heyjamie

Jamie Jo Hoang - Author & World Traveler

Author: heyjamie (page 2 of 7)

WIR — DAVID SEDARIS

Brilliant! Funny! All the Praises belong to David Sedaris.

Brilliant! Funny! All the Praises belong to David Sedaris.

What I’m Reading: “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” by David Sedaris.

This man needs no introduction obviously, so why it took me so long to find his work is beyond me. Given to me by my friend Gina, as a must read book, I picked it up and instantly fell in love.

Because Sedaris writes short stories, there is no commitment! Yet, here’s the thing: I always wanted to come back for more. I’d read a story, laugh out loud, finish it and then want more. His books are to readers what cigarettes are to smokers, which is ironic because he spends about forty pages talking the pains of kicking his smoking habit.

The way he tells stories is unlike anything I’ve ever read. They’re personal, feel candid, and are always really funny. There is so much to admire in his work, but the thing I really walked away with was that it was him. Every facet and nuance of the book was Sedaris himself and whether the way he writes is really the way the thinks, doesn’t matter because either way he makes for a very compelling character.

As a writer one of the things I noticed was that he often times starts his stories by just diving in. His prose isn’t flowery or overly complicated, he sticks to the story and stays focused. He doesn’t spend four paragraphs talking about what Paris looks like or what Japan looks like. It’s all folded into the story itself. If I know what the trains in Tokyo are squeaky clean, it’s because he’s telling me a story about a woman taking her sons shoes off, and laying down a cloth before he’s allowed to stand on the seat and look out the window.

Admittedly, I’m quite jealous of his life. To quit smoking he spent $20,000 on a 3 month trip to Japan. He’s lived in multiple countries and has been all around the world giving talks. Just thinking about his lifestyle makes my mouth salivate. And yet, I get the feeling from his writing that he’d be just as happy writing without the money. So I guess herein lies the lesson.

Pay attention to the world around you because it’s full of fruitful ideas and images that will be useful when writing your novel whether it be fiction or non-fiction. Do things, take classes, stay active as a member of society even if it gives you anxiety, because those experiences are what make up a lot of the humor in Sedaris’ work. “It’s funny because it’s true,” as my friend Mikey would always say.

I’ve never heard Sedaris speak, yet somehow there are vocal intonations in the way he writes and now I know what it means to find your voice as an author. It doesn’t mean you have to fill the book with large vocabulary, or make every sentence move to the beat of a tune, it means being authentic as a writer and of course staying in character as you immerse yourself into the people you create within your stories.

 

Why I’m Publishing with IngramSpark

Paper quality–Look at the difference in ink quality between the two.

 

When I started thinking about writing this article I googled CreateSpace vs. IngramSpark and found an awesome blog post about the pros and cons of each. So rather than duplicate what’s already been done (and done well), I thought I’d explain why I chose to go with IngramSpark over CreateSpace.

My number one concern with the book was quality. Since I’m publishing my first book, this might seem like an unnecessarily thing to be overly concerned with. But I am. I spent the last 3 years of my life working and reworking this novel and I want it presented in the best possible way. So I started at the top. I e-mailed 20 of the top book printing houses and asked for samples (some of which I had to pay for). Then, I looked at pricing. Almost immediately, 5 of my top choices went away. I love my book, but $45/each is crazy talk.

So I found myself looking at CreateSpace and IngramSpark as the two top choices. Here’s why:

1. Print on Demand just makes sense.

2. I wanted to sell paperbacks for no more than $8.99

3. I needed a platform that easily connected to Amazon and simultaneously allowed me to sell to bookstores.

4. Worldwide distribution.

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For me personally, I feel like the createspace book looks more like a manual.

