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Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

A Personal Reading

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Last week I read Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, a memoir by Bich Minh Nguyen. She came to the U.S. with her family in 1975 from Vietnam as a refugee and grew up in Grand Rapid in Michigan. I enjoyed her writing style, resolving around food, culture, and her alienation in the midst of predominantly white girls with blond hair and blue eyes, girls she desperately wanted to be as a child. She renders her family’s immigrant stories without self-pity and reveals her childhood experiences with a light touch, enough to draw a smile from me, with a certain level of resonance, as I thought of raising my daughter as a first-generation immigrant mother.

I was with the author, especially through her early childhood. What surprised me was the ending, when she, as an adult, visited Vietnam with her grandmother. After growing up in Midwest, being fully conscious of her yellow skin and black hair, witnessing her grandmother’s devotion to Buddhism, and enjoying the Vietnamese food her grandmother cooked, she found no resonance with Vietnam or her relatives in the country.  “Sitting with my aunt and grandmother, I did not feel a rush of love. I felt regret, exhaustion. I felt like an outsider, and I knew I would always be just that. I would fly back home to the United States and perhaps never see them again.”

 I found myself flared up in disappointment, or even anger. While I understand that she left Vietnam as an infant, I expected her to identify more with her roots. I felt like hearing my daughter tell me she was all American, and her being born Chinese was irrelevant. I closed the book with a feeling of distaste. Was I too judgmental or biased? I wonder.   

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. For more information, visit www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com.

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At the Southern Kentucky Book Fest

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

by Jian Ping

Left to Right: Dave, Margaret, me and Jessica

Last weekend, I attended the annual Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green. It was a large event , organized by Western Kentucky University Libraries, Barnes & Noble and Warren County Public Library.

More than a hundred authors participated in the event, including featured writers such as Lisa Scottoline, Richard Paul Evans, local favorites and emerging faces. I was a panelist on the “serious memoir,” and had the opportunity to talk with my fellow panelists Randi Davenport, Jessica Handler, Margaret Edds and David Lanphear. Each of them shared their unique personal and inspiring stories. I also met with a few dynamic young adult authors, including Michael Reisman (Simon Blloom: The Octopus Effect) and Cynthea Liu (Paris Pan Takes the Dare) and a fellow writer from China Haiwang Yuan (This is China: The First 5000 Years).

It was a wonderful experience. I’d like a give a special thanks to Tracy Harkins, coordinator of the event. It was a joy working with her—a model of efficiency and hospitality.  
Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com

“Just Write”

Friday, February 20th, 2009
Bela Writing His Memoirs
Image by elkit via Flickr

Eight years ago I wrote to Larry Engelmann for writing advice. I had just finished reading his book Daughter of China. I liked his simple and precise language, his voice and style so much that I took the liberty to send him a letter. At the time, I just started writing Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China and was struggling to put my story together.

A month passed before an email eventually came from him. It turned out that he only stopped by the university where he taught once for a while, therefore, the delay in getting back to me. I was thrilled to hear from him and eagerly looked for the magic answer to my question on writing. I had to say I was a little disappointed when he simply spelled out two words: “Just write.”

Over time, he would point out not to hang up over finding one’s voice—it would come by itself, he assured me. He also emphasized to me the importance of reading aloud what had been written down. “Let your ears tell you if the sentences sound right or not,” he wrote. And above all, he insisted on “just write.”

It would take me a long time to truly appreciate the “just write” advice. I attended writing classes, sought out friends’ feedback, and questioned myself. I did wrote, albeit on and off. I was compelled by the story I wanted to tell, and meanwhile, agonized over the way I should tell it. However, when I wavered, I thought of two words and repeated them like a mantra. By the time I finally finished my memoir, I realized the magic of “Just write.”

“Just write,” I start giving the same advice.

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

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Writing consistently…

Monday, February 9th, 2009
derivative work, center piece by Nat
Image via Wikipedia

It’s been more than six month since the publication of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. As I spent a lot of time and effort on talks and book events to promote the book, I let go of my designated two hours of writing, either before I started my daytime job or after my return in the evening. Then, other things took more priorities: the reading I’ve always wanted to catch up with, the contacts I want to maintain via e-mail with friends and readers, and the class I want to take… the list goes on and on.

I thought I had the discipline of getting into the writing routine again once I’d make up my mind about the next book project. I also believed the experience of working on the first book would help me with the next one—I’d be more assured, more experienced, and more organized…. The truth is: It’s been two months since I made my decision on the next book and even finished the draft of the first chapter; however, the second chapter, to this day, remains an outline on a notepad I scribbled down on a flight to Houston on a business trip. Apparently, “things” do not fall into place by themselves—much conscious effort is required to keep a commitment, especially when it comes to daily writing—there is no short cut, but consistent and disciplined writing and rewriting every day, with audacity when necessary.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.mulberrychild.com for more information.

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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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