December 7, 1941: “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy.”

Pearl Harbor, photo courtesy of lefatima

Pearl Harbor, photo courtesy of lefatima

Seventy-five years ago today, The Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it, “A date which will live in infamy.” The following day, the United States declared war on Japan. Three days later, it declared war on Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

In an earlier post, I wrote about Pearl Harbor from the point of view of two families. Today, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of that attack, I’d like to run that post one more time.

Pearl Harbor Wasn’t the Only Target

If you’re a history buff, you probably know how expansive the Imperial Japanese Navy war plans were for December 7, 1941. Besides attacking Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, they planned and carried out simultaneous strikes and movements against several other targets, attacking the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, Midway, Malaya, Thailand, Hong Kong, Java, Sumatra and Shanghai.

There was at least one other place they invaded on that day. But let me keep you guessing for a while.

Two Families Half a World ApartMom&Dad 001

Less than two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, my parents were married in Mount Vernon, WA. In keeping with wartime frugality, it was a simple civil ceremony. Soon thereafter my dad, who was still actually a Canadian citizen then, was drafted into the United States Army and sent to Fort McClellan in Alabama for basic training. When he completed training, he was shipped out to fight in North Africa and then in Italy, France, and Germany.

They made him an engineer, which meant he was sent out beyond the front lines to build bridges and such.

Andy Cromarty and his best friend before the siege of Monte Cassino

Andy Cromarty and his best friend, Chet, before the siege of Monte Cassino

During the siege of Monte Cassino, Chet, was killed. Losing his best friend was so painful for my father that he avoided having a best friend again as long as the war continued.

In Nov 1944 during the Battle for Bruyeres in Alsace, France, my dad and another Army engineer were sent out to locate mines by stabbing the ground with a knife. The other man made contact with a mine and was blown to bits. My dad spent the next six weeks in a French hospital before returning to the front.

When my dad was at war, my mom was pregnant with me. After my birth, she sent him pictures of the baby surrounded by hearts and lacy doilies. My dad, who was generally quiet and low-key, wrote mushy letters back to her. (She saved them all.) My favorite quote from him: “I love my wife, baby, rifle & foxhole.” When he returned from the war, I was already three years old.

On the other side of the world my future husband’s family was affected more directly by the attack on Pearl Harbor. They lived on the small Chinese island of Kulangsu (now known as Gulangyu). The area surrounding them had been occupied by the Japanese since 1938. But Kulangsu, which was an International Settlement or Treaty Port, had been spared. Then at 4 a.m. on December 8th 1941 (December 7 on the other side of the International Date Line), the Japanese Marines crossed over from Amoy, and for the next three and a half years, the 70 American, British and Dutch citizens and the nearly 80,000 Chinese on the island lived under Japanese occupation.

While my mother-in-law and her children struggled to survive the occupation, my father-in-law fought the Japanese. He was an engineer too, but unlike my dad who was self-taught, my father-in-law had a degree in engineering. He was a Kuomintang (Nationalist) officer who fought the Japanese for seven long years. In 1949, when the Nationalists retreated to Taiwan, he helped arrange for some of the last boats to ferry Nationalist soldiers and their families to Taiwan. By the end of the evacuation, they were lashing small boats together like rafts to cross the Taiwan Strait.

A Few Statistics

After Pearl Harbor the United States declared war on two fronts. By 1945, 418,500 Americans were dead. More than three hundred thousand of them died in Europe; 106,000 in the Pacific Theater.

China, which had been fighting on its own soil since 1937, lost three to four million soldiers and around sixteen million civilians.

Thankfully, my future father-in-law and my own dad were among those soldiers who survived. But as the numbers above show, it was particularly dangerous to be a Chinese civilian during the war. Without adequate food, fuel, clean water and medicine, many people starved or fell ill, my husband’s baby brother among them.

My novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in southeastern China immediately before and after the events of December 7, 1941.

If you’re like many people in the world, you have some connection to Pearl Harbor. Do you have a story to share?

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The digital version of Tiger Tail Soup is currently on sale for $1.99. The paperback at $16.95 might suit someone on your Christmas gift list.

