Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Tale of Two Women

This month will end a lot better than it started. Eclipse Chronicles Part 2 is on hold, again.


I have finished plotting a new novel in a new genre I've never tried before. I intend to start working on the first draft no later than February 1.

Dang, it feels good to be back at work.

School's back in session. One of my classes is about running a museum. There are no textbooks or research papers. The whole semester will be dedicated to helping a local museum by creating new exhibits before they re-open in the spring.

While there, I noticed that they had a TON of used books for sale. 50¢ each! Naturally, I couldn't resist. I got several first editions of books I've never heard of, and some that just looked like a good read.

But there was one little gem in particular caught my attention.

Tama by Onoto Watanna

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But let's face it, this is one of the most beautiful printed books I've seen in a very long time. Those of you who've read by blog know I'm a sucker for vintage covers, and this is as vintage as they come!

As you can probably guess, the story is somehow related to Japanese culture (as if the sakura blossoms weren't enough of a dead giveaway). Wikipedia had no information on the novel itself, but some interesting tidbits on the author.

Winnifred Eaton, aka, "Onoto Watanna." 1875-1954
Turns out that Watanna is really a pseudonym for a woman named Winnifred Eaton, who was of mixed Chinese and British heritage. The Wikipedia article is flagged for lacing proper citation, but even at face value it tells a rather interesting story.

Eaton began life as a Canadian. At age 14, one of her stories was published in a popular Montreal magazine. She married at 17 and moved to Chicago where she got a day job as a typist. During this time she continued working on short fiction. Some of her works were accepted in widely-read publications, like the Saturday Evening Post.

At some point, she decided to make the switch to novels. Eaton must've had a very good sense of her own status as a woman of mixed race. It proved to be the definitive characteristic of many of her stories. Most of them involved love affairs between Japanese and American people.

Again, the Wikipedia article isn't to be trusted word for word, but it does raise a couple of thoughts.

1. Eaton's fiction was supposedly well-recieved by Americans, despite the fact that Asians were considered inferior to white people. 1910 was the 43rd year in the reign of Emperor Meiji. Having caught a glimpse of the Western world, he enacted a series of radical polices that destroyed the old feudal order and catapulted Japan on a road to industrialization. The samurai and their katanas were replaced by imperial soldiers with modern firearms. Even after Meiji's death in 1912, Japan wouldn't stop flexing its muscle until the end of World War II.

2. Eaton was in a particularly tight spot. Being a woman in 1910, even in Canada or the United States, wasn't a walk in the park. Sure, men were (ideally) brought up to be respectful. Hold the door. Use polite language. Make her life easier. It still wasn't enough to change the fact that, by law, women couldn't participate in most arenas of public life. To make matters worse, she was half Japanese, which didn't make life any easier.

I haven't read the book yet. It's easy to get caught up in the decorations.

The text is arranged in block form with huge margins all the way around. The illustrations in the background have a rough texture, which indicates they might have been embossed. These pictures alternate on every page!

An example of one of the watercolor paintings. The publisher must've known this book would sell, or else they wouldn't have spent the extra money!
I've seen few books lavished with so much detail. There's something pretty to look at on every single page. It reminds me of the old copies of the Bible. A glance at the images above reveal that Eaton made sure to use the proper Japanese formalities when connected to a character's name (Toji-san).

Ebay has a few modern copies of the book. Finding a copy of Tama as old as mine was difficult.

Here's the only website I could find with pictures, but the item had already sold.

Even if I could determine the value of the book, mine's not in great shape.

The binding's in bad shape, but the signature of the previous owner adds a nice bit of character.
If you look at my pictures and then check out the link, you'll notice that mine has one illustration missing. As I was photographing the book for this post, another one fell out. For a book that's over 100 years old, I should be happy that it's still readable.

Internet research has yet to reveal just how popular Ms. Eaton was during her heyday, but from the presentation of Tama alone, it's clear that somebody thought her stories were special.

Hope somebody thinks the same of mine someday.

*fingers crossed*

Power to the pen!

