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Celebrating the launch of a new book and author

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

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Rita, my dear friend, always hosts the best Christmas Party—with tons of delicious food and drinks, and the presence of what seemed to be hundreds of interesting people through the revolving door. But last Thursday, the party was more like a book salon, attended by more than two dozens of people, for the launch of a new novel and emerging author.

Asher‘s Fault, a young adult fiction, is Elizabeth Wheeler’s first book. I had met Elizabeth before, at Rita’s previous Christmas Parties, and heard about her writing. It was great to see years of intense labor in print.

We all chatted over a variety of cheese, Hors D’Oeuvres, fruit, and wine, and eventually settled in a semi-circle to listen to Elizabeth reading a scene from the novel, the description of a couple of life changing incidents happened at a pool.

Elizabeth is an English teacher in a suburban school and a former actor. Her voice, soft and clear, went slightly up and down, capturing everyone’s full attention with the development of the event until its final climax.

We were all mesmerized. It took a moment for us to applaud enthusiastically when she finished reading.

Many in the room were writers or avid and critical readers. The feedback was all extremely positive. People commented on the pace, simplicity, and natural flow of the story. What struck me most was the dialogue, which, brief and carried out in teen style, not only smoothly moved the story forward but also demonstrated the personalities of each character.

The selected section that Elizabeth read was about Asher, a 14 -year-old boy, who was supposed to be babysitting his brother at the pool. When he ended up in the pool’s locker room and had his first kiss, with another boy, his brother accidently drowned. He felt it was God‘s punishment for his behavior.

“Tell me that didn’t grab you! And, this is just the impetus for Asher’s journey in this beautifully written tale of an adolescent coming to terms with life, fallibility and forgiveness,” Rita said.

Elizabeth thanked Rita for her support over the years when she worked on the book. “It’s a myth that writers work alone. Without the support of many friends, there wouldn’t be this book…”

I concurred from my own experience. Rita, among a small group of close friends, have supported me all these years since I started writing 12 years ago. I thanks Rita and congratulated Elizabeth.

Like many people present Thursday evening, I bought a copy of Asher’s Fault and had Elizabeth signed it. I can hardly wait to read it.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary movie by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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Improve the craft of writing

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

We learn to improve our writing everyday, from reading, writing, rewriting, and being corrected by others.

I’ve never been trained as a journalist, but enjoyed doing contributing writing for Xinhua News, the official wire service in China, as a freelancer. The different subjects I need to cover have exposed me to contents I would never have paid attention to on my own, and interviewing people, usually experts in the field of each coverage, has provided me with the opportunity of meeting many extraordinary individuals. But most of all, it’s a great learning experience to write and improve on the job, so to speak.

Yesterday I did three interviews on an assigned coverage on China’s recent economic initiatives. In the list of requested subjects to cover, it also contained the comparison of “develop the west” in China to the “go west” in the U.S. I tried to blend them all in one short coverage and felt jumbled up in a way even before I pressed the submit button. But since I had managed to put the two together, I was reluctant to “kill the little darling” once it was on paper.

I saw the coverage released on Xinhua earlier this morning and was humbled by the editing a Beijing editor did. He/she took out the entire section on the “go west” issue and focused on the new initiatives of opening up various sectors such as finance, petroleum, telecommunication to private sectors. Even in this area, the quotes were substantially cut short.

Despite my reservation for the quotes, I must say the editing has made the coverage much more focused and clean. It is certainly another good lesson in writing.

Here is the link to the “news” release:

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-09/10/c_132707871.htm

Incidentally, I saw a friend posted a link to a New York Times blog about writing short sentences. I thought it came in just as handy. Enjoy. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/07/the-short-sentence-as-gospel-truth/?smid=tw-share&_r=0

Jian Ping: author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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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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Talking at Women’s Book Group in Barrington

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

 By Jian Ping

Barrington, IL

Yesterday was the 2nd time in three weeks I went to Barrington, a northwestern suburb of Chicago. The first time was to give a talk at a Rotary Club on May 13. The Metra train ran late that day, so my husband had to give me a ride in the pouring rain early in the morning so I could make it to the 7 A.M. breakfast meeting.  Yesterday, my appearance was at a women’s book group. I was much luckier—Sharon, my friend Joyce’s cousin, came all the way from Michigan to attend the talk and stopped by in downtown Chicago to pick me up! And the event started at 12:30 P.M.

Barbara was the host for the group. After a delicious lunch, complete with desert, we all settled in her living room in a circle, more than twenty people. I showed a few posters and photos of China’s Cultural Revolution. Since they had finished reading my book, the Q & A was lively and enthusiastic. I always enjoy meeting and talking with readers of Mulberry Child directly—pleasantly amazed by their questions and interpretations. Yesterday, I was especially touched by their resonance with Nainai, my grandmother who played a significant role in my life.   

