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Month: October 2016

Photo & Haiku Friday: Stegosaurus Shiba Dog

Every Friday I like to decorate desecrate a photo in Japan with a heavenly haiku. I bribe my wife to add her own as well, so we can get as many interpretations as possible, and sometimes a Japanese one happens to float in off a gentle breeze of inspiration.

Last week we composed haiku for a mama praying mantis. Here’s this week’s photo of a shiba dog in a stegosaurus costume for Halloween:


My English haiku:
Dog’s got his costume
Ready to go trick or treat
Hope they give out bones!

Abbey’s English haiku:
Howl-loween costume
I’m a stegosaurus, bitch
Wait, how do I poop?

My Japanese haiku:

(The heart of a dog)
(The soul of a)

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 budget Japanese Halloween costumes 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top budget Japanese Halloween costumes.

Halloween is becoming bigger in Japan every year. Even though trick-or-treating still isn’t really a thing, dressing up very much is, and there are some Japanese monsters that make for great costumes.

Unfortunately Japanese costumes can be a little hard to come by outside of Japan, so this week I worked together with my wife to show off how you can make your own for extremely cheap. Every costume is about $6 or less to make, and pretty much guaranteed to be unique.

So if you need a costume and you’re short on cash… I think you know what to do.

Read the article here.

Tips-y Tuesday: Wasted Time is not Wasted

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we looked at how sharing our writing is scarier than Halloween but totally worth it. This week I’d like to talk about something I know I fear as a writer: wasting time.

Whenever I start a new writing project, one fear above all hovers over me: the fear that I’m wasting my time. Not that I’m wasting my time because the book might not get published (see Finding “The One” for more on that fear), but that I’m wasting my time because halfway into the book – or maybe when I reach the end – I might discover that I don’t like where it’s going and will have to scratch it.

And if that were to happen, months – perhaps years – of my life would have been wasted on something that didn’t matter.

Ugh, I could’ve spent all that time
watching YouTube instead!


But one thing I’ve realized after years of producing things that I’ve scrapped partway through is this: the time spent working on those projects was not wasted. I know it may sound like a coping mechanism (“I’d better tell myself it wasn’t wasted time or else I’ll go crazy!”), but that’s not the truth. It really was worthwhile.

Here’s a recent example. My wife is currently working on a book that she’s been wanting to write for a while. It’s her first attempt at writing anything longer than a few pages, so it’s quite a challenge. But I advised her to just keep writing at a half-page pace per day (half the speed I aim for) and to just see what happens.

Four months into the project, she hit a roadblock. About halfway through writing the book, her mind’s fuel display crashed hard onto Empty. She didn’t know where the story was going, wasn’t happy with a lot she’d written, and just felt like she’d wasted a lot of her time accomplishing nothing.

So I took a look. The first chapter was basically what you’d expect from a budding writer (needed to slow down and crack open her scenes with more details), but there were two things that stuck out: dragons and pizza. It may sound silly but the story kept going back to those two things, mostly because she just felt obligated to fill up half a page and wrote about one of her two favorite things.

“And then the dragon ordered a pizza and he was like, ‘Yeah I need to finish my half-page for today, so I’m writing about pizza.’ And then the pizza came and it was good but a little too spicy for him.”


But where she saw failure in the dragons and pizza, I saw promise. What if instead of dragons being distant and mythical, they were up-close and common. And what if instead of pizza being delivered in cars they were delivered… on dragons? And what if the story was about one such dragon pizza delivery girl?

That immediately set her off on a flood of inspiration. Within an hour, she had a new book outlined and ready to go based on the new idea. After looking it over, it sounded much more compelling and exciting than the last one (even if it was about a dragon pizza-delivery girl!), and she was so into it she wrote the first few pages right then and there.

I’m not saying you have to write about pizza and dragons (although honestly why do we bother writing about anything else?), but I will say that if she hadn’t spent those months “wasting” her time with the previous project, the new better one would have never come about.

So if you’re hesitant to start a new writing project because you think it will just end up being a waste of time… then maybe you’re right! And maybe that “waste of time” might end up inspiring something even better in the future.

Or maybe the thing you create will just be awesome in and of itself. If so, let me just say, I’m jealous.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)
(Insert image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Masterpiece Monday: Inside Jokes between Reader and Narrator

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we saw examples of good action scenes that build tension by subtracting things. This week I’d like to show off an awesome example of something more subtle: callbacks.

Callbacks happen when a detail in your story refers to something that happened earlier. They’re cool because they make the reader feel like they’re rewarded just for reading. It’s like a little inside joke between reader and narrator.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green has some excellent callbacks in it. Here’s one of my favorite ones from the very beginning, when the narrator Hazel talks about her cancer, her “depression,” and her support group:

“Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.)”

