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I have been wrapped up in my cocoon. Some might say I’ve been isolating or that I’m being a hermit. I guess you could say that. I prefer to say “cocoon” because I always hope to come out better when I do emerge. Somehow whilst cocooning, things have gotten done. I’m truly amazed by how this happens, but I have to give credit to those around me who prop me up when I can barely stand on my own, literally.

This summer was a whirlwind of readings and events. I was on a total adrenaline rush, traveling with my family and having readings at cancer organizations, bookstores, cafes, and universities. We got to be part of Catalyst Foundation’s Vietnam Culture Camp (see previous posts), which was an amazing experience (that we hope to be given the opportunity to repeat one day). My mom and sister even came to one of my readings. But when we returned to Vancouver, my body crashed. It said, “Fuck you, you crazy sonofabitch.” Yeah, sometimes my body and my mind have these arguments. Truth is, my body is aging at a much faster rate than I would like it to, even in the whole scheme of the 8 years of having dealt with cancer. I find myself checking in with my body moment by moment, it seems, asking “We still good? Just a little more, okay?”

The last few days, my husband Anton and daughter Moxie have been traveling in New England for some readings. I have been honoured to be asked to speak to students and professors at the University of Connecticut and for the Five Colleges, at UMass Amhearst (in the Yuri Kochiyama Room, which had special meaning to me, as I edited Yuri’s memoir over a decade ago). Professors Cathy Schlund-Vials, Iyko Day, and Caroline Yang (whom I met way back when I was a graduate student at UCLA visiting my Boston College friends–small world!) all gave me the warmest reception. As always, it was wonderful to read to the new generation of undergraduates, some of whom related tremendously to the work I’ve done, especially mixed race Asian American students and those interested in the legacies of the Vietnam War. Today, I get to go down the runway, albeit in a wheelchair because my foot is still healing from surgery and is not well enough to walk in the Pradas I insist on wearing, for a fashion show fundraiser event for Asian Women for Health in Cambridge, MA. Our little 4-year-old Moxie is especially excited to go to the fashion show in her new tutu that vomits glitter everywhere she goes.

My boobs, or rather an artistic reproduction of them, are up for sale at the Art or Bust auction in Vancouver, with proceeds going to the organization, Rethink Breast Cancer, an organization for young women with breast cancer. You can check out the works of art here (mine are the middle pair in the right column): https://www.facebook.com/artorbustproject

These opportunities are a wonderful blessing, but they also challenge my desire to keep going, even when I should stop and take a rest. And I need to take a lot of rests. That fucking sucks, to be honest. As I come upon my 40th birthday next month, I want to keep going as much as possible, do as much as I possibly can, and believe me there is a whole shitload of things I want to do. On my list:

  1. Write second memoir.
  2. Write poetry collection companion to second memoir.
  3. Catch up on my backlog of editing projects–worthwhile manuscripts and stories that need to be put out there to be read.
  4. Go to Vietnam to help out with the Agent Orange survivors movement and other humanitarian projects.
  5. Read/write/speak French and Vietnamese more and better.
  6. Raise three kids with empathy and activism and confidence in their hearts and minds. And bake them more bread and cookies.
  7. Start my tarot and snail facial business. (Who wouldn’t want to have their cards read AND have snails crawling all over their faces to benefit from the anti-aging properties of snail slime at the same time?)
  8. Love, love and more love. Can never have too much of that.
  9. Collaborate with someone awesome on a screenplay of my memoir.
  10. Teach more writing workshops, take my vitamins everyday without fail, and eat more fibre.

There’s more, but that’s the gist of it. I think. So come on, body…keep up with my mind. And come on mind, keep on keeping up as much as you can. As my friend Wayson Choy always tells me, I’m not done yet.

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5 Rules of Loving the Game of Creative Writing, For All Ages
1. There’s no right or wrong in writing your story, not even grammar or spelling (on the first draft anyway).
2. Write small. One word leads to another. Each word is a seed.

3. People are characters, even people in real life, even you! Write them how you see and hear them and yourself.

4. Use your five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. This is really fun to do when creating a scene. Carrying a notebook or journal wherever you go helps you jot down ideas that come to you, or interesting things that you see or conversations that you hear.

5. Have fun! This isn’t school writing. This is creative writing. Pay attention to your world and write about it.

*Optional Rule: write in a journal every day. This helps you to keep a record of your thoughts that you can use when you go to think about and write your stories.

