Beyond Words

The art of creating a book cover goes beyond selecting an image and a font. It must create an instant impression with a reader while conveying important themes of the book.

When the graphic artist started working on my book cover, I was asked to supply some ideas. I immediately gravitated toward the themes symbolized by the title: red eggs for birth and orange blossoms for good luck. Red egg parties celebrate birth. In the Chinese culture, you are born twice, once into life and once into wisdom when you are sixty. Oranges are symbols of good luck. I didn’t want actual oranges to compete with the red eggs on the cover. That’s why I suggested orange blossoms.

What I didn’t consider was color.

When the six cover images were sent over for my review, I was immediately impressed. Scrolling through the images, my gaze caught on the symmetry and simplicity of a white orange blossom fading into the middle of a white background with a single red egg to the side with the word, memoir, written across it. I thought of how it captured the essence of the book quite simply. I was about to contact my publisher with my choice when a cold wind brushed against my arm as I reached for the phone. I glanced at the image again. Suddenly, I remembered the Chinese believed white was the color of death and misfortune and ghosts.

Yes, ghosts.

As a Catholic Chinese American, I believed there was life after death. The soul was eternal. Spirits could travel between worlds and contact the living. Did I really want to be visited by an ancestral ghost?

I showed the book covers to those around me. Almost everyone chose the white background cover, which confirmed my initial impression that it was the best cover for the book.

But I didn’t sleep well that night. I dreamed of the white book cover haunting me. The white book cover was the fourth one in the selection. The Chinese believed four was an unlucky number. Why was I suddenly so superstitious? After all, I’m not 100% Chinese. I have an American mother. I wore white to my wedding, not red, the color of happiness. There was no red egg and ginger party for my children who were baptized in the Catholic Church. I prayed the rosary instead of lighting candles and incense on an ancestral altar. Yet I could not shake the feeling of dread that encompassed me.

In the coming months, I will reveal the cover image I chose, but for now, rest assured it will not arouse the wrath of any ghosts.

After Signing the Contract

JourneySince I’ve signed with She Writes Press as part of winning the 2014 Memoir Discovery Contest, I’ve been busy with the next steps in anticipation of a fall 2015 publication date.

I’ve sent a cover memo to the publisher for the graphic artist to start working on the cover. Although I might not have a cover to release to the public until March 2015, I’m excited to be working with a top industry professional to craft a cover-grabbing image that will cause more readers to pick up the book!

I’ve sent out queries for endorsements. Although Amy Tan is busy with a tight writing schedule, other authors are considering a back cover copy blurb including Maxine Hong Kingston. Keep your fingers crossed!

I’ve sent out requests for permissions. Whenever you quote another copyrighted poem, lyric, or book, you need permission. In my memoir, my mothers, sisters, and I sing a portion of “American Pie” by Don McLean. I’m waiting to hear if Universal Songs will grant permissions. Keep your fingers crossed again!

Although I have in-house publicity, I’ve contacted publicists for additional support for my book. Although the interview process has been grueling, I’m learning what it feels like to be an employer searching for the perfect employee. I haven’t found the perfect fit yet, but I’m still looking. If you know someone who specializes in promoting non-fiction books in Northern California, please let me know. Referrals are always appreciated.

I’m working with Nat Mundel in getting my memoir turning into a
screenplay for Hollywood.

If that wasn’t enough, I’ve been busy sending out press releases to notify the media of my contest win.

Deep breath…release… Yes, yoga has been helping me keep my balance, as well as my immediate family.


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The Fun Begins. . .

The Contract

Immediately after winning the 2014 Memoir Discovery Contest sponsored by She Writes Press and Serendipity Literary Agency, I received a congratulatory email and a publishing contract. Shortly after signing and returning my contract, I received a welcome packet. Today I received a call from the publisher.

Brooke Warner was warm, wise, and wonderfully informative in the twenty minutes we spoke about what to expect. We discussed print runs, release dates, ARCs (advanced reader copies), bookstore placement, and publicity. Luckily, in the midst of all this information, Brooke took a breath and said, “You don’t have to decide everything right now.”

But like a newly engaged woman with an upcoming wedding less than one year away, every moment counts.

