Writing

Pachinko: A Potential Modern Masterpiece Falls Short

 

 

When I began reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, I initially thought this was the best book I have read so far this year. I had planned on writing a stellar book review. A National Book Award finalist, it tells the story of an impoverished sixteen-year-old girl named Sunja in 1930’s Korea. Sunja has a relationship with Hansu, a wealthy, powerful, older businessman who frequents her region. Sunja naively believes Hansu will marry her. Only when she gets pregnant and reveals she is carrying his child does she find out he is a married man who lives in Japan. Hansu, who has three daughters with his wife, wants Sunja to be his wife when he travels to Korea.  Knowing this is not honorable, Sunja rejects his offer for a much easier life and stays with her mother while they struggle to make ends meet. Soon, she meets Isak, a Korean missionary on his way to Japan to help build a church. Isak is willing to marry her and does not even question who fathered her child. He selflessly wants to give the unborn child a name. They move to Japan where Sunja gives birth to a son.

Unlike the first half of the book where the reader encounters characters living lives of quiet nobility, the second half is filled with vengeful and sexually depraved characters who wreak havoc. The writing is polished and author Lee offers beautiful imagery in her descriptions (“The sea was bluer than she had remembered, and the long, thin clouds seemed paler—everything seemed more vibrant with him here.”). But unfortunately, the characters go from Biblical in majesty to wreaking sensationalized tragedies. Lee spends too much time on the challenges of minor characters and transforms a few from kind and friendly to malicious in a single scene. The emphasis becomes Japanese racism of Koreans, depriving them of good careers and citizenship, despite their families having lived in Japan for generations. Lee never clearly explains what pachinko is, but I gather it is a gambling casino, one of the few jobs Koreans can work and make a decent living in Japan. By the end, the beauty of the story and its characters are lost and all the reader is left to contemplate is Japanese bigotry and foreign powers taking control of Korea itself, splitting the nation in half. Koreans in Japan no longer have their homes in Korea and those from the North who return end up starving to death. Thus, most have no choice but to endure the ongoing discrimination in Japan. An unsatisfying read after a remarkable beginning.

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Resources for a Writing Career

In my last blog post, I mentioned the the abundance of difficulties writers face getting published and adequately paid. But writers can find help in getting their writing careers started. Below is a list of resources that have helped guide me through the complicated landscape of the writing world:

 

  • Jane Friedman is a noted writer, editor, and speaker. She worked in the publishing industry for 20 years and now writes articles for Writer’s Digest and Publishers Weekly. Her newsletter, Electric Speed, gives updates on the writing world. Her website (https://www.janefriedman.com/) contains an abundance of resources. Friedman is upfront about what works and what doesn’t. Her latest book, The Business of Being a Writer, gives honest information and doesn’t candy-coat the challenges of writing. She offers advice for both self-published and traditionally published authors.

 

  • BookBaby (https://www.bookbaby.com/) is a self-publishing, book printing, and distribution company. They offer services to help an author publish, market, and distribute their book. There is a price for their services but they have a good reputation for helping guide authors. I haven’t used their services myself, but I did attend their writing conference in Philadelphia last year and listened as many industry experts gave presentations. BookBaby has also a newsletter.

 

  • Alliance of Independent Authors or ALLi (https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/) is an organization for self-published authors. I love their chart rating self-publishing author services. They also have a watchdog desk that monitors possible scams. They offer free booklets, discounts, and legal advice dealing with contracts and other issues. ALLi also offer free seminars.

 

  • Independent Book Publishers Association or IBPA (https://www.ibpa-online.org/) is another organization that offers self-published authors services like discounts for marketing services and placement at book fairs and catalogs. They clarify the prevailing language  and procedures in the publishing world and offer writing and marketing webinars as well as advocacy. The IBPA partnered with BookBaby at the Philadelphia conference I attended last year.

 

 

  • Writer Beware (https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/) is an Internet resource I refer to often. I receive so much information from so-called publishers, invitations to submit to writing contests, and book marketing programs that the first thing I always do is go on the Writer Beware website to find out if they are legitimate organizations based on other writers’ experiences . If Writer Beware gives them a thumbs-down, I don’t bother to investigate them any further.

 

I just want to add that while I struggle in my writing career, I still plug away. Like most writers, I know I have to be persistent if I hope to succeed. But these resources provide invaluable guidance in the writing field today.

 

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller novel intended to bring awareness to two issues: families dealing with a loved one with autism and the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy is available on Amazon, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.

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Grappling with the Harsh Realities of Being a Writer

 

I admit I never read the book but have always remembered the title: Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow.

Oh, how I wish that were true for a writer!

But unfortunately, it isn’t. The reality is that most writers cannot make a living on their writing. They have to take on noncreative writing jobs like technical writing or work another job entirely and write on the side. This is as true now as it has been since time immemorial.

