A Train Station Story

Here’s a little story about something that happened ten years ago. It happened in the first week of August 2005, just days after I climbed Mt. Fuji. Let’s just say that my inspiration to write this post has to do with some videos I watched on YouTube involving train station incidents.

I was sitting in the station after work. It was around 10:30 pm, and I was taking the train from Konandai Station to Shin-Sugita Station, which is near where I lived at the time. I guess it would be helpful to mention that this happened in Yokohama.

As I was saying, I was sitting in the station waiting for my train, and I was looking at my cell phone. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a businessman, around thirty-five years old, pacing back and forth. There was nothing unusual about him. He had a black suit, was carrying a briefcase, and just looked normal. I had no idea what this guy was going to do, but I wish I’d paid more attention. I went back to my phone, sending an email to my mom.

The train arrival was announced, and I continued sitting, intending on getting in the car directly in front of the bench I was on. The front of the train was approaching, when I looked up and noticed the businessman. He ran to the edge of the platform and jumped.

Everything was in slow motion. I saw him, black suit, black shoes, black hair, and black briefcase, all flying in the air with a train coming toward him at about seventy or eighty kilometres per hour. I saw the impact briefly, but what I really noticed was the shattered glass scattering through the air. I could see every little piece with my heightened senses due to the adrenaline coursing through my body. I looked around, and one guy turned to me and gave me a look that said, “Did you see that?” His eyes were wide and they probably mirrored my expression of shock.

There were other sounds in the station, the screams of high school girls and the nervous laughter of the boys. They undoubtedly had a more gruesome view of the suicide. But I saw the guy alive the very moment before he was hit. I saw him alive for about five minutes before the train, and I had no clue what he was about to do.

I didn’t know what to do. I walked out of the station and got into a taxi to go home. I sat in the taxi without saying a thing, almost motionless while I stared out the window and the scene replayed in my mind over and over again.

I got home, went inside, and broke down. I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t want to do anything. I just saw a man die in one of the worst ways.

The memory hasn’t faded. It’s as clear as if it happened today. I don’t think about it often, but news of yet another suicide brings back that memory. They call them “human accident” in train stations in Japan. Sometimes, I want to tell someone the story I told you. I did when I went to work the next day, and I got to hear another suicide story from my school’s manager when she was in high school. In her case, she saw blood and a possibly severed arm. She couldn’t tell. But that’s another story, and I don’t have the details.

Why did I tell you this? Sometimes these things need to be told, instead of being held inside. It doesn’t affect me much these days, but it’s probably therapeutic to talk about it. Thanks for reading.

Authors Answer 39 – Critique and Writing Groups

We’ve talked about beta readers before. But how about other forms of help? There are groups that writers can join to get help in many ways. Critique groups are good for help in whatever way the writer requests, whether it’s grammar, style, whether it’s likeable, and so on. Writing groups vary, as well. Some are online, some are in person.

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 39: Do you use critique groups or writer’s groups? Are they helpful?

Allen Tiffany

Yes, and absolutely. Writing is as lonely a task as there is. And the product we create comes out of that isolation, so it is imperative that we get feedback. As I highlighted in an earlier post here reference beta readers, I greatly value the nuanced feedback a critique group can provide. Unlike betas who tend to give you feedback on an entire story, a writers group is much more focused at a more tactical level – word choice, sentence structure, echoes, etc.

Of course, I don’t respond to all the feedback I get…far from it. But I am very attentive to any consensus that develops. I generally get about 10 readers through the workshop of which I’m a member. If more than 3 or 4 are tripping over the same thing and calling it out in their feedback it is indisputable that there is something I must address.

In short, a very powerful way to help you improve your work, and there are a number of such groups online that are free. I’m a big fan of CritiqueCircle.COM, but there are others.

Caren Rich

I have used a few critique groups online.  It can be helpful, if you’re able to find another writer who will be helpful and honest.  Sometimes you don’t know anything about who is critiquing your writing. They may not even write in your genre and that can cause issues as well.