I’m excited and overwhelmed. I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with you, my loyal readers.

Gratitude is Attitude

“Always the bride’s maid, never the bride,” I said, when my daughter was asked to the Homecoming Dance as a freshman.

“That’s not true,” my husband said. “You’ve been the bride.”

He was right, both literally and metaphorically.

Although I was using the cliché to describe a disappointment in my life, my husband’s observation brought my perspective into focus. I had a bad habit of taking the tiny victories in my life for granted because I was too preoccupied working toward bigger, better dreams.

Unlike other people who can savor their achievements, I seem to skip ahead to the next milestone without blinking. When I fail to reach the next goal in a timely manner, I collapse into despair. I dwell on what I haven’t achieved instead of being grateful for everything I have accomplished.

Yes, I didn’t attend the Homecoming Dance as a freshman. But I did attend my Senior Ball.

Yes, my first novel was self-published. But my second novel was purchased by a Canadian publisher.

Yes, my artwork wasn’t selected as a background selection for checks through a licensing company. But my original paintings grace living rooms and offices in North America.

Yes, I still hold a full-time job in a less than creative field. But I am able to offer creative solutions to corporate problems because my imagination is agile from the daily exercise of writing and painting in my off hours.

Instead of comparing my success and failure to others, I need to focus on myself and my growth as a person, a writer, and an artist. There will always be others who are more or less successful. The key is to be grateful for the success I’ve earned while I continue to strive for more.

Because you can only be a bride for a limited number of times, but you can be a bride’s maid for as many times as you are asked by as many people as you may know. Your big successes will be few, but your tiny victories will be plentiful. It’s those victories you need to cherish.

One Point-of-View

Female swimmer preparing to dive
When I proposed adding a second point-of-view to my novel rewrite, the agent-to-be wrote back to me saying:

“Readers already know the point-of-view of the hero. Your novel begs for a different point-of-view, the point-of-view of the villain. When you propose adding another point-of-view to offset or balance the story, I feel offended. That’s why I didn’t respond to your inquiry for so long. But over the weekend, I starting thinking about your history, who you are and where you have come from and why you would propose something I thought I had made clear as the reason why I rejected the novel in its current form, and I realized it’s because you are a journalist. You have been taught to be objective, to show all sides of a story, to find the middle road, to achieve balance. You cannot do that in a novel. Novels are purely subjective and often unreliable. They are the messy underbelly of writing, not the pristine facts and quotes a journalist relies on to create a story.

“I will go back to my original proposal. Your story needs only one point-of-view. It’s not a technical skill you lack. It’s a shift in your perspective. Don’t think balance. Don’t think objectivity. Think about diving into the psyche of an unreliable narrator, a person who cannot be trusted, and deciding to let go of your expectations and see where the story will take you. Yes, it will be a radically different story than the one you originally wrote. Yes, it will not show all aspects of the themes you want to explore. But what it will do, which is the only reason why I am encouraging you to rewrite and resubmit, is give the reader an experience she cannot find in any other novel on the shelves today—that unequivocal voice of a sympathetic villain living an unethical life to achieve justice—a modern day anti-hero for the weary and jaded among us.

“Go forth and write into that dark territory. Take us where we have previously been afraid to go. We need to experience the darkness to appreciate the light. And it’s that story you need to tell, not the shadow story you have written that presents so many sides to the reader that it’s a buffet rather than a solid meal. Good luck! I look forward to seeing where this journey takes you.”

When I finished reading the email, I had to print it out and let it sit on my desk for several days. I thought long and hard about what was being asked of me and of the story. Could I dive deep without drowning?

To be continued…


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Looking for Love

Couple Holding Hands
Thirty-nine year old Kylie Smith’s Facebook status is in a relationship with Tyler Blake, a celebrity actor. But when her high flying boyfriend can’t make it to a function, Kylie calls upon her long-time friend, Greg Gibson, a kindergarten teacher. But when Kylie starts to fall for her backup boyfriend, she must decide what’s more important—having a famous boyfriend or a real relationship.

