Posted on December 11, 2016
Kamal Al-Solaylee has a background in journalism and is a professor at Ryerson University. His accomplishments are long and varied. He presented his second book, Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (To Everyone). It was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for English-language non-fiction.
Steve Paikin also has an extensive background in journalism and is the anchor of TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin. His stories about how he came to write Bill Davis: Nation Builder, and Not So Bland After All were entertaining and informative. Considered one of Ontario’s most important premiers, Davis was in office from 1971 to 1985.
Charlotte Gray and I work with the same brilliant editor, Phyllis Bruce, so we had met before. She is a much loved historian and author. Her latest book is The Promise of Canada: 150 Years — People and Ideas That Have Shaped Our Country. I’m intrigued by the influential Canadians she chose to write about, none of whom are prime ministers or hockey players!
I’m excited to read all three books, and thank Ben McNally for including me in today’s event!
Posted on December 10, 2016
It’s only after I had my daughter, who is half-Irish and half-Korean, that I came to understand how our cultural heritage informs our personal identity. In my attempt to help my daughter understand her Korean background, I developed a stronger pride in my Korean heritage. Despite enjoying Korean food and many aspects of the culture, I have always felt excluded because of my weak communications skills in Korean. I also came to realize that until I could read and write in Korean, I would be missing out on Korean literature, which may never be translated into English.
I signed up for a beginner-level Korean language course offered through the Korean Education Centre here in Toronto. To my surprise, most of my classmates were not even Korean! When asked why they had signed up for the class, several shared that they had a deep love for Korean food, K-pop, and K-dramas. Some lived in North York, which has become another Koreatown, and wanted to be able to read store signs and restaurant menus in Korean and in English. My heart skipped to learn that one young lady had a two-hour commute in order to attend! Her commitment inspired me to study hard. We were also lucky to have a passionate teacher who engaged us with her enthusiasm.
Despite being Korean and having spent my first seven years in Korea, I find learning the language quite challenging. Korean is complicated by the use of honorifics that requires one to speak “up” or “down” to a person depending on that individual’s age and/or status. As well, sentences are constructed differently. In English, we use the “subject + verb + object” order, but in Korean it is “subject + object + verb”, so the sentence “I ate an orange” would be “I an orange ate.” Then there’s the complex use of particles that we don’t have in English.
And all this is in a beginner’s class!
My long term goal is one day to be able to write an essay or even a story in Korean. I’ve avoided learning Korean for over four decades, believing that I’d never need it. Now, I understand just how vital the language is for me to feel connected to my heritage.
Posted on December 9, 2016
Few people know that my novel started out as a collection of poems that were written in the early ’90s. I wove them into the first draft of Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety. My editor advised me to remove them and avoid mixing poetry with prose. After focusing on novel writing for so long, I find myself wanting to go back and write poems.
Some articles to share:
Posted on December 8, 2016
I had a great visit with a grade 12 Writer’s Craft class today. One of the things we talked about was author names and character names. In the post entitled, “Yu-Rhee Versus Mary: Does the Name Matter?” I reflected on how my characters were impacted upon being forced to take “Canadian-friendly” names by the school board.
How Canadians can be more inclusive of diverse names (CBC article)
Posted on December 7, 2016
Listening to Billy Joel’s tunes reminded me of a wonderful blog entry by City Girl Scapes who posted a playlist of the songs that I imagined played at my protagonist’s high school prom. The prom scene from Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, which takes place in June 1988, consists of mainly 80s hits.
