Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


Adding Twitter Followers

twitter-312464_1280As an experiment, I decided to try to boost the number of people following me on Twitter. I wanted to see how difficult that would be and what effect it would have.

It turns out to be tedious and time-consuming, but not really difficult. If you follow people, they’re likely to follow you back. If you follow lots of people, you end up with lots of followers. I boosted my followers from under 100 to over 1000 in about a month.

Whether there’s any value in having ten times as many followers is an open question.

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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 . . .


State of Suspension

Letter D


Know that I’m supposed to be cleaning

There are ants in the kitchen

Lines of tiny, moving black dots

Moving around my counter top

Under the baseboard

Inside the sink

But I’d rather write

And feel my fingers moving across the keyboard

let lines of black words forming

Across the white screen

Know that I’m supposed to continue that chapter eight of my novel

And move the plot along

Build some tension and climb toward a climax

But I’m stuck in the act

And want to escape into poetry

Know that I want to achieve so many things

That my little business of maintaining life is an impediment

I’d rather muse on what to do

To control—or permit my protagonist to go where she’s heading

What she wants out of life

how she can move from here to there

Without leaping off the pages

and leave the readers aghast and confounding

At her disappearing act.

Is it a plot twist?

A gaff?

The author’s craft not fully developed?

Or is it simply the process of life?

As disorganized and compulsive as the heart and mind a living person allows

Free to wipe her sweaty brow

And execute a closing bow

The curtain falls

The end.

Time to clean up!


West of Whittier

Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West

Because I admire Jessamyn West, I keep a file on her, hoping to one day assemble thoughts and details into an article. I might even put “Friendly Persuasion” on my Netflix queue for motivation. At the moment I am reading an autographed copy of her 1973 Hide And Seek — A Continuing Journey and would like to share an excerpt, to close out the month of August and to celebrate our Writers’ Club theme “Vacation.”

As background, please know that Jessamyn West proudly proclaimed “Solitude has always excited me.” Me, too! It’s the ultimate vacate-tion. She added that she wasn’t sure it would be quite so exciting if condemned to a prison cell or cast away on a desert island, but “when the opportunity for solitude must be stolen…it is, like stolen fruits, very sweet.”

In Indiana at age four (and probably until she was six in Whittier) little Jessamyn would sit in a round metal washtub and admonish her baby brother “Stay out!” As a school-aged girl in Yorba Linda she “found larger quarters: a piano box instead of a tub” where she could secretly observe adults, children and animals. As an adult she escaped via travel trailer, one which she named Walden on Wheels, planting herself along the Colorado River. “Was Thoreau never lonely?,” she asked. “Certainly. Where do you think writing like his comes from? Camaraderie?”

She also admitted, to my delight, “I’m not the greatest woman in the world for going, but when it comes to stopping, I am hard to beat.”

Thank you, Ms. West. It’s been a pleasure traveling with you.

—Jessamyn West became an Honorary Member of WCW in the 1970s.


Vicodin vs. Research


I admire (and, yes, okay, also confess to a modicum of jealousy in) Kathleen Harrington’s authoritative research used in bringing her Scottish Highlander trilogy to life. She modestly states it’s just research.

(Secretly, however, I suspect time-travel may also have played a major role.)

About twenty years ago, I discovered how true her research comment was.

All told, in summary, I’ve lived a pretty sheltered life. Medically speaking. No broken bones. No hospitalizations. No serious injuries. Nada.

So… twenty years ago, I was mildly surprised during a routine physical exam when my doctor asked if I knew I had an abdominal hernia.

I smiled. Surely he was jesting.

No, he insisted. Just feel right here, and cough. I did. I still couldn’t tell.

Shortly thereafter, however, I found myself hospitalized. Same day surgery.

Tiny—we’re talking real tiny here—little three-inch incision and I was sent home with my very first ever bottle of Vicodin.

Vicodin: the dragon killer pain drug.

My eyebrows rose when he informed me I’d be out-sick from work for about three or four weeks.

Again, I thought he’s jesting. Same day surgery? Tiny incision? Out sick for three or four weeks!? Get outta here!

Admittedly, I was never the best, highly-motivated employee, but we’re talking a four week paid vacation? Right?

Bring it on, baby.

At the time I was plowing my way midway through my first novel. Set in the 1800s. It involved my heroine, Maggie McCarley, admittedly, a somewhat larger than life protagonist (my favorite kind of woman) enduring multiple serious injuries. Deep, self-sutured knife cuts and wounds.

Wow. Talk about an opportunity. For a budding writer. Four weeks of vacation. A minor stomach wound. Okay, so let’s see, first hand, what this thing called pain—without modern drugs and medicine—could possibly be like. Can’t be that bad, right?

