Saturday, December 30, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/30/17

The final draft is finished. I have read it through, cover to cover, and I think it might be the final draft. I have to let other people read it before I know. Sooner or later, you reach a point where more rewrites are too much and it is all editing. It would be easy to keep writing until the hundredth draft. But that would be a mistake.

The next step is getting it published. That could take weeks, months or even years. There is no time limit with publishers – unless you are on their deadline. Then it better be finished on time. When you wait for them, they can take as long as they want. We all wait for them and jump through their hoops because the alternative is rejection. I would rather have to wait until 2020 for this book to get out in the public than for no one to ever read it at all. Ideally, 2018 would be better. I almost made it in time for 2017, but I took too much time off. At least I started and finished in the same year.

Several things can happen at this point. The most likely is that they tell me to go back and fix this chapter or that character. If/when they have notes, they will be specific. I fully expect notes about the length and/or ending. If it's too long, I have no idea what to cut out. I will have to read it through again and figure out what can go. If they want a different ending, I will have to stand my ground. I love the ending. Maybe there is a better way to end it – I'm sure a great writer could think of several different options – but I want it to end as written.

A worse option is complete and utter rejection. “This is not what we're looking for at this time.” Shopping around is not something I feel like doing right now. But I have an ace in the hole. Hollywood is sniffing around for the film rights. The odds of a movie actually getting made are extremely high. I'm no bookie, but I would put it at 18,462 to 1, but movie adaptations almost guarantee sales. Publishers are willing to take that risk.

The downside to optioning the book is that someone is almost guaranteed to want me to change the ending. It is not a Hollywood ending. The bad guys are not always punished for their bad deeds. The good guys do not always get a satisfying resolution. My ending is more realistic than a summer blockbuster. The ending of Pretty Woman is absurd, but it was a huge hit. The ending of Barton Fink is perfect, but it bombed. Studios, the public, filmmakers and authors never all seem to want the same thing.

Sleigh Ride

Sleigh Ride
Boston Pops Orchestra, conducted by John Williams

Friday, December 29, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/29/17

How long does it take to walk from one place to another? This is where knowing the place you are writing about comes in handy.

This story takes place mostly in Los Angeles. I have been there, but I'm far from an expert. I've relied heavily on Google maps to tell me which neighborhoods are where and what streets go from here to there. I mention how Sunset Boulevard starts winding at Hamburger Hamlet and changes abruptly at the border between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, how it twists and turns like crazy near Will Rogers State Park and suddenly ends at PCH. One of the characters talks about Gil Turner's on Sunset and Doheny. I don't think I've ever been on Sunset Boulevard.

But when it comes to travel times, Google is useless. They have their maps with driving directions, but those are questionable. And some of their routes are ridiculous. Their estimated walking times for Hong Kong seem to ignore all traffic and construction. I'm sure their driving estimates are just as bad. If they don't take traffic into consideration, what's the point? A city like Hong Kong will always have traffic and construction.

One of the characters walks from Stoney Point to an apartment in Chatsworth. How long would that take? I don't know. I'm going to say 30 minutes. A running joke in this story is that it takes 30 minutes to drive to even the nearest places in Los Angeles, so I might as well make walking take 30 minutes as well.

45 minutes from the Peak Tram?
In 90% humidity?
Good luck with that.

Jingle Bells

Jingle Bells
Manhattan Transfer

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/28/17

I'm really trying to keep this book under 100,000 words. It's not easy. I'm somewhere around 120,000 right now. That might sound like I am far above my own self-imposed limit, but at this stage in editing, a paragraph can easily turn into a sentence. There is always more subtracting than adding in the final drafts.

Does this book need to be under 100,000 words? No. I'm not contractually obligated to deliver a lower word count, and the movie thing is not really a consideration at this point. But I know how this game is played. The longer it is, the more likely someone somewhere will demand that I shorten it. The last thing I want to do when I think I'm finished is to go back and finish it even more, especially weeks or months after I have stopped thinking about the story and moved on to something else. I realize that is part of the job, but it is my least favorite part. It's much easier to make those changes during the editing phase.

Selling the film rights really doesn't make any difference to how I'm writing. If there were already actors and a director attached, they would probably all have opinions about everything. Can this character do that instead. This character needs to be more like Actress A. But at this stage, there is only a production company involved, and they have nothing to do with the story. The final draft will be finished before anyone can tell me everything they hate about it.

If I bring it in under 100,000 words, which is anyone's guess at this point, and if I sell the film rights, which could still fall through, and if a movie actually gets made, which is unlikely no matter who owns the rights, the book will be on shelves long before anyone tells me how I should have rewritten the story. I can see the appeal, from the filmmakers' point of view, to having a say in how the original source material is written. But if they want to do that, they should call me while I'm writing the first draft.

Le Tits Now

Let It Snow
Dean Martin

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Christmas 2017

Christmas is probably my second favorite holiday, after Thanksgiving. Nothing really changes around here, but in the United States, people are nicer to each other and less selfish and heartless as they are during the other 11 months. People always say the Founding Fathers were brilliant, but I think one of the best things they did was to put elections in November. In just two months, you can see Americans at their worst and their best.

This was my first Christmas in Hong Kong after leaving Disneyland. Hong Kong doesn't have anything like a Christmas atmosphere. There are signs all over the place advertising holiday sales and colored lights on some of the larger buildings designed to look like Christmas decorations, but it never feels like Christmas. Everyone here knows what Christmas is – a day of shopping – but the day has nothing to do with Chinese traditions, so it will never be an important part of their lives.

The best place in Hong Kong to get an authentic Christmas feel is Disneyland. The park does not feel like an American Disneyland, especially if you have worked there and seen behind the scenes, but they go all out to make the place feel like it is truly Christmastime. There are just as many decorations as any shopping mall, if not more, but not a single sale sign in sight. Disney is a giant corporation that wants you to spend your money, of course, but Disneyland is not about shopping. There are worse places to be than the happiest place in China during the most wonderful time of the year.

Now that there is a Disneyland in Shanghai, Hong Kong Disneyland might not be the happiest place in China, but I've never been to Shanghai Disneyland. I suppose I should go, if for no other reason than I have been to every other Disneyland. And Shanghai has Krispy Kreme, so what's not to like?

Last Christmas, I had a boyfriend from South Africa, so we incorporated some of those traditions. That was interesting. They do a lot of British things, which you would think I am already used to, but Hong Kong is far less British during Christian holidays. Christmas in Hong Kong is mostly a day of shopping, which is also true in the US and probably UK, but there are other family traditions that you never see here. China has plenty of its own family holiday rules.

South African Christmas food, from what his parents sent him, is very different from British Christmas food. If you are British or Canadian in Hong Kong, you can find enough familiar food to make your holiday relatively recognizable. For Americans, not so much. Pumpkin pie and dinner rolls do not exist here. You can make your own, but they will never taste the same, especially if you use Chinese pumpkins.

Fortunately for me, I can't taste anything. That made this Christmas far less disappointing than previous years. We had a small dinner at home with a few friends. Finding people to invite is always easy. All the expats we know are desperate for a home cooked Christmas meal and our Chinese friends are mostly curious about the differences to their culture.

We kept our guest list small for a few reasons. We all knew that I would be doing far less cooking than usual. Out of the three people who live in this apartment, I am easily the best cook. That's not bragging. They would be the first to agree. Without me taking charge, it had to be a smaller meal.

I'm also not ready to be in large crowds yet. The fewer people in my home, the better. I would much rather have visitors one at a time, but that's not much of a Christmas dinner. Normally, when you invite a very small group of friends, everyone else feels left out. Lately, I have had the greatest excuse in the world without offending anyone. Next year, we will invite more people. Or rent out a space, hire caterers and invite everyone. Christmas 2018 is a Tuesday, so maybe December 23. Mark your calendar.