Several people in the group had been to China, so we also discussed about the changes in the country today, as well as the lives of my siblings and the devotion of my mother and late father. I also informed them of the docu-drama film based on Mulberry Child that is currently being developed. I also talked about the book I’m writing with my daughter Lisa. I was so engaged in the discussion that I didn’t realize we went way over time. I ended up missing my 3:18 P.M. train back to the city!

I was very touched by these women’s genuine interest in the book and in China and their appreciation of a life torn by political persecution and poverty in China in the 60’s and 70’s.

Joyce, my friend who introduced me to the group, couldn’t make it today due to a car accident. Thanks, Joyce, and keep up with that fighting spirit and get well soon.

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

Story Week at Columbia College

Friday, March 19th, 2010

By Jian Ping

This week is Columbia College’s Story Week, an annual event which has enjoyed a history of 19 years. I have attended various events at Story Week for the last three years and found them informative and inspiring. From authors, including big name keynote speakers such as Joyce Carol Oates this year, to book critics, publishers, and booksellers, the topic of writing is addressed from various perspectives.

I attended two panels yesterday. One at the Harold Washington Library Center, and the other at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema. The first is focused on publishing, moderated by Donna Seaman of Booklist. Panelists include Michelle Brower, a literary agent, Johnny Temple, publisher, Akashic Books, Linda Budon, Women &Children First bookstore owner, and John Dale, author. It is very interesting to hear their career development—what drew them to their profession to start with and their perspective of today’s book industry, including the emerging e-books. Their embrace of e-book, despite still a small market share, is certainly quite different from the general view expressed by panelists a year or two before. As an author, I relish the opportunity to hear four different perspectives on the publishing and marketing of books in one talk. Donna Seaman, as always, did a wonderful job in drawing out critical information and opinions.

The other panel is a conversation between two novelists: Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing. Marcus Sakey (author of The Amateurs) interviews his mentor David Morrell (author of 32 books, including The Successful Novelist). Their conversation is witty, but covers the core of writing, namely, one writes, a lonely profession, because he or she is compelled to do so; and to get a book length project done, one needs the discipline and dedication to write every day. David Morrell states he commits to write five pages every day. He tells the story of once visiting Stephen King at his home for several days. “It is said Stephen King writes every day except his birthday and Christmas Day,” he says. “It’s a lie. He writes on Christmas Day, too.” Laughter erupts from the audience, but the message of consistent writing, every day, is crossed.

I walked away feeling inspired, knowing what I need to do, starting right away.

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

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Ha Jin at Writers on the Record in Chicago

Monday, January 18th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Ha Jin was the featured author at Victoria Lautman’s Writiers on the Record, an hour-long live interview with famed authors at the Harold Washington Library Center. The program is conducted on a monthly basis (except in the summer) and open to the public. The recording of the interviews is broadcasted on 98.7 WFMT later and is available on her website at www.victorialautman.com. Featured authors include Richard Russo, Sherman Alexie, and Alaa Al Aswany. I’m a big fan of the program—having always been impressed by Victoria’s ability to draw out the essence of a featured book from the author. Whenever I am in town, I make my best effort to attend it and always walk away feeling inspired.

This month’s author is Ha Jin, one of my favorites. The focus of the interview was on his latest publication, A Free Fall, a collection of short stories on Chinese immigrants. It was very interesting to hear Ha Jin talking about how he set the scenes for all the stories in Flushing, New York, a Chinese concentrated area that had experienced dynamic growth in the last decade, and is still growing. What surprised me was that Ha Jin had never been to Flushing until 2005 when he was there to attend a conference. He said he had many of the stories written already by then and was looking for a setting. The bustling of the new Chinese immigrants in Flushing impressed him and he returned to the area 20 times afterward, including staying a night at $15 per night lodge to get a feel for the day-to-day life of working class immigrants.     

I like Ha Jin’s writing, especially his short stories. He is able to transcend his stories in simple language and mundane incidents to reflect something profound—the cultural conflicts between the grandchildren and the elders when it comes to name changes (Children as Enemies), the greed and pursuit of material things in China today (The Bane of the Internet), and the disconnection and longing of a Chinese man (A Composer and His Parakeets), to name a few.

I talked with Ha Jin after the interview.

“I was in Jilin when I served in the army,” he said upon learning I am from Jilin.

In Chinese, we refer to people from the northeast “dong bei lao xiang,” an endearing term for folks from the three northeast provinces in China. We chatted.

