Sunday, July 28, 2013

Review: The Chalk Circle compiled by Tara L. Masih When I opened Tara L. Masih’s “The Chalk Circle” I didn’t really know what to expect aside from knowing it was an anthology of intercultural essays, but as I delved deeper I started to feel what bush-pilot Jimmie Angel must have felt when he stumbled upon the majestic Venezuela waterfall that now bears his name. The more I read, the more I realised that the banner “Intercultural Prizewinning Essays” across the bottom of the front cover was not hype: it was later that I found out that the book had been put forward for and won a number of awards, including a Skipping Stones Honor Award, a Benjamin Franklin Finalist Award, a New England Book Festival Runner-up Award, and a ForeWord Book of the Year Award. Without doubt, this is one of the best books I have read in a very long while, each essay taking me from the musings of a young American Chinese woman hiking the Appalachian Trail while wondering what her life might have been had her grandmother married a peasant farmer, to a Native American trying to understand her own culture while grappling with the world around her, and on to a White American raised in Thailand not knowing the culture she assumed was her own was somebody else’s. More followed, each writer looking inward or outward, often both, and I realised that with culture, it’s often not so much the big things that separate us—the big differences are obvious and so we think understand them—but that chalk circle of seemingly small things that we ‘don’t know that we don’t understand’ is the barrier that separates us. Why would you eat French fries with a fork, for goodness sake? I mean if you are British, well then, OK, but an American? Oh…you were raised in Thailand? Well, that’s just weird. The book is well written; each essay allows you to glimpse the writer’s soul, that of a different race, culture, religion…and there you begin to see life from a different perspective, and hopefully gain some understanding of the writer’s situation. And, if you are like me, it will reinforce the understanding that no single culture is better than another, least of which is what I call my own. This book is a keeper—one definitely worth reading more than once.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Some Alternative Cover Designs...

I came up with some possible designs for a new cover for Dragon in the Sky...your feedback would be appreciated.

← This one is the first attempt. I like the idea of the dragon, map, and scene below, but I'm not so sure about the font and monotone colour...

Different font, removed texture, some colour... →

← A bit more colour...perhaps a little too much. It looks as though my six-year-old daughter got hold of it and went a little crazy with a crayon...

Sepia tones for the map and dragon forming the sky...a possibility. The texture integrates the dragon and map, but it might be a little overpowering. →

← Dragon in the centre of the map; map is of larger scale; I think this is too busy.

Getting better, I think... →

← Same as the one above to the right, but with gold tones.

One more, same as the two to the left and right above but with gold 'sky' and the scene at the bottom in colour... →

← And this is what my previous publisher came up with...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Publish America

For those of you who may be interested, I'm at present in legal dispute with PublishAmerica: in my opinion they are in breach of contract. My contract with them states: "It is specifically understood and agreed, however, that the Publisher shall make no major revisions, changes and/or alterations therein without first consulting the Author and receiving written permission to do so."

Some of the changes I requested--as a result of the publisher not being able to print traditional Chinese characters and Hanyu Pinyin (the official Romanisation of Mandarin Chinese) with the Hanyu Pinyin tone marks--were incorrectly applied or not applied at all. There is also a section of text missing and the book has one "Part One" and two "Part Two" sections instead of a "Part One", "Part Two", and "Part Three".

I think that counts as major changes...and they certainly didn't have my permission to publish as it in its present state.

As it stands right now I am seeking legal advice on terminating the contract with them. I'll keep you informed of progress.

For those of you who have chosen Publish America based on my recommendation, I apologise. They were at one stage a good reliable publisher. Now they seem to have gone to the dogs.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dragon in the Sky - Characters

Name: Joseph Lee
Chinese Name: Lee Jo-Yum
Born: August 21, 1964 at the Sand River Ranch, Southern Matabeleland, Rhodesia
Zodiac: (Wood) Dragon

Joseph is of mixed parentage: Chinese father and Caucasian mother, although few would guess this from his appearance. He is tall - at six feet four inches, his height and fair skin might place him as Northern Chinese but he lacks the narrow facial features so indicative of the Manchu or Northern Han.