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Transitioning from News to Music

 newspapers and music CDs

I’ve been listening to too much news lately, especially during the presidential campaign and its aftermath. It’s like a soap opera with real life consequences—hard to turn off. Like a box of See’s candy or a sack of bite-sized Snickers—bad for your health but oh, so tempting to overindulge in it.

My solution: listen to more music. I don’t mean to say that I’m opting out of the news. I still feel the need to know what’s going on in my country and the world. To be a knowledgeable citizen. To do my part.

But for a while I was going overboard. And so, in order to gain more balance in my life, I’ve decided to turn to music. Or at least I’m trying to make at least a partial transition from news to music. Old habits die hard.

One old habit of mine is listening to NPR while I drive. Sometimes I listen to music CDs when I’m in the car, or even to “the sound of silence.” Lately, though, NPR has had the lion’s share of my driving time. The mix CDs my daughter made for me deserve more attention. And really, there’s nothing wrong with a little silence now and then.

Another habit: watching or listening to the news while I’m cooking, eating or washing dishes. I haven’t always been such a news junkie. I suppose I fell into the habit after my husband died. The house had begun to seem too quiet, and the radio and TV helped fill up that sound space. This year, the outrageous presidential campaign and election overflowed into every nook and cranny.

My transition to music started a few weeks ago with the songs I have on iTunes. Those songs were getting a little stale, though, so I signed up with Pandora.

Here are some of the “stations” I’ve set up so far on Pandora:

Bruno Mars, Sam Smith, Smooth Jazz, Sara Bareilles, Santana, Fun., and Christmas Traditional, which I play when I’m wrapping gifts and addressing Christmas cards.

I still find it hard to tear myself away from the news–all those meaty, complex, outrageous things going on every day in my country and the world. When I listen to music, though, I smile more. I even find myself swinging my hips and twirling my way around the kitchen.

I feel happier. And that’s gotta be a good thing.

So … What do you fill your sound space with–news, music, talk, nothing at all? What type of music do you like?my signature

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Privacy Is a Moving Target.


From public phone books to hummingbird drones.

For most of my life, my phone number and address could be found in the fat public phone book everyone received once a year. When I was a kid, we even had a “party line”—two short rings for our phone, one for the neighbors’. We didn’t listen in, but if we’d wanted to, nothing would have stopped us.

Before we had the internet, most of us didn’t worry about our privacy. Our lives were just naturally private enough. If we wanted to keep something to ourselves, we just kept our mouths shut.

shoesEven now, most of the intrusions are not too bad. I bought a pair of shoes online a couple months ago, and now I get emails from the company every few days. I could unsubscribe, but … you know … I like their shoes. Maybe I’ll buy a pair of boots for winter. Or some slippers. Mine are looking worn. I really don’t mind those ads from the shoemaker. In fact, I’m glad they keep track of me and alert me to their sales.

I might have a different opinion, though, if someone sent a drone disguised as a hummingbird over my patio. Sounds like science fiction, right? Nope. AeroVironment has already produced one. (For more fun facts about other frontiers in surveillance, take a look at Matthew Hutson’s article in The Atlantic,Even Bugs Will Be Bugged.”)

Elena Ferrante’s Loss of Privacy

Elena Ferrante

Last month the New York Review of Books published an article about an Italian author whose real name was made public against her will. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about the tightrope authors walk and the contradiction they live.

In my blog of October 16th, I wrote about one small aspect of the outing of the author known as Elena Ferrante. I was interested then in the problem of authors writing about people different from themselves. Most people, on the other hand, were concerned about the author’s loss of privacy. Why, they asked, shouldn’t she be allowed to hide behind her pseudonym if that was her desire?

Indeed. Why shouldn’t we all be able to choose what to keep private and what to make public?

We writers are a strange bunch. Many of us are introverts, at least to some extent. You may not notice it because we also like to spend time with friends and family. We may even enjoy crowds on occasion. But you can’t be a writer unless you have the ability to spend lots of time alone, thinking and writing, just you and your laptop or pen and paper.