Piece of cake. Walk in the park. Valuable research. Right?

I set aside my little bottle of Vicodin, and embarked on a voyage of discovery.

Of course, being the next Ernest Hemingway, I kept scrupulous research notes. Pad and pen close at hand.


Maggie McCarley, my dearest: There’s simply no way. I don’t see any way—on heaven or earth—you possibly could have done it.

Kudos to you, my love.

I could barely move in bed. Changing position. Twisting and rolling over. Excruciating! Not going to happen!

Let alone, getting out of bed, for the toilet.

I think the only word recorded in my exhaustive research journal was: Debilitating.



The following days fared no better.

How on earth our forefathers ever survived their injuries, I have no idea.

Nor do I ever want to pursue the subject again.

But God bless them. They did. Was it alcohol? Jimson weed? I’ll have to check with Kathleen Harrington. Maybe they were just made of sturdier mettle.

A few months ago, I was diagnosed with lumbar nerve damage. I think, possibly, I may be paying up for those seventy years of perfect health.

The last two months, especially, have been literal hell on earth.

I’ve been consuming, at double and sometimes triple doses, those unused bottles of Vicodin from my wife and myself.

My surgery is scheduled for tomorrow.

Thank you Jesus!!!

Research is complete.


Bring it on, baby!



Reaching a Milestone

I am finished. No, that sounds wrong. I am finished with my book. Does that mean I have thrown it out? I have finished my book invites the question: finished reading or finished writing? I have completed writing my book. Well, this sounds clearer. Now that I am going through the labor pains of putting all the pieces together: table of contents, acknowledgements, dedication and other boring stuff, I am already dreading the post partum despondency that happens after a book is sent in for publication. I hang on to the book like a treasure and am tempted to lock it up in a bank drawer. I have become tyrannically possessive. It’s like taking your first-born to kindergarten and dreading to leave the child there.

Did I mention completion? Can you imagine the audacity of writing a book in a foreign language? How about reading it over for the nth time, revising some, wondering if I missed a crooked sentence which may happen in the mire of translating from Armenian, my mother tongue; English learned at high school in Cairo; and American since I came to the United States. I still struggle with prepositions, compositions and oppositions. A few other sterling words seep in, like ambiance, kismet, raison d’etre that lose half their flavor translated into Amerenglish. Expressions like “you’re pulling my leg,” or “working the graveyard shift” throw me off completely, because I take them literally.

The book has passed the editing stage long ago but it is still on final revision – it has been on final from the second to the eighth version. I still find erroneous sentences, words underlined in red by the computer, a missing comma here, a capital letter there, quotations marks that I have not closed. When does it end? We crossed quite a milestone together. We went through critiques, computer hacks, identity theft, personal health problems, and other hair-raising distractions like losing seventy-five percent of the edited data without hope of recovery. Comparatively speaking, changing the title was a child’s play.

Reviewing my writing  itinerary was eye-opening. Now, would I be able to face doomsday when I part with it? Did I mention all that needed to be told? Did I overlook a life-changing event in my all-important memoir? Yes, I could include a few more but the original assumption that my book would end in three chapters has already grown into two volumes, putting me into competition with the Encyclopedia Britannica. I look back and marvel at the transformation I went through. I never expected that this quiet and silent girl who as a young adult had to ask for permission to go out of the house, escorted by her brother, crossed three continents alone in search of a niche and settled in the fourth one, a hemisphere away.

In writing this memoir I found the real me.


Grammar? Get over It

grammar-389907_1280I studied grammar 
in school, and it stuck. I remember when to say “me” and when to say “I,” and what’s more, I can tell you why. I learned the parts of speech, I studied tenses and cases, and I diagrammed sentences. I even studied Latin which, we were told, would improve our grasp of English. Now I’m finally working on the fulfillment of a lifelong dream; I’m writing a novel. You’d think I’d be an avid proponent of the study of grammar, but… not so much. Continue reading


Welcome to Mayberry

The Pasadena Author’s Fair took place on February 21, 2015. Hobnobbing with other authors, and signing and selling books entertained me from setting up at 9:30 am until packing up books, bookmarks, and posters at 2 p.m. There was also a chance to present. My remarks, including four passages I read, are the bulk of this, my first blog post.

Good afternoon. I’m Rubin Johnson, a Californian, born in New York. I graduated Harvard before doing an engineering Ph.D. at Berkeley. I worked at big companies before starting a software firm. Lately, I’ve been focusing on the craft of fiction.

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss my novels – Well Oiled and Cyberbully Blues, both Mayberry Multisport Adventure stories. Why Mayberry? I’ll explain and then read some excerpts.

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