Learning English With Billy Joel

brokenrecord

This was the prompt I was given

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
Pressure
Everybody Has a Dream
I’ve Loved These Days
Stiletto
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
This Is The Time To Remember
Piano Man
Vienna
An Innocent Man
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
Summer Highland Falls
The Ballad of Billy the Kid
I Go to Extremes
Zanzibar
Scandinavian Skies
Streetlife Serenader
Miami 2017
Where’s the Orchestra

When you don’t speak the language, it’s easy to be bullied

penI shared the following with parents and staff who attended a Literacy Information Evening held at a downtown Toronto high school. 

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.

“We Don’t Often Talk About Sensitive Issues!”

gnujournalMy interview with Fabricio Correa in The GNU Journal  includes questions about the writing process and authors who influenced me. I also share that I am hoping to use my novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, as a resource to talk about sensitive issues like domestic violence, negative mental health, and racial tension. Click here to read the full interview.

 

 

 

 

MFA in Creative Writing

A copy of my thesis which I hope to turn into my second novel

A copy of my thesis which I hope to turn into my second novel

Choosing to complete my MFA studies in Creative Writing at National University in San Diego, California, was one of the best things I did to develop as an author. The following is an excerpt from a reflection paper I wrote for a course. A special thanks to Professor Bryan Hurt, my thesis adviser, and Professor Frank Montesonti, Academic Program Director, for their guidance and support throughout my studies.

I want to be less worried about making mistakes and have more fun with the writing process. While reading fiction gives me great pleasure and satisfaction, writing fiction is too often filled with insecurities, sometimes crossing the line into dread and despair. I know from having written about this in one of my courses that many of my insecurities as a writer stem from past experiences as a former ESL student struggling to learn English, and some racial assumptions I faced (and continue to face) as an ethnic minority.

But I want to move beyond the negative spaces that occupy the writer in me. What I want to focus on as I move forward is this: Each of my courses has provided me with the opportunity to consider aesthetics in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. It is one thing to delve into writing, where pouring words onto paper is like throwing paint against a graffiti covered wall. It is another process entirely to consider creating art as one writes; to consider writing a poem using the abecedarian form and to experiment with constrained writing to see where it takes me. The desire to create art in prose commits me to take more risks, to play with form, style, and structure as I explore the possibilities around me using language and the written word.

My goals in writing poems, literary fiction, and creative nonfiction are to inspire, provoke, and challenge the reader at some level. Earlier this year, my debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was published. The entire process of writing that book and getting it onto bookshelves took nine years. I began writing Harmony’s Story, my second novel and thesis project, through National University. Set in 1924 before Korea became a divided nation, it is a story inspired by my great-great grandmother, Boon, and loosely based on her experiences.

Having written a novel already does not make writing this second one easier. I feel though that I have a greater understanding of what it takes to write one. Writing gives me a voice. My MFA studies have challenged and motivated me to refine that voice and the messages I want to deliver.

Focusing on my professional growth as a writer will help quiet the inner voice that is intensely personal and continues to struggle at some level with sharing my writing with others. However, unlike the first step I took as a writer years ago, today I am mindful of the process of creating art and appreciative of how I have changed and will continue to evolve as an author. I remain committed to my writing and moving forward with it.

Author Names & Book Titles

Logo designed by Darcy Morgan

Logo designed by Darcy Morgan

One of my challenges after writing my book was deciding on what name to use as an author. It seemed like a simple decision, but in the end it proved to be a lot of work! I wrote an essay about it that was published by Writer’s Digest. You can read it here.

The other question I get asked a lot is about my novel’s title. Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety was not my original choice. I loved Paper Swan, a title that my editor came up with. The Ugly Duckling was my favourite children’s story growing up. I saw Mary, my protagonist, as the duckling that grew up into a swan. Origami swans are a motif in the novel. After much consideration and discussion, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety was chosen. It reflects the story’s principal setting. As well, each word conjures different connotations that come together to create varied layers of meaning.

 

It’s December!!

It took nine years from writing the book to publishing it.

It took nine years from writing the book to publishing it.

Click on the image to make it larger.

Click on the image to make it larger.

There’s been a few changes since I last posted a blog in the spring …

My debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was released by Simon & Schuster Canada … I finished my MFA studies in Creative Writing … I’m now working on my second novel set in 1924 Korea …

It’s December. I think I’ll take some time to reflect on this past year … it’s been quite eventful!

The writing circle

It’s been five years since I joined the 11th Floor Writers. Of all the benefits that I have reaped over the years, the following three are the most significant.

The circle has kept me a disciplined writer.

Because we have regular meetings, the circle has kept me motivated to write. We push each other as necessary to keep everyone working on something. The whole purpose of being in the group is to write and receive feedback. We work to move each other forward.

The circle has helped me better understand my writing strengths and needs.

Getting feedback is absolutely critical as a writer. Members point out discrepancies, and make recommendations to strengthen the submitted pieces of writing. My writing skills have also further developed by critically examining the works of other writers and trying to provide meaningful and constructive feedback.

 Because we meet face-to-face, friendships have formed over the years.

Friendships with other writers have become especially important to me as I evolve in this craft. Fellow writers who believe in each other and encourage each other to forge ahead is critical when we become unmotivated or uninspired to write.

Five years ago, I submitted a raw first chapter to the circle. It was a humbling experience. Over the course of several years, I have worked through an entire novel manuscript. In June 2012, this manuscript won The Marina Nemat Award, a writing award from the University of Toronto. I attribute much of my growth as a writer to the ongoing support and guidance I get by being a member of a strong and inspired writing circle.

[This entry also appears on the 11th Floor Writers’ blog. Click here.]

New year’s eve – back to school tomorrow


Since I was a kid, September has always marked the beginning of a new year. Between completing my writing programs and my ed-related courses, I’ve been in school steadily since I initially graduated from the University of Toronto back in the early 90s.

So, in the spirit of a new year, the following are this year’s resolutions:

  • No more courses – for a while anyway. I need to focus on getting my book revisions completed.
  • Have realistic deadlines and expectations. Not everything needs to get done ALL AT THE SAME TIME.
  • Get five things done on my LIFE list.

After one week…

Terry Fallis

I got the idea to start a blog after taking a creative writing course entitled, “Building an Audience” with Terry Fallis at the University of Toronto’s School for Continuing Studies. Terry is the author of The Best Laid Plans (Canada Reads 2011 winner) and The High Road. He made blogging seem like the easiest thing to do in the world. A quick look at his site suggests that he really enjoys doing so.

I’m still learning how to navigate my way around the blogging universe. I’ve appreciated the visitors who have let me know that they’ve been here so that I can check out their blogs. I’ve found some really neat ones as a result and still have a few that I’m excited to check out.

Any advice/suggestions from fellow bloggers who write for a living or simply enjoy doing so would be greatly appreciated. You can email me at annykchoi@ymail.com or comment below. Thanks!

Does it even need a name?

Just added some background information about the book that I’m writing. The convenience store in my story remains nameless. I often struggle with names and sometimes even dread having to name a character. Like many writers, I often look up names to see if their meanings match the characters I’m creating. The other challenge is knowing people with the names I want to use in a story.  I still need to overcome my fear of offending readers – although I’ve come a long way since I first started writing. Writing, even fiction, requires courage sometimes.

I’m wondering if the store in my book needs a name or if it should remain nameless, a generic random store in the heart of Toronto to represent the hundreds of other convenience stores all over the city. Thoughts?