But still, deep frustration persists within me.

When a person trains as a nurse, they can make a decent living with nursing. When a carpenter trains in their profession, they can live on their earnings. So it is with a chef. And on and on.

But a writer, whether they receive a degree or learn through intensive studying, cannot make a living on writing. And as with all other professions, writing involves years of practice. Writers have to spend time learning the craft and staying on top of trends that interest current readers.  In addition, some forms of writing involve legwork and/or extensive research.

And for those yearning to make their mark through publication, tremendous obstacles abound.

Unless a person is blessed with miraculous good fortune, getting traditionally published normally takes years. Rejection is a way of life in this business. But today, writers are fortunate to have a chance to see their work in printed books through self-publishing. For me, since I did not want to go through the hurdles and years of rejection before getting traditionally published, which is always a big MAYBE, I decided to self-publish my first book, True Mercy. I don’t regret my choice, but many self-published writers do because they are many “publishing services” that help writers with the process of getting an author’s work to publication but they are also scam artists. You can go on the Internet or attend a writers’ conference to find stories of writers getting ripped off, losing the rights to their own work, and filing court complaints against self-publishing services. There are legitimate ones for sure, but if you are planning to enlist the services of one, proceed with caution and do your research.

Also, nobody can explain the ins and outs of the publishing world or where to submit a manuscript better than an agent. Yet again, unless a person receives divine intervention or has the luck of the Irish, it normally takes years to find an agent willing to take the chance of representing a writer who is neither a celebrity nor a prominent person with deep connections.

So, if your passion and vocation is writing, how can you face all of these tremendous obstacles?

In my next blog, I will make suggestions based on the advice of nationally-known writing and book marketing experts. As a struggling writer myself, one piece of advice I will give is despite being overwhelmingly difficult to make a living, don’t give up on your passion if that makes you happy. The joy one gets from writing shouldn’t be abandoned due to the lack of monetary reimbursement. The satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment from composing compelling and/or entertaining literary work that gives pleasure to others has its own rewards.

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True Mercy 2017 Winner in The Wishing Shelf Book Awards!

Great news!

My novel True Mercy was a Red Ribbon Finalist in The Wishing Shelf Book Awards. The books were marked according to EDITING, THEME, STYLE, AND COVER.

The following are some of the judges’ comments:

‘A good thriller this. The author works well with her central characters (the secondary characters get lost a little) and also portraying the terrible life the hero, Marina, is facing. I enjoyed it although, just to warn, elements of it can be hard to read; justifiably so.’ Female reader, aged 52

‘The autistic element is particularly interesting for me, being a teacher. Congrats to the author.’ Female reader, aged 48

‘Plenty of suspense and plenty of twists. Loved it! Note: this is a not a cheery, beach read and has upsetting scenes.’ Female reader, aged 59

‘Powerful stuff. I would think anybody with an interest in autism and/or human trafficking would find this of interest.’ Male reader, aged 62

To Sum It Up:
‘Not only a powerful thriller, it is also a captivating study of modern slavery. A Red Ribbon winner and highly recommended.’ The Wishing Shelf Book Awards

 

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Picking Myself Up: The Ups and Downs of the Writing Life

 

Photo by Joe Silva

Like everything else, there are ups and downs to being a writer. While I experience much joy getting my thoughts down on paper, there are many instances that I have to write for free. How many professions require one to work for free? Writing even a short article requires a lot of time and attention to make the writing the best it can be and then one has to polish it up before it is actually finished. What often happens is my hard work goes unrewarded and my spirit sinks to the point where I cannot find a flow in my words. What is the point of all this hard work if nothing comes of it, I’ve asked myself. Many times.I wish I was good at something more marketable and practical.

In the midst of this negativity and pessimism I realize I need to take advantage of resources to boost my motivation and inspiration.

That’s why I signed up to attend a writers conference. I registered last December but I could certainly use the boost now. It begins toward the end of this week.

When writers get together, I have found they are not competitive but to the contrary, very generous with encouraging fellow writers. They exchange resources, give constructive criticism in writer critique groups and applaud each other’s accomplishments. The speakers offer a plethora of information and tips to help writers succeed. There are pep talks about not giving up, to keep plugging away and eventually all our hard work and the long hours of writing will bear fruit. We may not rise to the level of Stephen King or James Patterson, but each of us will see some success if we just hang in there. The writing life is a long, slow, arduous journey for most. Overnight success rarely happens.

I know many writers write in isolation. Many do well, but I personally love being in a writers group. I find the support, advice, and friendship to be invaluable. I often don’t meet others who enjoy writing, so when we writers get together, that time is uplifting.

Weather forecasts predict a snowstorm, so I’m just hoping I’ll get to the conference this year. Wish me luck!

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