Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Imagine Little Tokyo" Short Story Contest entry: "A Little Piece of home."

This was a short story I wrote for a local short story contest entitled "Imagine Little Tokyo." Our instructions were to use Little Tokyo, a historic section of Los Angeles, as the setting for a short story. My story was titled "A Little Piece of Home", and it follows a young half-Japanese half-American girl as she tries to acclimate her cousin who's visiting from Japan to life in Los Angeles. I was a finalist in the running for 1st prize amongst 14 others who were also chosen. Alas, I lost, but it was fun writing this simple and, I think, sweet story. Enjoy!

My second cousin had been here for a week already and she still hadn’t quite gotten used to the way of life here.
Her name was Motoko and she was visiting from Tokyo, Japan. It was her first time abroad, and, of all places, Los Angeles would be her first exposure to anything foreign. I’ve spent all fifteen and a half years of my life here and even I still hadn’t gotten used to it. It hadn’t helped that my big ol’ American dad gave her a big ol’ American hug as soon as he greeted her at the airport—she didn’t know how to react to it, so she just bowed nervously toward him; and my mother, who, despite having the last name of Takahashi—as typical as a Japanese last name gets—is as culturally Japanese as California Rolls are. My mother and her siblings were all raised in Orange County and speak, maybe, seven words of Japanese combined. That number is probably smaller; I’m still wondering whether the words “sake,” “karate,” and “sayonara” even count anymore.
So, it was solely up to me to make Motoko feel at home, and I was failing miserably. I was a year away from being able to drive legally and I had never ridden on public transportation before, and was too scared to start now—I’ve heard horrible stories—so we had nothing but our feet to get us around.
I tried to introduce her to as much of my culture as I could. We went on walks around local parks and I took her to local fast food places—she didn’t want to go to McDonalds or KFC because she said they had a lot of those in Japan, so I took her to Taco Bell and the local In-and-Out. She made hand gestures and facial expressions that indicated she thought it was good; large eyes and a big smile mean the same in any country. As horrible as it may sound, this to me is what American culture is. But I was glad she liked it.
I hoped I was able to say she liked everything I showed her, but there was something wrong. With each passing day she seemed to get sadder and sadder. Four out of the seven days she had been here, I heard her crying at night during bedtime. I would ask her what was wrong in the Japanese I was able to teach myself the week before she came, which I was sure was horrible.
Doushita?” I would ask, in my American accent.
Nandemo nai,” she said as she waved me off trying, and failing, to stifle her sobs, but after a few ribbings I was able to get the word koishii out of her. I raced for my Japanese-English dictionary to look it up. It was the word for “missing” as in “missing my mother,” not as in “missing a sock.”
Just as I thought—she was homesick. When I asked her if she knew the word for “homesick” in Japanese she told me that they say the exact same thing, except with a Japanese accent. It was cute. I’d much preferred the way they said it. We share more language than I thought.
I’m a big fan of manga and anime, but all the books I had were the English versions, and all the DVDs I owned were dubbed as well. It did absolutely nothing to advance my Japanese skill, and did even less to soothe Motoko’s homesickness. When I showed her anime dubbed into English she said it was “hen,” which means “strange.” So, she just admired the pictures, even though she wasn’t able to understand anything going on.
Recently, some of my friends from school had told me of a trip they took to Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles and how wonderful it was. They told me of all the little snacks they bought and all the manga they read at a Japanese bookstore called Kino…something or other. That is a place I wanted to go to and that would be the place to take Motoko out of her funk. So, I tried to hit my dad up for a ride.
“Dad, Dad, I’m soooo glad to see you!” I said to my father as I ran into the living room when he came home.
“You’re never this happy to see me after work. What do you want?”
“I’m shocked, dad. Can’t a girl just be happy to see her own father?”