D. T. Nova

Maybe I should, but I haven’t so far.

Eric Wood

I use the kids I teach as my critique group. No one is as honest as a kid. They are usually helpful when prompted with questions. They are also fountains of ideas for new stories.

Gregory S. Close

No.  I’ve tried a couple of on-line critique groups, like Writer’s Café, but left mostly disappointed.  I did find my editor on that site, but since then I think we both left in frustration.  Not many people provided actionable feedback.

A lot of people seem to confuse “critique group” with “mutual ego-stroking group,” or the inverse “mutual condescension group,” neither of which are helpful for honing craft.  I’m not opposed to the idea, but I’ve yet to find a group that was just honest, practical and professional.

H. Anthe Davis

The only writer’s groups I’ve ever been in were my Creative Writing classes.  I figure those count.  They were nice people, and they wrote some interesting stories, but it wasn’t for me, really.  I feel that when you’re trying to turn out a book that will inevitably have a large word count, you need more specialized attention, which is why I have my betas.  Also, I don’t know that I could have done a group’s worth of reading others’ work while still keeping up with my own; I remember that reading and critiquing our smallish class’s batch of short stories was a lot of work, and most of them were only about 15 pages.  Also, in my area, there don’t seem to be a lot of SF/F writers’ groups, and I’m not inclined toward online ones because I know I’ll just get distracted by cat videos.  My Creative Writing group did teach me how to give and take criticism though, which is an essential skill for any writer — so I guess I would recommend that everyone try some kind of writer’s group at least once, just to figure that bit out.

Jean Davis

A good critique group is gold. Finding people you can trust to tell you how it is and having skin thick enough to take what have to say and do something about it is invaluable. I prefer online groups to in person as I think it’s easier to be honest and impartial when not having to deliver the critique face to face. It’s also easier to read the feedback, fume about it, and then take a deep breath and absorb what they had to say over a few hours or days, than smiling and politely thanking someone for shredding your scene moments after the fact.

Linda G. Hill

I did have a writer’s group in which we critiqued each other’s work. There were only three of us. It kind of fizzled out. I should probably join another, and I likely will when I’m finished my edit. Right now, realistically, I’m too busy to read anyone else’s work.

Paul B. Spence

I don’t anymore. I used to. I feel that, to some degree, they are useful when starting out. They are good for meeting other writers and also for getting motivation. The groups I started in were good at telling me how great I was, but not much useful feedback otherwise.

On the other hand, I met some great authors through critique groups, such as Greg S. Close, who still beta reads my work. I’d be happy to read his if he’d write more. ( hint, hint)

So, I guess my answer is yes and no. I think if you find the right group, like the Scribblies, they can be great. Without the right group, you’re probably better off with just a couple of honest friends.

S. R. Carrillo

I used to have a pretty reliable writer’s group I went to every week. They were super helpful in broadening my worldview and offering outsider perspectives because all the help I had at that point were very familiar with the story and just as used to the world as I was. I wish I could go back to them. I haven’t really found anything close or as helpful since then.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I don’t currently use any groups, but I have in the past and I definitely suggest them. They can be a great way to get your work read, get help and suggestions on works-in-progress, and meet beta-readers and other helpful people who can assist in making your book better. The only reason that I don’t currently use any groups is that the good ones usually require a time sacrifice. You can’t be the person who just throws down their work and expects everyone else to spend their time and energy reading and critiquing. You have to spend some of your own time to take part in the group, to contribute to other peoples’ works. At this point in my life I just don’t have the time for that kind of commitment if I actually want to, you know…write…so it’s just not in the works right now.

Jay Dee Archer

I’ve mentioned several times before that I use Critique Circle. I find it very useful to get different opinions about my writing. While I’m not concerned about my grammar, I do miss some things, and in particular, they have alerted me to my tendency to use certain words or to use passive too much. That has helped me refine my writing quite a bit. It’s also helped me a lot with flow, dialogue, and narration. You don’t always get great help from everyone, but you’re bound to get some. To get critiques, you must give critiques, as well. I enjoy it.

