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Q & A with Angela Lam

In celebration of the release of Red Eggs and Good Luck: A Memoir, here’s a Q&A with Angela Lam, the author:

1. One of the first scenes in your memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, describes your experience, at eleven years old, being taken to get a makeover–a face makeup application and your hair cut and permed–by your father, “to look American, like [your mother].” How did that experience shape your self-esteem and sense of identity, as a young girl?

(AL) That experience made me feel inadequate and ugly. It wasn’t enough to be who I was. I had to enhance what I was given in order to attract attention, affection, and love. Later in life, I broke up with men who wanted me to wear more makeup than I was comfortable wearing. I ended up marrying a man who doesn’t care that I don’t wear any makeup at all.

2. As the daughter of a Chinese immigrant father and an American (caucasian) mother, it feels as if you are born into distant worlds. Did you ever feel conflicted about your Chinese heritage and your American heritage, and whether to be proud or ashamed of your multicultural background?

(AL) I always felt ashamed and misunderstood about being both Chinese and Caucasian. I never felt like I fit into either world. I was half of this and half of that, never a whole person. It’s easier now to accept both sides of my upbringing, but the world is a more accepting place than it was in the 1970’s.

3. Your father constantly strives for perfection–for his family to be “American,” and for you all to “keep up with the Jones.'” What do you think pushed him down that unattainable path as you were growing up?

(AL) American movies inspired my father to be “American” and to “keep up with the Jones.” All movies end with everyone living happily-ever-after. American movies showed him that if he just fit in, then he would be happy.

4. You are the oldest of three girls in your family. In Chinese culture, girls are frowned upon and boys are held up on pedestals. When did you first recognize that the lack of boys in your family was causing issues for your father and your father’s family? How did it make you feel?

(AL) I realized the lack of boys in my family was causing problems when my grandmother, Mah-Mah, stayed with us. She constantly bickered with my father in Cantonese. When my youngest sister was born, Mah-Mah removed the diaper to verify the baby’s gender. She was highly disappointed that my father never gave her a grandson. Their relationship affected me indirectly. Because my father didn’t feel complete love and acceptance from his mother, it was hard for him to give it to my sisters and me.

5. Your mother struggled with weight and self-esteem issues. As a girl, did you recognize signs that she may have been suffering? How did her self-esteem and weight issues impact you?

(AL) I just remember my mother being the most beautiful sad woman in the world. Her self-esteem and weight issues led me down a rocky road toward anorexia, bulimia, and overeating. I still struggle with my weight and self-esteem and never feel quite as beautiful as I am told I am.

6. Talk about the roles that art, writing, and faith, played in your life? How did each help you through hardships, as you were growing up?

(AL) Art, writing, and faith sustained me as I grew up. Through art, I was able to express my feelings. Through writing, I was able to rewrite my life into the way I always imagined it should be. And faith gave me hope that I would one day have the power to transcend my circumstances and create the life I wanted for me.

First Book Review of Red Eggs and Good Luck

Brian O’Neel, Editor in Chief of The North Coast Catholic reviews Red Eggs and Good Luck. He says, “Do yourself a favor. Read this work. Get it for your book club (are you paying attention, mom?). Give it away as Christmas presents…If your experience is anything like mine, the only thing you won’t like about this moving, little gem, the only thing about it that will make you really angry is that it ends.”

Read the rest of the review on page 11 of the July issue.

Q & A with Amanda Zieba

Amanda ZiebaThis week I’m honored to interview the amazing author Amanda Zieba whose YA sci-fi novel, Breaking the Surface, is followed by the sequel, Bridging the Tides, which will be released on Tuesday May 12.

Q. Welcome Amanda! In the first book, Breaking the Surface, readers are introduced to an underwater world where scientists are working to discover a safe product to cleanse the ocean from the pollution caused by humans. Book two, Bridging the Tides, focuses on how the teens and the adults solve the problems caused by the PE-328 release. How much scientific research did you invest in this series?

A. As a reader one of my favorite genres is historical fiction because not only can I enjoy a fantastic adventure, but I also learn something while I am reading. As both a teacher and an author, I wanted my readers to have a similar experience, learning interesting facts while they enjoy my story. When I began writing Breaking the Surface I did do a lot of research. The series was inspired by a documentary entitled: Deep Sea (a film by: Howard Hall). In this movie, the narrators describe the incredible landscapes and creatures of our oceans. The images instantly sparked ideas in my creative mind, but it was the statement that “there is more uncharted territory in the oceans on here Earth than in all of outer space” that really stuck with me. I was shocked! How could we know less about our own planet than we do about places millions of light years away? This question was the first in an avalanche of musings that carried me to the internet, National Geographic magazines, the library and multiple re-viewings of Deep Sea. As I wrote the story, I tried very hard to be as factual as possible, keeping the animal characteristics/ocean details/scientific realities as true as possible. By the time I got to Bridging the Tides, I knew what I needed to know and therefore was able to write it much more quickly. I did occasionally need to look up a thing or two like: what is the fastest fish in the ocean and what are the specific anatomic qualities of a starfish? I hope readers like discovering these little fact snippets sprinkled throughout the story.