Jo-Yum, Joseph's Chinese name given him by his paternal grandfather - Joseph's father died before Joseph was born - literally translates as 'Ancestor Shade'. It means that Joseph, having no father to guide and protect him, will be sheltered by his ancestors and also will inherit vast wealth from them. The choice of name was precise, but not as prophetic as one might assume: in secret long ago, 'Old Prospector Lee', as his grandfather was known, discovered a seam of gold as thick as a strong man's arm running through the quartzite rock of Southern Matabeleland, and claimed it. The old man, shackled by superstition and believing it was evil, never worked it. On his deathbed,he bequeathed the claim to Joseph, his only living relative, on condition that it be sold. Proceeds of the sale were put in trust for the then young boy, and the trust fund managers invested well: by the time Joseph turned twenty-five it was worth a small third-world government's annual income.

The old prospector was a big influence in Joseph's life; he taught Joseph well, carefully grooming altruism in the young boy. "One is put on this Earth to help others," the old man told him. "If, instead of looking after ourselves, everybody looked after each other, this world would be a far better place to live in."

Name: Sipho Lee
Chinese Name: Lee Tien-Long
Born: September 14, 1983 at the Sand River Ranch, Southern Matabeleland, Rhodesia
Zodiac: (Water) Boar

Sipho—pronounced Seep-ho—is an unusual name for a Chinese boy. Some mistake it for Shi-Hau, a Mandarin Chinese name meaning a brilliant and decent person who will be known throughout the world.

But they are wrong.

It isn’t a Mandarin name.

For that matter, it isn’t even Chinese.

Like his father, Sipho's appearance reflects only his Chinese heritage: a factor of strong Asian genes that predestined him to experience at a very early age man's inhumanity to man; the same predestination that forced him to witness brutality only mankind is capable of carrying out.

Determined to put the trauma of their past behind them, his father takes him to Canada and there attempts to pick up the shards of their shattered existence, to mend the threads of their life-quilt as best he can.

It is not an easy task. Flashbacks to the incident of three years earlier haunt Sipho's present and he withdraws into music. Music is his retreat, his sanctuary, and it soon comes to dominate his life. Yet in music he shows exceptional talent: by the age of six the simpler works of 'Mr Bach', 'Mr Beethoven', and 'Mr Brahms' as he refers to them, are well under his belt. At ten he wins the Pacific International Violin Competition, and by sixteen, following a natural disaster that leaves him suffering from psychogenic amnesia, it is again music that reminds him of who he is and brings him back to reality.

From Calgary, Alberta, to Wuzhou, on the border of Guangdong and Guanxi in China, 'Dragon in the Sky' takes the reader on an epic journey through the emotional spectrum of shock, horror, humour and relief.

Sipho is, as his Chinese name suggests, 'Dragon in the Sky'.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Time of Sadness

On Saturday last, September 26, around ten o’clock in the evening, the phone rang. Three times it rang, and then kicked over to voice-mail, not enough time for us to pick it up. The caller left a message. It was a message no father wants to hear. My – let’s call him my Korean son – was in hospital. Fumbling over the numbers, dialling the wrong number; batteries in the phone dying; eventually I got through. There had been a car accident; my Korean son was asking for me. Biologically he’s not my son. I haven’t legally adopted him either. But my wife and I love him as though he were our own. I’m his ‘Canadian dad’ and he’s my ‘Korean son’.

The drive to the hospital was crazy. On the way I fretted. Had he bought a car? I knew he was going to buy one. Was he driving? Who was going to pick up his mom from the airport? Such is shock – I knew his mom was arriving at noon that day, and this was ten in the evening. What would his mother say? She’d probably been waiting all day for him. But that’s OK – I would pick him up from the hospital; we’d go to the airport, pick her up, and bring her home. We’d be OK. At least he was safe.

But it wasn’t like that at all. The Emergency Room staff took me to him, and just before I entered the curtained off area I asked who was going to pick up his mother from the airport. The social worker did an immediate U-turn, saying that the doctor was with my Korean son and that I needed to wait in a small privacy room. There they told me that there was a woman in the car with him – an older woman – and the police did not know who she was. His mother, I said - was she OK? I watched as the social worker sadly shook her head. Did she survive the accident? No. A small word never had such finality.

Our son and his mother were rear-seat passengers in the car; they were strapped in; the driver – one of our son’s closest friends – lost control on a confusing section of road. He wasn’t travelling fast either. The car skidded and slammed into a lamp-post. And now our son was in the ER with spinal fractures, broken ribs, internal bleeding from his liver and kidneys, broken collarbone… and his mom was dead. He held her hand as she slipped away. He told me later that he prayed in the ambulance that she would survive, but felt a great peace descend on him; that he felt God saying to him that his mother was with Him.