“Carrie,” he said as he looked at me suspiciously.
“Okay. Okay. Well, seeing as how Motoko only has three more days here, I was wondering if you could probably take us down to Little Tokyo. Probably. Maybe.”
“And when would you like me to do that?” he asked me.
“Um… Now?” I said with a voice so filled with hope.
“No can do, I have some work to finish up here.”
“Daaaad! Come on, she’s homesick,” I said.
“Oh, that’s what the crying was about,” said my mom, who had come in from the kitchen.
“You heard? So you know how sad she must be,” I said, as I grabbed Motoko close to me. I felt sorry for her. I could tell by the confused look in her eyes that she had no idea what we were talking about.
“Yeah, I feel for her.”
“Then you’ll take us?”
“I just started dinner and by the time I’m done it’ll be way too late.”
It wasn’t looking good. I pushed ahead.
“Tomorrow then, dad?”
“Sorry, honey. I just started this project and I’ll be busy ’til the end of this month,”
I looked at mom with sad, adorable teenaged girl eyes, but she anticipated my question.
“Same here. I’m lucky I was able to come home early enough to make dinner today.”
I pouted, to no avail.
“How about dinner Sunday night downtown?” mom said.
“Awww, but all the shops will be closed by that time. I looked up some places I wanted to take her to. And that’s the night before she goes back."
“Then there’s only one thing to do,” my dad said.
“You’ll take us?” I asked with plenty of pep.
“No. You’ll just have to take the bus and the trains there,” he said. I gasped in horror.
“I can’t believe you would suggest a thing. Do you know what they do to little girls like me on the bus?”
“What, take your money and give you a ticket?”
“You won’t be joking when they call you down at the morgue to identify me.”
“Stop being so dramatic,” my mother said to me.
Clearly worried by my attitude, Motoko tugged my sleeve.
Doushita?” she asked me; it was the one word I was very familiar with.
"Densha, densha,” I said as I tried best as I could to explain, with my arms and hands, that we might have to ride a train. Then, suddenly, her eyes grew wide and she became very excited.
Densha ni noritai,” she said and clapped her hands. My dad understood her excitement, if not her words.
“That settles it. Tomorrow morning, you two are riding the train to Little Tokyo.”
“But, daaaad,” I tried to protest, but he just looked to Motoko, who then looked at me with her own set of adorable Japanese teenaged girl eyes, and I knew what I had to do.
“Just stick together and you’ll be fine,” he said as he dug into his pocket. He gave us each a hundred dollars to do with whatever we wished. Motoko tried to protest in a very Japanese way, but he would have nothing of it and pushed it on her. Me being American, I would have never refused free money; such are our differences.
The next morning, Motoko and I got dressed and headed out on our trip to Little Tokyo, our pockets full of money, our hearts full of enthusiasm—and mine with just a touch of fear.
We took the Redline, an underground subway system. Motoko looked so happy to be there at the station.
When the train came I stood directly in front of the door. But, as the doors opened, she pulled me to the side and, with hand gestures and Japanese I couldn’t possibly understand, showed me that the proper way was to stand on the sides and let people off the train, Japanese-style I assumed.
Once on the train, she pulled out her travel guide and began looking through it. We noticed a Japanese couple with the exact same guide. They noticed us and struck up a conversation with Motoko all the way until our stop. Truthfully, I felt a little left out, but it was interesting to see them interact.
When we got to our stop we waved goodbye to them and we made our way.
The first place we went to was Starbucks. I figured we should have a drink and make our plan. As we sat down at the outside tables I motioned that we should look at her guide again. But, as she pulled it out of her bag, she accidentally dropped it. Suddenly, a hand out of nowhere picked it up for us. The man attached to the hand was American, which was weird because what came out of his mouth was not English—he started speaking perfect Japanese to Motoko. She looked at me, her eyes big as two moons. I was curious as to what she was reacting to so I asked him.
“She’s so excited. What are you guys talking about?”
“Just general stuff. I’m a black guy in LA speaking Japanese. They tend to be surprised by that,” he said.
In my research I found out that the bookstore we wanted to go to was in a place called Weller Court, so I took a chance and asked him if he knew where it was.
