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Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Kid Can Teach The Uber Writer

I was eating lunch at Shits and Grits when a young kid sitting behind me started asking me where I was from and what it was like growing up in Malaysia. He was a curious child and the more questions he asked the more my childhood country, Malaysia, sounded like an alien planet to him! ;-)

For example, he asked about our bathrooms. I told him about the toilet bowl that was sunk into cement, how one had to squat over the hole (yes, I know, the subject of toilets come up a lot during my lunchtime, for some reason).




Anyway, this type of toilet is normal in Asia, although the sitting down kind is probably prevalent now. But when I was growing up, this was the kind I know.

He asked me about fruits that I couldn't get here (meaning Little Town, here, not New York). I told him about the durian, with his huge thorns and the yellow fruit inside that smelled to white people; the rambutan, the hairy red fruits that come in clusters; the coconut, the green kind that monkeys are trained to climb up trees to get. He was just fascinated.

I horrified him with no hot water (remember, he asked when I was growing up), no color TV, no Game Boys, no carpets on the floor. He thought driving on the other side of road was funny ("wouldn't that cause accidents?", which by the way, is very uniquely child-logic, as in, everyone is wrong because mom and dad don't do it that way).

I told him about school uniforms and how we all had to line up when the school bell rang. That we had to do our homework without calculators or computers. That our teachers were allowed to pinch or hit us with a ruler (hey, my mom approved!). He was fascinated at how I could automatically recite my timestable in a singsong voice (5 times 5 is 25, 5 times 6 is 30, 9 times 9 is 81....), heehee.

There was so much to tell him! Of course, he wouldn't understand what combing long hair was like in the days when there were no hair conditioner till Kao came into existence. Or when school allowance was 15 (Malaysian) cents a day (ai!). Or that my favorite thing to collect was those big pencil boxes with the Japanese anime with girls with huge innocent eyes and flowers in their hair (can you imagine the hentai art boxes now....) and how it was fun to sharpen pencils so I could arrange them in my pretty boxes. No, I didn't tell him these things because his eyes were getting as big as those anime girls.

What he enjoyed was stories of how some of us didn't have electricity and had to live by gaslight at night--he thought that was cool. He loved hearing about living next to the smelly open market where all the kids can go see the fish with their heads lying on the table and watch chickens being boiled in water. THAT was ultra cool.

But when I asked him whether he would like to go see a country like that, he said, after a pause, "Only if I can bring my X-Box and mom can bring her laptop. That way we don't have to live such a hard life like you did. We can just order from the Internet."

Hahahahahahahahaha. I like the kid who thinks ahead.

It isn't just another country, of course. For those of us who went to college in the late 70s and 80s, everything is ALIEN to those of us who are used to being hooked up to all kinds of wireless media these days.

WHAT? No Starbucks?!

What is one of the main things in your childhood that some kid today wouldn't have any concept of? These conversations are relevant to me because as a military-spy-high tech writer, I have to essentially bring an alien world to my readers. The best part is the kid's last remark, because that's something that adds the flavor to the strange dish, the kind of thing that all of us can laugh at, and understand.

Next writing lesson: Demonstrating how to squat over the Asian toilet, bwah! Hey, look at it this way--the significant other can't hog the darn powder room with his newspaper! Heehee.

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6 comments:

laur said...

We used to have those toilets in some places too. We called them turkish toilet, don't ask me why. God, you had to stay so focused on what you were doing not to pee on your shoes!!

SQ said...

Ack! The evil squat toilets! I had to deal with them on my trip back to Hong Kong. Cousins thought it was a hoot when my sisters and I asked, "so which way do we face?"

Um...things of yore...? Oh! I know! Manual cameras! That's right kiddies. First you had to figure out the apeture, then you had to advance your own film! What's film you ask? It's the stuff pictures were taken on. No. Not the memory chip. FILM!

Film, my classic Nikon F manual camera, and the manual typewriter I got for my 6th birthday, I can start my own museum.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I don't think I had it nearly as bad as you. My worst childhood experience that others might not relate too are the fact that we had pet goats, evil goats, one bucked me in the eye. Shudder, horrible! LOL. I grew up with computers and modern compliances. OOOH I know. We had slow start up computers. You know the ones that took 10-20 min just to get online.
~Athena

Kathleen Dante said...

B&W TV with no remote control and only 5 channels; manual typewriters with inked ribbons; no washing machines; saving computer files on magnetic tape cassettes; mimeographed handouts...?

Gennita Low said...

Umm Laur, pee on your shoes? Hehe, do you pee sideways? LOL. Just kidding, just kidding!

SQ,
Good question on which way to face...never thought of that! Either way? ;-)

As for those old pro cameras, I have one of them! I bought it in Hong Kong in 1984 and it was like the most expensive toy at that time...and weighs about 25 lbs with a strap. LOL. Can you imagine the look on the faces of the digital kids today? But ah, it was so fun to have that camera at that time.

Athena,
YOU POOR THING--10 to 20 minutesto get online! Heehee. Bet you'll tear your hair out to remember phones with cords attached to the wall so you can't walk all around the place and talk at the same time ;-).

Kathleen,
Yup, yup, and yup! I still remember washing towels for SIX KIDS with my mom, wringing them with my hands and hanging them out to dry! Crazeeeeee, huh? ;-) Manual typewriters! YES!!!!! And I handed out mimeos when I taught at the university....

Oooh girls, thanks for the trip down memory lane!

Rhonda said...

Picking strawberries at 10 cents a qt. to buy a bedroom out fit- that's a heck of a lot of strawberries-fyi.
We had a party line (phone) growing up, we shared our line with 2 gabby ladies. No NOT Mayberry! I remember, we begged the phone co.for a single line since my parents had a country store needed a phone for business.

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