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Well, winter break is over. Another semester begins Tuesday. Due to the emotional upheaval my family experienced, I did not get to write nearly as much as I wanted to. EC Part II stands at a mere 15 pages.

People talk about New Year's Resolutions. Every year. Lots of people, talking lots of resolutions.

I have observed two kinds of resolutions:

A) Do something better than/opposite of what I did last year.

B) Do something that I haven't been doing at all, but should have.

C) Do the opposite of what everyone else is doing because I don't bend the knee to asinine social conventions. See? I added a third item to this list when I said there were only to. And I misspelled that last word. On purpose. Because I can.

All kidding aside (not really), I find modern America's execution of resolutions laughable at best and pitiful at worst. How many times have you called up a friend to see if they're sticking with the program? My own family doesn't bother much with the whole resolution thing. We're always looking for ways to improve ourselves.

But most people make some idle speech and then forget about it. They don't mean it. It's not like we're signing a blood oath or registering them with the FBI. If that was the case, a lot of people would be in jail.

"Good evening. Today, a local man, 35-year-old Joe Blow, was taking into custody on charges of resolution failure. Mr. Blow promised to lose weight and give up dipping, but has yet to make any progress. Mr. Blow's attorney released a statement today: 'I'm really really sorry I'm still a fat slob with bad breath and tooth decay' and 'Dang, why do they have to make those chicken nuggets taste so good?' 

This is not the first time Mr. Blow has been in trouble for resolution failure. His first count was in 1986, when his original resolution to 'be a better person' was rejected by the registrar as 'too vague, and likely something you weren't planning to do at all.' If convicted, Mr. Blow faces a long, embarrassing talk with his parents and will be forced to appear on Dr. Phil."

All kidding aside (for real this time)...

If something if your life is so messed up that you think employing New Year's Eve to mark a change will somehow make people take you at your word, I advise that you forget about that and fix it now.


You want to lose weight? Throw out the junk food, soda, GMOs, sugar, then fix yourself a glass of water and call the nearest gym, now. If they're open? Go down there, now.

You want to quit drinking? Empty wine cellar now.

Want to quit smoking? Buy the gum now.

Want to become a successful novelist? Quit reading this blog and get advice somewhere else, now.

The only resolution I've ever made was to continue in my resolve that I established a long time ago. Resolve isn't something you suddenly acquire, except at New Year's parties (which you shouldn't be at anyway, knee-bender).

It takes resolve to keep writing, even though my career hasn't even begun by any professional standard.

It takes resolve to keep going to college year after year, even though most people think, "Oh, history? That's so boring. You'll never make money that way. Why do you want to do that?"

It takes resolve to do anything truly worth the effort, because the amount of effort you put into something will affect the reward.

Yeah, you could use diet pills to lose weight. But you'll still be in bad shape and your body will still be used to eating all of that garbage.

You could keep drinking and die.

You could keep smoking and die.

You could waste away to nothing by watching cable TV all day, every day, like so many people in this country.

It takes resolve to be anything but ordinary. Most of the people who are famous got there by hard work. Presidents, singers, writers, soldiers, poets, scientists, inventors, etc. They started out as ordinary. There may have been an easier path, a more socially acceptable path.

But that wasn't good enough for them. Whether they were told they could be anything they wanted as a child, or they saw through the veneer of civilization of their own power, they resolved to be their own master.

That's what I resolve.

I resolve to keep writing books even if I never get published.

I resolve to make other people love history even if their peers hate it.

I resolve to seek out the enriching things of this world and this life, because they're mine (and yours) for the taking.

I resolve to live.

You should too.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

New Year


Ok, here goes.

2014 is off to a lousy start.

My grandpa died on New Year's Day. I spent a week out of town under lots of emotional stress. No reading. No writing. I could've thrown together an entry for the blog last week, but chose not to. Nothing to say.

Today I am thoroughly exhausted. All of that travel combined with inactivity and no exercise has come back to bite me. I've decided to take a break for the rest of the month and pick things back up when I'm over this.

We will now consider returning to your regularly scheduled program...eventually.