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland
Doris Day

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas

Frank Sinatra

Let It Snow
The First Noel
Winter Wonderland
Jingle Bells
Ave Maria
I'll Be Home for Christmas
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Christmas Dreaming
Light a Candle in the Chapel
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
The Christmas Waltz
Mistletoe and Holly
While the Angelus Was Ringing


An Old fashioned Christmas
Ave Maria
Carol of the Bells
Christ Is Born
The Christmas Song
The Christmas Waltz
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Home For the Holidays
I'll Be Home For Christmas
It's Christmas Time / Sleep Well, Little Children
Little Altar Boy
Here Comes Santa Claus / Frosty the Snowman / Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer / Good King Wenceslas
Merry Christmas Darling
Happy Holiday / The First Noel / March of the Toys / Little Jesus / I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus / O Little Town of Bethlehem / In dulci jubilo / Gesù bambino / Angels We Have Heard on High
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Overture Miniature / Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies / Waltz of the Flowers
Silent Night
Sleigh Ride
Winter Wonderland / Silver Bells / White Christmas

Ella Fitzgerald

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Let It Snow
Winter Wonderland
Sleigh Ride
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
The Christmas Song
Jingle Bells
White Christmas
Frosty the Snowman
Good Morning Blues
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
What Are You Doing New Years Eve
Stairway to the Stars
Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney
Moonlight in Vermont

Bing Crosby

White Christmas
It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
The Christmas Song
Here Comes Santa Claus (with the Andrews Sisters)
Jingle Bells (with the Andrews Sisters)
Silent Night
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Sleigh Ride
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
I'll Be Home for Christmas
The Twelve Days of Christmas (with the Andrews Sisters)
Deck the Halls / Away in a Manger / I Saw Three Ships
Snow (with Danny Kaye, Peggy Lee, Trudy Stevens)
O Fir Tree Dark
Christmas is a Comin'
Poppa Santa Claus (with the Andrews Sisters)
Looks Like a Cold, Cold Winter
Is Christmas Only a Tree
Ave Maria
The First Noel
Happy Holiday
Santa Claus is Coming to Town (with the Andrews Sisters)
Good King Wenceslas / We Three Kings / Angels We Have Heard On High
Adeste Fidelis (O Come All Ye Faithful)
I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day
How Lovely is Christmas
Silver Bells (with Carol Richards)
Mele Kalikimaka (with the Andrews Sisters)
That Christmas Feeling
Christmas in Killarney
A Marshmallow World
Little Jack Frost Get Lost (with Peggy Lee)
You're All I Want For Christmas
The First Snowfall
Faith of Our Fathers
O God, Our Help In Ages Past
Sleigh Ride In July
Let's Start the New Year Right
Auld Lang Syne
May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Frank Sinatra

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Manhattan Transfer

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Tony Bennett

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/23/17

I have a few conflicting opinions about selling the rights to my book. I like watching movies, as long as it is not computer animation of computer monsters or computer superheroes saving the CGI day. This book has nothing like that, unless they completely World War Z it and change everything except the title.

I would absolutely love to play a part as one of the characters in a movie based on a book that I wrote. How cool would that be? But that is never going to happen. From what I know about studios and book adaptations, they want the original author as far away from the set as possible. The fact that I live in Hong Kong is probably a plus to any producer. I don't know which character I would play even if I could. I don't physically match any of the leads, but studios want names in those parts anyway. At most, I would be Woman in Restaurant #3.

I would have no say in casting. I could make a wish list of who I would want to play each character, but that list would have nothing to do with which actors are available, which agencies represent everyone and which personalities cannot work together. My list would be thrown in the trash before a casting director was even hired. Probably for good reason. I have no idea who the most bankable actors are these days and who the studio executives prefer. My choices would be about who could play the part, not about who could make the most money. I don't know the first thing about being a producer.

Once you sell the film rights, you have no control over anything. They can change the characters into different people. They can change the setting away from Los Angeles. They can rearrange the story so that everything happens backward, cut out the most important scenes or make it unrecognizable. The Forrest Gump in the book is a completely different character than in the movie. The author of the original MASH book was politically conservative while the movie and TV series were far more liberal. Ernest Hemingway had all kinds of negative things to say about movie adaptations, and JD Salinger hated the process so much that he never allowed anyone to film Catcher in the Rye.

JD Salinger was a great writer, but I have never wanted to emulate him or his career. I grew up on movies and still have faith that they can be more than computer cartoons. My point of view is that a movie and book are entirely different animals. A book is written by one person in isolation, more or less. A movie is made by dozens or hundreds of people with their own agendas and lists of notes, ideas, ultimatums, compromises and demands. Movies cannot be completely faithful to the book. Time and money are different in both worlds. A book about two people talking over coffee costs as much to publish as a detailed history of the universe. Movie budgets can vary by hundreds of millions of dollars. Higher expenses also mean that movies are more dependent on commercial popularity. A book can lose money, break even, be a modest success, be a bestseller or be the next big thing. Today, a movie is either a blockbuster or a flop.

Even the best adaptations cut something out of the book. They have to. This usually annoys the author, but definitely does not make them bad movies. If authors always got their way, some great movies would have never been made.

Jack Nicholson's performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is brilliant, but Ken Kesey wanted the story told from Chief Bromden's point of view. Truman Capote did not want Audrey Hepburn to play Holly Golightly. PL Travers did not want Julie Andrews to play Mary Poppins, and hated the movie so much, they made a movie about it. Both Stephen King and Anthony Burgess thought that Stanley Kubrick did not understand their novels. Maybe they don't understand his films. Or maybe they can't separate the stories in their minds with the interpretations on screen. Although you would think Stephen King has enough experience with that. He can't hate The Shining more than Maximum Overdrive.

The African Queen, Gone With the Wind, Howard's End, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Clockwork Orange, Sophie’s Choice, Terms of Endearment, The Bridge On the River Kwai, No Country For Old Men, Psycho, Sense and Sensibility. The list of great movies made from books without the author's involvement is practically endless. Sometimes the original novels are great. Sometimes, they are less than great. A movie is someone else's vision, not the original author's. If you want the author's vision, read the book.

If all of the stars align and my book somehow gets filmed, I would love it to become a masterpiece by someone like Stanley Kubrick, even if he interpreted it in a completely different way. Obviously, that's not going to happen. This was not his type of story anyway. But that brings up another reason I could never be a producer. I can't think of a single director for this story. Obviously, I would want one of the best of the best, and hopefully living, like Terrence Malick, but this is not his type of story either. I'm sure there are any number of wonderful directors who would fit perfectly. I just don't know who they are.

But even a piece of crap movie that gets destroyed by the critics and heckled by audiences is still ok. Maybe less for the studio. Just going through the process would be an interesting experience. A bad movie never hurts the book, but a good movie only makes more people go out and read it. I really have nothing to lose.

The Christmas Song

The Christmas Song
Nat King Cole

Baby It's Cold Outside
Idina Menzel & Michael Bublé

Friday, December 22, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/22/17

Have you ever written a book that was turned into a movie? Neither have I. Have you ever been contacted by a production company that wanted to turn your book into a movie? I have now. That was a strange day.

I got a call from my agent asking me if I would be willing to option the book I'm writing right now. It is not even finished yet, but a production company wants to talk turkey. I don't know if I'm allowed to mention the name of the production company. I have not signed any contracts yet, so there are no non-disclosure agreements, but that could happen. Sometimes they want to shout about everything from the rooftops and get as much publicity as possible. Sometimes they want to keep everything top secret until the release date. I don't know where these people stand at this point.

I did some online research. They are a legitimate company that seems to specialize in book adaptations, but not one of the big movers and shakers. The producer whose name I was given has an IMDb page. It is not long, but it's not Joe Smith of Scam Productions either.

I never really thought about it before, but this book probably could work as a movie. It takes place in Los Angeles and the movie industry is involved. Hollywood loves making movies about Hollywood. There is also the Harvey Weinstein factor, which is most likely the only reason any of this is happening.

One of the characters is essentially Harvey Weinstein. Or, legally, I should say he is a very similar character in his actions and motivation. That was never my intention. I started writing this book months before the whole Weinstein thing exploded. Obviously, he was doing all of his illegal activities – allegedly – long before I started writing this book, but I never knew about any of it. The Weinsteinish character is simply my interpretation of a sleazy movie producer who uses his power over the careers of young women in ways that have been around long before any of us were born. My entirely fictional character is named after a completely different scumbag producer who is dead and cannot sue me.

The Weinstein coincidence would be great if the book was in stores right now. But he will stop being front page news long before the book comes out and years before any possible movie can ever be made. I also wrote about Hugh Hefner before he died. He is not a character by any definition, but it would not matter even if he was. His death is already old news. After Weinstein, there was a long stream of powerful men treating women like property. Time Magazine even made some of the women who spoke out against sexual predators as their person of the year. I had no idea any of this was going to happen, but I wrote a book about what's going on right now.

