Anna Shinoda

Archive for the category “Journal”

Behind the Book: Learning Not to Drown

Behind the Book: Learning Not to Drown

Originally published on Pulseit.com March 31, 2014

Where I grew up, there was both a swamp and a lake. I remember the lake as being icy cold but everyone spent the summers swimming there anyway.

The swamp was across town: a low area that every spring would become a small pond of thick mud and sharp reeds that smelt like rot. When it was wet, I was afraid of going near it. I was sure I’d get sucked in, and I’d slowly die as I inhaled breath after breath of silty water.

But by the end of summer the swamp became the perfect place to explore.

One year, I was playing “war” with a group of boys I babysat and their neighbors. We were running through the dry swamp with our squirt guns. It was hot and humid, and the lowest areas of the ground were still thick with algae and mosquito-filled mud, but we raced through the growth and the muck and didn’t care that our clothes got dirty and our shoes turned brown and swishy. It was war, and we needed to shoot the enemy with as many rounds of water as possible.

I crawled out of the undergrowth looking for the boys, getting shot squarely in the face by the enemy as I did so. Before I could shoot him back, I heard the scream of one of my boys.

Tearing through the thicket, I found the younger brother in a thick cave of branches, still screaming, pointing at a long, dirty bone.

I nudged it with my toe until it flipped over. The youngest boy suggested it was a human bone. It was long enough. The shape was right. One of them plucked the bandana off his head and we used that to pick it up and pass it around, the buzz of mosquitos filling the silence. There were scrape marks and we debated, then decided it was a bear that had been chewing on it. The bone was tossed down and we ran to the kids’ house.

We didn’t play much in the swamp after that. We blamed the bugs, or the possibility of bears. But we all knew it was because of the bone. It was human enough for us to believe it was, but not enough human for any of us to tell an adult. I may very well have told one of my brothers. I have a vague recollection of the two of us crouching in the small cave of bushes, gazing at the bone and him dismissing it as a dog treat and me as an idiot.

I’m not 100% sure if it all happened, and if I were to ask my brother, he may or may not remember. That’s the tricky thing about memories: they don’t come as a complete story, they implant in each person’s head differently, and can flee at any given moment. I know for sure there was a swamp and I know for sure there was a lake. And I know they both had a profound affect on my childhood.

When I was writing Learning Not to Drown I knew the lake was not just a setting – it was a character. It was complex, not just the lake that I spent lazy summer days swimming in, but also the swamp that I became so terrified of.

In the same way I combined the lake and swamp into one, I took my own memories of having an incarcerated brother and mixed them up with my imagination and with stories I had heard from many different sources – friends with incarcerated family members, people with loved ones who had addiction problems, and strangers who wrote their stories on message boards. I ground it all up until it no longer represented any one person, but a multitude that came together to create Clare, Luke, and Peter.

 

 

 

 

From DearTeenMe.com

I wrote this in February of 2014 for DearTeenMe.com.  It appears that website is no longer in service, so I have transferred it here so it may live on.

Dear Teen Me,

You are standing in the door your grandmother’s kitchen watching a bat do circles around the room. It’s sticking close to the ceiling, so your mom has run to grab a broom. Your brother hears the commotion, walks into the room, and with one smooth movement grabs the iron skillet from the stovetop, and whacks the bat out of the air.

There is a moment of complete relief. The bat, which followed you up from the basement when you grabbed a jar of grandma’s canned peaches, has essentially been taken care of. There is also a moment of sorrow: you didn’t want the bat dead; you only wanted it to leave.

Your brother puts on a glove and gently picks the limp rodent up. Tomorrow will be trash day, so you follow him outside to the curb. He starts to open the can, but instead decides to place it on top of the lid. In case it wakes up. In case it was only in shock.

To your mom and grandma, he’s the hero of the night.

He will keep going outside to look at the trash.

There will be more bats, later that month, but he won’t use the frying pan again. He’ll use the broom, eventually pushing them out the kitchen door.

You’ll spend a lot of time thinking about that summer. Later, your brother will commit another crime, go to prison yet again, and be released for a short while. At this point, you’ll be in your 20s, with a degree in Communications that has gotten you nowhere even close to figuring out what you want to do with you life. On the weekends and holidays, you will try your hardest to bring your brother closer to the family, thinking that maybe you can be the one to change him. You’ll pick him up from his shack, even though you are a little terrified every time you go there because the single room he shares with his friend is in the middle of the woods, and you don’t like the way his roommate’s eyes follow you. But you’ll keep going there to pick him up because you want to do anything you can to keep him out of prison, and you think maybe including him in family functions will somehow fix that.

