What in the world is a “must write,” you ask. I can best explain what it is by mentioning its counterpart, which you’re probably familiar with since it’s often found in readers’ reviews of their favorite books—a “must read.”
Let me elaborate. A must write is something that I as a writer feel the absolute need to get out of my head and onto paper, be it a story, an essay, or a mere thought or idea. But isn’t that the case with just about anything that I write, some of you may say. Don’t I write because I feel compelled to in the first place? True, and true. But another truth is I often have more subjects I’d like to scribble about than I actually have time or energy for. And when a certain idea happens along that proves so consuming it demands my immediate attention to the detriment of everything else, it is a must write.
Previously, I’ve shared with my friends and supporters that I was working on a collection of short stories as my follow-up project to Once upon a Mulberry Field. Well . . . that has been temporarily put on hold. What can I tell you? A new “must write” has come along.
Let me start from the beginning. Late last year I had an opportunity to join a group tour to Southeast Asia, and on the spur of the moment I decided to grab it. I was lured by the fact that a major portion of the tour would take place in Việt-Nam: Five cities in just under two weeks, which was about all I could afford in terms of time off and expenses. Another important factor to me was the sense of security in traveling with a group—strength in numbers, as they say—not to mention the companionship and camaraderie.
So off I went, on my first journey home in over forty years. A lot had happened in the meantime: A war had ended, and millions of people were uprooted or risked their lives in search of freedom—a sweeping sea change for all of us of Vietnamese descent. It was no surprise then that the trip turned out every bit as emotional and impactful as I expected it to be, a real whirlwind in every sense of the word. Not only did I get to revisit my former hometown of Sài-Gòn, but I also had a chance to visit other parts of the country for the first time ever: the medieval port of Hội-An, just south of Đà-Nẵng where I was born; the imperial city of Huế, with so much history and tragedy; the beautiful Hạ-Long Bay, a World Heritage site; and Hà-Nội, my parents’ original hometown.
At the end of the tour, on my return flight across fifteen time zones and eight thousand miles of ocean, a simple thought occurred to me: I have got to set everything aside so I can concentrate on writing about this once-in-a-lifetime trip. No question about it. No excuse.
The decision was easy. But now came the hard part: the execution. I’ve been working diligently since the holidays on this new project, a travelogue of the aforementioned tour, but being the slow writer that I am, I still have ways to go. Besides it being a new genre for me to tackle, I also need to pick up some new skill sets along the way, especially as concerns the back-end setup: How to include color pictures (yes, what’s a travelogue without photos, eh?); which publisher is most cost-efficient for this type of printing; how does eBook formatting handle photos etc. So far I’ve learned that color printing is extremely expensive so it’s most likely I’ll have to switch publishers, which is a real pain. Also, it’s necessary that I keep my book length to a minimum in order to rein in the higher cost so the book can be reasonably priced in the end.
It’s not my intention to bemoan the new challenges—they come with the territory—only to give you an update on my writing status. Last year’s trip, and by extension, the travelogue I’m working on, mean a great deal to me. It’s something I dearly wish to share with all of you some time soon. The project requiring all my attention these days, I may keep a low profile for a while as I try to work through the technical issues, one at a time, and finish the book. I shall keep you all posted on any status change and look forward to the day, soon I hope, when I can finally announce from the rooftop the launch of my new travelogue!
Meanwhile, y’all get on out there and enjoy a wonderful summer, if only for me.