Unfortunately, it will all blow over. Weak men have been afraid of strong women since the beginning of time. Powerful men have always used and abused people they think are beneath them. This is nothing new and not something that is about to go away any time soon. Sooner or later, everyone will be talking about the next big thing and sexual predation will go back into the closet.

But for the time being, someone wants to turn this book into a movie. Will that affect how I finish writing it? I hope not. Will that affect how much money I make? Probably not. I'm in no position to make any financial demands. And with Hollywood contracts, maybe they can find a way for me to owe them money. But I'm talking to them and they're talking to me. Let's see what happens.

The Christmas Waltz

The Christmas Waltz
Tony Bennett

Manhattan Transfer

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Great Wall of China
30. Fourteen Weeks Later

So far, I have been lucky enough to avoid most of the side effects of getting my brain cut open. I don't think my personality has changed, but how would I know? I have people around me keeping an eye on me. No one has told me that I have changed, but maybe they have and I always tune it out. Or maybe I'm in a coma right now and this is all a dream. Then again, we could all be living in a computer simulation or some alien world's zoo. Maybe the crazy people are sane and the rest of us are crazy. Brains are funny. I think zombies should go for hearts instead.

The incision is mostly covered by my growing hair, but still numb. My scalp over the plates itches pretty much every day. Not scratching it takes pure willpower. I also get large flakes of dead skin falling off my head, like I have a serious case of dandruff. That and the scratching probably does not look so good in public. I have several hats, all of which are too hot for Hong Kong. Toques are ideal following brain surgery, but not at all designed for subtropical climates. Fortunately, the humidity will drop dramatically between now and February. If you are forced to wear a hat in Hong Kong, winter is the best time. I can't say there is ever a best time to have a craniotomy, but as far as the weather goes, this is it.

Every once in a while, generally once or twice a day, I feel earthquakes. Not full blown, computer animation Golden Gate Bridge collapsing earthquakes. It is always that split second when you think what you feel might be an earthquake, before everything starts to shake, rattle and roll. I know intellectually that they are not actual earthquakes, but for that fraction of a second, I stop and wait. I am convinced that if I say the word “earthquake” out loud, that will prevent an actual earthquake. That concerned my roommates in the beginning, but having felt nothing themselves, they are used to it by now. The funny part is, Hong Kong very rarely has any earthquakes that are large enough for anyone to notice. Most of the shaking anyone can remember was from other parts of southern China or Japan.

Less troubling, but no less annoying, I see gnats. Frequently. They come and go as quickly as the earthquakes, but jump in front of my face far more often. The worst part is that I can't tell right away if they are imaginary gnats or genuine mosquitoes. If a massive earthquake ever tears our building down, we will probably die right away, but mosquitoes torture you slowly and deliberately.

I still have no sense of smell. It is pretty strange to experience and hard to describe. Sometimes I never even notice until I suddenly realize that something is missing. I suppose if you have to lose a sense, smell is probably the best one. I can't imagine being blind or deaf. It would be extremely difficult to live here, and I don't know if I would. My career would be over. Not having a sense of touch would have to be the most surreal experience. Not only would you never feel another person, but you would not even feel a cup in your hands. You would probably drop things and fall down a lot. I would be too terrified to use a knife in the kitchen.

I was walking around outdoors yesterday and as I felt a gentle breeze on my skin, I wondered if I would be able to sense storms coming. Usually, you can tell when a typhoon or some other major storm is approaching. But is that just atmospheric pressure or does smell have anything to do with it? I guess we will have to wait and see.

I think the worst part about not being able to smell anything is that it also affects taste. Food is important in life. Obviously, I can still eat, but it means nothing to me. I still eat my favorite foods out of habit, but they could easily be replaced and I would never know.

Then there are flowers. I have always wanted to go back to Amsterdam. I went a few years ago and it was one of my favorite vacations. Not only does Amsterdam have the Bloemenmarkt, but the Keukenhof is nearby and there are vast fields in Noordoostpolder. I think it would be heartbreaking to go and not be able to smell anything.

On the plus side, the streets of China never smelled like perfume. Smog is not fake news and pretty much everyone smokes. I have always avoided smokers, which is difficult in a place like China. I used to smell them a mile away. Now, I have no idea if the person who got on the elevator is a smoker or not. I still see their little clouds of poison everywhere I go, but for the first time since moving to China, I can walk more than two steps without that horrid stench.

And maybe now I can finally try to eat stinky tofu.

Click for Part 1 here.


Santa Claus is Coming To Town
Manhattan Transfer

Doris Day

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/20/17

While rewriting some of the dialogue in chapter 14, I gave myself a hearty laugh. That's always a good sign.

I don't write comedy, but in general, there is usually at least one line per book that makes me laugh out loud. Hopefully, anyone who shares my sense of humor will feel the same way. Some people might not think anything is funny. That would be a shame. It's important to find humor in the little things, especially when the world around you is going insane.

On the other hand, some people might think I mostly write comedy, and laugh at all kinds of serious places. That is not so bad. Laughing when it's not supposed to be funny is a lot better than not laughing when it is.

Let It Snow

When We're Together
Idina Menzel & Kristen Bell

Let It Snow
Frank Sinatra

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/19/17

Chapter 10 is now chapter 9 and less graphic than before. It did not need to be graphic. In fact, it works better if everything is described clinically. It's supposed to be as arousing as a colonoscopy.

I've gotten in trouble with adult themes before. That is kind of ironic when you think about how uptight and vanilla I am in real life. I had to rewrite parts of Nudist Cruise because the publisher I was dealing with at the time thought it was an erotic novel, and that was a genre they did not cover. That's kind of a long story, but the main issue was that, like a lot of people, they could not see the difference between nudists doing their thing and swingers at an orgy. There was never anything swinger or orgy about Nudist Cruise, but I had to tone down the minuscule hint of sexuality that was in there. Now, it is as innocent as a puppy. But it's still considered a “sensitive” topic because some of the people are nudists.

In this story, which is not about nudists or swingers, I'm describing anything that can be even remotely considered sexual in two different ways. It is either clinical and sterile or vulgar and flamboyant, depending on the situation. Ideally, readers will see the difference and understand why. If you find details of Harvey Weinstein's crimes arousing, you might not get it. If you find him and his actions appalling, you will.

Chapter 10, formerly chapter 11, is now much shorter. It kind of dragged on and on, so I cut it down from a long, poetic soliloquy to just stating the facts.

In some circles, there is a rule that you should not use adverbs. That is completely, utterly, absolutely, downright wrong. Adverbs are good. Verbs love adverbs. They can also modify adjectives and nouns. They are pretty versatile little guys.

But chapter 10 was too flowery. Sometimes you just have to get down to the heart of the matter. But my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter. And sometimes Don Henley is in the news.

The Eagles will most likely never come back to Hong Kong, but I saw them in 2011 – without Don Felder – and they were fantastic. I'll never get to see them with both Frey and Felder, but they put on a great show.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/18/17

Chapter 9 is now part of chapter 8. When I read chapter 9, something was not right. I always knew it, but saved fixing it for a later day. I was actually looking forward to rewriting the entire chapter. At least that would tell me that I'm actually doing something.

But then I looked at chapter 8 and realized that chapter 9 was just the epilogue of the chapter, more or less. Rather than rewrite 9, I added it to 8. I'm a little disappointed that it was such an easy solution, but after reading the new extended chapter 8, it works much better.

While going through chapter 10, I realized that I skipped an important detail that almost no one will ever care about.

One of the characters is wearing clothes from the late 1920s, but I never gave any information about the dress. It is not an integral part of the story, but if I don't mention any specifics, most people are going to picture a flapper dress. But that is not what I'm thinking about at all.

In the revised version, I barely describe anything. It is just part of a sentence in passing. But I think it's enough to work.

House of Paquin evening dress

This is not the same

Friday, December 15, 2017

Like a Horse and Carriage

My boyfriend and I broke up not long after I came home from Beijing. Technically, we agreed to take a break. In my mind, that's basically saying that it's over. If I want to be with someone, I don't want them dating other women. And when men want a break, that generally means they want to sleep around. I have no interest in men who want to be teenagers.

As breakups/breaks go, I took it pretty well. When I came home from Beijing, I had plenty of other things to worry about. Dating was not at the top of my list. Not coincidentally, that was one of the reasons we took a break.

Sometimes relationships end and those involved decide to be friends. Some people can make that work from time to time. Some people never can. I always had a feeling that we could be friends, or at least remain in contact. Our break and/or breakup was amazingly civil. But we did absolutely none of the things that friends do together and made no effort to keep in touch. That might have been because I was preoccupied with other things.