Kindergarten and First Grade

1. Think of a story that you want to tell about your life. If you’re having a hard time of thinking of something, think about Culture Camp and the time you spent making friends and learning about Vietnamese culture. (3 minutes)

2. Now close your eyes and imagine your story played out on a big screen in a movie theatre. I’ll tell you when to open your eyes (3 minutes).

3. Open your eyes and right away, right down all the words you can think of to describe what you saw in the movie in your head. You can also draw a picture and write words to go along with it. (10 minutes).

4. Now take your words and pictures, and write at least three sentences to start your story. If you’re having trouble finding the words you want to write, ask me for help. (5 minutes)

Congratulations! You’ve started writing a story about your life. I want to read more. Set aside at least 20 minutes and do this little exercise a couple times a week. You’re on your way to being a published writer!

With the help of your parents, email me at brandy@rabbitfoolpress.com to share your stories, get writing advice, and ask me any questions you have about writing.

Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Grades

1. Brainstorm stories and ideas about your life. Write as quickly as possible, and don’t worry if the words are spelled correctly or anything like that. Just write as fast as your brain and hand will go. If you’re having a hard time of thinking of something, think about Culture Camp and the time you spent making friends and learning about Vietnamese culture. (5 minutes)

2. Look at your list and think about what from it you want to focus on writing at the moment. Perhaps it’s one thing on your list, or maybe you want to combine two or more things in a story. Hint: if you’re going to pick more than one thing from your list, they don’t necessarily have to be things that occur in the same time period. You can be a time traveller. Circle the things on your list that you want to write about now. Oh yeah…keep your list! You can use it later for more stories and even add to it. (5 minutes)

3. Now close your eyes and imagine your story played out on a big screen in a movie theatre. I’ll tell you when to open your eyes (5 minutes).

4. Open your eyes and right away, right down all the words you can think of to describe what you saw in the movie in your head. You can also draw a picture and write words to go along with it. (5 minutes).

5. Now take your words and pictures, and write at least five sentences to start your story. If you’re having trouble finding the words you want to write, ask me for help. (5 minutes)

Congratulations! You’ve started writing a story about your life. I want to read more. Set aside at least 25 minutes and do this little exercise a couple times a week. You’re on your way to being a published writer!

With the help of your parents, email me at brandy@rabbitfoolpress.com to share your stories, get writing advice, and ask me any questions you have about writing.

Sixth Grades and Beyond

The writing exercise that I describe above for younger children is quite honestly the basis of my particular process for creative writing but tailored toward their beginning language and writing skills and attention spans (not to say I have a bigger attention span than a second grader…). So I will repeat it here, but give you more time for each part of the exercise to develop your writing because I know you can do it. If I can do it, anybody can. 🙂

1. Brainstorm stories and ideas about your life. Write as quickly as possible, and don’t worry if the words are spelled correctly or anything like that. Just write as fast as your brain and hand will go. If you’re having a hard time of thinking of something, think about Culture Camp and the time you spent making friends and learning about Vietnamese culture. (10 minutes)

2. Look at your list and think about what from it you want to focus on writing at the moment. Perhaps it’s one thing on your list, or maybe you want to combine two or more things in a story. Hint: if you’re going to pick more than one thing from your list, they don’t necessarily have to be things that occur in the same time period. You can be a time traveller. Circle the things on your list that you want to write about now.. Oh yeah…keep your list! You can use it later for more stories and even add to it. (10 minutes)

3. Now close your eyes and imagine your story played out on a big screen in a movie theatre. I’ll tell you when to open your eyes (5-10 minutes).

4. Open your eyes and right away, right down all the words you can think of to describe what you saw in the movie in your head. You can also draw a picture and write words to go along with it. (10 minutes).

5. Now take your words and pictures, and write at least ten sentences to start your story. (10 minutes)

Congratulations! You’ve started writing a story about your life. I want to read more. Set aside at least 45 minutes and do this little exercise a couple times a week. You’re on your way to being a published writer!

Email me at brandy@rabbitfoolpress.com to share your stories, get writing advice, and ask me any questions you have about writing.

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I was asked to be a presenter at this amazing Vietnam Culture Camp for adoptees from Vietnam and their families, through this incredible organization called the Catalyst Foundation. After only one day of activities and meeting some families, I’m blown away by what the people behind this organization do both here in North America and in Vietnam. My family and I are honoured to have been invited to be part of this community.

As part of my presentation tomorrow morning, I’m offering an optional writing exercise for parents to get their creative juices flowing while also reflecting the weight that storytelling has had on their lives. You can also give this exercise a try. So here’s the exercise.

♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️

As parents, we decide what stories we tell our children as we raise them. We also reflect on the stories our parents did or did not tell us when we were children. As we reflect on our childhood and what was told to us and what we found out despite the silences, we must consider how our past has influenced what decisions we make about what to pass on to our children. 
1. Brainstorm what stories that were told to you when you were growing up that stuck with you and made an impact.

2. Think about the questions you had about those stories but were too afraid or hesitant to ask. Write down these questions.

3. Why were you told these stories? Write down your thoughts.

4. Now think of things that weren’t talked about but of which you had a little knowledge. Did you try to find out more, or did you just keep these bits to yourself? Write about that.

5. Given all that you have written so far, consider how your childhood history of storytelling influences what you do or do not divulge to your children.

6. If you feel strongly about not sharing stories with your children, write about why that is. If you do share stories with your children, write about your reasons.

7. Write about some questions you anticipate your children having about their history and yours.

8. What is your goal or desired outcome for sharing stories?

9. Lastly, based on all that you have written thus far, I want you to write a creative nonfiction piece. Pick a story from your childhood and your reflection on it, and link it to how you plan on passing on a poignant story with your children. Be descriptive, vivid, and authentic. Use your five senses. Create dialogue. Watch the movie and slideshow in your mind in order to create scenes and settings. And don’t limit yourself to prose. If you have poetic leanings, go with that and write a poem. Or do a combination of genres. The only rule is to tap into the authenticity and poignancy of your story~~of how you took the stories in and how you’ll pass them on.

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Mark your calendars, Vancouverites and visitors to our wonderful city! Thursday, January 15, 2015 will be a night to remember, as I read from What Doesn’t Kill Us, as well as share new work from 17 Days, my work-in-progress that’s the sequel to WDKU. In addition, jazz musician Laurel Murphy will be joining me and performing songs from her just-released and much-anticipated CD, When I Was a Bird. A portion of the sales from the my book and Laurel’s CD will be donated to Callanish Society, a small non-profit organization that serves individuals and families dealing with cancer. Please join us for this special event, bring your family and friends, and spread the word! Happy Holidays!

WDKU-Heartwood

WDKUpr

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Brandy will be reading from her book What Doesn’t Kill Us on Thursday, October 30, at Heartwood Cafe in Vancouver. Don’t miss this special opportunity to preview her unpublished memoir, alongside a presentation by Mike Boehm, an American Vietnam War veteran who has been committed to doing humanitarian work and forging peace and reconciliation relationships and projects in Vietnam for over 20 years. If you are in the Vancouver area, you do not want to miss this!

https://www.facebook.com/events/1571732646391264/

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Time and time again, I’ve heard from many people about how they view the path of a writer or artist as a risky one. They feel there’s something mystical and unattainable about it in terms of embarking on such a journey. I agree with the mystical part; I’ve almost believed in the attainable part as well. But if you feel it in your bones, if it nags at you and follows you around wherever your feet take you, at some point, you must answer the call. You might not know what you’ll be stepping into—I think most people fear slipping in a pile of shit—but you go for it. I’ve heard the call since I was five years old. Now that I’m 36, I’ve decided to answer it, big-time.

Hopefully, it’s not a pile of shit that I’m walking into. Hopefully, it’s a field full of beautiful flowers and lush forest growth. I’m sure it’ll actually be somewhere in between. After all, you can’t have the lush growth without a little shit.

So this is where I am now. I’ve got representation for my first book, What Doesn’t Kill Me. I know how fortunate I am. . .I know how hard it is to get an agent, and I’ve lucked out by landing the best. My agent has a lot of faith in my book and me. Still, I have fear. Then I remember my middle name, Liên. It’s Vietnamese for “lotus blossom,” which is known to grow in mud. So shit, or mud, is good. And I’ll tell you what: there’s a lot of shit in my book. A lot of funny shit, sad shit, and shit that makes you go “hmm…” I can promise you that. Shit—lots and lots of shit.

Next step for my book: to sell the shit. Right now, I’m hauling ass on creating this website (under the guidance of my most fantastic husband, Anton) and polishing my manuscript. I’ll let you know who the über-smart and forward-thinking buyer of my book is as soon as I find out!

In the meantime, take a look at some excerpts from my book under the “Featured” tab. While you do that, I’ll step off the cliff into the great unknown, like the Fool in Tarot, and I’ll enjoy the fall and flight the whole damn time. Cheers!

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