CreateSpace is an offshoot of Amazon so it makes a lot of sense to go with them. They are likely streamlined and I’m sure the process has less roadbumps. BUT when I received my sample copies, the decision was an easy one. IngramSpark, had a better matte finish bookcover, the binding was nicer, and the paper was leaps and bounds ahead of the stuff Createspace uses. A quick comparison of the paper quality of any book published with any of the top five publishing houses, makes CreateSpace’s book look like a cheap manual you’d pay $1.99 for. For me, quality matters more than the profit–if no other reason, than I want to feel proud of the product I’m selling/giving to reviewers. I also didn’t spend years, perfecting the art of crafting beautiful sentences so then release my work on a crappy platform. That being said, if my goal was to publishing a lot and very quickly, CreateSpace would definitely be the way to go, because it’ll generate revenue more quickly.

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The ultimate goal is to have your book match up with the high quality books sold in bookstores. Which one looks better to you?

Now, for the ebook part.

For the e-book, I’m releasing it on the Kindle directly through Amazon. There are 2 reasons for this.

1. The % of profit you make back is greater if you do Kindle Direct.

2. You can chose/change your set prices.

3. There are really great promoting tools. Ex. Match your paperback and sell the ebook for $2.99 when purchased together.

Note: if you’re publishing your first book (as is the case with me) doing the 90-day KDP Select program is maybe not the best idea. Jane Friedman, wrote a great article on the pros and cons of KDP Select here.

Looking over all of the different options for self-publishing is overwhelming so I hope that this article helps shed some light on the benefits of publishing with IngramSpark. Of course, this is my first book so it’s all just one large experiment for me too! If you’ve had a different experience or have an opinion of better services I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Book Recommendation — The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye (Vintage International)

 

Over a decade ago I remember hearing about Toni Morrison’s book THE BLUEST EYE. I only have faint memories of seeing her on Oprah and thinking this was a book I needed to read. But for whatever reason I never got around to it–until now.

There are probably a million reviews from literary critics praising the book so I’m not going to get into why: “Toni Morrison is not just an important contemporary novelist but a major figure in our national literature.” — The New York Review of Books. I don’t have to sociological background to discuss why this book is such an important piece of history, but I do want to explore the things reading it made me feel as an Asian American.

One of the most powerful lines, and probably what compelled me to buy the book, was from the foreword. Morrison writes: The assertion of racial beauty was not a reaction to the self-mocking, humorous critique of cultural/racial foibles common in all groups, but against the damaging internalization of assumptions of immutable inferiority originating in an outside gaze. What a powerful statement.

The opening is brilliant. A young narrator, Claudia, whose name we do not learn for several pages, is talking about her friend Pecola Breedlove and how they all came to lose their innocence.

An intricately woven story, the narrator takes us on a journey through the history of Pecola’s family so that we understand how she came to be. Choosing to specifically highlight the most vulnerable and delicate member of society, a young black female, Morrison takes us on a journey of “how.” How it is that Pecola Breedlove came to end up where she did.

What I like about the story is that although she is critiquing our society at large she also is quick to point out the cultural flaws within the African American community. The way that I relate to this as a non-African-American is by acknowledging that within my own cultural community we share similar flaws of blaming the victim and drawing absurd conclusions for the sake of dramatic retellings of gossip, when what we should be doing is lending a helping hand as Claudia and her sister Freida attempt to do.

It dawns on me now as I’m analyzing all that can be taken away from Morrison’s beautiful work of fiction that I didn’t so much forget to read it as maybe I was afraid to. For I, too, longed for many years for the bluest eye. I have 22/20 vision but for years I wore a blue-green blend of contacts (which boasted the title of being “the most natural” looking kind) unaware of social consequences of my actions. I had no idea that by altering the color of my eyes I was telling everyone around me that I wanted to be someone other than myself. As much as it pains me to write this I feel encouraged by Morrison: I wanted to be white.

In Morrison’s forward she writes: Implicit in her desire [for the bluest eye] was radical self-loathing. And twenty years later, I was still wondering about how one learns that. Who told her? Who made her feel that it was better to be a freak than what she was? 

Like Morrison, I too have no idea where this ideology stems from except to say that perhaps it was ingrained in my worldview in subtle ways like barbie dolls, baby dolls, and and in the way others looked at me. THE BLUEST EYE has important cultural and historical information, which makes it a must read for everyone. Through Morrison’s story of Peccola I learned things I never would’ve known because I would’ve felt uncomfortable asking. Yet, I feel this information is important if we as a society plan to successfully move toward true acceptance of one another.