Then he proposed.

He does not want me to share personal information online, which is one of the things I always liked about him. He finds Facebook as destructive as I do. So right now, in this very moment, I'm typing up what I want to say, but I don't know if I will post it. I suppose I could make it as impersonal as possible, but how little can I say when talking about why I turned down a marriage proposal? I could tell him that only people I actually know ever read this blog, but he would tell me how that makes it worse.

I said no for a few reasons. We dated for just under a year. That is entirely too soon for me. We never lived together, and the thought never crossed my mind. I moved in with my last boyfriend entirely too soon, but at least we were together for 8 years and never even came close to marriage. I like to take my time.

I also considered that he asked for all the wrong reasons. I was in a bit of a fender bender not too long ago. He worried that I went to first base with Death and might have come close to going all the way. That's the kind of thing that scares people. I understand that completely. It was not a walk in the park for me either. I'm grateful to have people in my life who worry about me. When I was missing, from their point of view, they worked hard to find me. My best friends flew to a foreign country to bring me home. That takes more effort than clicking the thumbs up button. That is real world friendship. I'm not alone, which is wonderful, but not reason enough to get married.

There is also the issue of cognitive deficits. When your brain gets cut open, there is always the very real risk that you might make some really bad decisions. Your judgment and reason can go a little fuzzy. It is not the best time to make major life choices. Call me crazy, but I only want to get married once. I know everyone thinks their first marriage will last even though the odds are not great, but getting hitched while your marbles are still a little loose can't possibly improve those odds.

I never met his family. That's a big deal to me. You learn a lot about a person from their family. His is 8,000 miles away, so it's no mystery why we never met, but they talk to each other all the time. They live in Cape Town, so that would have been a great trip. It looks like a beautiful city. The closer the family is, the more you marry them as well as the man. I can't marry total strangers.

We also took a break when I came home. That kind of bothers me. If he can't handle me when my brain is cut open, I've got mystery fluids oozing out of creative places, and I'm babbling incoherently in broken Chinese and Shakespearean English … I'd swear I had a point to make at the beginning of that sentence. I don't blame him for freaking out when I looked my worst, but when you marry someone, you have to assume that their body is going to go downhill sooner or later. I can forgive friends who abandoned me when they were afraid of how to react, but a husband has to be there for you no matter what.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/14/17

I made a few minor changes to chapters 6 and 7. I'm a little worried that I'm not changing all that much from the last draft. I have changed some dialogue, so that's something, but you are supposed to rewrite a lot of each draft. That's what all the self-appointed experts say, at least.

And it makes sense. The first draft is never going to be as good as the final draft. That is just common sense. If your first draft is good enough to be a final draft, then you are a literary savant. It is far more likely that you only think it's good enough. Ask any publisher how many delusional writers are out there. I'm no publisher or editor, but people have given me a few books to read that were obviously first drafts. If I could tell right away, you know the professionals with years of experience can tell. I suppose that helps them decide which submissions to dump in the trash.

Since I'm barely changing anything, I can only assume that I'm missing something. Maybe I need to take a step back and think it over.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/13/17

I rewrote the big Gettysburg scene. Not because of any historical accuracy issues. I think I'm covered. At least as much as I need to be in a story that is not even remotely about the Civil War. It's what the characters do that I have rewritten. The first drafts made the point that I wanted to make, but now it sounds more amusing to me.

I had a small group of people that I never named in chapter 5. They were only in one scene and I knew I was never going to bring them back, so I never bothered to name them.

Now I have given them all names. Since they are mostly women, and we are never going to see them again, I have given them all names that are euphemisms for vagina in each character's respective culture.

Is that sexist of me? I don't think so. Would it be sexist if a man did it? I don't think I would notice. I would just assume the male author was unfamiliar with Chinese and picked the Chinese name because he liked the way it sounded rather than what it meant. Unless he was Chinese himself. Then I would wonder why he called her that.

The other names are European, so I'm sure more people will see it. If not, that's ok, too. They are not important characters.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/12/17

I typed the word “snigger”. Apparently, I have never done that before. At least not on this version of Word.

“I'd never do that,” he sniggered.

Makes sense to me. Spell check wanted me to change “snigger” to a much worse word with a very different meaning.

I generally ignore any and all spell check programs. That might be dangerous. No one types every wrod properly every time. But typos should reveal themselves during the editing stage. And if I mix up homophones, spell check will never notice. “He new he wanted to where his Christmas Satan hat too make his skin Les pail.” None of those words are spelled incorrectly. There is not a single squiggly red line.

So Microsoft developed their own grammar check. It is terrible. Just for fun, I ran a grammar check. It wants me to change “Is this a miniseries?” to “Is these a miniseries?” I don't want to change that. Some differences are a matter of opinion, but this is just wrong. It also wants me to change “Is this a different battle?” to “Is these a different battle?” Come on. That's just illiterate. Maybe you can argue that since “miniseries” ends in S, grammar check thinks it is plural. But even so, it thinks “is these a” is correct. Is these a? Be these a? No blue lines.

Most of the spelling “errors” are proper nouns that Microsoft has never heard about. I had to add “Angeles” to the dictionary because it kept underlining Los Angeles. I would never expect them to know every city in the world, but is Los Angeles an obscure little village?

Sometimes, the spelling suggestions are just crazy. It wants me to change “campout” to “cam pout”. Compound words can be a matter of opinion, but then why not suggest “camp out”?

One of the flight attendants quietly approached Alicia during the pre-flight safety video.
The top spelling corrections are “per-flight”, “ore-flight” and “pee-flight”. Pee-flight? What kind of book does Microsoft think I'm writing? And what is an ore-flight? This is not a book about miners.

“Are you trying to sniff out if I'm a lesbo?”
Lesbo is slang, so I can understand it not being in the dictionary, but the options are “boules”, “bootless” and “boneless”. Who accidentally types “lesbo” when trying to type “boules”? That's some serious, and seriously Freudian, dyslexia. But “boneless” is appropriate.

“She doesn't do walk-ons.”
The top corrections are “walk-nos”, “walk-ins” and “walk-obs”. I've never even heard of walk-nos or walk-obs.

When Tyler lotioned Cheryl's back in turn, Cheryl felt goose bumps running up her neck.
Spell check suggests “motioned” or “lotion ed”. I can see people typing “lotion” when they meant “motion”, but “lotion ed”? “When Tyler lotion ed Cheryl's back in turn, Cheryl felt goose bumps running up her neck”? That's wrong in any universe.

They saw DVDs of the Maddie O'Laine movies, but that was like watching someone else.
The corrections are “DVD” and “DVD s”. I realize that people don't seem to understand apostrophes anymore and will type “DVD's” when they want it to be plural, even though that is possessive, but spell check is supposed to know more than some teenager on Facebook. “They saw DVD...” and “They saw DVD s...” are as wrong as wrong can be.

Her first date was with a young sommelier, played by a struggling actor and graduate student at USC.
The top corrections are “isomerism”, “somewhere” and “slimmer”. Sommelier is a French word, so maybe it should be changed to freedom server, but isomerism is the arrangement of atoms. I can assure you that her date was most certainly not with a young isomerism.

They all went to Gracias Madre, a popular Mexican restaurant in West Hollywood.
“Cadre”, “Madge” and “Padre”. Gracias Cadre might be a good name for a restaurant, but it definitely changes things. The interesting part is that padre is in the dictionary, but not madre. Maybe Microsoft thinks madres should stay in the kitchen, but not have any acknowledgment in their efforts.

Cheryl nursed her niçoise salad and sat silently during most of the conversation.
“noise”, “nisei”, “Nisei”. Spell check knows Nisei but not niçoise. So it hates the French but not the Japanese. I guess that's a step in the right direction. But what is a Nisei salad? Maybe I don't want to know. Now, maybe “Cheryl nursed her noisy salad and sat silently during most of the conversation” works, but that is not what I want to say.

She was Anita Lickalott, a young coed at BJU.
“Allotropic”, “Littoral”, “Glottal”. I can see it not knowing Lickalott. Obviously, that's a joke name. Allotropy is another chemistry term, but this book is not about anthropomorphic chemistry characters. Anita Glottal fits, although that would be far more esoteric than I intended. Anita Littoral has nothing to do with it, unless the implication is that she is always wet. But again, Lickalott is better. The scene in question is not supposed to be subtle.

