Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


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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 . . .

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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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Summer in Mayberry

Frank anchored himself on the garden’s gray bench as the Wilson’s Memorial Day BBQ got underway. Grandpa Will enthusiastically manned the grill and the smoker as usual. Chicken sizzled on the spit, ribs cooked in the smoker, and their delightful smoky aromas permeated the air. Frank’s mom carried trays of fresh vegetables. Mel placed red poppies and pink zinnia on a dozen picnic tables, each covered with red gingham. Folks laughed and talked. The sunlit backyard embraced the growing number of friends and family.

Frank breathed deeply, smiled, and reflected. His summer didn’t wait for the solstice in mid-June. Frank’s summer started when the jacaranda bloomed. He noticed the purple flowering trees most when riding down La Cuarta where bright blossoms blessed both sides of a two mile stretch of road. In the middle of that stretch, if he looked south towards the Pacific at the right spots, he wouldn’t see the ocean; instead he’d see more jacaranda flowers filling the sky, as trees on either side reached heavenward and met in the middle. Light purplish-blue blossoms everywhere signaled the first days of summer and the last days of school.

———-

Read more about Mayberry in my novels—Well Oiled and Cyberbully Blues.


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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.


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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


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Secrets of the Heart by Samantha Garman

London, 1815. At the age of nineteen, Blaine Whitmore loses everything dear to him in a brutal assault on his family line. Left with nothing, he finds himself aboard a merchant ship sailing far from home. Years pass as a boy becomes a man, and yet no amount of time or distance will help Blaine forget all that he has lost. After ten years sailing the high seas, he is finally ready to restore the Whitmore name. Continue reading


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Luck of the Draw by Cheri Allan

 

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Cheri will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift card to a randomly drawn winner and a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift card to another randomly drawn winner via the rafflecopter at the end of this post. [Editor’s note: The giveaway is closed.] Continue reading