How about you?

If you write, do you use any critique or writing groups? Let us know if you do and if they help.

Bring on “Why?”

Language development is pretty interesting. Young children enter into a phase in which they always ask “What’s that?” My daughter’s been in that phase for a while, and often asks what something is. However, she just started a new phase this week.  “Why?”

Today, she’s been asking me “why” for every time I said “No.” The way she says it is funny. “Eh? Nande nande?” That’s Japanese for “Eh? Why why?” I explained to her every time she asked why. So far, she seems to be accepting the explanations.

Last week, she’d demand to eat something. It went something like this:

Her: Soda.

Me: No.

Her: Soda.

Me: No.

Her: Soda!

Me: No.

Her: Waaaaaahhhhh!

She cried every time she lost.  Today, it’s been like this:

Her: Soda.

Me: No.

Her: Eh? Why why?

Me: Because you just drank some juice. You don’t need to drink so much.

Her: Ehhhh? Wakatta (I understand).

Kind of surprising that she responds that way, but not always. Sometimes she still demands.

A couple other developments in language include a couple things. First, she’s been using full sentences more often in Japanese. Not in English, though. Secondly, she’s been using more English when I say what she said in Japanese, but in English, and she repeats the English word. That’s good. With us moving to Canada next year, she needs to be able to speak English. She understand what I say, she just uses whatever language she’s used to, and that’s Japanese.

My sister is coming to Japan in October. I hope she’ll use English then.

Why Is Cecil’s Death Important?

I’ve been reading the comments on Facebook about the news of Cecil’s death and the Minnesota dentist who killed him. I know, I’m reading comments on social media. I’m bound to encounter a few people who are very wrong on many issues. But it seemed that this has polarised people. On one side, there are those who are concerned and upset by this news. They want the dentist arrested or sent to Zimbabwe to face their justice system. On the other side, there are the people who think this news is unimportant, it’s just a lion, who cares? Human tragedies are far more important, they say. Well, I say those people are wrong.

Why is there an outcry about just this single lion? Why not cry about all the cows being slaughtered for food, or the people dying in wars, or people being killed by police? Well, people are crying about them, first of all. Secondly, this lion is bringing the attention of a bigger problem to the world. Lions are a threatened species. The death of Cecil is not only his death, but the deaths of his cubs. This will decrease the population of lions in that area. But on a larger scale, this brings up the fact that this is happening all the time. By that, I mean poaching and trophy hunting of threatened and endangered species. We’re driving many species to extinction.

What happens if one species goes extinct? The entire food chain in that area has gaps. Other species may fill in, but that doesn’t always work. Animal populations will change, and not always for the better. Take out the top predator, and you get far too many of their prey, who then eat far too much vegetation, which can promote desertification, and the environment in that area continues to degrade. What about ten species going extinct? One hundred? One thousand? Humans are driving thousands of species toward extinction, not just by hunting, but also by climate change, pollution, and destruction of habitats. All of this together can seriously damage not only local ecosystems, but also our own food supply. You know the problem with the bees? Well, if pollinators disappear, so do flowering plants, which pretty much means all fruit and many vegetables may disappear. That’s a big problem.

“But what about all the babies dying?” they say. “What about the women getting raped and the children being forced to become terrorists? We need to focus on them! They’re more important than a few animals!” Right. What about them? If we stop trying to save the animals, then we’re just going to destroy our ability to survive as a species. No animals, severely damaged environment, and we’re going to have starvation and wars worse than we’ve ever seen. Destroy our environment, we destroy ourselves.

Honestly, it’s unbelievable how humans can simultaneously be the most intelligent and stupidest species on Earth. It’s not just about Cecil. It’s about the entire world.

Paul Barbato Is My Idol

Geography Now is one of the greatest channels on YouTube, if you ask me. Created by Paul Barbato last year, it aims to tell about every country in the world in alphabetic order. That is a big project to undertake.