If you ever write an educational cartoon about chemistry, feel free to use Anita Allotropic.

It might be a few generations before computers are ready to replace a human proofreader.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/11/17

Sometimes, during early drafts, I will put placeholder dialogue where I know I will go back and fix it later. Later is now. I'm going through all the dialogue and fixing whatever needs fixing. It is not just placeholders. Sometimes a character says something that makes sense in the first draft, but after some changes, it simply does not work anymore.

Editing is almost like time travel. What you change over here can impact what happens over there. When you make the door in chapter 10 red instead of blue, you have to go back and make sure it is always red. Maybe someone casually mentions the blue door in chapter 3.

I read a book two or three years ago where one of the characters was named Emma half the time and Anna the other half. It was definitely the same character. The author obviously changed it at some point but forgot to change each mention of the name. I don't know how their editor never noticed. Maybe they relied on Microsoft spell check.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Great Wall of China
29. Side Effects

According to everyone, I will recover somewhere between 6 months and 2 years. Most of the bigger milestones happen in the first 6 months. That is when they decide if you are going to come back all the way or if you better get used to something that will never be the same again. Generally speaking, at the 2 year point, that is the way it is going to be.

Except seizures. I never had any, and they took me off the anticonvulsants pretty quickly, but – this is the fun part – they could pop up at any time in the next 4 years. So you know all those jobs you can't have if you are susceptible to seizures? Those are all off the table. I will not be a truck driver, crane operator or military explosive ordnance disposal specialist any time soon. My dream of juggling chainsaws on a tightrope over a ring of fire at the Olympics are no more.

Some of the side effects that may or may not pop up in the next 6 months to 2 years include headaches, seizures, dizziness, depression, anxiety, irritability, emotional instability, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, hormonal disturbances, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, electrolyte abnormality, loss of motor control, loss of range of movement, formation of aneurysms and meningitis.

I am also at risk for changes in personality – disinhibition, apathy, impulsiveness, hypersexuality, loss of initiative, rage without provocation, inappropriate humor, poor social interaction, excessive swearing, lack of empathy, compulsive gambling, drug use; cognitive deficits – distractibility, impaired conversational skills, reduced processing speed, disrupted insight/judgment/train of thought; executive function deficits – problem solving, planning, multitasking, abstract reasoning. Further down the road, I am at greater risk for diabetes, stroke, epilepsy, brain tumors, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

So there's always something to look forward to.

I have already had plenty of headaches. Fortunately, they are not nearly as bad as I expected. During surgery, they cut nerves. As they grow back, it feels like tiny knives. It comes and goes, and a little ibuprofen goes a long way. Sometimes just holding it makes a big difference. Nurse Xihua in Beijing gave me a great tip for dizziness. Whenever I get up from lying down, I turn sideways and lift my head up slowly. This is supposed to be better than rising like Dracula. I'm also supposed to avoid roller coasters for a while, but we don't have any of those outside of Ocean Park, which I'm boycotting anyway.

Dr Chen said I had a pretty good attitude. Maybe he was being sarcastic, but sarcasm is rare in China. I remember doing a lot of bitching and moaning in the hospital, but he seemed to think I was optimistic. I was always highly motivated to recover. I want to go back to work. The longer I wait, the harder that will be. Dancing is like playing a sport. The less time on the sidelines, the better. You want to get back into the game as soon as possible.

If the lack of empathy, disrupted judgment, rage without provocation and problem solving deficits ever kick in, I can always go into politics. As far as apathy and excessive swearing, fuck it. I don't give a shit about that.

Click for Part 1 here.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Pearl Harbor

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

“The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

“It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

“The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

“Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine islands. Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island. Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

“As commander in chief of the army and navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

“I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

“Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.

“I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”

--President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 12/8/1941

John Lennon


You can shine your shoes and wear a suit
You can comb your hair and look quite cute
You can hide your face behind a smile
One thing you can't hide
Is when you're crippled inside

You can wear a mask and paint your face
You can call yourself the human race
You can wear a collar and a tie
One thing you can't hide
Is when you're crippled inside

Well now, you know that your cat has nine lives, babe
Nine lives to itself
But you only got one
And a dog's life ain't fun
Mamma, take a look outside

You can go to church and sing a hymn
You can judge me by the color of my skin
You can live a lie until you die
One thing you can't hide
Is when you're crippled inside

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/7/17

I'm a little concerned about the structure of the book. Most of the chapters take place in multiple locations. Rather than set up each new scene with an expositional "one day later" or something that spells out to readers that it is a new scene, I simply move from one to another. With different characters in a different location, it should be obvious that it is a new scene, but obvious is not what it used to be. Online, what used to be called obvious is now considered subtle. Subtle is now mass confusion.

My instinct is that anyone who reads books will easily understand. I'm hardly the first person in the history of the world to do this. But what kind of books are people reading these days? If you are used to Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, my books are never going to tax your brain. But a lot of people read a lot of crap. Modern authors dumb down far more than they should. It is not their fault. Modern publishers insist that everything has to be dumbed down because they don't have much confidence in their readers. Maybe they see books like Fifty Shades of Grey on the bestseller list and realize that Austen and Dickens had a very different audience.

It is all serials about vampires and zombies now, or books designed solely for a movie adaptation. If the great American novel is written today, it probably won't even be published. It won't test well with teenagers.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/6/17

During the first draft, I toyed with the idea of using movies about Los Angeles as chapter titles – like Sunset Boulevard, Chinatown, that sort of thing. The city is almost a character in this story, and it is more or less about life in Los Angeles. Movie titles made sense. The only problem is that most movies about Los Angeles have nothing to do with this story. A lot of them are noir private detective movies, and something like Boyz n the Hood would never work.

Before the second draft, I decided to title each chapter with wherever most of the action takes place – “West Hollywood”, “Santa Monica”. There is still a “Sunset Boulevard”, but it refers to the street, not the movie. Sunset Boulevard, the movie, is mentioned, but in the “Santa Monica Boulevard” chapter. That might sound confusing, but it makes sense in context.

Chapters do not have to have titles, but I have always used them. I will do something sooner or later without titles, but I don't think this is the book.

These are the movies I was going to use:

Chapter 1 – Slums of Beverly Hills
Chapter 2 – Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Chapter 3 – Rebel Without a Cause
Chapter 4 – The Player
Chapter 5 – Mulholland Drive
Chapter 6 – Real Women Have Curves
Chapter 7 – Short Cuts
Chapter 8 – Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Chapter 9 – The Day of the Locust
Chapter 10 – To Live and Die in LA
Chapter 11 – Double Indemnity
Chapter 12 – The Big Sleep
Chapter 13 – LA Confidential
Chapter 14 – Less Than Zero
Chapter 15 – Valley Girl
Chapter 16 – Sunset Boulevard
Chapter 17 – Barton Fink
Chapter 18 – LA Story
Chapter 19 – Boogie Nights
Chapter 20 – In a Lonely Place
Chapter 21 – The Long Goodbye

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Great Wall of China
28. Doctor's Orders

Both of the main doctors in both parts of China agreed on the long list of things I was supposed to do and not supposed to do.

Get plenty of sleep at night and rest during the day when tired. Naps are highly encouraged.

This is pretty easy to follow. Everyone assumed there would be some sleep disturbance and irregular patterns, and I would probably need some kind of medication at night, but falling asleep was never really a problem. I had some funky dreams, but dreams mean you are sleeping. Lack of sleep is the enemy. Naps were never really my thing, but the more I pushed myself physically, the more I started to appreciate a quick siesta in the afternoon. I have become a fan of flooding my room with music, getting lost in rock and roll and drifting away.

Short walks around the block are good. Increase distance and duration as tolerated.

Other than having my head cut open, lying in bed all day was the worst part of the hospital experience for me. I like to get up and move around. I want to go for a run every day. I need to exercise. I am at the height of my professional powers. Stopping now is career suicide. In the hospital, dancing was out of the question. They let me take short walks as soon as I knew where I was and what was going on. At home, I took longer walks, but energy was never on my side. Lately, Lily and I have been partial to walks around the Kowloon MTR station or King's Park if I'm feeling adventurous.

Walking is such a simple thing that most of us take for granted, but when I got back from Beijing it was a lot harder than I wanted it to be. There was nothing wrong with my legs. I simply got far too tired far too quickly. Lily was a blessing every step of the way. She was my personal trainer, nurse and cheerleader. I could have walked alone, but there were too many risks in the beginning. I never had any seizures, but she protected me from the dangers of a big city and my own inability to concentrate. She also encouraged me to rest often. I probably would have pushed myself too hard. When you want to get back to normal immediately, it helps to have someone around to keep you from hurting yourself.