After You Finish the Book–Get A Book Cover

A simple Google search for Best Book Cover.

A simple Google search for Best Book Cover. My favorite is A Clockwork Orange.

A couple of weeks ago, after sending out over a hundred queries and getting a few very kind rejections I decided to begin the journey into self-publishing. I had heard a lot of good things about it and what it really boiled down to was pushing aside my pride and taking the plunge.

To be honest, I thought it would be a piece of cake. I’d throw the book up on Amazon, send a blast out to all of my friends telling them it’s available and then wait with nail-biting fear as the reviews came in. As you can imagine, things were not that easy.

I started out looking at different self-publishing platforms, which led me to looking at Print-on-Demand. There are a ton of factors that go into what your print-on-demand books will look like and as far as I can tell there are only two major players in the game right now: Createspace and Lightning Source (Ingram Spark for indie authors).

So after a couple of weeks of research and getting test copies and samples sent to me (not to mention signing up for every service there is out there just to compare them all) I decided to go with Ingram Spark. Great. I had someone to print my books now I need to get it up on Amazon.

NOPE. Now I need a book cover. Since I’m self-publishing the caliber for cover art isn’t really that high. My friend Shawn pointed me to 99 Designs where I could pay $250 for 35 graphic designers to compete for my cover. But I looked at the designs and honestly they all looked really generic. For the price it makes sense, but I’m not into stock image books and though I love rom-coms and romance books, mine wasn’t one of them.

Where I ultimately ended up was Deviant Art, a site full of artists from beginner to professional, and there I found Leonid Afremov. After a couple e-mails back and forth he agreed to custom make a painting for my book cover for just $200. This is a great deal, except that I now had to graphically design my cover myself. This took a couple days and few different tries mainly because I haven’t used Photoshop in years and coming back to it was not like riding a bicycle.

Something I wish someone had told me at the beginning was to GET A BOOK COVER. It takes about a month to find, procure, and have sent to you. But you will need it for every step you take forward in promoting your book. In hindsight it seems like a no brainer, but when you’re in the thick of it and reading the million and a half articles on the web about self-publishing, it’s easy to push it aside. Since I made the mistake of waiting til a week ago to finalize my artwork I’ve still got a couple of weeks of anticipation before I even know what my cover is going to look like. In the meantime all I can do is prep the next steps. In my coming posts I’ll get into all the other marketing and PR stuff that I’ve been fumbling around with, but getting the book cover made early, was a crucial step that caused a lot of setbacks so I thought I’d write a post about it now and hopefully save others some time.

There is so much to do that at times it feels incredibly overwhelming but as the puzzle pieces come together I’m finally starting to feel like an author!

101 Queries and a Marketing Plan

Getting a book published is 50% writing and 50% self-promotion.

Getting a book published is 50% writing and 50% self-promotion.

When I hit a 101 sent queries I stopped. The past two months have been an emotional roller coaster with high highs, low lows, and whole a lot of talking myself off a ledge. Over the course of weeks, a request of the full comes in, followed by a rejection, and the e-mails tag-team each other like this for a while. Talk about never letting a celebration last too long. To my surprise, I’m told this is a great ratio. So taking some advice from a writer friend of mine, Gina, I celebrate the small victories. At the very least it’s an interesting concept. I reward myself with a delicious iced coffee with coffee cubes, that’s right, coffee cubes–brilliant.

The high lasts about 15 minutes, before a new reality sets in: none of it matters if at the end of the day I still don’t have an agent.

I stare hard at my 101st query letter and the fifth page of my Google search for upmarket women’s fiction agents, and decide I need something else to focus on. If an agent is a no-go, what’s the game plan? Another way of phrasing this is: If an agent is a no-go, how do I keep from spiraling into a comatose state of complete and utter depression? But that’s obviously overly dramatic. Right? Right.