Geography may sound dry to some people, but Geography Now makes it both informative and entertaining. It’s even sparked some massive arguments between rival countries’ viewers. Paul has taken it all in stride and is working as hard as ever to deliver wonderful videos. And those videos have been improving in quality all the time. Here’s his first one, Afghanistan.

And his most recent, Botswana.

And you know what? Canada is coming soon. I’m excited to see that video. I’ll share it when it’s up in the coming months.

And finally, to Paul, if you ever read this, you’re not really my idol. However, what you’re doing is great. Not just great, but wonderful. I’m looking forward to watching every single video you make about each country. It’s probably too late to give you help with Canada, since I’m sure you have a lot of people from Canada already offering to help, but I’d love to contribute to the Japan video, since I’ve been living there for more than ten years. Though that country probably won’t be profiled any time soon, will it? It’s close to the middle of the alphabet. And if I’m ever in LA, I’d love to meet up with you and talk about geography!

And yes, I have done a post about Geography Now before, but I just had to talk about it again.


Paul Barbato’s fan, Jay Dee.

Unexpected Computer Problems

At this moment, my computer is having seizures. Well, it seems like it. The lock screen keeps flashing in desktop mode. It won’t start up properly. So, I’m now doing a system restore to a week ago.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Damn Windows 8.1. I miss Windows 7.

Well, let’s see if this works.


I’m typing this from my computer, so the restore obviously worked. At first, I restored to the last saved restore point, but that was after the most recent Windows update. The problem was still there. So, I had to restore to a week ago. That worked. Everything seems to work properly now.

The problem I was having was something that happened on another update more than a year ago. I’ve seen a couple of reasons for this issue, such as incompatible video driver and a faulty update that affected the startup program. Turns out my fast startup program was repeatedly running.

Well, hopefully no problems for now. This was originally going to be a temporary replacement computer until I could get a new one after we’ve moved to Canada. I think I’ll keep this computer as a writing computer for when I’m going from place to place or traveling.

Unexpected Hobbies

Over the years, I’ve gained new hobbies while old ones faded away. Some have stuck with me for a very long time. I still love playing computer games, watching cartoons, and although I haven’t done it in a long time, I’m still interested in model airplanes and cars. But there are some hobbies I never thought I’d get into.

About six years ago, when I started getting serious about photography, I also developed a liking for long distance walking. The longest I’ve walked is thirty-five kilometres in one day, and I usually walk around fifteen these days. I was never interested in that kind of exercise before, but I find I can relax mentally when I do it.

The next two I haven’t started, but I can see myself doing in the near future. Ten years ago, I’d have thought is never do them. The first is wine tasting. I’ve developed an interest in tasting wine, but I don’t think it’ll be serious. When I was younger, I didn’t like wine for some reason. Probably just drank the wrong wine.

The other is gardening. This kind of runs in my family, so maybe it was inevitable. I’d like to grow some vegetables and flowers, but is like to make and take care of a Japanese style garden. They would be quite the task, but I think I’d start small just to make sure I enjoy it.

Are there any hobbies you started that you would never have thought you’d do when you were younger?

Failing Terribly at My Reading Challenge

It’s only the end of July and I have read less than a book a month. That’s awful. Take a look at my Goodreads reading challenge.

Seriously? That's awful!
Seriously? That’s awful!

What’s wrong with this picture? 11 books behind schedule? What is going on? Well, I have to blame all the big books I’m reading this year. Turns out I gave myself a rather difficult schedule. The book I’m reading now has more than 1200 pages. But I’ll be finished soon! Lets take a look at my schedule.