“We’re in it, sort of,” he said.
“Oh. Do you also know where Kino… Kino…”
“Kinokuniya? Yeah, I know,” he said, and he pointed off into the distance. “You see that giant rocket over there? Go there and make a right and it’s on the second floor.”
We said our thanks, mine in English, Motoko’s in Japanese, and did just that.
When we got there we ran through the aisles and marveled at the large selection of manga and anime figures that they had. We looked through magazines and played with markers; we danced as Japanese pop flowed through the speakers up above; she showed me all of her own recommendations for manga, and I looked for the English-translated ones and bought five of them.
I remembered seeing a Japanese market just below Kinokuniya called Marukai, so we headed there and bought all the Japanese snacks and drinks we could; I bought old-fashioned Ramune, while Motoko bought something called C.C. Lemon.
When leaving, we saw a group of kids around our age hanging around the courtyard. That in itself wasn’t strange, but the funny thing was they were dressed as anime characters, some of which I instantly recognized. I walked up to them and asked them who they were, and they explained to me that they were part of an anime meet up group that met there every weekend. They invited me to join them sometime and I said that I would. They also fawned over Motoko and called her “kawaii,” the Japanese word for “cute.” She blushed so hard she was glowing red. I guess they had about as much experience with native Japanese people as I had.
After that, we explored an area called the Japanese village. She squealed when she saw the Yamazaki bakery; I think it’s a chain in Japan as well. We bought a couple of pastries for later; I bought a couple for my mom and dad, too. We walked by a place called Mitsuru CafĂ© that looked like it had been there for years. Motoko introduced me to “Imagawayaki,” a sort of Japanese pancake with red bean filling, and I was in love at first bite.
Next door there was a place that was the Mecca of many Japanese and American girl alike: a Sanrio store, home of everything Hello Kitty. We ran through it like a couple of tiny tornados. We bought tiny mirrors, Hello Kitty shaped erasers, and small Hello Kitty plushes. We were in Hello Kitty heaven.
On our way back through Weller Court we came upon a large white statue that looked like two entwined cigarettes. It was named the Friendship Knotaccording to the plaque under it. We tried to imitate it the best we could. Motoko threw her arms and thighs around me, but that looked awkward. When that didn’t work we got on the ground and tried it that way, and it worked much better. We laughed and laughed; people must have thought we were crazy, but we didn’t care. We had the time of our lives. A nice passerby even took our photo like that for us. It was one of my most fun memories.
It was getting late and all that running around made us hungry. I asked her what she wanted to eat in more badly pronounced Japanese.
Nani tabetai desu ka?” I said, but she looked at me disapprovingly.
“No desu ka. Kazoku dakara do not say desu ka,” she told me. “Kazoku” means family and what I said was too formal. She finally told me that she wanted ramen, and I agreed.
We went on a search for ramen, and a trip to the koban, a police station doubling as an information center, sent us to a place called Shinsengumi.
We got there and placed our order, and as soon as our customized ramen came to us, we ate it like it was our first meal ever. When we got both got down to the soup I looked over to see drops of what I thought were water falling into Motoko’s bowl. I looked up thinking there was a leak in the ceiling or something, but the leak was coming from Motoko’s eyes: she was crying into her broth.
Doushita, doushita?” I asked, frantically.
She shook her head and said, “Tada ureshii dake. Kono aji wa Nihon mitai na aji. Nihon ni iru mitai.” The only words I could understand were “ureshii” and “Nihon,” which meant “happy” and “Japan,” and I got what she was trying to say. They were tears of joy. She was reminded of home.
The next week came and it was time for Motoko to go home. At the airport she gave my dad a big ol’ American hug, Japanese-style, and did the same for my mom.
Sayonara,” I said, and she corrected me.
Mata kondo, not sayonara. Kazoku dakara.
“Yes. Kazoku dakara mata kondo,” I repeated.
We cried and hugged and said our goodbyes.
We’re family so I will see you next time, Motoko.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