Positive thoughts, I tell myself, as I research marketing strategies and discover a ton of useful and helpful information from the Canada Business Network of Info Entrepreneurs.

For starters, I learn that I need to “know my audience.” Who am I targeting? That seems easy enough: Women. I write women’s fiction so I’m looking for women readers. More specifically I’m looking for readers interested in “upmarket women’s fiction,” which is fiction that straddles the line between commercial and literary.

The next part is harder. How do I get my book in front of them? I do a Google search for book publicists and, instead of finding an actual publicist, I find an article about how I could be my own publicist–even better. This is great because banks don’t give out loans for marketing unpublished books (at least I don’t think they do), so the more work I can do on my own the better chance my book is going to have of surviving in a clearly saturated market.

Kelly Ferguson wrote a great article titled, “Being My Own Book Publicist,” which I think every emerging writer should read. There is a ton of helpful information like: what to do before the book release, using your friends, brainstorming your market, and social networking. Note: this was her particular story and though I can’t say this with any kind of authority, I am certain that every book has it’s own journey therefore this article is a not complete guide by any means.

After I read a ton of exhausting articles about the million and one things I need to do, my brain goes into shock and I stare blankly at a Wega coffee machine at Romancing the Bean for 10 minutes. I let my mind wander into the world of being a barista. Ahh…coffee, how I do love thee. Writing is a pain the in the ass, maybe I’d be happier making coffee. Gourmet, whole earth, fair trade, organic delicious coffee. I think I’m on to something here. A cute little Cafe Jamie apron, biscotti’s, tea cakes…

“Get to work Hoang!!” my alarm shouts. Yes, I set random alarms throughout the day to remind myself not to procrastinate. And back into the world of publishing I go.

To keep things from getting overwhelming I pick the five things I think need to happen now:

1. My book needs a website. I buy the domain: Blue Sun, Yellow sky. The creation of the website will have to happen later.

2. Research — Start researching book clubs, Goodreads groups, book reviewers, and blogs with an audience fit for my novel.

3. Social Media — Prep blog posts, make use of Twitter, consider an author FB page, etc.

4. Layout a Marketing Plan–It isn’t enough to just research great marketing tactics. I need to put an actionable plan in place with a yearlong calendar of goals and ideas.

5. Query and forget — This is still a vital component to the publishing process. I’ve only been querying for two months, there are many more agents out there and I shouldn’t give up prematurely.

And, now that I have a plan, I need to quit procrastinating by writing this blog entry.

Signing out! *she salutes*

Thick Skin and Patience

When the time is right your egg will hatch.

When the time is right your egg will hatch.

Querying is a beast of a project. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal to have to write a cover letter and submit to agents, but let me tell you, it’s agonizing. First, I spent way too much time crafting the “perfect” query letter, which to be honest I’m not 100% thrilled with but it seems to be doing the job. Second, I had to research the agents. And third, I had to wait.

I’ve been querying for about a month now and the only real advice I have is to be patient and prepared for rejection. In my first round I hit up the top 50 agencies based on this list: Best Literary Agencies.

It’s not enough to just query the agency, I had to research each agent and decide which agent best suited for my material (Yes, this takes time). Once I checked off all of the appropriate agents on that list, I googled “upmarket women’s fiction agents” and added more agents to my query list. This is probably one of the most mundane but necessary processes of finding an agent. 

The first week I got 2 requests and 2 rejections. Not bad. A 50% response ratio was pretty good I was told. But isn’t that umm…an F?! I guess rejections are graded on a curve and the 50% mark shifts everything. The second week was the same 2 requests and 2 rejections. Okay, I thought, I can handle this. But then they stopped. As it turns out, being in the slush pile means most agents won’t even get to my measly query for at least a month. So…I was once again challenged to wait.

A lot of writer’s I spoke to broke their lists of agents up into three tiers: 1. Really want 2. Would be happy with 3. If no one else takes me it’s a start. Then they pick two or three from each category and query in batches. I didn’t do this. In this day-and-age of quick self-publishing I really didn’t want to spend years looking for an agent so I decided this: Query everyone once and in six months, if I get no love, I’ll put on my big girl pants and self-publish.

