Monday, February 17, 2014

Book review: The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

A good friend loaned me this book titled The Reason I Jump to read because it is about a topic of high importance to me. Autism. The book was written by Naoki Higashida, a 13-year-old boy with autism. The book was translated by K.A. Yoshida and novelist David Mitchell. It is a series of Q & A sections with Higashida answering some basic questions most of us wonder about people with autism from why they act out to what makes them uncomfortable about crowds. 

Based on the other reviews I read, I noticed that people seem to be on the fence about the authenticity of the book. Yes, it originated from Higashida and was in Japanese to start. The translators discovered it, were inspired by it and decided that translating it would be a wonderful idea. They indeed added some of their wit into the writing; that was very obvious. This is what ticked off some people, apparently, accusing Mitchell of molding the boy's true answers to his writing style. 

When I read the intro, written by Mitchell, I got a taste of his originality and writing style, so yes, I did sense it throughout the entire book's translations. But as an autism mom who knows what these kiddos are capable of beneath their protective cover, I do believe Higashida was capable of giving these complex responses. Could my child have done this? I doubt it simply because communication is his biggest challenge, even when given writing materials and technology. He has a very hard time expressing his inner thoughts and opinions. But Higashida is strong in that regard, and perhaps his weakness is something else. He used a device called an alphabet grid to point out letters and spell out his responses. Autistic people are all as unique as their fingerprints, and I do believe their is fraud out there, but I also fully believe they have this potential. I've met many of them throughout my experiences, and they are fascinating people.  

The intro alone brought tears to my eyes because Mitchell was good about capturing what it's like to be an autism parent. How heartbreaking it is not to know what is going on in you child's mind and how disappointing it is when we read article after article and book after book, feeling unfulfilled aside from the basic knowledge we hear repeatedly. We know the stats. We know the basic dos and don'ts, the definition of it, that there are others in our shoes, the lack of research, etc. But what about real answers? We got some from Temple Grandin, a well-known adult with autism who is very verbal about her experiences. But she is just one of so many. The world needs more of these first-hand accounts, and I believe they exist worldwide. 

In this book, Higashida provides them. While he cannot speak for all autistic people, he did a great job of helping to understand what may be going through their minds in situations like not responding to questions (He advised to call their name because it is more attention-grabbing to their wandering minds). He spoke about why he is a picky eater (It could be the texture or smell of the food that is disturbing). Some of this we already assume, but it's pleasing to hear it from an autistic child himself.

All in all, I liked the book and finished reading it in just a few hours. I smiled. I teared up. And I was thankful for the read.  Five stars for this one. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why I love 'The Martian Chronicles' by Ray Bradbury + bonus banter

I want to tell you why I love this book so much. It's The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite books and authors of all time. Bradbury, IMO, is a master storyteller. He can go at one topic from so many different angles it's insane, which is precisely what he did in this collection of martian short stories. I mean, how many different ways can one portray Mars and aliens, right. You'd be surprised.

This writing tactic is brilliant! Imagine having writer's block and moping around willing to write, just no bright ideas to scribble about. What if you picked ONE topic that interests you like ice cream, perhaps. Then you sat down and wrote 10 stories about that one topic. How long do you think that would take you to come up with umpteen story ideas about ice cream? And do you like the topic enough to spit out that many different perspectives on it? Bradbury obviously was over the moon about Mars ... pun intended ... so he did a fantastic job of portraying that passion in this book or shorts and short shorts.

Here, I'll take a stab at it.

As an obsessive ice cream eater (Dreyer's Slow-Churned Chocolate, to be exact), let me see how many ice cream-themed tales I can scoop up in one sitting:


The Ice Cream Crush  

     Adrina was a disgruntled 7th grader with everything on her mind but the geometry Mr. Linton was splattering all over the board at the moment. She had no interest in learning calculations of stupid shapes. What did that have to do with real life anyway. She couldn't care less. No. All she wanted was to lose herself in two scoops of Marvelous Mint Chocolate Deluxe ice cream from Do Me a Flavor creamery just across the street from the school. She had exactly $2.77 to her name, which meant she could have her favorite treat with 2 cents to spare. This ice cream craving was no joke. During the next three class periods, Adrina hurriedly did all her homework for her classes so that she wouldn't need to waste time stopping at her locker after school. As soon as the final bell rang, she sprinted for the exit. She almost forgot to look both ways before crossing the busy street, but a huge truck's exhaust fumes stifled her out of her ice cream frenzy enough to remind her that she wouldn't get to taste it ever again if she ended up a splatter in the middle of the road.
     Finally! She walked through the door and was hypnotized by the sweet smells of the variety of ice cream flavors just inches away from her. She ordered her favorite, paid, and waited for the server to decorate her two chocolate scoops with sprinkles of pecans and toffee. Was there anything better in the world, she imagined as she drooled for her edible treasure. She'd soon find out. As she waited, she didn't want to seem too eager, so she gazed around the eatery looking at photos of ice cream art on the walls and at other customers' colorful cones.
     "Here you go, Miss Adrina! Your favorite treat is ready," said Walter, the owner. But Adrina's attention was on the doorway. A boy had walked in. With his golden brown hair, grey T-shirt and jeans along with an elegant stride, he might as well have been a double scoop of Marvelous Mint Chocolate Deluxe ice cream because he had Adrina in a trance at first glance. Walter had to call on her twice before Adrina snapped out of her fairy tale moment. She was already picturing her first kiss. Her face warmed of embarrassment when Walter called her out and gave her some mighty serious advice in a whisper.
     "Adrina, I've known you since you were 3 years old. You're like a daughter to me. So please listen to me when I tell you this. Stay clear of Zeus Henry. He and his clan are nothing but trouble, and your life would never be same if it got tangled up with his kind. I'd sure hate to see that, so please listen to your old friend. Look, but do not touch, understand? Promise me." Adrina had never seen Walter so serious before. It scared her a little. "Yes, Mr. Kensington. I hear you, and I promise." She smiled and took her ice cream bowl that had already started melting. A table toward the back of the eatery is where she chose to sit with her back to Zeus. She tried her very best not to turn around.
     Her best wasn't good enough, because the minute they made eye contact after her neck slowly swiveled in his direction, she knew she would have to break her promise to Mr. Kensington. What could be so bad about someone so ... dreamy. Adrina vowed to find out.

I Scream, You Scream

     Pizza delivery boys Albert and Raymond decided they'd had enough of minimum wage and those unhealthy circles of bread, cholesterol, and extra cheese. It was time for something new. Something more rewarding than delivering pizzas to people who had more than they did. The mischievous duo began keeping notes about certain frequent flyer customers, especially the wealthy ones. Albert kept a notebook with addresses of their intended hits, listing family members, pets, security systems, and easy access. He even drove by the homes on his own time just to see their comings and goings to choose the best time to strike. Raymond was more the people watcher, making mental notes of behaviors. He targeted those who seemed weakest and kindest, those who would be the most unsuspecting. They avoided confrontation at all costs, but this collection of information made it easier to formulate a plan A, no people interference, and B, being caught or seen. After 6 successful break-ins sans complications, the two couldn't be happier with their new career move and loads of loot.
     "I know who should be next, Al," Raymond said while scoffing at the playlist of children's songs and videos on the new tablet he'd taken from a little boy's bedroom during the last robbery. "I never want kids if it means I'd have to listen to this annoying shit all day. Geez."
     "So who do you suggest we target next, Ray? Oh, wait. Lemme guess. The bikini pool party chicks on Lattimer Avenue? I'd like to rob them of a little more than their material possessions," said Albert with a wicked grin.
     "No, you rapist. I was thinking of ice cream lady on Silver Ribbon Lane, north side of town. The one who always orders pineapple and extra anchovies ... bleh!"
     "Oh! You mean that one who always answers the door while eating a bowl of strawberry ice cream! Dude, she is weird, but pretty hot for an old lady, though. Last time I delivered there, she had on some skin tight yoga pants and her tits were like blam in that tank top! Man, that must be some damned good ice cream ... can't even put it down to answer the door, ha ha."
     "Aha, and I also noticed a shelf in her living room with lots of crystal and shiny shit. Those gaudy rings on her fingers scream MONEY," said Raymond.
     "And a few hours parked outside her house told me she lives alone and is always gone between 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday nights. A'right, then. I guess we know what we're doing next Saturday evening!"
     The two high-fived, laughed, and prepared their strategy.
     Saturday came, and at the stroke of 6 o'clock they made their way to Helga Harmon's house a few minutes early to watch her leave. According to their notes: no pets, lives alone, no security alarm system detected, corner house, close to main roadway, no neighbor on the other side nor across the street, and no visitors ever seen. They staked out the place until well after dark before making their move. At 8 o'clock, they easily picked the lock to her front door, no alarm went off, and they let themselves into her home. Raymond carried an unloaded gun just in case he ever needed to scare anyone off. He put it away when the coast looked clear and went straight for the crystal with his duffle bag. Albert decided it would be hilarious to steal the woman's ice cream, so he headed toward the kitchen first.
     Albert opened the freezer and found a large, plastic container with the pink creamy ice cream filled to the brim. It was unmarked, no brand name noted. "Ray! I think this broad makes her own frickin' ice cream. Check this shit out, damn! I think I might have me some. I'm sure she wouldn't mind," said Albert.
     What he didn't know was that the ice cream was indeed homemade and that eating it would be the last thing he'd ever do.