But it won’t. It can’t.

The next time he goes to prison, he’ll be found guilty of sexual battery.

It is going to take you a long time to process that as Truth. You’ll want to believe he is more the guy that put the bat on top of the trash than the one that killed the bat in the first place. You’ll make excuses for him. You’ll spend years in therapy trying to figure it all out. And you’ll eventually take every emotion you’ve gone through and give it to a fictional girl named Clare. And in helping her accept the truth about her family, you’re going to accept the truth about yours.

One day you’ll have to make the decision of whether or not to have your brother in your life. You’ll need to consider things like your own emotional well-being and whether you trust him around your children. It will be one of the most difficult and painful decisions you will ever make. But it will also be one of the best.

But right now, the two of you are sitting on grandma’s porch, rocking in rocking chairs and watching a delightful lightning storm while you wait to see if the bat is okay. You’re talking about hobbies – his are cars and girls and parties, yours are running and knitting and reading – you don’t have much in common, but you enjoy each other’s company. That’s fine for now.

Photos, Doubt, and Bobby Hundreds

I am an author.  I represent myself through words, through stories.  I am not a model.  I am not an actress.  When you turn a camera on me, I’m most likely to make a funny face, or at the very least, smile.  In fact, I can probably count my posed, serious photos on one hand.

And yet, as an author I have written a serious novel on a somber topic, and when my publisher asked for a picture to represent me, and my novel, I needed to take a serious photo.  The hair was flat ironed, the make-up was applied, the dress was put on.  I did it all myself, and second guessed it the whole way.

A candid picture captures a moment, but a portrait is set up to make a moment.  We all try to look our best in a portrait.

And what if our best isn’t good enough?

Isn’t pretty enough?

Isn’t skinny enough?

Isn’t perfect?

I found myself on a trail I liked to hike, feeling like an asshole because I was wearing a dress and heels instead of my familiar Nikes and running shorts and tank top, pressured to take a photo that I know will represent me in a way I’ve never been before: as a published author.  It all seemed so far out of my comfort zone – except behind the lens was my friend Bobby, and next to him was my husband and we were chatting like we would any afternoon.

It morphed from a photo shoot into a hang out, and I paused often from the smiling and laughing and swatting at the thousands of gnats on the trail that had taken to surrounding the three of us.  I paused to think about my book, to think about Clare and Luke as Bobby snapped pictures.

As expected, Bobby’s work was beautiful and we had several shots to choose from.  He did what he does best – tell a story.  A little about me, a little about my book.  The mood is right, a mix of hope and sorrow, captured in lighting, focus, and composition.

His work is perfect, but I’ve been raised to pick apart my flaws.  Always seeing the beauty in others, struggling to see in myself that perfection is in the imperfection.

The photos sat on my desktop for months, shared only with my publicist for the Atheneum catalog, while a pancake I decorated with whipped cream, chocolate chips and marshmallows continued to be my visual representation on twitter.

And they sat, and I waited.  For the right moment, I guess, the moment when I was ready.  Being ready might mean that the book is coming out soon and I don’t have an option.  Being ready might mean that I’m tired of having a pancake represent my face.  Being ready might mean that I need to stop worrying about being judged, because the scrutiny my picture gets will not matter to me as much as the scrutiny my book will get.   It’s a good warm up.  So here they are.

Anna Shinoda photo by Bobby Kim 1

Anna Shinoda Photo by Bobby Kim 3

Anna Shinoda photo by Bobby Kim 2

The Surprising Truth About Jury Duty

Jury duty.  It’s not that bad.  Yep.  I just said it.  Jury duty is not that bad.

I’ve been getting jury duty summons since I’ve turned eighteen.  Before I even open the envelope, I get heart palpitations and start thinking of all the reasons they should excuse me.  For days leading up to the call in date, I nervously glance at the envelope, hoping that I won’t actually need to report.

When I got the summons this time it was no different, but instead of freaking out about it, I reminded myself that new experiences are like little pieces of gold to add to my writer’s treasure chest of stuff to pull from when creating a story.