Please read the first chapter of The Backup Boyfriend. If you want to read the rest of the novel, please leave your comments on the site. The more comments, the more likely the novel will be published by Harlequin Special Edition. Your support is greatly appreciated!

Wagner’s Book Blog Tour

Thanks to Mary T. Wagner, author of the Running with Stilettos, Heck on Heels, Fabulous in Flats, and her best of collection, When the Shoe Fits for inviting me to participate in her book blog tour.

I’ve been a fan of Wagner’s since I discovered Running with Stilettos. Since then, I’ve devoured every one of Wagner’s essays like a box of Oreo cookies, taking apart their wisdom and dipping them into the milk of my life. When Wagner asked me to participate in her book blog tour, I was both thrilled and honored to be asked.

Wagner, who divides her time between working as a criminal prosecutor, essayist, mother, gardener, and life adventurer, posed some questions to me about my life as a writer.

Wagner: What are you currently working on?

Lam Turpin: I have just finished proofreading galleys of a short story, “The Clay Ring,” which will appear in Art and Understanding, an anthology to be published by Black Lawrence Press.

Wagner: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Lam Turpin: My literary short stories hold one emotion taut as a rope from beginning to end, allowing the reader to explore the consequences of that emotion. They are tiny gemstones that can be read in one sitting and remembered for years to come.

Wagner: Why do you write what you do?

Lam Turpin: With my short stories, I have an emotion which I am bursting to express. I think my best work came before the advent of the Internet. Now anyone can post a feeling or experience instantly as a status update. Before that platform existed, thoughts and feelings were allowed to ferment into a story. It’s the same process that creates wine. You take the raw material and send it through a process of transformation. I managed to write and publish hundreds of literary short stories this way, over a dozen of my best which appear or reappear in The Human Act.

Wagner: How does your writing process work?

Lam Turpin: My writing process has evolved over the past 25 years. When I first started, I wrote on deadline only. When I married and had a child, I started getting up an hour early to write before the baby woke. The process hasn’t changed much since then.

I want to thank Mary T. Wagner again for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.

Next week, discover the writing of Steve Lindahl.

Lindal

Steve Lindahl’s debut novel, Motherless Soul, was published in 2009 by All Things That Matter Press. His short fiction has appeared in Space and Time, The Alaska Quarterly, The Wisconsin Review, Eclipse, Ellipsis and Red Wheelbarrow. He served for five years as an associate editor on the staff of The Crescent Review, a literary magazine he co-founded.

Lindahl’s background in Theater Arts has helped nurture a love for intricate characters in complex situations that is evident in his writing. He and his wife Toni live and work together outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. They have two adult children: Nicole and Erik. White Horse Regressions is Steve Lindahl’s second novel.

White Horse Regressions

Should You Rewrite for Representation?

open laptop and a personal organizer on an office table

I finally found an agent to represent my crime novel only if I can rewrite the book in the antagonist’s point-of-view.

Ironically, that is the only point-of-view missing from my original 120,000 word manuscript. First, I cut 20,000 words to get the novel within the 100,000 word guidelines most agents seek. Second, I cut the prologue and epilogue since most agents said they weren’t necessary. Third, I added a few flashbacks to fill in the missing pieces to the puzzle that had been deleted by the prologue. Finally, I rewrote the ending to add the symbolism needed to hint at the missing epilogue.

After sending the manuscript to 64 agents over many months and receiving mostly instantaneous rejections, I took a break and focused on other things. I learned about concept writing and rewrote the one line pitch and one page synopsis and gained the attention of my current agent-to-be whose only request was to rewrite the entire manuscript from multiple points-of-view to a single point-of-view.

It may sound like a simple request, but that’s not how I reacted.

After calming down, I sent an email to the agent-to-be requesting a telephone conversation. I woke up at 5:30 am and placed a call to New York at 6 a.m. For fifteen minutes I discussed my concerns, going over my woeful history of almost sales over 25 years writing fiction. “How was this experience going to be different?” I asked. “It’s just another request to rewrite without a contract.”