Mary’s Prom Playlist
If you visit City Girl Scapes’ website, you’ll find links to the videos for following songs:
(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life – Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes (1987)
99 Luft Balloons – Nena (1983)
Addicted to Love – Robert Palmer (1985)
Africa – Toto (1982)
Beat It – Michael Jackson (1982)
Billie Jean – Michael Jackson (1982)
Careless Whispers – Wham! (1984)
Celebration – Kool & the Gang (1980)
Crying Over You – Platinum Blonde (1985)
Don’t You Want Me – Human League (1981)
Down Under – Men At Work (1981)
Every Breath You Take – Police (1983)
Everybody Have Fun Tonight – Wang Chung (1986)
Eye of the Tiger – Survivor (1982)
Flashdance … What a Feeling – Irene Cara (1983)
Footloose – Kenny Loggins (1984)
Forever Young – Alphaville (1984)
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper (1983)
I Love Rock n’ Roll – Joan Jett and the Blackheart (1981)
I Wanna Dance With Somebody – Whitney Houston (1987)
I Wanna Know What Love Is – Foreigner (1984)
Jessie’s Girl – Rick Springfield (1981)
Karma Chameleon – Culture Club (1983)
Keep On Loving You – REO Speedwagon (1980)
Let’s Dance – David Bowie (1983)
Like a Virgin – Madonna (1984)
Mony Mony – Billy Idol (1981)
Nasty – Janet Jackson (1986)
Papa Don’t Preach – Madonna (1986)
Push It – Salt-N-Pepa (1986)
Raspberry Beret – Prince (1985)
Safety Dance – Men Without Hats (1982)
Start Me Up – Rolling Stones (1981)
Sunglass At Night – Corey Hart (1984)
Super Freak – Rick James (1981)
Tainted Love – Soft Cell (1981)
Take My Breath Away – Berlin (1986)
The Power of Love – Huey Lewis & the News (1986)
Thriller – Michael Jackson (1982)
Uptown Girl – Billy Joel (1983)
West End Girls – Pet Shop Boys (1984)
Whip It – Devo (1980)
With Or Without You – U2 (1987)
You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) – Dead or Alive (1984)
You’re the Inspiration – Chicago (1984)
Thanks again City Girl Scapes for the wonderful post and book review!!
Posted on December 6, 2016
I’ve been thinking a lot about my early years as an ESL student and remembered something I wrote a while back for The Litter I See Project. Canadian writers are given a picture of litter and asked to write a response inspired by the debris. All of this is done to support Frontier College and their work to promote literacy.
I got an image of a broken record as my prompt. That led me to write about how listening to Billy Joel back in the late 1970s helped me learn English. Click here to read more.
Some of my favourite Billy Joel songs (in no particular order):
A Matter of Trust
Falling of the Rain
Everybody Has a Dream
I’ve Loved These Days
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
This Is The Time To Remember
An Innocent Man
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
Summer Highland Falls
The Ballad of Billy the Kid
I Go to Extremes
Where’s the Orchestra
Posted on December 5, 2016
My family and I immigrated to Canada in 1975. I was seven years old. Because I didn’t speak any English and our family was very poor, my brothers and I were bullied very badly in school. A little boy who lived in my neighbourhood used to enjoy taunting me more than anyone. One day after he had hit me with a wrench, he accused me of starting the fight. Because I spoke so little English, I couldn’t defend myself. Worse, I had no idea what the adults who separated us were yelling at me, but I understood by their tone and body language that they thought I was at fault. I learned very early in life how important language was and the power it possessed. Later, I learned how important choosing the right words were for creating understanding. One of the things I used to hate doing most as a child was translating for my parents. Unlike myself, who had the opportunity to develop my language skills in school, my parents’ English remained poor. I remember being in a hospital emergency room and having to translate for my mother, describing the pain she felt in her stomach. I hated seeing my mother, who was a teacher back in Korea, so vulnerable and unable to help herself. All my combined experiences shaped my determination to learn English, a language I have since fallen in love with and come to appreciate for its endless beauty.
I wrote my book largely to share my family’s immigrant story with my daughter who has no idea just how difficult things were for me and my parents when we first came to Canada. Writing has been a wonderful way for me to work through personal pain and challenges. Writing the book has given me many personal insights and helped me appreciate all the hard work and sacrifices my parents made. As a teacher, I encourage my students to write – about their feelings, their hopes and dreams, as well as to explore their thoughts. Research has shown that writing is an excellent way to deal with some forms of depression and anxiety, and certainly something I encourage my students to do as a guidance counsellor. Also, we’re constantly telling our children to read but it’s important they know why. Yes, reading exposes us to new ideas and promotes creative and critical thinking, but it also makes us better writers. We build vocabulary which makes us better communicators and without consciously trying, we often start writing in the same styles as what we read. This is called modelling, and why it is important that we read content that is well written whether it is fiction or nonfiction like newspapers and magazines.
Reading actually makes us smarter. As parents and guardians, we can help our children by showing them that we read. It doesn’t have to be in English and it doesn’t have to be for long periods of time. As a child, seeing my mother read despite having so little time for herself taught me how much she valued it. I’m grateful to her for that. It’s something I want to pass along to my daughter and to my students.