It can be frightening for a writer to show words to the world that were written in private. And yet, if the writer doesn’t publish, all that work will have been in vain. It’s like cooking dinner only to find out that everyone has already eaten and all your work was a big waste of time.

I understand why Anita Raja, who now is assumed to be the real Elena Ferrante, would want to use a pseudonym. Many writers would like to do the same, if only we could.

Or could we?

*    *    *

Here are some quotes from Elena Ferrante from an article in The Guardian. They compiled the quotes from various sources before the events of last month.

“I don’t protect my private life. I protect my writing.”

“I’m still very interested in testifying against the self-promotion ­obsessively ­imposed by the media. This demand for self-promotion diminishes the ­actual work of art …”

“The fact that Jane Austen, in the course of her short life, published her books anonymously made a great impression on me as a girl of 15.”

“…what counts most for me is to preserve a creative space that seems full of possibilities, including technical ones. The structural absence of the author affects the writing in a way that I’d like to continue to explore.”


Do you have privacy concerns?

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You may be interested in these related posts:

Fame and Invisibility,

Secrets and Revelation,

Elena Ferrante Isn’t Who I Thought She Was.

P.S.- Maybe I should be more concerned about my privacy. Even though my phone calls and emails are pretty innocuous, I suppose a way could be found to twist my words. If I learned anything from the campaign of the past few months, it is to choose my words carefully and beware of hackers.

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“Loving,” the Movie, and the Crime of Interracial Love.

 wedding, cake, Eugene and Nicki Chen, June 17, 1967

I had no idea.

In June of 1967, Eugene and I were putting the finishing touches on our wedding plans.

At the same time, the United States Supreme Court was preparing to release its decision in the case of Loving v Virginia, a case that would decide whether our marriage would be legal in Virginia and throughout the country.


I understood that our marriage would be unusual, but it never crossed my mind that it might be illegal. And not just in the South. Six days before our wedding, interracial marriage was illegal in sixteen states. If, after getting married, we’d decided to move to Tennessee or Texas or any one of fourteen other states, we would have been criminals.

us_miscegenation-svg-wikimedia-commons-by-certesUS states by date of repeal of anti-miscegenation laws:

gray: no anti-miscegenation laws passed

green: 1780 to 1887

yellow: 1948-1967

red: after 1967

Then, five days before our wedding, the Supreme Court made interracial marriage legal and anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. Their reason: The laws forbidding interracial marriage had been enacted for the purpose of perpetuating white supremacy. (The legal reasoning is more complex.)

wedding, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church 001Eugene and I didn’t know it at the time, but by the date of our wedding on Jun 17, we were back on the right side of the law.

The Supreme Court decision wasn’t the end of it, though. Laws against interracial marriage remained on the books in sixteen states. In Alabama, local judges continued to enforce them until 1970, and they didn’t get around to striking them from their books until 2000 when a citizen’s initiative forced them to do it.

The story of Richard Loving’s and Mildred Jeter’s fight for interracial justice.

mildred_jeter_and_richard_lovingIt was just a coincidence (a happy coincidence) that one of the plaintiffs in the case of Loving v Virginia was named Loving, Richard Loving.

He and his wife, Mildred Jeter, went to separate segregated schools. But they’d been friends since he was 17 and she was 11. By the time Mildred was 18, they were ready to get married and raise a family. But Richard was a white man and she, a black woman. They couldn’t get married in Virginia.

So they left their home and drove to Washington, DC to be legally wed.

The trouble began five weeks later after they’d returned to Virginia. One night while they were sleeping, the county sheriff and two deputies broke into their bedroom, beamed flashlights into their eyes, and arrested and jailed them for unlawful co-habitation.

The judge sentenced them to a year in jail, but in a plea bargain he agreed to a suspended sentence if they would agree to leave the state and never return together for the next 25 years.

So they made a home for themselves in Washington, DC and raised three children there, taking separate trips back to Virginia to visit friends and family. They never could get used to city living, though.

In 1963, after five years in Washington, DC, Mildred wanted to move back home, and she contacted Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy, who referred her to the ACLU. The case worked its way through the lower courts all the way up to the US Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the case was decided in their favor by a unanimous verdict. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the opinion.