I work in entertainment and come from a family where the need for praise is seen as a weakness, so I thought the rejection process would be a piece of cake to get through, but boy was I wrong. It’s hard not to read too much into a rejection and instantly think that I may have chosen the wrong career path. 

“It’s all just par for the course,” I tell myself, but there is a devil on my shoulder who loves to taunt. And we creatives know just how little ammunition it takes to make the devil dance, so for the sake of my sanity I took a break. I met some friends at Bass Lake in Northern California and shut off all electronics. For two days I forced myself not to look at my phone every five minutes for an e-mail. And by the time I left I remembered that I began this creative journey knowing full well the difficulties that came with trying to get published and I wasn’t giving up until I saw my book in print.

So, while I wait for  the 5 agents who have requested to read my novel to get back to me, I will continue to send my queries out into the ether and patiently await responses; both the good and the bad.

Women’s Fiction and Author Platforms

I love this comic! Pulled it from Author-Platform.com.

I love this comic! Pulled it from Author-Platform.com.

My novel began with a simple idea: a painter going blind, and spiraled into an adult coming of age story about a 27 year-old forced rethink the identity she spent her whole life cultivating. I embarked on this journey intending to write chick-lit and ended up in upmarket women’s fiction. I think it’s important to note that I had no idea this was the direction my book would take when I wrote it, and authors working on their first few drafts ought not to care. Fundamentally, what matters most is story is character.

In the process of querying, however, I have been asked time and again to define my books genre. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I had to do a fair amount of research before concluding that it was in fact, upmarket. Having done a lot of the grunt work already, I thought I’d share a few definitions for those who are also writing women’s fiction.

Definitions [click the links for more details and references]:

Women’s Fiction: is an umbrella term for women centered books that focus on women’s life experience that are marketed to female readers, and includes many mainstream novels.

Book Club Women’s Fiction: can be any genre, include romance that is not the center of the story, “happily ever after” is prevalent but not required, and must have a central story arc.

Upmarket Women’s Fiction:  fiction that blends the line between commercial and literary.

Chick-litliterature that appeals especially to women, usually having a romantic or sentimental theme.

Commercial Women’s Fiction: fiction that focuses on events and emotions more so than the prose. Commercial fiction uses high-concept hooks and compelling plots to give it a wide, mainstream appeal.

For broader fiction categories check out AgentQuery.

There are quite a few authors who hate being defined by any one category because they rightfully don’t want to be pigeon-holed or type-cast into being a one-note author, and I’ll admit, the idea of ditching labels is appealing, but for the purposes of querying it’s helpful.

One of the many reasons it’s helpful in terms of getting an agent (says the agentless writer), is that a well-defined book means you can begin building your author “platform.”

This is a new term I’ve picked up recently, and let me tell you, it’s all the rage. It’s also one of the seemingly most exhausting tasks that new authors must conquer. Jane Friedman does a great job of defining it as:

  • Visibility. Who knows you? Who is aware of your work? Where does your work regularly appear? How many people see it? How does it spread? Where does it spread? What communities are you a part of? Who do you influence? Where do you make waves?
  • Authority. What’s your credibility? What are your credentials? (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers; it is less important for fiction writers, though it can play a role. Just take a look at any graduate of the Iowa MFA program.)
  • Proven reach. It’s not enough to SAY you have visibility. You have to show where you make an impact and give proof of engagement. This could be quantitative evidence (e.g., size of your e-mail newsletter list, website traffic, blog comments) or qualitative evidence (high-profile reviews, testimonials from A-listers in your genre).
  • Target audience. You should be visible to the most receptive or appropriate audience for the work you’re trying to sell. For instance: If you have visibility, authority, and proven reach to orthodontists, that probably won’t be helpful if your marketing vampire fiction (unless perhaps you’re writing about a vampire orthodontist who repairs crooked vampire fangs?).

The bad news is that it must be done. The good news is that while you’re querying, you have time, and none of this needs to happen overnight.

