When Ilona Fried of the À La Carte Spirit blog invited me to a blog-hop on writing, I was thrilled for a different reason than you might think. Yes, I love to write about writing. Yes, I felt honored to be chosen by a wise, thought-provoking blogger. I’m also in awe of Ilona’s talent at creating exuberant beauty with mosaic art. But the main source of my delight was this: Ilona sometimes writes about introversion and I sometimes worry I might drive her mad with my frequent bouts of extroversion. (I’m equal parts extrovert and introvert.) It seems she either a) has not tired of all I have to say, or b) would like me to say it to someone else. 😉 Thank you for the invite, Ilona. Here are my answers to the four questions passed down to us:
1) What are you working on?
I’ve just completed the first draft of a historical novel, called Tortillas from the Chung King Café. This past week that effort has been partially eclipsed by my obsession with working my way through the entire first two seasons of Aaron Sorkin’s TV series The Newsroom.
If you’re a Sorkin fan – The American President, The West Wing, The Social Network – and you haven’t yet seen The Newsroom, it will give you another reason to love him. If you’re not a Sorkin geek like me, let’s move on…First, let me say his scripts are so smart I believe my IQ goes up during his shows. What’s more, as a former journalist I want to climb into the TV to join the dedicated staff of his make-believe Newsroom.
What was I saying about books?
Oh yes, here’s a spoiler-free version of an elevator pitch for my novel (what I would casually tell agents or editors while stalking them in elevators):
In Tortillas from the Chung King Café, a girl and her family flee the Mexican Revolution, while a man flees his losses and crimes in the Chinese Revolution. In El Paso, Texas they meet and marry. Then a rape threatens to destroy their lives as they face the repercussions of immigration, interracial marriage, and sexual abuse in a world that doesn’t want them.
I might tighten that up. I could leave it as-is, but then I might have to hit all the buttons on the elevator to get through my pitch, and hope the agent isn’t claustrophobic…
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
The Mexican-Chinese people of El Paso comprise a small but significant ethnic combination made uniquely possible by the railroads pushing through the Old West. When Chinese men first immigrated to the American West, women rarely came along, so Chinese men in want of wives had few options except Mexican women. Other historical novels address interracial marriage, immigration, and abuse, but I’m not aware of any that combine these ingredients in quite the same way.
3) Why do you write what you do?
Tortillas from the Chung King Café is inspired by the history of my Mexican-Chinese grandmother. I was raised by my grandma, who I called Mom, and she often shared snippets of family history. I always wanted to know more than she was willing to tell or able to remember. I understand it was often difficult for her to talk about it. Sometimes we inherit the pain of our ancestors, passed down like an emotional quilt, but this need not be a curse. I’m a storyteller who received the blessing of a story that wants to be told.
4) How does your writing process work?
For this book, my process began with research. I’ve traveled to China, Texas, Mexico, Los Angeles, and San Francisco to get a feel for the places pertinent to the story, and to interview relatives, locals, and historians. I’ve also studied multiple history books on various regions the novel visits.
I began writing in earnest in 2010. I started by plotting an arc for the character I thought would be the protagonist. She’s not. Then I wrote a couple of chapters, only to realize I needed to do more research in Mexico and China to better depict the scenes I wanted. After that, I wrote a few more chapters and showed my work to fellow authors at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. I concluded that my second choice for the protagonist wasn’t working either, so I rewrote a quarter of the book. Then I pushed forward until I reached the halfway point. At that point, I outlined all the chapters to see where I stood.
For the second half of the book, I became more methodical. I planned a series of events for the remaining chapters. In writing, as in life, events don’t always go as planned, so I outlined each chapter upon completion. That sped up the process. Each chapter outline includes notes on whatever needs more work. That has allowed me to maintain momentum, knowing I could always go back and fix those things during the rewrite.
Now I’ll spend a month or two rewriting, and then send that draft to beta readers for reactions. If they notice weaknesses that resonate with me, I’ll address those as I move to the editing phase. With that, I hope to begin querying agents and editors this fall. We’ll see…
That’s a snapshot of my process. I’m happy to answer questions. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear about your process.
Next Monday, May 5, I’ll pass on the above four questions to my choice for this blog hop: author Susan Blumberg-Kason. Susan is a terrific writer, passionate traveler , and one of the friendliest people I’ve met online. Susan grew up in Chicago dreaming of the neon street signs and double-decker buses of Hong Kong. When she moved there to study, she met someone she thought was the man of her dreams. Her memoir, Good Chinese Wife (Sourcebooks, 2014) recounts her years in a Chinese family as a wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. It’s getting rave advance reviews. You can pre-order a copy and be among the first to read it this summer.
These days, Susan is back in Chicago, where she lives with her husband, three children, and surly cat. Susan still loves China and often writes about it in her blog, which I hope you’ll visit, next Monday or anytime…