“Loving,” the movie.

The movie about their lives came out on November 4, but only in selected cities. I’m waiting for it to be more widely available. “Loving” is not the first movie to tell the story of the Lovings, but it promises to be the best. It received a standing ovation at Canne, and it’s already named as an Oscar contender.

Joel Edgerton plays Richard and Ruth Negga plays Mildred.

While you’re waiting for “Loving” to come to a theater near you, please enjoy this trailer:

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Whoops! I Missed UN Day.

UN Day, Makati International Nursery School

my daughter, R, in her brocade Chinese suit being hugged by her nursery school teacher

United Nations Day was October 24. I’d forgotten all about it until I turn the page on my calendar. And there it was: UN Day. For many years–thirteen to be exact–it had been the biggest school celebration for my three daughters.

The first school they attended was the Makati International Nursery School.


Then they moved on to the Manila International School. Most of their elementary and secondary school years were spent there.

The students at the International School came from every continent except Antarctica. No single national group made up more than about fifteen percent of the whole, so it was hard to find a holiday the school could celebrate.

UN Day

children representing New Zealand, Norway, and Okinawa

National holidays were out. For American children, that meant no Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Day, Columbus Day, end-of-summer Labor Day, or even American Thanksgiving.

In a student body of varied religions, celebrating religious holidays didn’t make much sense either.

Since the school was located in the Philippines, a Christian (mainly Catholic) country, it didn’t need to celebrate Christmas and Easter. Reminders of them were everywhere … outside of the school.

Halloween can’t really be described as a national holiday or a true religious holiday. But however you want to describe it, it isn’t universally observed around the world. During our years in the Philippines, if a child had knocked on a door and shouted “trick-or-treat,” the homeowner would have greeted him not with candy but with a look of puzzlement.

UN Day Christine and Nasreen

my daughter, C, in a Chinese-style dress with her Pakistani friend, N.

The only holiday remaining suitable for an international school to celebrate was United Nations Day.

At my daughters’ schools, the UN Day celebrations often lasted for a week. The older children participated in mock-UN sessions and learned national dances. The younger children brought their mothers in to share games, crafts, and traditional dishes from their respective countries.


The culmination of the week-long festivities was the Parade of Nations.

UN Day, Manila International School

my daughter, C, in her pioneer bonnet.

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The True Story of a Foreign Ghost in a Chinese Cemetery.

Eugene and Anna 002

We’re fast approaching that time of year when souls and saints appear. A time for recalling and repeating tales of the unexplained. So come along, I invite you to revisit this true tale of a little boy who encounters a foreign ghost in a Chinese cemetery.

My late husband Eugene was a “ghost whisperer.” Or so some believe.

He saw his first ghost when he was still a child. It was wartime and he lived in a war zone—a place with more than its share of people who’d died before their time, more than its share of discontented, angry spirits.

Enemy troops occupied his island in those days. Still, little Eugene wandered the lanes, watching the flow of life, playing and talking to the shopkeepers. One afternoon, he found himself far from home as the sun was sinking into the sea, and he realized he’d never make it back before curfew unless he cut through the cemetery.

IMG_0631As he sprinted down the lane, shopkeepers on either side were pulling their metal shades down for the night. The cemetery was all long shadows and pools of darkness. He heaved open the iron gate and darted inside. Then, skipping and dodging around the tombstones and newly dug graves, he raced into the spreading darkness.

That’s when he saw the ghost. She was floating over the graves, a tall, shining woman in a flowing white dress with the long nose and round eyes of a foreigner.

He froze for an instant. Then he ran as fast as he could, stumbling over grave markers, rocks, and uncut grass. He didn’t stop until he reached the gate on the other side of the cemetery. Looking over his shoulder, he saw her. She was close behind, floating between the trees, watching him.

“Stop following me,” he shouted.

She reached her hand toward him.

And he took off again.

When he told his mother and grandmother what he’d seen, his mother scolded him for staying out late. His grandmother put her arm around him and asked if he’d ever done anything to harm a foreign woman.