No alcohol or spicy food until approved.

This was always going to be easy to follow. I have never been a big drinker. I might have a drink or two at parties or a glass of wine on the rare occasion I'm at a fancy restaurant, but I never keep any alcohol in the house.

I love spicy food, and I live in a place where it is easy to find, but without a sense of smell, nothing tastes the same anymore. My appetite is gone, but I can't tell if that is because nothing has flavor or because I am not exercising as much. I used to eat like a horse because I was physically active. Now, I'm slow and plodding. I force myself to eat, not out of hunger, but because it is time to eat.

No sexual activity for at least 6 weeks.

This is funny and/or ironic given that one of the risk factors is hypersexuality. It goes in the same category as being given a million drugs and being warned not to become an addict.

This one was also easy to follow since I no longer have a boyfriend. No one had to wait around for me because there was no one to wait around. When you get exhausted just walking around the block, feel like you might vomit when you lie down flat and your boot camp haircut shows off a horror movie scar, feeling sexy is not a priority.

No driving or flying for 4 weeks.

I don't own a car. Hong Kong is not a good place to drive anyway. I like to drive, but I usually only get to when I'm out of town. I did, however, fly a week after surgery. That was mostly unavoidable. I suppose I could have stayed in Beijing for a month or taken a combination of trains and buses to Hong Kong, but that was never going to happen.

No strenuous activities – jogging, bicycling, aerobic exercise – for 4 months.

This is one of the hardest of the doctor's orders to follow. I like strenuous activity. Sitting on the sofa and watching TV all day is to me what jogging is to Chris Christie. Ever since I was knee high to kneehighs, I have needed to move. The best news I ever got was when the doctors said I should walk around a little rather than stay in bed all day. If the opposite were true, I would have gone insane.

We have a small gym in our building. I have used it off and on in the few years we have lived here. Given a choice, I would much rather go outdoors to run, bike or swim. Per doctor's orders and my own lack of stamina, walking was really the only thing I could do outdoors. The gym finally made itself useful. Lily made sure all the machines were at lower settings and kept an eye on the clock. In my opinion, anything less than 2 hours is pointless. She preferred the other side of 30 minutes. She had to kick me out every day, and we always argued about it, but the most important thing is that she went with me every day. I could never find a better trainer.

Click for Part 1 here.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/4/17

You might think that a car accident in a foreign country and emergency brain surgery would slow me down when it came to writing this book. You would be absolutely right. I went from writing almost every day to forgetting that there was anything to write. I had a pretty good plan and schedule for the second draft, but everything flew out the window. Turning on a laptop was not a priority in Beijing, even if I had one handy. Reading would have been too difficult at that point, and anyone who has ever written a book can tell you that you read far more than you write.

After I got home, I eventually started thinking about the book. The more I thought about the fictional characters, the less I thought about how physically limited I was. Spending time in a hospital really slowed me down, but since I can't go back to work for a while, my calendar was suddenly wide open.

Sitting in front of a computer for more than a few minutes was difficult at first, but there are ways around that. There is no law that says everything must be written while seated. And, here's the shocking part, plenty of books have been written over the years without any computers at all. Shakespeare had to dip a quill in ink. Imagine how long it took to write Hamlet that way. With more modern writing implements, I worked through the next few drafts quickly.

When I started back in March, I wanted to detail every step of the writing process. People are always asking me how I write books. This was supposed to give a little insight. After Beijing, writing the book and blog posts about it would have been too draining. Editing and rewriting was more important than describing how I was doing it. A full documentary of every step from first draft to publication is no longer an option. That ship was scuttled. But I think I might go through whatever is left. Maybe it is pointless to detail the first and final drafts while skipping everything in between, but shit happens. When plans don't work out, you adapt.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, which makes you wonder why I moved to Hong Kong. This is not a pumpkin pie kind of place. My roommates are Canadian, so their Thanksgiving is in October, but we always do it in November, as it should be.

Thanksgiving – proper American Thanksgiving – is about family and food. My roommates are my family, so they are always invited, whether we like it or not. I have not seen my biological family in years. They would say that is my fault. I say it is their fault. I'm in regular contact with a few people in Minnesota and they know about the recent bump on my head. So I can assume that my family knows as well. None of them have made any attempt to contact me. I would be genuinely surprised if they did.

Hong Kong has plenty of food. Maybe not traditional Thanksgiving food, but if you plan enough in advance, it can almost come close. This year, I can't taste anything. I can't tell the difference between a Birchwood caramel apple streusel pie and Chinese 湯圓. I could have had Thanksgiving dinner at McDonald's for all I knew. But we did not. We are not masochists. A quiet dinner at home was much better.

My boyfriend and I decided to take a break. Our second date was on Thanksgiving last year, so I suppose the timing was not too bad. Our problems have nothing to do with Thanksgiving, however. It was more selfishness than anything else – on both of our parts, but I'm going to go ahead and blame him.

And Thanksgiving was the day after my birthday this year. I've had better birthdays.

With no family, no boyfriend and flavorless food, I suppose I could sink deep into depression, but I have a lot to be thankful for. Not the least of which is that I live in a country where no one would point out that you are not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition. Paul said it's getting better all the time. John said it couldn't get much worse. I agree with Paul. It could always be worse. In my case, it could be a million times worse. John was clearly a pessimist.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Halloween 2017

I was in Tel Aviv last Halloween. I was expecting just another day, but the people of Tel Aviv take any excuse to party. It was not a trick or treat, jack-o-lantern Halloween, but it was plenty festive.

This year, I was in Hong Kong. Lily and I have made a point of celebrating every Halloween that we are both in town. We have thrown parties at our apartment, at friends' apartments or simply shown up to something somewhere else. Hosting and/or finding some action on Halloween is pretty easy in Hong Kong. There is nothing the least bit traditionally Chinese about it, but Hong Kongers get into it far more than I would have expected before I came here. The biggest struggle for me is figuring out what to do for a costume.

Halloween coincided with our annual visit to Kevin's boss's house at Clear Water Bay. We all love staying at that house, and it is a great place to throw a Halloween party, but I had to pass this year. The isolated location is usually a draw, but when you can't drive and can only walk short distances, it is inconvenient. At home, the nearest 7-11 is downstairs. At Clear Water Bay, it is a few miles away. My favorite part about the house is the swimming pool and hot tub. All of my doctors forbade using both for a few months. Being at that house and not being able to swim would be torture.

Unlike previous Halloweens, I had very short hair, like I was in basic training, and a large visible scar. That is almost begging to be used in some Halloween fashion. Any other type of party and I would have declined immediately. I got tired too easily and being surrounded by people was harder than relaxing at home. There was also the issue of a large visible scar on my head. Everyone I know personally knows the full story, but in a party setting, there are always people I barely know or have never met. I understand the curiosity, and I don't mind talking about it, but the same Q&A over and over again all night is taxing.

Hats are the obvious solution, some might say. Have they ever been to Hong Kong? It is not the coldest place in the world. The temperatures will dip slightly in the next few months, but it will be entirely too humid until January. Go to Hong Kong in summer, put on a hat and then sit in a crowded room full of reveling people. My main rule every Halloween is to find a costume that does not steam me like a dumpling.

A Halloween costume could solve the 20 questions dilemma, and I thought about partaking. We came up with a few ideas, but ultimately I was not up for it. Thanksgiving would prove to be easier. I could do dinner with the family.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Great Wall of China
27. The Third Hospital

The next day, I went to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. This was easier than Beijing Tiantan for a few reasons. I was in my town rather than a foreign city, I walked in fully conscious, and I was going to walk out the same day.

Lily came with me. Kevin has a real job and had to get back to work. Lily works nights, teaching Chinese children how to pass English tests. Her days are open for doctor's appointments and timing medications. I was happy to have her. At this point, walking was still a chore and I got tired too quickly. I walked to later appointments, but we took a taxi the first time. The driver thought we didn't know where we were going and tried to convince us that it was close enough to walk.

At the hospital, one nurse checked my vitals, took blood and did all of the usual routine. Another nurse asked me a lot of questions and I waited for the doctor. In Hong Kong, they always get to you right away, but then you have to wait around. Dr Li asked me most of the same questions the nurse had already asked and then sent me off for an MRI. At first, I was surprised that my records were not sent from one hospital to another, but I eventually realized that Hong Kong hospitals have little faith in Mainland hospitals. They prefer to do everything themselves rather than rely on what they think is probably faulty information.