For physical printed books, I have this schedule:

  1. The Neutronium Alchemist – Peter F. Hamilton (currently reading)
  2. The Iliad – Homer
  3. The Dragon Reborn – Robert Jordan
  4. Mercury – Ben Bova
  5. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis
  6. Redemption Ark – Alastair Reynolds
  7. Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett
  8. Green Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson
  9. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
  10. Dune Messiah – Frank Herbert
  11. Children of the Mind – Orson Scott Card
  12. Exile – R. A. Salvatore
  13. The Naked God – Peter F. Hamilton
  14. Armageddon’s Children – Terry Brooks
  15. Blue Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson
  16. Memories of Ice – Steven Erikson
  17. The Ringworld Engineers – Larry Niven
  18. Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C. Clarke
  19. Stone of Tears – Terry Goodkind
  20. The Shadow Rising – Robert Jordan
  21. Prince Caspian – C. S. Lewis
  22. Absolution Gap – Alastair Reynolds
  23. A Feast for Crows – George R. R. Martin
  24. Black Powder War – Naomi Novik
  25. Witches Abroad – Terry Pratchett
  26. Sojourn – R. A. Salvatore

Some of the upcoming books are shorter, so that’s good. And now for the eBooks, which I haven’t been getting through very quickly, either.

  1. The Book of Deacon – Joseph R. Lallo (currently reading)
  2. Keepers of Water – R. G. Porter
  3. Young Lord of Khadora – Richard S. Tuttle
  4. Blood and Steel – Martin Parece
  5. The Seekers of Fire – Lynna Merrill
  6. The Prophecy – Jeffrey M. Poole
  7. Legon Awakening – Nicholas Taylor
  8. The Shadowbearer – Terry C. Simpson
  9. Supernova – Crystal Ward
  10. Collapse – Richard Stephenson
  11. Book of Remembrance – Tania Johansson
  12. The Weight of Blood – David Dalglish
  13. The Burning Sky – Joseph Robert Lewis

And then there are a couple art books I should really get finished. They’re quick reads.

  1. The World of Robert Bateman (currently reading)
  2. Robert Bateman: An Artist in Nature

As you can see, I like to plan out my reading schedule. Before, I’d just pile the books up around my bed, back when I lived by myself. It was easy. Now, I keep my books in a closet, and I can’t stack them up like I used to. But with the schedule, it’s easy for me to check and see what’s next.

Of course, I can’t get through this entire list before we move to Canada. I’ll be sending my books back to Canada. No, I will not sell them, I spent over $1000 on my collection of books, considering prices here in Japan are double or triple what they are in Canada. But that’s because they’re imported.

How’s your reading going? Like my list? Anything stand out? Let me know in the comments.

Mixing Genres

I’ve read some of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. That’s historical fiction mixed with fantasy. I’ve read a lot of the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. That’s science fiction with an element of fantasy. And currently, I’m reading the Night’s Dawn trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton. That’s science fiction with a heavy dose of paranormal. There are some genres that are a mix, such as steampunk (historical and science fiction). Sometimes it’s interesting seeing how genres can mix.

Of course, romance can be mixed with anything. So can comedy. How about western horror? How about children’s adventure dystopia? How about romantic thriller self-help?

What are some genre mixes you’d like to read? Any you recommend reading?

The Evil Protagonist

There’s something that has intrigued me for a while. When we read or write books, we usually have a protagonist who is sympathetic, someone who we can identify with and cheer for. The main character should be someone we like, right? But what if it’s the opposite?

Imagine a novel where the main character is not good. It could be an antihero, though they usually have good in them, and we can sympathise with them. But what if the protagonist is your typical antagonist from fantasy? The one we always perceive as evil and never get to see what goes on in their mind. What if the main character is that evil overlord? And this time, we know what they’re thinking, we know their motivation, and we know how they feel.  Could we actually start to sympathise with them?

In a way, when we read a book, we are travelers going along with the protagonist. Not exactly kidnapped, but we are passive observers. But if the protagonist is evil, can we develop a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, and actually start liking and supporting the evil overlord? I wonder how a book like that would do.

So, my questions are:

  • Would you read a book like this?
  • Would you write a book like this?
  • Is there a book like this?

I’m very interested in your answers.