced to begging for hints and complaining when they aren't fair. To me, a game needs structure and a neutral playing board, or where's the fun in it?

So if I didn't like the games, why did I keep reading?

Julian. Here's a guy who sets everything to his advantage and still feels obliged to play fair. He's wicked, playful, romantic, mopey, and cruel--and fundamentally appealing to my inner teenage girl. Reading the book, I kept wondering, is he really evil? Or does he genuinely think tormenting a girl's friends is the way to her heart? To Jenny's credit, she  does not condone his actions and fights him every step of the way. Yet for some sick reason, I still wanted them together. I knew, morally and intellectually, such a relationship was wrong, but, oh hell, this is a fantasy. If there's going to be lurking snake creatures and rainbow bridges to other dimensions, then I'm allowed to root for the shadow man and the sunshine girl to get together.

The book was written in 1994, but I think, with a slight cover change, it could appeal to readers of Twilight. After all, The Forbidden Game has an impossibly beautiful yet dangerous male lead, a love triangle, and long descriptions of every kiss. And for those who dislike Twilight, I will say that Jenny's spunkier than Bella, there's more action, and the supporting cast comes in all shades and personalities. There's more than enough to make The Forbidden Game an entertaining, if frivolous read.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Weekly Update: 7-5-14 Business Plan

June passed in a disorganized blur and I was determined not to let the rest of the summer do the same, so I spent this week putting together a Summer Schedule and Pre-Publishing Plan. It was agonizing. Like tearing off layers of denial. I felt overwhelmed and guilty for procrastinating, which only made me want to procrastinate more. But after a couple of sleepless nights and Law and Order Marathons, I finally cobbled together something workable.

I hope to independently publish The Changelings by January 2, 2015, an important date for me. I need to figure out how to put the product together and market it. I've decided to put off figuring out the marketing stuff until fall, using the  summer to do things like:
  • Finish editing
  • Creating my own Business 
  • Figuring out Templating and Layout
  • Figuring out how to upload to Digital Reader and/or Print on Demand
  • Fundraising to pay for expenses
As far as writing goes, my main focus is going to be editing The Changelings and finishing Three Floating Coffins. However, the research and reading portion of my mind has snapped into action. Thanks to the library summer reading program, I checked out a bunch of books and began brainstorming a story tentatively named Counterfeit Diamond, which I might set in a ripped-off version magical of Dutch-colonized Indonesia. At any rate, expect lots of book reviews, and if some center around the Dutch East India Company, you'll know why.

I spent the 4th of July at my parent's house. The only fireworks I saw were on the drive home, from the car window, which was not as terrible as it sounds. The city unfurled its lights around us and little sparklies blossomed in the air. This happened not in one central location but everywhere. 180 degrees of tiny fireworks shooting just over the skyline, like some piece of the city decided it could fly. With the window rolled down, I could smell the powder and hear the crackles and whistles. Not as satisfying as having it explode in front of you, but mesmorizing nonetheless.