“No, Grandmother,” he said. “Never.”

“Then you needn’t worry. Next time you see a ghost, remind her you did her no harm during her lifetime, and she will leave you alone.”

It was useful advice since the white woman in the cemetery was not the last ghost Eugene was to encounter.

Happy Halloween.

my signatureDo you have a favorite ghost story or a tale of the unexplained?

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Manila American Cemetery — Traveler on Foot



I’m re-blogging this post by Glenn Martinez because it reminds me of a day long ago. My mom was visiting us in the Philippines, and the American Cemetery was close to where we lived. I’d never been there before, but you know how it is, when visitors come to town, you take them to see the sights you’d never see otherwise.

As Glenn reminds us in this post: The Manila American Cemetery is the largest resting place for American service men and women outside the United States. My mom and I were surprised at how big it was. It’s a beautiful cemetery, well cared for and dignified.

Another personal memory from that day was how well my youngest daughter, who had recently learned to walk, ran up and down the hills.

MCKINLEY ROAD. Serious, simple, and sprawling, this is the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. Established a decade after World War II in what is known then as Fort McKinley, it is the largest resting place for American service men outside the United States. The best way to reach the cemetery […]

via Manila American Cemetery — Traveler on Foot

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Elena Ferrante Isn’t Who I Thought She Was.

 Elena Ferrante

And I’m glad she’s not.

Elena Ferrante is the pseudonym for Italy’s most famous author. For twenty years her true identity has remained a carefully guarded secret.

Then, on October 2nd, the New York Review of Books published an article on its website by Claudio Gatti. Mr. Gatti claimed that he had discovered the woman behind the pen name. In the kind of investigation usually reserved for criminals or crooked politicians, he had combed through financial records and found all the evidence he needed.

Anita Raja, a Rome based translator was the real Elena Ferrante. Ms. Raja denies it, but his proof is pretty convincing.

So why, you may wonder, am I glad—not that she was outed—but that she probably isn’t who I thought she was?

Over the past year or so I’ve read the four books that compose her Neapolitan Quartet. The books follow the lives and friendship of two women from a poor neighborhood of Naples. The narrator, Elena Greco, takes us through more than fifty years of their lives.

If Mr. Gatti is right, the author of the Neapolitan Quartet was not a girl from a poor neighborhood in Naples. She was born in Naples, but she moved to Rome when she was three years old. And her father was not poor. He was a magistrate.

The four books are a testament to the power of the imagination. The author of the Neapolitan Quartet was able to imagine herself inside the skins of people who were different than she was. In my mind, that’s a good thing.

Not everyone agrees with me. These critics believe authors have no right to tell other people’s stories, especially if the people whose stories the author wants to tell are from a different socio-economic class or a different race.

The White Englishman, Chris Cleave, was criticized for presuming to write from the viewpoint of a Nigerian girl in his best-selling book, Little Bee. Another book, The Help, was made into a movie, but it was roundly criticized for the way the white author, Kathryn Stockett, portrayed its characters of color.

When I started my novel, Tiger Tail Soup, I knew how dangerous it was to write from the point of view of a Chinese woman. I didn’t start out with the intention of doing a high-wire act on my first novel. But I had a story to tell, and that was the only way I knew to tell it.

my cover, 5-27-14

I know. Anita Raja (if she actually is Elena Ferrante) was the same race and nationality as the characters in the Neapolitan Quartet. But she did step out of her comfortable middle-class world to write about women who lived in poverty. And that leap, which fooled everyone, gives me confidence to continue to imagine the lives of people whose experience is different from my own.

The Neapolitan Quartet:

#1 My Brilliant Friend

#2 The Story of a New Name

#3 Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

#4 The Story of the Lost Child

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Free to Paint My House Blue

 blue house2

Thirteen years ago. I was in the market for a new house. Or a condo. I couldn’t make up my mind.

The houses I saw—much like the house I was leaving—had lawns and extensive flowerbeds and overgrown trees, and I was tired of weeding and mowing the lawn. The condos, on the other hand, were small, expensive, and too far from the ground.