After Dr Li looked at my MRI, he showed it to me. That was a new experience. Most doctors tell you what they want you to know. This one was actually giving me the same information that he had. I was also surprised by the technology. I was expecting to look at an x-ray on a lightboard. Instead, I looked at my MRI on a computer. That let the doctor zoom in, change colors and do things you are never going to do with an x-ray.

Dr Li explained everything that happened to me and for me, and filled in the gaps that Dr Chen either never mentioned or that I never remembered. The plastic plates in my head were small, but clear as day. I was expecting one large cover, like a Bond villain with a steel plate in his head, but they were four tiny pentagons around the bone flap. I could always feel the bone flap and plates. There is nothing visible without the MRI, but you can feel a slight change in topography if you touch my head. Touching the plates while looking at the MRI is an unreal experience. It never really felt like the plates were actually in my head until I saw the images.

That they were made of plastic rather than titanium did not bother Dr Li at all. There are several benefits, but I think the one I appreciate the most is that I can use air conditioning. Apparently, titanium plates can get painful when chilled. I could not live in Hong Kong without air conditioning. Blow dryers are also supposed to be painful since they heat the plates, but I will have short hair for a long time. It's amazing how quickly it dries. Some people with titanium also complain about clicking noises or pinching when they open and close their jaws, but that is more about the bone healing than the plates.

Dr Li had low expectations from the Mainland China hospital, but when he heard that Dr Chen did the surgery, he told me that I had the best possible doctor. They knew each other professionally, and Dr Li confirmed that Beijing Tiantan Hospital was the leading neurosurgical center in China. Not including Hong Kong, of course.

Click for Part 1 here.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Great Wall of China
26. Going Home

Beijing to Hong Kong is only a four hour flight, but after eight days in an uncomfortable hospital bed, I was not looking forward to cramming into a tiny economy seat. Air China was nice enough to upgrade us to business class.

Amy and I flew into Beijing on Hong Kong Airlines, but we never made the return flight. Hong Kong Airlines had no interest in returning our money for the missed flight or even giving us a reduced rate, so Lily booked a flight with Air China. Not only did they give her last minute tickets at a deep discount, but they provided the best customer service I have ever seen from an airline in China. The wheelchair and obvious head wound probably helped. Bumping us to business class was icing on the cake.

Kevin suggested getting another wheelchair at Hong Kong Airport. Arriving in Hong Kong is quick and easy when you have a Hong Kong ID, but the airport is pretty big and the arrival gate could be far from passport control. A flight attendant reminded us that the airport has little electric golf carts that people can ride for HK$50. Anyone who has been to Hong Kong Airport has seen these things racing around, but none of us had ever used them. Terminal 1 is the third largest airport terminal in the world, right behind Beijing Capitol. Walking from one end to the other can take a while, but the golf carts can do it in a few minutes.

The first thing I did when we got home was take a nap. Our flight landed at 10pm, so I knew my nap was going to last all night, especially when I lay down on the most comfortable bed in the history of the world. I was still supposed to sleep with my head elevated, but that is why Gustave Pillot de Chambre invented the pillow. That was the best unsedated night's sleep I had in over a week.

Click for Part 1 here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Great Wall of China
25. Escape From Beijing

At Beijing Capital Airport, Lily wanted to get me a wheelchair. I could walk. In fact, Dr Chen prescribed a little walking every day until I was up to speed. But Lily and Kevin reasoned that we would get through all of the airport bureaucracy faster with a wheelchair.

And they were right. Borrowing an airport wheelchair was easy. The attendants were genuinely concerned when they saw the bandage on my head. Lily brought a tuque to Beijing for me to wear, but I was still getting used to it and taking it off regardless of how much it might have shocked the people around me. We all assumed that Lily or Kevin would push me around in the wheelchair, but the airport provided a skinny young man in a uniform. Maybe he was only there to make sure we did not steal it.

Getting through a Chinese airport is not especially difficult, but if you have their staff taking you, everything moves much faster. It was like being a celebrity. We never waited in any lines, everyone stared at us and more than a few people took pictures. I am bound to be on someone's Facebook page by now.

The only thing I had to worry about was the metal detector. Small plates were holding my skull in one piece. Being in a wheelchair and accompanied by staff would never make any difference at an American airport. The TSA will search a little old lady's colostomy bag. Beijing has a more efficient system, and they are not nearly as lazy when it comes to security. What I did not know at the time was that the plates in my head were made from organic thermoplastic polymers. There is nothing in my head that should ever set off any metal detectors. The true test will be the next time I fly to Tel Aviv. Their machines can detect a single titanium screw in your body, but their agents use common sense.

The downside to tearing through the airport at record speed is having entirely too much time before the flight boards. Beijing, like every other airport, is a shopping mall with planes parked outside. But I could not have been less interested in t-shirts and snow globes.

Waiting for the flight gave me time to think about a few things I never considered in the hospital. What happened to all of our things at the hotel? We left in the morning to go to the Great Wall and never came back. Did the hotel throw our clothes away? It was not a major issue. Buying a new toothbrush is pretty easy. But I was curious.

Did anyone ever tell the car rental company what happened to their car? We were only supposed to have it for three days. Obviously, we never returned it. We had insurance. You cannot rent a car without insurance. But who told them they were never getting that car back?

Click for Part 1 here.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Great Wall of China
24. Discharge

Dr Chen came to see me for the last time and we asked each other a lot of questions. Lily and Kevin asked their own questions, which the doctor happily answered. When your brain is broken, it helps to have someone else around who might remember everything. And in China, doctors prefer to talk about patients with the family rather than with the patient. Families have a greater say in treatment options than the patient. Lily and Kevin were the only family of mine Dr Chen was ever going to meet.

When I thanked him for the last time, he pointed out that I could give the hospital a positive Yelp review. I thought he was joking, but it turns out there is a Yelp-like website where people can rate the treatment and service of the hospital. I think that is simply crazy.

When I was discharged, they gave me a long list of instructions and several bags of medications. Then we were taken to the billing department. In China, you pay before they treat you, except in emergencies where you pay before you leave. Technically, no one ever receives a bill since everything is supposed to be paid in full before you walk out the door.

Had this all happened in the United States, I would have left the hospital and waited for a bill that I could never hope to pay even if I live to 100. Since it happened in China, Lily paid the balance not covered by insurance.

I'm not interested in getting into the cons and cons of the American healthcare system, but my Hong Kong insurance covered almost everything. Everything that happened in the emergency room, surgery, devices put in me, machines I was hooked onto, bandages, gauze, staples, sutures, needles, drugs taken, flavorless food, doctors, nurses and random unidentifiable people were all covered by insurance. The only thing I (Lily) paid was about $400 for a room and $20 for the bags of medications I took home.

Click for Part 1 here.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Great Wall of China
23. The Visit

On my eighth day in the hospital, I was taken off the anticonvulsants. I had no seizures and the doctors were relatively assured that I would not. There is still the possibility, and it is something I will have to keep an eye on for the next few years, but most of the worst things tend to happen right away.

When Nurse Xihua came in to take the staples out of my head, I was relieved. Just the idea of having my head stapled bothered me. Maybe it was a better choice than sutures, but it still sounds weird to me. They also put glue in my head as a sealant, but that dissolved on its own. The staple procedure was simple, and no more painful than combing out tangled hair – something I will not have to deal with for a while. When all the staples were out, she put tape over the incision and put on a lighter dressing than everything I had before. Needing your head bandaged is never a good thing, but when the material gets progressively smaller, that is always good news.

After another MRI, Lily and Kevin were allowed to see me. They flew in that morning and waited in the hospital until all of the graphic procedures were finished. When we saw each other, we all smiled – in noticeably different ways. I was as happy to see them as I possibly could be. Lily was happy to see me, of course, but I did not look my best. My newest dressing was small enough to reveal how bald I was. This was not elegant bald like Patrick Stewart or Samuel Jackson. This was Darth Vader bald. There was also some swelling and I had been medicated for the past week, so she has seen my better days.

More surprising to me was Kevin's reaction. He has been Lily's boyfriend since the beginning of time and we have all been roommates since our last apartment. If she is my sister, he is like a brother to me. Living with a couple would never work if we were not all friends.

