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Writing

Friday, December 7th, 2012

A student reading at open mic

I recently gave a keynote speech at the Skyway Writers Festival, a writing conference of eight colleges in IL. College of Lake County hosted the conference this year.

There was a section for open mic where students could read their works, workshops in fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and drama, and eventually awards for these categories, results of a competition. I had the opportunities of listening to the reading of a few poems and attending the workshops on short fiction (given by Penny Dawn, who served as judge for the category) and creative non-fiction (given by Rocco Versaci, who also served as judge for the category). I was impressed by the quality of the students’ writing, the craft of writing covered at the workshops, and the passion for writing that the students demonstrated.

I was honored to be part of the Writers Festival and delighted to share what compelled me to start my writing career and the few lessons I had learned during the process.

Teresa Anguinaldo, Director of Student Life at CLC, announcing winners of each categories, with the judges sitting behind her.

“I’m an accidental writer and an accidental journalist,” I said to the audience, revealing that writing was the last thing in my mind as I was growing up in China in the ’60s and ’70s.

I told them how and why I wrote Mulberry Child, which launched my writing career, and how I began writing regularly for Xinhua News—I learned on the job and are still learning with each new assignment. Writing has helped me grow and mature, and the process and transformation I’ve experienced, in turn, have fueled my passion for it.

I shared four lessons that I’ve learned and still kept reminding myself when it came to writing.

1. give yourself permission to write

2. be disciplined and persistent

3. learn to listen and observe, and

Students, parents, and teachers at the award-giving ceremony

4. enjoy the process and grow with your writing

I was touched by the response to my speech from the students and a few parents who were present. Writing is a labor of love. It’s rewarding, but also very challenging. I was glad to see so many students were embarking on their journey of writing and learning, which also inspired me to move forward with my own writing endeavors.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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Republicans, Empathy, and Fiction

Sunday, September 18th, 2011
The logo for Death Row Records is a blindfolde...

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So you’ve got an auditorium full of Republicans,and at the mention of Texas executing 234 inmates during the Perry governorship, the audience applauds. I know why. Republicans haven’t been reading enough fiction. Reading fiction, researchers are learning, promotes empathy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(http://www.yorku./mar/Mar%20et%20al%202009_reading%20fiction%20and%20empathy.pdf).

What I don’t get is how these same people talk about “the sanctity of life” when discussing a barely formed fetus, while a man wrongly convicted and executed gets no sympathy. Nor does the woman who killed her abusive husband. Nor does the man who suffered from schizophrenia and spent his adult life in homeless shelters and in a fit of anger choked someone to death.

What would happen if these Republicans started reading more fiction? Charles Dickens, for example: his characters in debtors’ prison, the young orphans. In The Curiosity Shop, the orphaned Nell must become a beggar; her only friend Kit is falsely accused of theft by the money-grabbing Quilp. Who can read that story and not feel empathy for the characters and contemporary people who suffer the same fate? And what if Republicans read about the life of Celie in The Color Purple? The Joads in The Grapes of Wrath? I imagine throngs of them rushing to work in the inner city, buying groceries for the unemployed, voting to extend Medicaid to all who need it, building homes for the homeless.

So what are we Progressives to do? If Republicans will not come to fiction, we must take it to them. Outside the debate venues we can pass out novels. Are there any suggestions as to which ones?

Meanwhile, I will respond to my own personal calling: writing fiction.

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman and Out of the Pumpkin Shell.

 

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Wang Anyi’s The Song of Everlasting Sorrow

Monday, February 14th, 2011

By Jian Ping

I recently read Wang Anyi’s widely claimed novel The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, a novel that covers the protagonist Wany Qiyao’s life from the 1940s to modern day China. I must say I find the writing less than satisfactory.

Yes, I do like Wang Anyi’s description of Shanghai at different times, the gossip, which is core of life  in the Nongtang (neighborhood) of the city, and the fashion in old China and now. However, I find the main characters fleeting, if not superficial, and many happenings, such as playing Mahjong in the 50’s, Wang Qiyao surviving by selling gold bars she received in the 40’s and living an unscathed life during the Cultural Revolution, not to mention her free association with men of different age in her apartment as a single woman with an illegitimate child, all quite farfetched.