Then one day I stumbled upon this house. It belonged to a thirty-six house development in a quiet, friendly neighborhood, walking distance from town. And the price was right. Perfect!

Every choice has its trade-offs, though. I would have to abide by the rules of the homeowners’ association. No political yard signs, no dogs running free, and all the houses must remain the color the developer painted them: Seashell.

Fine. Freedom is never absolute. And what does the color of my house matter in the larger scheme of things?

Years passed in my Seashell colored house. And then last year, the homeowners voted to change the rules and allow more colors. The Architecture Committee got to work and came up with a pallet of six acceptable colors: Gateway Grey, Barcelona Beige, Camelback, Curio Grey, Cardboard, and Seashell.

I spent a few months staring at my choices. Nothing jumped out at me. Gateway Grey? Barcelona Beige? Ho-hum. Before I could make up my mind, the news came out. We could paint our houses any color we liked.


It seems someone had taken the time to read the rule book and found that there never had been a restriction on house colors. Go figure.

blue house

So … I visited the local paint store, poured over the colors in their extensive display, brought color cards home and held them up in sunshine and shade. The color I chose is called Blustery Sky, a shade of blue. It looks brighter on some days than others. I like the contrast with my Heavenly Bamboo.

blue house4

All those years I’d been fine with a monochromatic neighborhood. Now that we have a more colorful neighborhood, I’m really enjoying not only my new house color, but the combination of colors my neighbors and I have chosen.

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Secrets and Revelations

Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

The allure of secrets.

Keep something secret, and suddenly everyone wants to know what it is. I’m thinking now of John Wayne, an actor who became famous for his portrayal of the strong, silent type of cowboy.

Watching his movies, I always assumed that beneath his reticent surface there were secrets we would never know. And that seemed like a good thing. The cowboy had hidden depths.

Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

This August, we visited Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, and if ever a beautiful spot benefited from the allure of its hidden depths, it was Lake Louise. Canoeing on it, my daughter and I couldn’t see a thing below the surface. The very phenomenon that makes it beautiful keeps its secrets hidden.

The lake’s water is one giant suspension of rock flour. The glacier melt that feeds it is filled with silt-sized bits of rock made so small by the grinding of glaciers on bedrock that they form a suspension in the cold lake water. That suspension of glacial flour absorbs all the colors of the spectrum except blue and green. Hence the lake’s beautiful color.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise


Though some of us were content to paddle on the surface of the lake, my friend, Perry, told me he caught a big trout deeper down.

When the water pulls back.

Following my theme of “Secrets and Revelations,” I’ll jump ahead from our trip to Banff and Lake Louise to the photos I took a couple days later near my home. We’d walked on the ferry to Kingston with the intention of skipping one ferry so my grandson could play on the beach before we sailed back for a big breakfast at Claires.

Kingston, sand castle

So while my grandson and son-in-law built an elaborate sand castle, my daughter and I walked down the beach to see what we could see.

low tide, Kingston

The little beach by the ferry isn’t a clam digging beach or a white sand beach. But at low tide, every beach has something to reveal.

low tide in Kingston

A stranded jellyfish …

low tide, Kingstonlow tide in Kingston

bits of seaweed …

low tide, Kingston

shells picked clean. Nothing special. But they looked pretty to me. Maybe it was the light … or maybe the fact that they’d been hidden until the tide went out.

I’m writing a novel now, so questions of secrets and revelation come up all the time. A character with secrets is more interesting. But what kinds of secrets? How much should I reveal and when?

My writer friends may be interested in this article by Heather Jackson: The Key to Writing 3-Dimensional Characters. The key to 3-dimensional characters, she says, is secrets.

Low tide probably isn’t the best metaphor for revealing secrets in novels. The tide goes out, and everything is revealed all at once. Heather Jackson uses the metaphor of an onion instead. You peel back the layers one at a time.

It’s like life. We say we want people to be open and transparent. And yes, in some circumstances we do. Most of the time, though, we enjoy getting to know people bit by bit. Layer by layer. We drop in a line and hope to catch a fish. We wait for the tide to go out and see what there is to see.

The interplay of secrets and revelations.

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