Q. For those who have not read book one, how difficult will it be for readers to follow Bridging the Tides?

A. Bridging the Tides picks up right where Breaking the Surface left off. If you start with Bridging the Tides, oodles of important background information including the explanation of the major conflict will be lost to you, leaving you with a mind full of questions. Funny story, my grammatical editor for Bridging the Tides had not read the Breaking the Surface and as she read, she marked up the page with all these questions about the plot. I felt horrible that I put her through pages and pages of a poor reading experience because she had no idea what was going on! So yes, if you have not read Breaking the Surface, definitely start there first!

Q. What made you decide to end Breaking the Surface with a cliffhanger?

A. I had a lot of frustrated readers when they got to the end of Breaking the Surface and found the problem unresolved. I purposely left the characters hanging to create suspense and a strong desire to read the second book. But don’t worry, I won’ torture you the same way again. Bridging the Tides ends with a solid resolution, hopefully leaving readers satisfied. I do not have plans to write another book in this series, but if I should ever decide to return to the underwater world of the ARK, I feel I left left room for more stories down there.

Q. It took you seven years to start this series. How long did it take to write Bridging the Tides? Does it get easier to write once a series has been started? Or are there unexpected challenges readers don’t know about that you’d like to share?

A. From start to finish Bridging the Tides took 8 months, which is infinitely faster than it took me to write the first book. I started it in November 2014 as my first attempt at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write 50,000 words in one month). I didn’t reach the goal of 50,000 words, but I had a pretty good start (24,000). In addition to being a writer, I am also a mom, wife and full time middle school teacher. It is tricky to balance all of the loves of my life, but thanks to my very supportive husband who works hard to carve out time for me to write, I was able to complete this novel. I write on Wednesdays after school for 2-3 hours (Writing Wednesdays!), after my sons go to bed and on the weekends. I am not a plotter. I write the most vivid scenes dancing around in my mind first and then afterward go back and link them together. I tried to write this book chronologically. I got to chapter 17 before I gave up and went back to my haphazard all over the place writing process. The further I got into the story, the faster the words came. Some of the plot elements required a lot of think time, but once I had those figured out, it got easier.

Q. How has teaching middle school students influenced your writing?

A. Teaching middle school has been a great blessing for my writing. It makes me strongly believe in the benefits of not majoring in writing while in college or taking it up as your first career. In the middle school setting I am constantly surrounded by living breathing middle grade protagonists. I hear their dialogue, view their clothing styles, witness their heartbreaks, listen to their preferences… all on a daily basis. I also am acutely aware of what they select to read. This is a wealth of information that I would be missing out on, if I were not a teacher. I do my best to use this information to inform my writing style, inspire my character dialogue, and ultimately craft a story I know my students would enjoy. I also see the number of students uninterested in reading. I take it upon myself to hook them into great books every day at school, and at home, write ones that will hopefully do the same.

Q. What particular challenges do you face writing in the dystopian genre?

A. I’m not sure I would consider my novels dystopian. I feel like the environmental problems my characters face and try to solve are problems we have today. I’m sure there are people out there in our world trying to solve the problem of water pollution and oceanic habitat destruction, but just maybe not in the ways that I have described in my books. A message that I would like readers (especially middle grade and YA readers) to take away from the Surface Series is that even though there are problems in the world, there are ways to solve them. Additionally, I would like them to learn that they, even at a young age, can be a part of the solution. Finally, I hope to have communicated the importance of the bonds of family and friendship. No matter what happens in the world, no matter who you meet and no matter where you go, it is the way you treat those around you that matters.

Q. What is your next writing project?

A. My next writing project is a middle grade series about geocaching. Geocaching is a worldwide outdoor treasure hunt. Using handheld GPS receivers my main characters, twins Sam and Molly Ross, go on adventures around the US, hunting for geocaches and the treasures they hold inside. Geocaching is a great sport that combines technology, the outdoors and physical activity. I hope to add a love of reading to the recipe and come up with a hit. While I have self-published all of my books up to this point, I am planning to go the traditional publishing route with this series. I have begun working with a professional editor and this summer I will be rewriting my first draft according to the recommendations he has made.

Q. Where do you see yourself five years from now as an author?

A. In five years I hope to be writing full time. My very specific plan includes leaving my teaching career in 3 years when my youngest son goes to Kindergarten and my family is no longer burdened by the massive investment of daycare expenses. At that point in time I will have been writing professionally for 6 years. I will have 6 self-published titles (3 in the Orphan Train Riders Series, 2 in the Surface Series, and one picture book: Pauly Wants to Doodle All the Day- due out in summer 2015). In addition to the funds I make from these books, I hope to supplement my author income by doing school author visits, educational material sales via and other freelance jobs. Of course I hope to be writing more books as well. I have several book ideas circulating in my brain right now ranging from a YA medieval time period fantasy, and two clean romance novels for adults. All I need is the time to get them down on paper.

