Chain Letters, Japanese Ghosts, and the WIP

I love getting those internet chain letters that ask you to do X, Y, or Z. I’ll read them with great fervor and occasionally drag myself away from whatever other mindless pursuit I’m undertaking at the moment to do whatever they’re asking me to do.

Except I never pass them on. I’ll do the requisite tasks and then conveniently forget to spam anyone else. It’s kind of like the Ring. I’m the guy who keeps taking one for the team so the little girl doesn’t crawl out of your computer monitor and kill you in seven days. Look, the analogy made more sense when I was driving home.

Jen Stayrook tagged me for this 777 thing that’s circling the author world on the internet. Amateurs, professionals, and everyone in between (Is it possible to be semi-professional? Isn’t that like being semi-pregnant?) have been participating. I’m nose down in edits right now, so this floated across at the perfect time.

What is it? Here are the rules, as copied from her site.

  1. Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  2. Go to line 7
  3. Copy down the next seven lines/sentences as they are – no cheating
  4. Tag 7 other authors

Since that’s actually 7777 I’m being true to form when I don’t tag 7 more people at the end. Without further ado, here’s my excerpt from page 7 of the WIP, A PETAL OF CHRYSANTHEMUM. Hope it doesn’t rot your brain like Jersey Shore.

I can’t believe she’s lived next door to the guy for two years now with such a major crush and hasn’t once uttered more than an incoherent mumble at him. He probably thinks she’s not all there in the head. I know I think that sometimes. But hey, we grew up together, went to college together, and have enough dirt on each other that I’d never consider stabbing her in the back, so I’ve got to find some way to smooth this out.

But she was right. He does have nice lips. And I may have let my eyes linger a bit as he walked away. Broad shoulders, too. Not the most muscular guy in the world, though. He looks like he rides a desk all day long. Kind of lean.

All right, that’s a wrap. Go and sin no more. Or do. Either way I’m going to eat dinner and get back to the edits. Feel free to pretend I tagged you if you want to play along!

Death from Overwork is Forbidden

I noted on Twitter the other day that the chrysanthemum is obviously more important to the Japanese than it is to us Americans because their word for it is simply kiku (菊). I followed this with an observation that they also have a word for “death from overwork”: karoushi (過労死). That word really stuck with me. Here was a culture that experienced this so often they needed a simple vocabulary unit to express it.

During the daytime hours I manage video game development teams. Being the Japanese geek that I am I’ve taken that word and made it part of my team charter: karoushi kinshi (過労死禁止): “Death from overwork is forbidden.” I write it on my whiteboard, I hang posters in hallways, and when people ask me what it means it sparks an interesting discussion–one I know will stick with them every time they come to my office to ask for advice on handling a given problem.

The stories about terrible workplace conditions in the video game industry are fewer than they were 6+ years ago. The industry has acknowledged that months of 80+ hour work weeks are counter-productive and has started taking measures to combat it. I like to think I’ve had a lot to do with that during my tenure across three studios of Electronic Arts. They had one of the worst publicity problems in the industry at the time.

But “death” and “overwork” can apply to far more than salaryman type jobs and shuffling off this mortal coil. Very often we get wrapped up in our own pursuits to the detriment of the relationships we hold dear. For me, this pursuit was writing. It’s been all-consuming these past two years, and I’ve spent all the free time I could carve out between my job and my family writing some books and honing my craft. One night my wife went to bed before me and I stayed up late to get some writing done. The next night, I was really close to finishing some scene or other, so when she asked if I was coming to bed I let her know that I’d be there as soon as I finished up. Two hours later I rolled into the bedroom. Of course she’d fallen asleep, the lights still on, waiting for me.

It’s easy to fall into a pattern with our most passionate pursuits that unknowingly builds barriers between us and our loved ones. Two years later and it’s hard for me to remember the last time my wife and I went to bed at the same time. The worst part of all is that I didn’t even recognize it was happening. No, it was pointed out to me by a friend’s wife–and neither the friend nor his wife know my wife. Yet after I spent just one evening chatting with my friend’s wife, she immediately identified this as a significant problem I needed to address. And she’s right. I can’t believe I went so long without seeing it.

Just like the video game industry. One late night wasn’t so bad. That led to another. Then another. And it all snowballed until the only way to get a game built to budget and schedule was by crunching for weeks or months at a time. There was no malevolent intent, no man behind the curtain–just a blinding passion for one pursuit (in their case, making great games, in my case, writing great books). Like I remind my team that overwork isn’t always the answer, it’s good to have friends (or wives of friends!) there to remind me about the important things in life I’m missing out on or inadvertently allowing to die. Of course this problem will be rectified posthaste with lots of hugs, lots of flowers, and a reasonable bedtime.

過労死禁止。Death from overwork is forbidden. Is there something in your own life that’s suffered as a result of your dedication to a given pursuit? Ever stop to think about it? Perhaps some random blog post by some random guy who talks about random Japanese and writing-related things can spark your awareness of it.

Anything’s possible.


At 7:01PM Pacific Standard Time, March 10th, 2012, I completed the draft of A PETAL OF CHRYSANTHEMUM. My third completed novel. Weighs in at 70,110 words, 240 pages. It is finished.I’m going to take a week or three off from writing altogether. Catch up on some books, some games, some TV, and then come back and hit the edits fast and furious. I promised a post about endings this time, and while I’m not going to make that post quite yet, I must say that writing the ending to this was a bit like pulling teeth.

The beginning of the end of the beginning.

The finish line for the draft is the starting line for the revision.

Not because I didn’t know how to end it, but because I’m terrified I can’t pull it off the way I need to.

But then I realized, that’s okay. Revision is where the real story emerges. I’ve already got so many things that need to be fleshed out, rewritten, tweaked, and sculpted. And in the end, it may not be Hemingway, but I’m pretty happy with it. Much more than any of the past aborted novels I wrote.

To revision! And then, to query!

Where’s Ben?

Dude I'm right here!

Dude I'm right here!

If I only had some glasses, I’d look a lot like Waldo.

So where have I been lately? Buried. Sorry for the lack of updates, but I’m neck-deep in writing at the moment. The novel is coming along nicely, just past the 60k mark, and should be wrapped up in another 15k words. Then after a short break the edits begin. I’m trying to have it all tidied up for a conference in May.

In the middle of all the writing going on this month I’ve had some visitors, and to top it all off my family is heading out to Japan next week–for a five month trip. Language boot camp for the kids. Time for them to understand what that Japanese half of them is all about.

It’ll just be me holding down the fort in the rainy Pacific Northwest.

Me and my novels.

Next time I’ll post about endings, both because I’ll have finished this draft, and because I’ve had some interesting conflicts going on about how to end this thing. So many ways to go, and each one has a substantial impact on the tone of the novel. I’m going with my gut. Time will tell if I’m right.

See you guys on the other side of “THE END”!