Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier

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Live your dream: It could Happen to You

By Mary Terzian

        10357802_993761714039738_3986780144559719337_oWhen I wrote Politically Homeless: a Five Year Odyssey across Three Continents, I addressed it to a general audience and, primarily, to educational institutions. I hoped that young adults, looking for a job at the completion of their education, would read it. My job search flung me half across the globe. Now my book has taken over the push. I did not expect three respectable organizations to extend their membership to me:

– Women of Distinction Magazine is looking forward to featuring you and your article. It will now be noted “Recipient of the 2016 Excellence Award ….”

– The Honors Department of  The International Women’s  Leadership Association (IWLA) selected Mary Terzian for her outstanding leadership skills, commitment to her profession and contributions her community.

– Continental Who’sWho has awarded a plaque to Mary Terzian as “Pinnacle Professional Member” inducted into Continental’s Who’s Who circle.

I am certainly honored to be a member of these organizations. Authors never know where their Masterpiece will land, and it is always a pleasure to find out that their book has touched deep feelings, which is essentially the purpose: to shake and wake the reader to alternative realities. Will I ever make it to the Pulitzer Prize? Doubtful, but it is alright to keep the dream alive.  Here is an excerpt from Chapter One of the book. You be the judge.

“Your place is in the kitchen,” Father thundered, his green eyes bulging from their sockets.”You don’t need more education. You had more than enough already for a girl.”

That phrase, “for a girl,” seared my soul ad infinitum, whether for higher education, going to the movies, attending cultural events or just belonging to a club. Those activities were reserved for boys. I was the extra hand at home, Stepmother’s helper, if not her replacement. I would become a spinster for life if a suitor didn’t ask for my hand soon. In the 1950’s that was the normal expectation from Armenian girls in Cairo who were lucky enough to complete high school.

“You can’t feed a husband with books! You’re a woman!” Stepmother echoed, “you’re destined to keep house!” as if I wasn’t doing it already.Housekeeping is no brainer for heaven’s sake! How long does it take to tidy up a place, or learn to fold grape leaves over seasoned ground meat to make sarma or stuffed dolma? When did a housekeeper ever win a Nobel Prize?

I looked at my parents with glassy eyes, pursed lips and a poker face, an acquired habit developed at the Immaculate Conception English High School in Cairo where I had just graduated. The Irish nuns had helped me gain self-confidence. Otherwise I would have lost my temper and hollered back at my parents, an unforgivable sin. Father accused them of “raping my mind.” He didn’t suspect that they saved my life, by diverting my suicidal thoughts towards hope and patience. Sister Mary Visitation taught us a phrase that is etched on my brain to this day: “I can and I will.”There and then I made up my mind. “I will challenge that destiny. You can’t stop me!”  Without that promise to myself I would have burst into a volcano from the anger piled up in me.

School, my only escape, was over now and I felt like a caged bird.

“I told you several times to quit reading those stupid books,” Father lamented, “You never listened to me! They’re useless when you’re hungry! Learn to sew. Start learning a trade, otherwise you’ll starve!”

Four years earlier my high school education had been threatened the same way. Had it not been for my older brother Kev’s sneaky intervention reporting to Aunt Esther about my staying at home, I would not have had the opportunity to attend secondary school at fourteen. Aunt Esther kept an eye on us. She had intervened on my behalf while Uncle Avedis, Mama’s brother, was still alive, his presence giving more weight to her authority then. It was different now.

“What’s the use of your education now, tell me! After all that money spent on you!” Father grieved. He sounded as if it were a waste.

Survival had been the preoccupation of my parents’ generation. The Armenians living in Aintab, Mother’s ancestral town, and those in Killis, Father’s birthplace, had witnessed the emaciated shadows of human beings marching through their town. They were dispatched to their death in the hot, arid Syrian deserts, their only sin being a Christian. They were mostly seniors, women and children. The able-bodied men, fourteen years old and over, had been taken care of, Ottoman style. History labeled these once industrious, then impoverished individuals “starving Armenians,” adding insult to injury. The majority perished on the road for want of a drop of water, a slice of bread, or a shelter from threat. Few survived.

Fearing the same fate of deportation and massacres of infidels could befall them, and unable to defend themselves any more, those who could escape left their town overnight, following the departure of the French Army after the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918. The French left behind not only the areas they had conquered, but also their promises of helping the population to take over their ancestral lands.

Father’s family was among the escapees. They probably endured hunger during their voluntary displacements. Although we never had a shortage of food at home, and during World War II we were reasonably rationed, his memory and fears lingered. He humbly picked up the last precious crumbs of bread from the table as if they were particles of Holy Communion. World War II had revived the apprehensions of the immigrant Armenian community that had barely found its footing.”What will happen to us now?” was the common worry.