They took me to see him. He was lying flat on a bed, unmoving, except for his eyes. Could he move? Thank God, yes. Despite the spinal fractures, he still had full use of all his limbs. And then the question I’d been dreading: he said he couldn’t phone his father – would I do it? Yes, I told him. I would. He gave me his father’s home number and his father’s cell number. I tried phoning his father from my cell-phone, but mine doesn’t allow international calls. So I waited with our son until he was in the critical care unit, until I had spoken to the doctor, until I had spoken to the police. The police said they would phone; I said no, I would do it. When our son drifted off into a drugged sleep I drove home and steeled myself for the task I had to do.

I tried the home number first. No reply. It was six o’clock in the evening in Korea – was he at church? I prayed and then dialled his cell number. He answered. I told him I had terrible news – that his son was in critical condition in the hospital and that his wife did not survive. I did not know he was driving at the time – he pulled over and stopped. My wife is dead? How did it happen? An accident, I told him. I’m sorry. Again he asked me, several times, and all I could answer was that I was sorry. He told me he was on his way home and asked that I phone him in thirty minutes.

He phoned me back in less than fifteen minutes. Is my wife dead? Again I told him I was sorry, yes: she did not survive the accident. I focussed on his son. He asked what he should do; I told him he should come to Canada immediately. I told him who the driver was, that it was a tragic accident. I told him I would do whatever I could to help him.

It was only as I lay fretting in bed did I realise what I’d done to this man – the father of the son that I have borrowed as my own… Our first child – a boy – was born at twenty-two weeks. The doctors told me he wouldn’t live long. I cradled that beautiful child in my arms, praying that God would send a miracle, that he would survive. It was only some two hours later when his perfect little body grew cold in my arms did I realise he was dead. I wished then that the doctors had told me direct: your son is dead. But they didn’t. They gave me two hours of clinging to meaningless hope; they let me work it out for myself. My son was dead. I promised myself that I would never do to another person what they did to me. Yet, in the early Canadian hours of last Sunday morning and the beginning of the Korean night, I did exactly that to my Korean son’s father: I did not tell him directly that his wife was dead. Each time he asked me if his wife was dead I said I was sorry. I gave him ten or fifteen minutes of meaningless hope: maybe this Canadian man was saying that he was sorry because she was badly injured; why was he saying he was sorry? No, she couldn’t be dead! He asked me, and I did not say ‘yes’ – all I said was that I was sorry. And only later did he coax that word out of me: ‘yes’. Those two words carry such finality: did she survive? No. Is my wife dead? Yes.

After a couple of hours sleep I returned to the hospital. I was there when my Korean son’s aunt and cousins arrived from Toronto. I was there when his father phoned to tell me that he was flying out to Vancouver the next day and could I meet him at the airport and take him to the hospital. And I couldn’t stop crying. I’m almost forty-nine years old; I have grey hair and a white beard, and yet I cried like a baby. My son was hurt physically and emotionally. His father and sister were grieving. His mother was dead.

Yet in that time I saw compassion. The young man who was the driver came to the hospital on Sunday morning. He has torn knee ligaments and a broken ankle. If he could have gone down on his knees to beg forgiveness from our Korean son’s aunt, he would have done so. He was devastated. Yet the family put aside their grief to comfort him. I don’t speak Korean; I know but a few words. One of them is what sounds like ‘araso’ – OK. And the sight of the aunt cradling the crying young man’s face into her bosom, stroking his hair saying a few soft words and then ‘araso’. I didn’t need a translation: I knew what she was saying. It was an accident. You shouldn’t blame yourself, OK? And again when the father arrived, this devastated young man apologised to him and the father did exactly the same thing. The driver’s mother arrived on the same flight: she too came to apologise for what her son had done.

I have learned several things in all of this: I have experienced the compassion Korean people show to each other; I have learned that another man’s son can quite easily be my own son in love if not in deed. I have seen what forgiveness is and I will strive to change my own life to emulate theirs. In my clumsy Caucasian way I try and bow to them. You truly are noble people. God bless you in your time of grief, and praise God in your time of healing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dragon in the Sky - excerpt 2