On Personal Love and Happiness, However Brief

Excuse me for writing a personal blog post (another, rather), but I have to get this out of me.

I've been traveling in Japan seeking inspiration and researching for a novel for the better part of three months now and I've met someone for whom I care for very much. On a dating app no less. That was certainly unexpected. This person, whether they know it or not (they've said that they know it so much it scares them), has changed me in ways they cannot comprehend. If this person exits my life for whatever reason, whether it be infidelity or boredom or simple distance, I will be forever broken. But for now, there are parts of me that they've fixed indefinitely.

I am currently in the quite possibly the worst situation in my life up until this point and, if you'll allow me a dark metaphor here, this person is the single shining light in a giant pitch-black room.

And I'm scared. Why am I scared? Not because this person has single handedly changed my views on monogamy, marriage and child-rearing. No, I welcome those changes in my thinking. But, as I've said, I am in a bad situation and I fear this will lead me to losing this person forever. And that scares me like I've never been scared before.

I wish this person could literally see into my heart––something I didn't think I had at one point––and have a glimpse of the feelings their presence has fertilized.

This person understands my feelings, and hopefully something comes along to rectify things, but this person is the motivating force in my life when I thought I had no more motivation to do anything.

But, for now, we are together and we are happy. I've never loved another so much in my life, and for that experience, come what may, I will be indebted to this person forever.

This is the mushiest thing I have written or will ever write. Cherish this rare moment. I thank you for the opportunity to spill this, and for the precious time you took to sop this up mess with your eyes, whoever you are.

True Inspirations

Aside from literary inspirations like Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Douglas Adams, etc. my main inspirations tend to be from the world of cinema. I was a film major. Sue me.

My most obvious inspiration would probably Tim Burton, which can be clearly seen in The Death of Death, and I'm currently in the middle of writing a young adult novel that is inspired by the great Hayao Miyazaki. But my absolute main inspiration from childhood, being a great fan of his animated films and theme parks, would have to be Walt Disney.

There is something about his life story that was so appealing to me. Not that I was exactly a young boy from Kansas. Quite the contrary, I'm some dude from Los Angeles. But he came from relatively humble beginnings to build one of, if not the biggest, entertainment conglomerates in the world. But that's not all that I find admirable as I have no personal aspirations to do the same. No, it was his vision that did it for me. His story telling ability. His world building talent. And that's the thing I'm going for. To build a whole world from the ground up––literally in the form of Disneyland and subsequent Disney parks––is something that I hope I'm doing with my stories. It's something that I'm striving for and a goal I hope I'm hitting. Who knows? One day you'll see a version of my Death, or Cran the robot in the form of puffed cartoony theme park characters taking pictures with frightened children. One can dream.

Who are your inspirations?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Autonomously Yours, is FREE for a limited time! Perfect 4th of July reading!

Hello everyone. It's been a while. I've been busy making some changes in my life, most of which some people would call foolish. I hope they aren't in retrospect, but only time will tell if they are or not, but it's all exciting none the less. In any case, here's hoping it leads to more writing at the very least.

Speaking of which, the digital version of my second story, Autonomously Yours: The Life of a Compandroid, is available for FREE this week, starting today until the 5th, on, a special promotion I'm running for the 4th of July weekend. There is no better way to celebrate the birth of America than to read Science Fiction about androids. Hyperbolic, perhaps, but tell me that statement won't be true in 20 years time when androids will be preparing the baby back ribs you'll be grilling on the 4th. Wishful thinking, I know.

With the recent popularity of TV shows and films like "Humans" and "Ex Machina," there has been an upswing of android-based science fiction and my story feels a tad timely. I wish I had planned it that way, but it was just a happy coincidence.

Please pick yourself up a copy. It's also free normally if you're a member of Kindle Unlimited. Happy 4th!

Auotnomously Yours: The Life of a Compandroid - Amazon Link

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Flood of Inspiration

 I think it was either Mel Brooks or Carl Reiner who I heard recount a story about how Sid Caeser used to stand under a shower and metaphorically wash away the stress of life. He said as much himself, so that takes away a little of the suspense of whom it was I heard that from. 

I do the same, except I like to sit in my shower to wind down and gain inspiration for stories. It works every time. 

I invariably do it with less screaming than the above person. Okay, if I were honest, I’d say with only about 10% less screaming. 

What does everyone else do for inspiration?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I Think a Lot About Death, Part 2: The Earnest Edition

"It’s ironic that sad eyes are usually depicted in drawings as tiny smiles over eyes."

As I walked home from work after a particularly long, physically and mentally strenuous workday, I couldn’t avert my stare from the ground. It was as if the weight of the world, of life, pressed down on my head and would not, could not allow me to raise my head and look forward. It’s happened to me before, very recently and very often. I am also often purposely over dramatic.

And before I start on my privileged-first-world-life rant, I know that I don’t have it as bad as many other people, but I don’t think despair discriminates.

I've written about death before, and that time a friend accused it of being a glorified advertisement for my book about, well, death, but this post will be a tad more earnest. Not that my last post about death wasn’t earnest, but I did try to stay positive for positivity's sake, just in case a potential reader of mine would stumble upon that post and think, “I’m not going to read anything by someone this morbid and disturbed.” Of course, when I thought that I didn’t take into account what the subject matter of my first story was. It would then, in fact, be appropriate for me to be a little morbid and disturbed. But now I doubt how many other people, besides the odd (literally) friend here and there, actually read my blog, so I feel a little freer to keep it more forthcoming this time around.