For information on how to build your platform, check out these sites:

Page Two Blog

101 Quick Platform Actions You Can Do Today

I wrote a book. Now what?

Found this while searching the internet for "Book Manuscript" images and couldn't help imagining my own words immortalized in a museum this way.

Unfortunately, this is not my book. It’s Charlotte Bronte’s unpublished manuscript which sold at auction recently for £690,850!

Three years ago when I left for Houston on an epic journey to become a “real writer” I never imagined that I’d actually become one. At the very least, I feel like one. I spent the first three months pumping out the “shitty first draft” and another two years and nine months turning that sucker into a real book. So now, here I am with a finished novel at 80,000 words and no idea what do with it.

There are a million articles online that advocate for self-publishing. Classes are taught on how to do it, self-published millionaire authors write about it, and everyone, it seems, has an opinion about it. Publishers hate and indie authors love it, but here’s the kicker: It’s all still very new.

Yes– I would love to jump on the Kindle bandwagon and make upwards of a million dollars as a self-published author, but what does this mean for the industry itself? Is it really better? I’m not sure.

Publishers on the other hand, want us to believe that the Kindle is the devil. That Amazon is driving the prices of books down and that the monopoly they have on the market isn’t good for anyone.

The data and statistics are sketchy at best so what’s a new author supposed to do? Research.

Just as every book has it’s own journey into creation, so too, does it have it’s own journey into publication, so this blog is by no means the right way to do anything. It’s simply how I’m going about it. (Check back in a few years to see if it worked)

So, first up…Querying.

Trust me when I say I would have loved to skip this part. Writing the Query Letter and Synopsis were torturous. If things were still handwritten I’d be sitting in a room waist deep in crumpled up papers. Lucky for me, they all just went into an electronic trash bin on my Mac computer’s desktop. Alas, I did it because I felt like not doing it would have been like trying to cut corners. These are the references I used as guidelines:

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-10-dos-and-donts-of-writing-a-query-letter

How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents

Then after spending a month writing and rewriting my query letter, with numerous comments and critiques from other writers, I started to make my list. Using a simple Excel spreadsheet I created my list which looked like this [All of this info can be found using a simple Google search, so do your research!]:

BSYS Query List

BSYS Query List

Once I had my list, I began e-mailing five to seven agents a day. When I received a rejection I marked it and so on and so forth. Because most agents ask to be notified if you have been picked up by an agent, this is a good way to keep track of who you solicited.

Then…I wait. Ten minutes, nothing. Eleven minutes, a light tapping of my impatient foot begins. Twelve minutes, I realize I need to leave my house before I self-destruct.

Next day: My first rejection. To be honest it wasn’t all that bad. It’s a bit like friendly hazing before they let you join a sorority. Everyone has to suffer through it. The way I see it, the more rejections I collect, the closer I get to finding an agent. So tomorrow I’ll research five more and repeat until successful.

Finding the Story

Banh Tet

Bánh tét (The South Vietnamese traditional Lunar New Year Dish)

“Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.”
― Robert McKee

Every year for the Lunar New Year (i.e. Chinese New Year) my grandmother makes bánh Tét. A New Year’s tradition, this dish is known to have originated in South Vietnam. Wrapped in banana leaves and tightly bound by plastic string are sweet rice, cooked mung bean, and pork belly. This was, and still is, my favorite dish to date.

My grandmother is 73 years old, 4’9” tall, and when she smiles a line of blackened teeth appear—the result of over 6 decades of chewing tobacco. Grandma is a badass.

In 1979, after the fallout of the Vietnam War, my grandma made a decision that would change the course of my existence. My grandfather, a casualty of the war, left her alone with five children and a choice: stay and endure the consequences of being on the losing side of war, or flee and hope for a better life. She fled. In the dead of night she escaped Vietnam with only the clothes on her back, a few valuables, and her last three unwed children.

In 1995, at the age of 10, I visited Vietnam for the first time. Over 15 years had passed since my mom last set foot on homeland soil and tensions were high. The searing looks of the guards at customs, the quiet way we had to sneak about commuter trains, and the hushed tone of conversation whenever we passed a Viet Cong officer made for a visit that was less than comfortable.