OK, so it seems like 2 is all I can spit out in this one sitting! Tell me what you think. And have you ever attempted such a writing challenge? I must say, this was fun. And I'm pretty sure I'll be finishing these stories and more in the ice cream tale series.

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, January 18, 2014

2014: No resolutions, just solutions

Well, a belated happy new year to all since this is my first post of 2014.

I've been a busy gal! I have high hopes for this year. And I don't believe in resolutions because they always conflict with my personality trait of hating rules. I like to live day by day, letting my mood and the vibes I'm feeling dictate how things go. One thing I have aspired to change this year is the number of minutes/hours I spend on social media. While most people I know spend oodles of time on there either posting their life away, promoting their books or services, and reading others' ramblings, I realized I waste way too much time doing the latter of those instead of writing. I stopped enjoying social media about 6 months ago, and it's just steadily getting worse. So I needed to jump ship.

While I am very proud of my book (look to the left), promoting it non-stop has hindered my level of productivity. I'm one-track minded, so it's high time I fixated on the next project. To attempt an increase in output for 2014, I've done or undone the following:

  • I deactivated my regular facebook account but kept my business page (feel free to click the 'like' button up top) because it served a greater purpose than despising my own news feed day-in, day-out and not enjoying the fb experience. At least with the biz page, I can keep it focused on my interests and create a news feed to suit. I can like or unlike pages as I please without worrying whose feelings I will hurt if I unfriend folks. Plus, I was seeing too many things I just didn't care to know about people. Might come back one day, but not until 2015, if I can help it.  

  • I sent off my first query letter of the year! Actually, first one ever. I have been so stuck in the self-publishing bubble, that I joined the hateration of fellow self-pubbers who bash the traditional publishing industry. Here's my take on it. Not everyone is a million-dollar seller, whether self-published or traditional, but we tend to forget all about the in-between. I wouldn't mind making an income in the 4-digit range each month. That would certainly help me send my son to his university of choice and pay off my bills. I had little to no noteworthy success in self-publishing thus far, so I'm dipping my toes in the other world. I mean, why not. I have nothing to lose but much to gain, and I'd like a taste of both worlds. 
  • I have 57 Word documents of stories I started and need to finish, and WILL finish! Every time I have a story idea, I either write it down in the notebook I carry around with me or type up a synopsis in a new Word document if I happen to be sitting at my computer at the time. 
  • I finished watching all 3 seasons of Star Trek (The original series), which I began in Dec. and already read 2 books this year (Dark Summer, by Iris Johansen, and The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury). It's amazing how reading and watching things that interest me help to keep my own creativity flowing. No matter what you read or watch, always remember, that is someone's hard work that came full circle! And it would not have happened if they didn't keep trying and trying. 
  • Hang on to journalism. I started my professional career back in 2007 post-grad as a journalist. That was my first love, and I plan to start submitting more of such pieces to publications under that
    umbrella. While I've been wooed by fiction writing, I don't want to lose my journalist hat. It is still very dear to me. 
Happy reading and writing!