Compared to the dynamic and lively translation of Mo Yan’s novel Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Howard Goldblatt, I also find the English translation rigid. Wang Anyi is one of China’s prolific contemporary writers. I’d like to check out her other books in Chinese next time I visit China, and hopefully I’ll have a better experience.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.mulberrychild.com or www.moraquest.com

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Perspectives on Writing a First Novel – (3) Looking Death in the Face

Saturday, March 7th, 2009
Novels in a Polish bookstore
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My recent interviewers asked me about my description of death and its implications.

Have you every thought what your feelings would be if you found yourself in a life and death situation and saw somebody shot to death before your eyes?

Would you freeze and be transfixed to the spot?  Would the whole scene flash before your eyes?  Or would you see this horror as if in slow motion?  What does it feel like to lift up a lifeless body?  What does it feel like to see a human being’s life ebbing away, with blood oozing from a wound?

In “BEAR ANY BURDEN,” I tried to imagine these feelings as these traumatic events unfolded.

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“The officer, clearly surprised that Keller had spoken in Polish, turned his gun towards him.

Alex, looked on in horror.   His shoulder was throbbing.  Was it the cold or just tension?  He turned to Anna, thinking she would respond.  But then, Anna pulled out her pistol with silencer attached, from inside her overcoat, and shot the officer in the chest.  The shot made a “plop” noise.  He crumpled into the snow and didn’t move.  Blood from the wound started to stain the snow.  Alex was completely transfixed. Christ, he thought.  What the hell’s going on!”

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In my story, both Alex Campbell and Erik Keller finally move to block the other soldier from shooting Anna.  Keller jumped on the back of the soldier, wrapped his hands around his neck and twisted violently, breaking the soldier’s neck, as he fell in the snow.  Alex’s attempt to grab the soldier’s rifle barrel fell short.  However, a shot went off and they turned in horror to see that the stray bullet had killed Mrs. Keller.

Life can hang in the balance of a few seconds often from the response or otherwise of persons involved or on the scene.  Innocents are often killed accidentally by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Reactions in these circumstances are always unpredictable.

Fortunately, I’ve never had death stare me in the face, nor have I ever seen somebody shot and killed before my very eyes.  It would be interesting to know how near to the truth is my description of these events.
Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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What? a “memoir”

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

It’s interesting that Ellis talks about several recently released movies which are “based on true stories” yet use dramatization to embellish the facts. With a simple disclaimer, the audience’s expectations were set and the exaggerated drama and creative deviations are accepted, though the characters presented on the screen are real life figures. The key lies in the forthcoming statement of “based on a true story.” I wonder why some authors wouldn’t have the sense to call their titles novels based on true stories versus memoirs as truth. When a “memoir” turned out to be fabricated, it generated severe damages not only to the particular book that was exposed, but also to the genre in general.

The latest scandal is Herman Rosenblat’s Angel at the Fence, a “memoir” scheduled to be released in February and was pulled from release. When the truth came out that part of the love story was embellished, Mr. Rosenblat stated: “I want to bring happiness to people…. My motivation was to make good in this world.” That might be well said, but why not place the book under fiction if it was not true? A well-written novel can be just as motivating and inspiring. I wonder when he talked about his love story on Oprah Show and was hailed as one of the most touching love story of the century, was he bothered by his behavior? His fabrication was a betrayal to his viewers and readers who took his words as truth.

Last year, Margaret B. Jones’ Love and Consequences: A Memoir for Hope and Survival, created an outrage. Her fabrication was beyond comprehension: from a foster home to a mixed race, none of them was true. She completely invented a story of gang life in Los Angeles against her own white, middle-class upbringing. What was she thinking? Could she have believed that once the book was released, she could get away with such high tales? And there was the infamous James Frey whose story of suffering and redemption was grossly embellished and fabricated. As writers, we have the obligation to maintain the integrity and truthfulness of memoir. Many fictions are based on real life stories. Those who intend to fabricate stories should learn from the movie industry: call their work as fiction “based on true stories,” not memoir.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com

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