Xi River, Guangdong Province, China
Thursday morning, August 19, 1999

Lam San-Ming removes his footwear and rolls up his pants. The body, clad only in a white T-shirt, is a few meters from the shore, still in the shallows, its head resting against a rock as if it is a pillow. The body is a bad omen, San-Ming fears, one that will turn worse if he left it to drift seaward. Perhaps the dead man’s spirit will look favourably on him if he rescues the body and buries it in a good place. Cautiously he reaches out and touches it; the flesh is still firm, not yet decomposed. First he tries dragging the body by the arms, but it is too slippery, necessitating him to reach under the arms and lock his hands together around the dead man’s chest to lift him. This way he as able to half-drag the body over the rocks and stumble backwards to the sandy shore where he collapses, tripping over his feet, the body half on him. Its nakedness discomforts him; he tries to pull the man’s T-shirt down to hide it, but it reaches the waist and no more, so he removes his own shirt and drapes it over the man’s body, giving him dignity. It is a young man, Lam San-Ming realises, about the same age as he. Tall, pleasing in face but for the scraggly moustache and sparse goatee… he turns over the man’s hand; it is wrinkled and waterlogged, yet soft and delicate, nails clean and neatly trimmed – this is not the hand of a man who works in the fields. He pulls the man’s collar down to check if he wears something around his neck and doing so feels a slight movement of air on his hand. He is alive? He puts his cheek against the man’s lips, and again feels movement. His hands go to the man’s throat, fingers digging in to flesh, beside the windpipe, feeling for and finding a faint pulse. San-Ming’s eyes widen, registering surprise. He taps the man’s cheek, anxious for a response. “Do you live?”

The man opens his eyes and gazes at his rescuer as if in a dream.

“Can you hear me? Are you hurt?”

“Where am I?” The man’s voice is barely more than a scratchy whisper.

“You were in the river. Who are you?”

He frowns, and then, as if the thought too taxing, closes his eyes and lets his head fall to the soft sand again.

“Wake, wake,” Lam San-Ming shakes the young man. “Who are you? Where do you come from?”

Eyes half-focussed, he looks through San-Ming as if he is not there and mutters: “I do not know.” Then he closes his eyes again, and this time does not wake to San-Ming’s touch.

“Come.” The farmer picks him up and staggers over the soft sand and into his field beyond. It is a fair distance to his house and many times he has to rest, each time listening for a heartbeat.

Mah-mah!” San-Ming staggers into the courtyard. “Mah-mah! This man is almost drowned!”

San-Ming lays the man on his bed, shooing his grandmother out the room. “Do not look Mah-mah! He wears no trousers.”

The old woman peers at the man. “Silly boy!” she admonishes with a smile. “You think I have not seen that before? Here, let me help you.” San-Ming is struggling to put trousers on the unconscious form, the process hampered by the man’s anatomy. Grandmother has no such inhibitions. She tucks away what San-Ming will not touch and fastens the waistband and fly. “He seems fine in face. Who is he?”

“I do not know, Mah-mah. He awoke briefly and then became unconscious.”

“Hmmm, very well. Are you finished your work in the field?”


“You should return. Go. I shall watch over him.”

“Should I call the doctor?”

“Hah!” The old woman’s voice is thick with scorn. “That old fool? He is probably drunk by now. No, leave him with me; I will tend to him.”

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dragon in the Sky - excerpt 1

It is dark by the time they reach the vehicles. High above the towering limestone pinnacles and terraced hills the moon hangs, pale and translucent like a giant freshly peeled litchi against the dark sky. Stars speckle the heavens, glinting and shimmering, diamonds against a black velvet night while the wind sighs softly through hills, whispering to Joseph, carrying on it the sounds of a faraway train on its tracks, clack-clack; Sipho’s alive; clack-clack, Sipho’s alive; trust me, Sipho’s alive. The rhythmic beat seems to grow louder in his ears, filling his mind, constricting his chest. Trust me, Sipho’s alive; trust me, Sipho’s alive; trust me, Sipho’s alive…

"No!” he shouts, holding his hands over his ears. “I’m going crazy.” Is this true, God? Is Sipho alive? Can he be? Why hasn’t he been found? And then who is buried in Sipho’s grave?

But God does not answer; only the train clacking over the rails replies, Sipho’s alive, Sipho’s alive, Sipho’s alive, until it fades into the night, leaving the four men alone with the mountains, moon, and stars.

The above is an excerpt taken from my latest novel, Dragon in the Sky, soon to be published by PublishAmerica. Set in Canada and China, Dragon in the Sky is a sequel to Where Vultures Roost. From the back of the book: "In finding his family, Joseph Lee loses his first-born son in a disaster. He thinks his son is dead, but a corrupt party official knows otherwise. Fearing Joseph will find his son, the official plots to kill the boy."

Where Vultures Roost is not only available from the publisher, PublishAmerica, it can also be purchased from all online book stores, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and ChaptersIndigo.