Egypt, then a British Protectorate, had been hospitable to these impoverished remnants of a proud nation who wanted to keep their identity intact. The local Egyptian-Armenian communities had extended a helping hand to facilitate the integration of the arriving compatriots. Charitable organizations and benevolent patrons had financed the education of children whose parents could not afford tuition in Armenian schools. Father, however, was a proud man. He would never accept help from anyone. He paid for our education, Kev’s and mine, but he considered sending me to school a “waste of money”.

“Why does she need education? If she can read that’s enough! She’ll stay home and rear children.”

Mother was adamant. She was a woman ahead of her time: well-educated, insightful, and intelligent.

“Times are changing. Mary should be educated at the same level as the boys. Don’t you see the women working in the Army nowadays?”

“Berj will soon start kindergarten. I have to provide for him too. He’s a boy. He needs it more.”

“God will send his kismet just as He did when he was born. Don’t sacrifice the girl for him!”



The Chick Sexer – A Novel Education: Part 2

Zeitgeist – the spirit of the age. What better way to get a feel for an era than reading the work of authors who lived and breathed at that time? Nobel prize winner, Yasunari Kawabata, wrote a book called The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa. Basically plotless, the book’s sensual impressions of the seedy slum of Asakusa during the 1920’s and 30’s was exactly what I was looking for to bring Frankie Honda’s yakuza, gangster, uncle to life. The area, on the northern fringe of Tokyo, was home to a colorful parade of actors, hawkers, dancers, bums, con artists and prostitutes. Asakusa was a place that never slept.

I learned that the great depression hit Japan before America’s disastrous crash of October 1929. Tokyo had not yet recovered from the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 in which 140,000 people were killed. When Frankie’s Uncle Hitomi gives him the rickshaw tour of Asakusa in The Chick Sexer they pass Hanayashiki park, thick with the jobless and the homeless. “Under the Stars Boarding House,” says Uncle Hitomi. “Biggest hotel in Japan.”

“Desires dancing naked…Asakusa, heart of Tokyo…marketplace of humans…strange rhythm.” Pieces of lyrics drift back to Frankie as his rickshaw puller sings a popular song of the day. Japan was known for her pleasure districts. In the early 1900’s girls were sold into prostitution if their parents couldn’t support them or if they were orphaned. Sandakan No. 8 (Brothel 8) is a heart-wrenching Japanese movie on the subject, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1974.

A fellow with the Flickr name of Okinawa Soba has an amazing collection of photos of old Japan. With a high quality scanner he turns 3-D stereoscopic post cards into wonderful vintage photos. Popular postcards of the day included geisha posed in gardens with parasols or in rickshaws, oiran in their impossibly high shoes and prostitutes behind bamboo bars in the pleasure quarters, prisoners of poverty.

Oiran, mistress, geisha, geiko, prostitute – different status? Different levels of female degradation, but then arranged marriages for many women also meant a life of drudgery. Mother-in-laws treated their son’s wives as slaves. Memoirs of a Geisha – I reread the book and watched the movie again. When the film was released in 2005 I was anxious to hear my Japanese American students’ opinions of it. Most of them were peeved that the main actress was Chinese.

Many young Nisei who were sent back to Japan for education didn’t speak the language well and were unfamiliar with the status concepts in the country of their ancestors. Often they didn’t know the who and the how and the depth of the Japanese bow. In the opening scene of The Chick Sexer, sixteen-year-old Frankie realizes his teacher is waiting for him to bow. His young class mates find his fumbling attempt at the respectful gesture hilarious. Frankie thinks: How should I know how to bow? I’m an American. I have never bowed to anyone in my life.

to be continued . . .


The Chick Sexer – A Novel Education by Sherry Novak

Chick sexer – what’s that? I enjoy watching expressions when I tell people what 101-year-old Frankie used to do for a living. He squeezed day-old chicks to determine their gender. I’ve heard Frankie’s stories, sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic, for the thirty years I’ve been his ballroom dance teacher. All the time I thought: Someone needs to get this little known and soon-to-be-lost slice of Japanese American history down on paper. And so, three years ago I set to work writing the novel entitled The Chick Sexer. Creating the story of the fictionalized Frankie Honda has been an education!

Places like the Japanese American National Museum in L.A. and the Densho website have done a great job of documenting short pieces of oral histories. But how did it feel to be a young Nisei, second generation born in America, man in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s? Kids who played baseball, watched Charlie Chaplin films and built their own boards with skates on them; teenagers who learned to box, drove Model T Fords and danced the Lindy hop were soon to be viewed as the enemy. What happened between the time they were born of Issei, first-generation, parents and the bombing of Pearl harbor?

