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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Jana McBurney-Lin Spotlight & Interview

My Half of the Sky

The late leader of China, Chairman Mao Zedong said, “Women hold up half of the sky.” My Half of the Sky is the story of a young woman, Li Hui, who tries to hold up her half of the sky in a world that is constantly changing. She wants to be a modern woman--but the traditions of her village keep pulling her back. Everyone wants to advise her on how she should live, serve her country, and care for her parents. Everyone wants something different from her, particularly her parents who mourn the lack of a son while arranging to marry her off to their greatest advantage. Then Li Hui thinks she has found real love with Chan Hai. He too has dreams and responsibilities that weigh heavily on each decision he makes. Perhaps together they can take care of her parental obligations and have a good life. Perhaps.

Blossoms and Bayonets

The time is 1942, the place is Japanese-occupied Seoul, Korea. Since occupation, the Japanese have eradicated the Korean language, names, even the country’s flower. Now they are seeking Korean boys as volunteers for their army. Fifteen-year-old He-Seung is full of fire, ready to confront these invaders…if only he could convince Father. But Father, one of the first Christian ministers in the city, is more concerned with saving his flock at a time when Emperor-worship has become mandatory. When Father is arrested for his Christian faith, He-Seung must swallow his hatred of the enemy. He must step forward to volunteer. Even harder, he must leave his mother and baby brother He-Dong to fend for themselves….
Based on the true story of co-author Hi-Dong Chai, Blossoms and Bayonets is filled with the tense atmosphere of the 1940s and lends an eyewitness perspective to the War in the Pacific. 

About the Author: 

Jana McBurney-Lin lived in Asia for fifteen years, in Japan and Singapore. While in Japan she served mainly as an editor for ALC Publishing in Tokyo. It was there she started writing for media publications of all kinds (Japan Times, Hemispheres, Islands Magazine, Singapore Straits Times, Saigon Times, and dozens of others.). It was there that she met her husband, a native of southern China, and took one of several fateful trips to China which inspired My Half of the Sky and started her on the path toward being a novelist.
Jana now lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California with her husband and four children. She's a dedicated participant in the Bay Area writing community, having served five years as President of the Peninsula Branch of the California Writer’s Club. She also founded the Writers Camp for Kids, and volunteers annually in the local schools to teach creative writing. You can follow her at www.myhalfofthesky.blogspot.com


Please welcome author Jana McBurney-Lin who has stopped by to answer some questions and share some details about her books, My Half of the Sky and Blossoms and Bayonets.


I grew up in Wilmette, Illinois and  graduated from Bates College in the 80’s with a B.A. in Communications, a minor in Japanese. It was a recession time and the best job I could find was delivering yellow pages. It not only was mind-numbingly boring but it felt unbalanced. As a graduation gift, my parents had given me a downpayment on a new car. However, after surveying the lack –of--jobs market, they suggested I use the money to instead buy a plane ticket to Japan. To hone my language skills in the real environment. In my youthful confidence, I intended to only spend a year .
One of my first jobs was teaching English to secretaries for one of the country’s only female National Diet members The Japanese Diet is similar to our Congress, but has over 500 members. I was immediately captivated by this woman. She told me that her biggest challenge was not the work, but going to the bathroom. There weren’t any female lavatories in the building. So whenever she had the urge, she had to get a male secretary to scope out the restroom and then stand guard. Again, this was the 80’s. The 1980’s. I was so amazed, I wanted everyone to know about her. So I wrote an article. That was my first toe-dip into the river of writing.


 While living in Japan, I met my husband, a man from southern China. One year, when we were back visiting his village, I spotted a big advertisement on someone's house. There was a picture of a couple with a newborn. Underneath them, the sign read, "a girl baby is just as important as a boy baby." I turned to my husband and said, "That is so neat that the government is behind the valuing of little girls." He said, "The government can say what it likes. But the truth of the matter is that a house with no male is a problem." I wondered, “ What if a little girl was born into a household and managed to survive? How would she continue to thrive? To succeed despite the traditions which were not in her favor?”  That's when I thought, “Aha. Now, there's a story. A story that deserves more space than a magazine or newspaper article.” That was the beginning thought of what became My Half of the Sky.

My Half of the Sky has received lots of recognition.  It was a Booksense Pick of the Month, received a 5-Star  Midwest Book Review, was a Forbes Book Club Pick, and a Singapore Museum "Must Read," to list a few.

My second book, Blossoms and Bayonets, came to me in a similar manner. I was at a conference signing books when an engineer approached me. “Your novel reminds me of old Korea,” he said. “Will you help me tell my story?” He grew up in Seoul Korea during WWII as the son of one of the first Christian ministers in the city In the space of three years—an eye blink for most of us—chaos broke loose in his peaceful home life with imprisonment, disaster, and death. When I heard his story I experienced that same moment that I’d had years ago in China. That this was a story people needed to hear.
The resulting book, Blossoms and Bayonets, is currently pending review from the Historical Novel Society. Said former resident of Korea and author, Cliff Garstang, It's a harrowing tale, and one definitely worth reading. 


I love both my books. They both are very different, but they both were thrust into my consciousness and would not leave until I’d put the words on paper. So I was—and continue to be—equally moved by both.


I have buckets full.  (Iris Chang , Sijie Dai, Sue Diaz, Katie Fforde, Jonathon Safran Foer, Joshilyn Jackson, Mark Haddon,  Mohsin Hamid,  Masha Hamilton, Khaled Hosseini , Jon Krakauer , Caroline Leavitt, Anchee Min, Linda Sue Park, Anna Quindlen , Mahbod Seraji,  Anita Shreve, Amy Tan, Thrity Umrigar to name  a dozen or so.) But I have to say the first author who made a huge impression on me was Pearl S. Buck and her story “The Good Earth.” Through her vivid description, she was able to bring me into a totally foreign world and make me feel right at home.


 I think we all have good writing days and not-so-good writing days, just like we have happy days and sad days. However, if we were to focus on a sad day and think, “My life will never be good again. All is lost. I’m a failure,” we would be pretty miserable people. We just keep moving on. Similarly, when the words aren’t flowing quite as fast, I just type on through, knowing that, at some point, my ideas will start flowing again.


I spent a long time on my first book and was so involved with my characters that they felt like family, good friends. It was hard to stop working with them. So, when readers started asking for a sequel to My Half of the Sky, I thought, “Yes!” That is what I’m working on now.


Thank you for being here. My books started as ideas, ideas which slowly became dreams, dreams that one day my white computer pages would be read by more than my critique group and sympathetic friends. Part of my dream came true when KOMENAR Publishing and Redwood Publishing took a chance on an unknown author like me. However, just because the stories come out in book form, doesn't mean that they suddenly leap into everyone's reading pile. From published book to top of the reading pile is a giant step that involves readers like you. So thank you for your interest. You make my dreams come true.

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