Then the Friday before I had to report in, my next round of work on Learning Not to Drown arrived.  This time, it was my first pass galleys which was super exciting for two reasons: 1. I got to see what the page layouts will actually look like on the inside of the book and 2. this was possibly my FINAL CHANCE to make any changes!

So naturally when I was selected to be juror number 7 on a civil trial that was projected to last 3-4 weeks, my first response (silently in my head, of course, as I was taking the oath) was “you’re f&@*ing kidding me.”

Everyone else’s first response when I told them was, “Didn’t you try to get out of it?”

Read more…

Learning Not to Drown Update and Other Stuff

Hello! Remember me? It’s no secret that I am awful at blogging–just look at my track record. So I’m trying my hand at Twitter, which has resulted in a few followers wondering “is this the real Anna Shinoda?” and wondering when my book will be able to purchase.

To answer the first question, yes, it’s me on Twitter: @AnnaShinoda

As far as my book goes…

Read more…

A Thousand Suns Pre-Order

I am so excited that my husband’s 4th studio album, A THOUSAND SUNS will be released September 14th! If you are planning to purchase the album, you may want to check out the pre-order, now available at www.linkinpark.com. Lots of cool options from buying just the digital album to a Deluxe Fan Edition Box Set. Regardless of what you order–even if it is the skate deck or tee–each purchase includes the mp3 version of the album, the new single “The Catalyst”, early access to purchase tickets for shows on Linkin Park’s upcoming tour, and access to preview clips of each song on the album beginning weeks before the release date.

Networking

A lot of people ask me two questions: how did I get into writing? And can I give advice on how to get an agent and a publishing contract?

Starting with how I got into writing: It’s a long story, but here’s the short version. I was working a job in publicity (which I didn’t love) when I started to take writing classes through UCLA Extension (which I immediately loved). As a child I always enjoyed reading and writing, usually spending most of my free time–even during the summer months or over winter vacation–either with my nose in a book or with a pen in hand scribbling my own stories in a notebook. It was no surprise that after taking an introduction to writing for children class in 2002, I was instantly in love with the idea of writing something for children and getting it published. I took several classes and went to as many SCBWI (that’s the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conferences as I possibly could attend.

As far as getting an agent and published goes, let me first say that I decided very early on that I wanted to be published because I was a good writer and had a compelling novel. I did not want a book deal because of who I married. At no point along the way did I use Mike’s influence in order to get me farther in my career. Like most authors, I have a nice big stack of rejection letters.

I was nominated for two Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Awards at SCBWI Summer Conferences, which gave me the confidence to introduce myself to people at the conference that I was too nervous to approach. It turns out that my nominations were kind of like Dumbo’s magic feather. They gave me confidence, but the people I started networking with would have been happy to help me, with or without the award nominations.

I liked the idea of having an agent instead of continuing to try to find a publisher that was a good fit on my own, so my new friends recommended I look into a list of agents that they thought might be a good match (thank you, Lin and Kim!). I contacted Jennie Dunham after I did considerable research on all the agents from the list. She liked my writing but felt it still needed work. After I revised my manuscript taking into consideration her notes, she took me on as a client.

I started the writing classes in 2002. Signed with my agent in 2006. Signed a contract for publication in 2009. It is now 2010. I have yet to have a book in stores (but… I will soon!). These things take time. A lot of time. A lot, a lot, a lot of time. But while I was dreaming of publication, I was working hard.

I learned a lot in the past eight years, so I guess this leads to the advice part:

1. Read, read and read some more. And keep writing!

1. Learn about the craft of writing as well as the business of publication for the specific genre you want to write for.

1. It’s hard to be an author and can be lonely, so make friends with other writers. From going to the classes and the conferences, I have made great friends who are also a very important part of my writing process. They are there to brainstorm with and critique my writing in all areas from big picture plot problems all the way down to using the perfect word. No way would I have grown as a writer or have been able to make a manuscript as good as it can be without the feedback from my writer friends.

1. Join an organization. SCBWI is for children’s book writers and illustrators, but there are organizations out there for romance writers and horror writers and poets and thriller authors… you get the point. Take advantage of all that these organizations have to offer. Attend conferences to not only learn about perfecting your craft, but also to network. The person sitting next to you during a keynote speaker might be a great writer friend or even end up being an agent or editor.

1. I am working on draft 13… yes, draft 13, of my novel. Revise, revise, revise.

1. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
-Lucius Annaeus Seneca
So keep preparing for the moment when opportunity may present itself!