Then just a few paragraphs later we get this:

“This Support Group featured a rotating cast of characters in various states of tumor-driven unwellness. Why did the cast rotate? A side effect of dying.”

The repeated “side effect of dying” bit is super effective here. It not only emphasizes how all-encompassing thinking about dying is for Hazel, but also her cynical and slightly macabre sense of humor.

The same kind of callback happens soon afterward:

“I didn’t want to take the elevator because taking the elevator is a Last Days kind of activity at Support Group, so I took the stairs.”

Then a little later:

“Michael was next. He was twelve. He had leukemia. He’d always had leukemia. He was okay. (Or so he said. He’d taken the elevator.)”

If you hadn’t read the part earlier about the elevator being for kids on their “last days,” then that final bit wouldn’t have made sense. But with that proper setup, we get a chilling reminder of Hazel’s reality and another peek into how she emotionally deals with it.

Though there are more callbacks through the rest of the book, I really like these ones in the first chapter for another reason: they help to establish a bond between the reader and Hazel. Right away it’s like we’re part of little (albeit grim) inside jokes with her. Such a powerful bond between reader and main character helps ensure that we care about them quickly and want to keep reading to see what happens to them.

Having trouble getting readers to relate to/care about your main character? Try adding in some callbacks in chapter one and see what happens. We can’t all write like John Green, but we can at least try to learn from the pieces that make his characters so awesome.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)


Photo & Haiku Friday: Mama Mantis

Every Friday I like to celebrate a photo in Japan with a freshly-formed haiku. I bribe my wife to add her own as well, so we can get as many interpretations as possible, and sometimes a Japanese one happens to float in off a gentle breeze of inspiration.

Last week we haiku-ed up a cat wall. Here’s this week’s photo of a pregnant praying mantis:


My English haiku:
Fingers can destroy
Infinite generations
Or help create them

Abbey’s English haiku:
Little bug I love you
Don’t climb up that wall just yet
Let’s take a selfie

My Japanese haiku:

(“Don’t take my picture!”)
(“I’m fat and have no make up.”)
(The pregnant insect)

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 craziest Japanese certification exams 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five craziest Japanese certification exams.

When I worked as a Japanese tutor, I would often tell my students that Japan has a test for everything. They didn’t believe me when I told them about the “housewife certification exam,” so now was my chance to finally show them the hilarious truth!

Honestly, I’m not a fan of tests. A lot of my students expressed a desire to take the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Exam), but I advised against it. That may sound strange, hut here’s the truth: there’s nothing really to be gained from taking the test. Let’s say you pass Level 1… great! You’re exactly the same person with the same knowledge you were before you passed it! Let’s say you fail it instead… great! You’re still the same person!

I suppose the argument can be made that in studying for the exam you learned more about the subject, but most teachers agree that “teaching to the test” is horrible. I would have much preferred by students study manga, anime, books, or anything intended for native Japanese speakers, rather than the artificial Japanese created for the exam.

But hey, that’s just me. If you love tests, more power to you! Maybe you’ll find some great ones to take on this list.

Read the article here.

Tips-y Tuesday: Sharing our Writing – Scarier than Halloween

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we looked at how to schedule a hot date… with writing. This week I’d like to talk about something that I and many other writers dread doing: sharing our work with others.

I was inspired to write about this after reading a recent blog post at Operation Awesome. It was an interview with Brandon Ho, a screenwriter, where he talked about his journey going from “script to screen.” You can read the full post here.

There’s a lot to learn from Brandon’s words, but one part I really liked was this that he had to say about sharing your work:

“It’s hard to share my writing with others and hear them say it doesn’t work. But an amazing thing happens when you show it to someone else and put your personal guards down. You get to see how someone experiences what you made through their eyes.”

I think that’s a really beautiful way of expressing something that we all usually either take for granted or outright fear: the opinions of others.

When we pour our heart and souls into writing something, and then we show it to someone else, we want nothing more than for them to leap for joy and say what an incredible piece of art it is. But the amount of times that has actually happened in the history of humankind if approximately… zero.

I ran a writing group for several years, and there wasn’t a single time that a member shared a story to the universal delight of everyone else. There was always at least one person who was confused/had suggestions for changes/hated it, and usually those people were in the majority.

And for good reason. When we write something, it’s coming from inside our heads and onto the paper. Something that is so vivid in our own minds can become bland when our own brain isn’t there to fill in all the missing details.

Writing is like trying to convey a dream you had to another person, and honestly when was the last time you were seriously interested in listening to someone else’s dream?



But what Brandon’s quote gets at is the fact that sometimes it doesn’t matter if the other person doesn’t see what you want them to see in your writing. Sometimes they see things that you didn’t intend. They come into it with their own brain, their own experiences, and can interpret it a completely different way.