When I looked at Kevin, he was crying. They were happy tears, but I think that was the third time in all the years we have known each other that I have ever seen him cry. He is not one of those hyper ego, macho Stanley Kowalski types. I have never seen him talk down to Lily or try to control her. She would never put up with it. He is secure enough in his masculinity to act like a decent human being. But he is definitely not a crier.

It probably did not help that when I saw them, I started speaking Chinese. It was not that I thought they or I were Chinese. I knew full well that they are Canadian and I am from south of the border. I simply did not recognize that I was speaking Chinese until Lily pointed it out. Kevin's Chinese is excellent. He could have easily held a conversation. But Lily is learning Chinese by osmosis, which does not work at all.

That should have been the strangest part of being in the hospital, but knowing that I was awake and alert for the first few days without remembering any of it freaks me out to this day. I had entire conversations with doctors and nurses. I took cognitive tests. I drank ice chips and demanded water. I vomited buckets. I complained when they removed the Foley catheter. But I don't remember any of it.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Great Wall of China
22. That Which We Call a Rose

The nurses fed me every day in the hospital. Sometimes more than once. None of it was any good. I don't remember a registered nurse ever delivering food in an American hospital, but in Beijing, the nurses always brought me my food. I never expected great food from a hospital, but I was truly surprised when I realized why the food was so bland.

Most of the meals were rice and vegetables, in different combinations and permutations. Sometimes the 菜心 was steamed. Sometimes the 白菜 was boiled. The rice was always the standard nuomi white, sitting in a rice cooker all day sticky rice. Every meal was served in small plastic bowls with plastic chopsticks and/or plastic spoons. All of the plastic reminded me of cheap shopping mall food, but it was obviously the more appropriate choice in a hospital setting.

When I was given pumpkin soup one day, I opened the bowl in anticipation. Chinese pumpkins taste nothing like American pumpkins, but pumpkin soup is a great treat when you are sick of cabbage and rice. I was extremely disappointed to find that the soup had no aroma and was as bland as everything else.

For dinner that same night, they gave me dumplings and the usual rice and vegetables. Dumplings cannot be bland. That would be like sweet lemon. A decent dumpling should have scallions, shallots or garlic – unless made for Buddhists. When I opened the plastic bowl, I was ready for a big whiff of sweet and sour, soy or sesame. Instead, I got a breath of air. Somehow, the hospital managed to suck all the flavor out of a dumpling.

Looking back, it amazes me that it took so long to realize that I had no sense of smell. When you are blind or deaf, you probably notice that right away. When it eventually registered that I could not smell anything, I tried to smell everything. When I told Nurse Xihua that I could not smell anything, she calmly took the tiger balm out of her pocket and opened it under my nose. That was a much better test than anything Dr Chen did later. If you can't smell tiger balm, something is wrong.

Dr Chen explained that since the hematoma was in the regions of the brain that control personality, movement, cognitive functions and sensory information, losing my sense of smell was a known side effect. Anosmia, they call it. Dysfunction of the olfactory system is not particularly uncommon after a sudden acceleration head trauma. He was not concerned about my vision, which is controlled by the occipital lobe. He meant to reassure me, but after hearing that I damaged the part of my brain that deals with personality, movement, and cognitive functions, I was far less worried that I could not smell anything.

None of the hospital food tasted like much of anything because the senses of smell and taste are so closely connected. Losing your sense of smell does not kill your sense of taste, but it takes the flavor out of everything. Taste without smell is like trying to see in the dark. You still have your sense of sight, but it is not nearly as strong as it is with light.

Dr Chen could not tell me whether it was temporary or permanent. As with most things related to the brain, no one really knows. It could gradually come back over a period of time, come and go in waves or I could wake up one day with a fully functional nose. Any of the above could happen tomorrow, next month, next year or never. As with everything else, I was told to wait and see.

Click for Part 1 here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Great Wall of China
21. The Aftermath

When Amy was released from her hospital, she went home. I knew about her broken arm. I saw it sticking out of her. But Lily told me that she also broke the other arm and a leg. Getting back to Hong Kong with a broken leg and two broken arms was difficult enough. Trying to find me and then somehow making her way to my hospital before the grueling trip home would have been unrealistic. She correctly assumed that back home, our friends could do far more to find me than she ever could on her own.

Amy's Hong Kong doctor expected her to fully recover, but she had casts on her leg and arms. She had to use a wheelchair for 2 months, which is extremely difficult in a city like Hong Kong, made worse by the fact that she could not push it herself. Even when crutches would have ordinarily been an option, she had to use the wheelchair because of her left arm. She had to rely on others to do more for her than I want to think about. Fortunately, her family is in Hong Kong. Chinese drivers don't give a shit about anyone else while they are driving, but Chinese families take care of each other, no matter what.

Amy's first cast was removed in mid-October, about 5 weeks after the accident. Her right arm took the least of the damage and once the cast was off, it was as good as new. The cast on her leg came off in early November. Her leg was weak, but she could finally walk again. On paper, Hong Kong is wheelchair accessible, but public transportation is almost impossible without assistance. Shopping malls and major tourist sights have ramps and elevators, but the streets and sidewalks are death traps if you need a wheelchair. Some streets can only be crossed by tunnel, and the steps going in and out are precarious even for the most able bodied. Some sidewalks have wheelchair ramps on the curb, but people will park in front of them.

Amy's left arm cast was removed 9 weeks after they put it on. It was not as good as new, but she can move it and her doctor expects to see improvement over the next few weeks.

Lily also told me about the other people in the accident. The scooter driver was killed, but I already knew that. I was looking into his eyes when I ran over him. I will never forget that. The truck driver had a minor fracture in his hand. I know what a pain that can be. I broke some tiny bones in my right hand a few years ago. It is not at all life threatening, but only using one hand for a few weeks is terribly inconvenient. We have two for a reason.

The truck driver would have been released from the hospital on the day of the accident, but he was arrested. Technically, the scooter driver caused the accident by running the red light. He set everything in motion. But the truck driver made it a million times worse. Also, the scooter driver was dead, so the police needed someone else to blame. They probably thought about blaming me since I hit the scooter, but the truck caused every inch of damage. And arresting a hospitalized foreigner might require more paperwork.

I have no idea what happened to the truck driver after the police got involved. If he was charged with manslaughter, he may have already been executed. Chinese jurisprudence is neither slow nor cautious. Since he is/was a truck driver, we can assume that he is not rich enough to get out of it. I would love to speak with him, if he is still alive, but no one will give me any information.

Red zone?
Wheelchair ramp?
Big sign that clearly reads "NO PARKING"?
No problem.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Great Wall of China
20. Lily's Adventure in Wonderland

During my sixth day in the hospital, I got a phone call from Lily, my roommate, best friend and sister from another set of parents. It is no exaggeration to say that when you are in a hospital in China following brain surgery, it's nice to hear a familiar voice. It took her six days to call me because she had her own hedge maze to run through.

From Lily's point of view, two of her friends went to Beijing for the weekend. Amy came home with several broken bones and the news that I was taken to a different hospital with a head injury. That was the starting point.

Calling me was not an option. My phone was lost in the accident. I would have been unavailable at that point anyway. Calling Amy's hospital was difficult. Voluntarily delivering information is not a Chinese trait. It took more than a few phone calls from several people just to get the name of my hospital. Then it took several phone calls from more than a few people just to acknowledge that I was there, alive and in more or less one piece.

The funny part is, this was not a privacy issue. Chinese hospitals are not the least concerned with privacy. News reporters and cameras routinely walk into emergency and recovery rooms when celebrities are hospitalized. In one of the Hannibal Lecter movies, Edward Norton's character despises Philip Seymour Hoffman's character who bribed his way into a hospital and took graphic photographs of him. That was supposed to show how dishonorable Philip Seymour Hoffman's character was. In China, that sort of thing happens all the time. Ironically, they always blur out the graphic parts when they print the photographs.

When Lily finally found me, she was told that I could not come to the phone. That did nothing to reassure her. Now that she knew where I was, she booked a flight to Beijing, but she had to wait for a visa. In the meantime, she kept calling until someone eventually told her that I could speak to her.

Hearing her voice was the best thing I could imagine. All of my doctors spoke English, some with more creative pronunciation than others, and I can do reasonably well in Chinese, albeit with my own foreign cadence, but Lily's Canadian accent took me out of the Twilight Zone. The doctors, nurses, hospital and Beijing were all alien to me. Lily was the sound of home.

Click for Part 1 here.