For more information about Amanda Zieba or her books, visit her on Facebook.

Love Connections

I first conceived of “A Modern Love Story” in 2013 during a trip to the San Francisco Exploratorium. An exhibit about the evolution of romantic relationships included commentary from USA Today, which stated that one-third of marriages began online. This sparked an idea of chronicling a contemporary love story complete with text messages, emails, voice mails, and the occasional in-person appearance. However, two years later, after witnessing a relationship founded in-person rather than online, I discovered my original cynical view of modern love had evolved into a bittersweet tenderness that actually cut my three act play into a two minute video. Here’s the result of that culmination of effort, “Connections: a Commentary on Modern Love”. Please leave your comments.

The Cult of Social Media

Frustrated Woman Using Laptop

“Not everyone can be a hero. There are more people who need to be saved.” -Anonymous

My fourteen-year-old daughter videotapes me. I am dancing and singing to the latest hip hop tune on the radio. She quickly uploads the video to Snapchat and labels it, “My Mom is Silly.” She giggles as she plays it back for me. When I fail to protest against the post, she deletes it. “Why did you do that?” I ask. “I want to be the most popular mom on Snapchat.”

She shakes her phone at me. “No, you don’t.”

I laugh, but inside I feel like my father. He wanted fame and fortune for his four daughters, but he didn’t get it. He taught us to dream big; not knowing our dreams would leave us orphans living ordinary lives.

But with the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and other social media, everyone is entitled to their daily shot at fame and for some, even fortune. Everyone has a chance to be a hero. Everyone has a chance to save the world with a few clicks at the keyboard. Suddenly you are the star of your own show, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have enough followers to inflate your ego for weeks at a time…or at least until your next post.

With all of this power comes the threat of loss of privacy, loss of intimacy, and the loss of self. Some video bloggers record everything about their day from the moment they wake up to the moment they fall asleep. Sure, those 12 hours may be edited to last only 15 minutes, but those 15 minutes shared are now owned by the viewer, whether it’s one person or one million people.

My daughter values her privacy. That’s why she only uses Snapchat with the hopes that the 30 second videos that disappear shortly after being posted are truly deleted from the Internet and won’t resurface three years later when she’s applying for college or a job.

As a middle-aged parent, I understand her concern and her guardedness, but as an author and a public speaker, I can’t afford anonymity. I can’t “save face” as my father always preached. I have to show my face whether or not what I’ve done is shameful or glorious. It’s part of the job.

We sometimes forget the public doesn’t need to know everything, especially when we are sitting in the comfort of our living room posting our thoughts and feelings for the world to see. It gives us a sense of belonging that temporarily erases the loneliness of our increasingly solitary lives.

But is social media the panacea to our isolation? And does it truly replace the intimacy we crave?

We go online for everything from shopping to information, but we go offline to live. It’s in those moments of being face to face with another human being that we get a chance to express what we hold in our hearts to be true: our irreplaceable uniqueness is what makes us sympathetic and real.

100 Years of Memories

Photo courtesy of Ed Turpin
Photo courtesy of Ed Turpin

I was honored to be one of several women who read excerpts from Suzanne Sherman’s book 100 Years in the Life of an American Girl to help celebrate the launch of a new series of books chronicling the lives of American females. The first book in the series features stories from girls around the age of thirteen sharing what it was like to grow up in each decade from 1900 to 2000.

The event was held in the main dining room of the French Garden Restaurant in Sebastopol. Photographs from the book were presented in a slide show while music from each decade filled the room. Guests enjoyed champagne, sparkling water, and orange juice while listening to Suzanne share her insights into each decade. Each reader presented a snippet of their stories to a rapt audience.

My story about growing up in the shadow of the American Dream was a prelude to my book-length memoir that will be released later this year.

For those who missed the event, Suzanne will be hosting other readings in the future. You may also purchase a book either directly from Suzanne’s website or through Amazon.

Experience History!

Come celebrate 100 Years in the Life of an American Girl on Saturday January 10, 2:00 – 4:00 at the French Garden Restaurant, 8050 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol.

This is not your average book launch party! Bring your family!

* Listen to readers featured in the book from every decade, with stories of girlhood (before age 13) from throughout a century.

* Hear music from the 1920s through the 1990s — from Scott Joplin to Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson to Taylor Swift!

* Taste treats you’ll remember — or discover them for the first time! There will be candies popular since the 1920s, like Walnettos and Mary Jane’s, and candies from more recent times, like Pop Rocks and Nerds!

* Toys from the twentieth century are still fun! Try your hand again at jacks or Barrel of Monkeys — it’s been awhile, right? Slinky and Silly Putty will be here too, to laugh about and play with.

* Buy your author-signed copy of the book, for yourself and for friends and family.

For more information on how you can make history in the next 100 Years book series, visit Suzanne Sherman’s website.