How to start the process of writing a historical novel? Along with collecting vignettes from the real Frankie, I asked him a million questions over lunch, every Tuesday. I started soaking up movies from the 1920’s-40’s, both American and Japanese. (Hulu has a large selection of old Japanese movies, however, quite a few, annoyingly, stopped about three-quarters of the way through. Slow internet?) I learned that, next to Hollywood, Japan had one of the most prolific film industries in the early 1900’s. Sadly, many classic moving pictures were lost during the great Kanto earthquake of 1923. Frankie told me that in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Japan the silent movies always had benshi. The narrator stood on stage next to the film voicing man and lady’s roles as well as adding explanations. Sometimes they threw in jokes or improvised new dialogue. They were as famous as the actors and rode up and down the west coast in limousines. Japan continued making silent movies even after talkies come out, because their patrons so enjoyed the narrators. Producer Akira Kurosawa’s brother was a famous benshi. Keeping the art form alive, a lady narrator named Midori Sawato performs today as a benshi.

Part I, to be continued . . .

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Amanda Ashley and Madeleine Baker-Lightning Strikes Twice

Prolific club member Mandy Baker has two new books out, and she’s received the 2014 Career Achievement Award in the Paranormal Romance category by Romantic Times Magazine.


In Twilight Dreams, Holly Parrish falls in love with Micah Ravenwood only to discover that he’s a vampire embroiled in a deadly struggle with an ancient enemy. Micah was a character in one of Mandy’s earlier books, As Twilight Falls. “I really enjoyed writing his story and giving him his own happy ending.” Both books Twilight books are published under the pseudonym Amanda Ashley.

Cover_FTL_(425x640)-330Follow the Lightning is a western romance with a touch of time travel. When half-breed Jay Dalton is wounded in a flight for life, his prayer to the Great Spirit is answered by a magical white stallion that whisks him into the past, and into the life of rancher Jenna McLaughlin.


Recent Publications Honored

DSC06963This Sunday WCW held its annual Author Tea honoring members who have recently published books. Congratulations to an amazingly varied group of writers. We’re proud to count you among us:

Carol Amato for Maximize Your Competitive Edge, a book for small business owners.
Amanda Ashley for Night’s Promise, the latest in her vampire romance series, Children of the Night.
Kathleen Harrington for her historical romance,  Black Raven’s Lady, the third in her Highland Lairds Trilogy.
•Rubin Johnson, for Well-Oiled, Cyberbully Blues and Dark and Cold, the first books in his futuristic series set in Mayberry.
Hilda Lassalette for Fishing for Love, a romance with a touch of the paranormal.
•Angela Myron, for Ennara and the Fallen Druid, the second of her young-adult science fantasies about a young girl learning to master her powers.
Raquel Reyes-Lopez for Born to Electrify, a collection of poetry.


Celebrate Pi Day

Mathematics is all about making the invisible visible. The relationship between the distance around a circle and straight across can’t be seen directly but is well known. The ratio of circumference to diameter is pi, whose symbol is π.

In 1971, Petr Beckman published A History of π which details humanity’s attempts to capture this irrational number. From about 3, to 22/7, to 256/81, to as many digits of accuracy as you are willing to compute, mathematicians and dilettantes have approximated π with precision.

Some people celebrate Pi Day by eating pastries and pies. A slice of cherry pie works for me. Technical schools and math classes celebrate by writing digits of pi, by answering math questions, or having an all-around fun day. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology celebrates by sending out its admission decisions. Einstein was born on March 14. This is a special day.

Pi Day this year of 2015 will be a once-in-lifetime event for most of us. Look at it — 3/14/15 is the first five digits of π = 3.14159265358979. If you see people in a joyful but quiet moment around 9:26, they may be paying attention to π with additional precision.

If you need some help remembering, the following is a famous piem (pi + poem) where the letter count of each word is a digit of π: How I need a drink, alcoholic, of course, after the tough chapters involving quantum mechanics.

Given the technical nature of Cyberbully Blues, it seems only fitting to help celebrate this very special day. On Pi Day, on Amazon, Cyberbully Blues will be released. Perhaps, you’ll join in the celebration.


Anger: How To Control It So It Won’t Control You by Dr. Tiffany Brown

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Dr. Brown will be awarding an ebook copy of Anger: How to Control It So It Won’t Control You to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.[Editor’s note: The giveaway is closed.] Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour. Continue reading