More Edits Finished & “Somewhere Inside”

After working since January on edits for my book due out next year, I finally emailed my editor at Atheneum my 12th draft–the second that she has seen– last week. I wrote over 100 new pages and slashed over 30 pages of old writing. I am now waiting to hear what my editor thinks of the changes. Writing this novel and watching it evolve as I have gotten feedback from my writer friends, husband, agent and now editor has been a great learning experience. Although it has been a lot of hard work, seeing it get better with each step of the process has been hugely rewarding.

All too eager to read something other than my own writing this week, I decided to curl up with “Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home” by Lisa Ling and Laura Ling.

Even though this is not a teen novel, I felt it was so well done and carries such an important message that I’d do a little review of it here.

I was astounded by Laura and Lisa’s bravery and both physical and emotional strength it must have taken to get through Laura’s captivity and then to relive such a horrific time in their lives so soon after it was over in order to share this story with us.

There are so many good things to say about this book, starting with how it reads like a novel, not at all drab like some non-fiction can be. Both Laura and Lisa have unique and strong voices, but their conversational tone made it easy to understand the complexities of the situation.

I had to finish the book quickly because it was so suspenseful I almost felt that Laura was captive again and the only way I could help her come home was by getting to the part where she was released. I hope that because they did such a great job with writing it, many will read their story and it will bring much needed attention to the people of North Korea.

Aside from it being suspenseful, thoughtful and well written, I believe it is an important read for anyone, but especially Americans, to understand a little more about North Korea and how our governments work (or should I say do not work) together. But I think the most important part of the book was that of Laura being able to connect with her captors and even forging friendships with some. A reminder that we can never judge a person’s heart until we have had a personal experience with them… even someone working as a guard for the North Korean government can be compassionate.

More Songs Released on Download to Donate

More songs were released on MFR’s Download to Donate! Check it out by visiting www.Musicforrelief.org!

Another site about Haiti worth checking out: Andrew MacCalla’s blog. Andrew is currently in Haiti as a representative of Direct Relief International, a charity organization that provides medical supplies to people in need around the world. His blog gives a realistic view of the struggles people in Haiti are facing, from the unique perspective of someone working for a charity organization. Reading his blog is my regular reminder that millions still need help in Haiti. Direct Relief is still taking donations for Haiti. Also, Music For Relief continues to raise funds through Download to Donate

You can join in support of the long-term recovery process in Haiti by downloading songs at MUSICFORRELIEF.ORG and making a donation in any amount. Then, EMBED THE WIDGET on your Facebook or MySpace page, your blog, or your website…wherever you can spread the word.  Every little bit helps.
VISIT http://www.musicforrelief.org/ AND DOWNLOAD TO DONATE
Funds raised through the program will support the United Nation’s rapid disaster response efforts through the UN Foundation, long-term rebuilding of sustainable homes with Habitat for Humanity, and Dave Matthew’s Band’s BAMA Works Haitian Relief effort.  100% of funds received will go directly to the Haiti efforts.
DOWNLOAD. LISTEN. DONATE. SPREAD THE WORD. BRING HOPE.

iVolunteer

This past week was National Volunteer Week, so what better time to write about volunteering!
One of my favorite things to do with my spare time is volunteering with a number of different organizations in my local area. Just last Saturday, I volunteered with Music for Relief and TreePeople. We planted 35 trees in an area burned from wildfires in California two years ago. I always have a great time digging in the dirt and getting beautiful trees in the ground. For me, it feels more like fun than work. I am really looking forward to the next opportunity I have to volunteer !

The best way to really enjoy volunteering is to find something that you love to do in your spare time and pair that with an organization that is helping in a way that speaks to your heart. And get friends to volunteer with you! Another organization that I volunteer with provides back-to-school supplies to kids who have been victims of abuse. I enjoy spending a morning with friends, stuffing backpacks with supplies I know will be used to help kids learn. And I love to imagine what their cute little faces must look like when they peer inside the backpack and see that they have everything they need plus some bonus materials like crayons and markers.

So how do you find that special organization that you want to work with? The best way is to get out there and try a few out! Here in the United States, there is an organization dedicated to make volunteering in our cities easier and more fun to do: iVolunteer (www.iVolunteer.org). They find and list great volunteer opportunities on their website. All you do is type in your zip code and ta-da! A list of volunteer opportunities for you to choose from.

iVolunteer… Do You?

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