I remember details from that trip as if they were motifs in my everyday life. The smell of skewers on a grill, the broken pairs of plastic sandals outside every door, the general lack of furniture, dirt roads, large cement barriers between homes, hand washed clothes, dirty drinking water, mosquito nets, and the smell of Tiger Balm.

In the years since my first trip to Vietnam I have traveled back twice more and recently I began to piece the two halves of myself together. I am American, but I am also Vietnamese. Three days before the 2010 Lunar New Year (February 14, 2010) I traveled home to make bánh tét with my grandmother. Together we shopped, prepared the ingredients, and cooked.

Because of her I understand the power of story. Rich in tradition, folklore, and culture, our daylong conversation became fuel, in the form of inspiration, which now drives the narrative in my writing. If Robert McKee is correct and stories are in fact, “the currency of human contact,” than I have been blessed with more riches than perhaps I deserve.

Time has a funny way of shifting perspective with each new generation, but as a writer and avid reader I am certain that the future cannot be written without a clear understanding of the past. Parents and grandparents are not always forthcoming about the truths that they have suffered, but talk to them long enough and eventually the good stuff will flow.

Stories that resonate with readers are the ones that resonate with you. They are the narratives that move you to take action, sway you to believe, and inspire you to write. And finding them, well that’s only a matter of listening.

Rise to the Top, then Humble Yourself

Mutual Respect

Mutual Respect

Situated on a street notorious for prostitution, crime, and drugs, is my parents’ small motel. The area is known to many as the “meth capital of the world”. Cops hardly want to enter. And most of society is simply glad it’s contained to six square miles. As you can imagine, working in an area like this has many challenges beginning with security and ending with a hardened outer appearance. To look weak in the neighborhood is to invite trouble.

When my parents first took over the business 10 years ago, I thought they were crazy. Running a motel was a 24-hour job and it was a notoriously rough neighborhood, but they were entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity and wanted to capitalize on it. I think my dad also saw it as a challenge, which he’ll deny enjoying but deep down he knows he likes.

The first two years were spent fixing it up. Everything from the asphalt to the roof needed mending and my parents set to work right away. They hired day laborers but also worked alongside them doing much of the heavy lifting. The third and fourth years were clean up. I remember coming home from college one summer and sitting outside with my parents as a cop rolled through on his regular patrol. He stopped to say hi to my parents and then turned to my older sister and me and said, “You should be really proud of your parents. Two years ago, we would not have driven through here.”

His words were anything but soothing. If even the cops are weary of entering what does that say about the neighborhood?

By year eight, my parents had settled in. They have learned to sleep with one eye open, neighborhood faces had become familiar, and when ABC News aired a live broadcast of a prostitution raid in 2012, our motel was one of the few left unscathed. How then, I wondered, did they do it?

If you ask them they will tell you it is luck. But I would say it is because of a mutual respect. When I work there on occasional weekends and during the summers, I notice my normal, friendly personality shift rather quickly into a hardened, unsympathetic business demeanor. Nine out of ten people who walk in the door have a sob story and maybe one of the nine isn’t lying about their situation. I can’t tell the difference so I treat everyone the same across the board. My parents, though, they still try to give everyone a chance and they feel guilty when they misjudge.

Every year, during the holidays, my parents set up benches in the parking lot and they cook a full meal with all the fixings for anyone in the neighborhood who’s hungry. To be completely honest, I thought this was a tactic to build goodwill among people who could easily wreak havoc on a motel LA-riot-style. But that wasn’t it at all. They are hyper aware of the fact that their income comes from the so-called “undesirable” residents of the area. “We can never think that we are better than them,” my dad says.

My dad’s English isn’t that great, but I believe what he means is: work hard, build something, and humble yourself as it grows, because you are only as important as those that you profit off of. I can only imagine how much better we would function as a society if our relationships with those above or below us on the social spectrum were founded on the grounds of mutual respect.

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