One of the best parts of writing is when you create something that someone else makes their own. Whether by latching on to a side character that you threw in at the last second, or by coming up with completely different themes than you intended, or when they make predictions for what will happen that are wildly off track.

When that happens, it shows that they’re going beyond just “liking” what you wrote; they were sucked in enough to “care” about what you wrote.

Getting someone to care about something is pretty much the greatest accomplishment anyone can have. Unfortunately we have to do the scary sharing to get it, but thinking about sharing as “I wonder how their brain will interpret this” instead of “I hope their brain interprets it this one certain way!” might make it a little easier.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)
(Insert image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Masterpiece Monday: Writing Action by Subtraction

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we looked at a character with a sexy voice (even though we never actually hear her say a word). This week I’d like to show off a great example of something that I find difficult to pull off well: writing action scenes.

Writing an action scene is tough. You have to keep tension high and fast-paced, but at the same time you need to provide enough details so your reader can follow what’s going on. But if you provide too many details, it just falls flat. It’s the writing equivalent of walking a tightrope… on a unicycle… taped to each foot.

One book that does action scenes very well is (unsurprisingly!) Harry Potter. Let’s take a look at one particularly great passage. It’s during Harry’s first broomstick-flying lesson, when Malfoy steals Neville’s Rememberall and is taunts Harry up in the air with it. Suddenly he throws it as far as he can, and we get this scene:

“Harry saw, as though in slow motion, the ball rise up in the air and then start to fall. He leaned forward and pointed his broom handle down – next second he was gathering speed in a steep dive, racing the ball – wind whistled in his ears, mingled with the screams of people watching – he stretched out his hand – a foot from the ground her caught hit, just in time to pull his broom straight, and he toppled gently onto the grass with the Rememberall clutched safely in his fist.”

This passage has a couple of great things going for it. First, it’s only two sentences long. The first sentence sets up Harry’s broomstick dive, and the second one carries us from his initial descent down to the very end.

Even though it’s a long sentence, it doesn’t feel long. The dashes break it up into easily readable pieces, and the lack of any full-stop periods makes us not slow down until the very end – just like Harry.

PROHARRYTIP #1: To keep the pace up in an action scene,
try subtracting the number of sentences.

Of course not every action scene can be just one long sentence; readers would get tired of it pretty quickly. However this passage does one other thing very well: verb usage.

Just a few excess words here and there can add up, quickly turning an intense scene into a molasses-y mess. But I love the snappy one-word verbs used in the above passage: pointed his broom handle, racing the ball, wind whistled, toppled gently, clutched safely, and more.

Imagine if the beginning were written like this instead:

“Harry saw, as though in slow motion, the ball rise up in the air and then start to fall. He shifted his body weight forward abruptly and gripped the point of his broom tightly to steer it downward – next second he was building up lots of increasing speed in a steep dive, at first following right behind the ball but then getting closer and closer until finally he was next to it….”

Yikes, that’s almost twice as long as the original. It’s more words, but it’s not any clearer for having used them. Condensing the long phrases into single verbs make for much faster reading, bringing us readers into the fast-moving scene more easily and effectively.

PROHARRYTIP #2: To keep the pace up in an action scene,
try subtracting long phrases/adverbs and replacing with single verbs.

Writing good action is tough. I know I struggle with it, but hopefully by looking at some good examples we can all try to imagine what doing exciting things must be like!

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Photo & Haiku Friday: Cat Wall

Every Friday I like to commemorate a photo in Japan with a hot-out-the-oven haiku. I bribe my wife to add her own as well, so we can get as many interpretations as possible, and sometimes a Japanese one happens to float in off a gentle breeze of inspiration.

Last week we came up with lovely odes to a bear mug. Here’s this week’s photo, taken at Inuyama in Aichi prefecture:


My English haiku:
“Hey dawg what color
Are you gonna be today?”
“I think polka dot.”

Abbey’s English haiku:
Inuyama trip
Dogs everywhere sniffing butts
Even on the walls

My Japanese haiku:

(Two-dimensional dogs)
(In a one-dimensional line)
(A three-dimensional picture)

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 Japanese autumn foods 【Well-Fed Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five Japanese autumn foods. I’ve been wanting to do a few articles about food here in Japan, but none of them really felt “weird” enough to be part of the “Weird Top Five” series.

My editor suggested I just change the “W” to stand for something else for a singe article, so after a lot of soul-searching and Google-searching, I came up with “Well-Fed” instead.

The article is still similar in tone to my previous articles, but it’s a little bit different, so we’ll see how it goes. Maybe there will be more Well-Fed Top Fives in the future, maybe there will be none – it all depends on those sweet, sweet clicks.

So if you want to know what autumn is all about in Japan, check it out!

Read the article here.