The agent-to-be listened patiently before she responded. “You don’t have to do anything,” she said. “You may shop the manuscript around and find someone interested in the story as it is or sell it on your own. But if you want my support and expertise, you need to rewrite the story from the antagonist’s point-of-view. She’s the most interesting character, the one I want to know the most about, and I feel cheated as a reader because so many questions could be answered by her thoughts and feelings but aren’t because I don’t have any access to them.”

Hmmm…my beta readers had actually said they liked not knowing what the villain thought and felt.

But here was someone who worked to sell manuscripts to major publishers who had time and money and expertise to expand an author’s readership.

Could I find the time between working six days a week, going to school, and parenting children to rewrite the manuscript from another point-of-view?

If I decide to embark on this task, I do so without guarantees. I don’t have a contract with the agent. I don’t have any promise of publication. I only have one person’s opinion and a dream to be read.

What would you do?


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Life is Laundry

Lifeislaundry
Life is dirty. Life is clean. Life is colorful. Life is dull. Life can be sorted, washed, dried, folded, hung up, or neatly put away.

Laundry is the great equalizer. Everyone needs freshly laundered clothes. It doesn’t matter if you wash them yourself or hire someone to do it. It is a task that must be done.

Parents teach their children how to launder clothes as a necessary life skill. For many, wearing a pink shirt as the result of mixing white shirts with red towels is a rite of passage.

The life is laundry motif runs throughout my writing, most noticeably in my short story collection, The Human Act.

In “Fistful of Love,” a pregnant woman carries her laundry on her head, negotiating the stairs and the narrow walkway to the laundry room to wash and dry her family’s clothes. The narrator surreptitiously watches her through the peephole, infatuated with her. Laundry symbolizes the pregnant woman’s burden. Behind the safety of a front door, the narrator fantasizes about rescuing the pregnant woman and relieving her of her misery.

In “Randy Returns,” the narrator reminisces about her husband teaching her how to sort the clothes when they were newlyweds. The act of instructing a basic skill symbolizes the fundamental love her husband had for her long after he has passed away. It is a legacy that cannot be stolen. When the narrator washes the homeless friend’s clothes, it is an act of love.

In “Hope in the Laundry Room,” a woman loses her charm in a washer. The narrator finds it and returns it to her, sparking the start of a relationship full of caring and caretaking.

I have washed and dried many loads of laundry throughout my life, from the baskets full of soiled infant bibs to adult work shirts and pants and everything in between. I’ve watched colors fade and bleed, stains removed or set, clothes shrunk from XXL to XXS.

Laundering is as much a science as it is an art. No two people launder the same. No two items of clothing require the same care. Pockets full of tissue can cause a whole load to become full of lint. Candy wrappers may wash out just fine, but gum may stick and later dry on material that is hard to remove.

But no matter whether the clothes fade or shrink or come out just fine, we are all in this laundry of life together, and the lessons we learn are as necessary as clean clothes.


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All My Books

Limitlessness

RunHow are you limiting your success?

For years, people tried to encourage me to paint on larger canvases. Instead of taking their advice, I continued painting portrait sized landscapes that could be discretely hung in an office setting or as one of many paintings on a living room wall.

Now I realize why I shied away from those larger canvases. Fear. It’s easy to paint small, to say to the world, “My creativity can fit on my desk.” But if the audience wants to hear you scream instead of whisper, you have to decide whether to respond to that request or continue to hide behind the fear that limits you.

I finally took that leap of faith when I put down a wallet sized canvas and purchased a wall sized canvas that took up the back seat of my car. The next-door-neighbor helped me carry it into the house.

Then my heart sank.

All those excuses on why I couldn’t succeed threatened to extinguish the hope I had been feeling. I was eight years old being scolded for drawing when I was supposed to be memorizing my multiplication tables. I was sixteen years old in the guidance counselor’s office being told to choose a different major because no one makes money drawing pictures. I was twenty-eight years old in a job interview being told my artistic vision was too original to ever make it as a marketing director.

But the amazing thing about faith is the magic behind its force. My husband rearranged the furniture to accommodate the oversized canvas. My daughter suggested potential subjects to paint. And my son, who usually dominates the entire household with his demands, decided to leave me alone.

If you can abandon the excuses others have given you, those same excuses you have chosen to make your own, you can unleash your success.