But I do think about death a lot, mostly about ways to reach it. I’m not in any rush, per say, but I do have feelings of general hopelessness that I feel can only be wiped away by offing myself. But, there are reasons why I haven’t done so yet. Let’s go down the list of a couple of the most common ways to do it, shall we:

Death by Hanging: I live in a box, a metaphorical one as well, but I mean it literally. My room does resemble a box and I don’t have many fixtures where I could comfortably hang a noose. I do have a ceiling fan but I don’t think it would support my weight. Not that I’m especially fat, but it doesn’t look like a structurally strong fixture. I’d just end up with a broken ankle at best. Besides, I’m half black and it just seems disrespectful to my ancestors and a tad bit too ironic to take myself out in that manner.

Death by Wrist Cutting and Pill Popping: I don’t know, that just seems like a too juvenile and teenaged way of courting attention. I think the 35-year-old equivalent of pubescent attention seeking is to write a blog post about suicide…

Death by Jumping from High Structures: I’m deathly (PUN!) afraid of heights, so there goes that idea.

Death by Stepping out into Traffic: It just seems a little messy. And if it goes wrong it could leave me paralyzed, unable to try other ways, which would just prove to be counter productive if that was the case.

Death by Auto-erotic Asphyxiation: Let’s just say my mother is lucky that restricting the flow of air to my brain fails to sexually arouse me. I never thought I’d ever write a sentence like that.

Death by Shooting Oneself: I consider myself a pretty liberal guy, and as such I, for the most part, abhor firearms in cases of uses other than filmed fiction. There also seems to be a lengthy background checking process that just seems tiresome. Arguably it would be the last process I would have to go through, but I’m still too lazy to go through all that trouble.

So, the real reason I don’t remove myself from all this perhaps misperceived misery is just simple, good old-fashioned human fear mixed with general human laziness. That, and there’s a new Star Wars on the horizon and there’s now way I can miss that.
But, I jest.

The real reason I don’t do anything brash, as I alluded to previously, is that I believe that my self-induced passing would cause family members and several friends considerable premature emotional distress. Which, I guess, is both weirdly narcissistic, as it suggests that I think everybody cannot bear to be without me because I’m so awesome, and, strangely self-less, as I don’t want to cause anyone emotional pain because of my selfishness, just in case anyone does hold affinity for me.

People have told me I need professional help to ease me through all the mental anguish, and today as I suppressed an urge to irrationally throw a large amount of boiled eggs on the wall in public, I am now forced to believe them. On the other hand, maybe I just spend too much time by myself.

But, as I said, there’s new Star Wars to be seen so, at the very least, I’m fairly confident I‘ll make it to the end of 2015.

And I apologize if this just seemed like cheap ploy for attention––it may very well be––but it is truly what I’m feeling at the moment.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Why my first draft is my final draft

I've read in the past, and a bit in the present, about how the proper way for writers to write is to first throw all of your ideas from your brain onto paper (in 2015, onto a screen) and then figure it all out later on your second, third, fourth, etc., drafts. And while I think that’s fine for people who like to write like a blender, I prefer to analogize my writing style to a puzzle.

Do people do a puzzle by throwing all of the pieces onto a table and start putting random pieces together, hoping that they resemble the end product, then going back and repeating that process three, or four more times until the desired product materializes? No. People tend to start by putting together full parts, a full sky first (the main plot), a full car second (a subplot, perhaps), a full puppy third (characters), etc., then putting the full parts together to create the whole picture.

In the far past, when typewriters and quill pens were the preferred (and only) tools to write with, second and third drafts were the only way to go. You had to toss away drafts at will, and use white-out sparingly to correct mistakes. Remember white-out? The mother of a member of the Monkees made that. Incredible! Hey, remember the Monkees?

Leaving the world of digression…

But in the day of Microsoft Word and Google Doc, we're now able to fix and correct as we write along, the end product often resembling what it is we first had in our minds.

And I when I talk of drafts, I don't mean fixing spelling errors, cleaning up grammar, adding details you might have missed, etc., all things you should totally do at the end, things I don't consider part of a second or third draft. To stick with the puzzle analogy, that’s comparable to when you adhere straggling parts where they fit at the end, corners, a car’s bumper, a puppy’s paw and such.

This isn't advice of any kind––I'm not fit to give any––just how I perceive my writing style. I’d love to hear about all kinds of writing styles. I doubt many of us write the same way. Hell, maybe people do puzzles differently than how I think they do in my mind. I haven't done a physical puzzle in a long while.