When I asked him if he was going to turn his writing to focus on Chinese immigrants in the U.S. from now on (His last novel A Free Life is the first to set in the U.S.), he said not necessarily. His next work would be on expatriates in China.

“Don’t you feel the 20+ years you have been away from China has created a distance from the pulse of life there today?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “It gives me a different perspective,” he smiled.

That’s a nice way to look at it, I thought.

I look forward to reading more of his writing. He has been a very prolific writer and a true inspiration.   

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

Evolution of Language

Friday, June 12th, 2009
SHANGHAI, CHINA - JANUARY 9: (CHINA OUT) A wor...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

 During a recent trip to China, I picked up a few new phases that were created with new phenomenon of life in today’s China. I was talking about the westernized commercials and pursuit of luxurious life style in China with my sister Wen when she used the term 月光族”, pronounced “yue guang zu.” “Yue” could mean month or moon in Chinese, and “Guang” could mean depleted or bright, pending on the context, and “zu,” race or group. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, Wen laughed and said: “The phrase refers to those young people who spend their salary completely each month.” “That would be living from paycheck to paycheck in English,” I said. I liked the Chinese pun and humor much better.  

 Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting with two reporters from Jiefang Daily, a large newspaper in Shanghai, China. Over dinner, we talked about the wired culture and internet lounge in China and they used the term “宅男宅女,literally translated: house men and women. I had to ask them to explain.

 “That refers to those who are addicted to internet. They glue themselves to the computer screen, order food and interact with others via internet. They don’t leave their house or apartment.”

 I saw such people at an “internet lunge” when I was last in China. I went in to send some emails with attachments that I cannot handle with my BlackBerry. It was cheap—2 yuan for an hour, about 30 cents. Most of the people there were young and were playing video games. They smoked and ate at their station, and I was told, they could pay a minimum fee and sleep overnight at the lounge as well. They had their headphones on and appeared oblivious to their surroundings. I was chocked by the smoke from their cigarettes after half an hour and had to flee as soon as I sent off my files.

 It is definitely intriguing to see the evolution of language with the change of culture and way of living. Now that I’ve started to contribute articles to newspapers and magazines in China, I begin reading more in Chinese so as to be abreast with the changes of language!

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

 

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Perspectives on Writing a First Novel – (2) Creating Characters

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009
Victoria Breakwater
Image by ecstaticist via Flickr

One of the more frequent questions I have been asked in recent interviews is about creating the characters for my novel.

I believe a great deal of good fiction is based on fact.  I have found that, when one is creating characters, you are drawing upon personal experiences, people you know, or have met.  Some made positive impressions.  Some negative.

For BEAR ANY BURDEN, I had a number of key characters, the two most important being Sir Alex Campbell and Anna Kaluza.  Sir Alex Campbell, Head of a Scottish International Drinks Company had served in the Army Intelligence Corps. as a nineteen-year old Lieutenant at the end of the Second World War.  For the next forty years, he carried out “little jobs” for the British Secret Intelligence Services, from time to time.  His character was based on a number of people that I knew and worked with over 38 years in the Beverage Alcohol Industry, particularly in my 20 years experience of the Scotch Whisky Industry, before I moved to the U.S.

When I first started out in business, the first employee that I hired was a secretary.  As a young bachelor, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that I had chosen a very pretty Polish girl with high cheek bones, bright blue eyes, and long blond hair.  She had an aristocratic bearing and posture, and walked like a ballet dancer.  Her English was far from perfect and her typing was awful, but then you can’t have everything!

I remember her telling me of her family history.  She came from a land-owning family whose estates were overrun by the Germans at the beginning of the Second World War.  Her father was in the Polish Army, and she never saw him again.  She fled with her mother and brother and walked for well over 150 kilometers, eventually finding themselves in Russian occupied Poland.  They were herded on to trains and shipped off to the Russian Steppes, where she spent the whole of the War in a labor camp on a collective farm.  Just before the end of the War, they were released and spent five days and nights on a freight train, arriving in Baghdad more dead than alive.  I remember her saying that, she was so weak after that journey, she couldn’t stand.  They were then shipped off to a British camp in Uganda, eventually making their way as new immigrants to Australia, where she finished her education and became an airline stewardess.  I was deeply moved by her story and always remembered the details.  Her story provided the basis of my character, Anna Kaluza.

Other characters in the Book are also based on people that I’ve met, done business with, or socialized with.  If one is observant, it is not too difficult to call on your knowledge – past and present – of the people you’ve associated with, to create the fictional characters in your novel.  Creating the characters whom you get to know as your novel develops, can be a very interesting and rewarding part of your writing experience.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

Perspectives on Writing a First Novel – (1) Inspiration

Friday, February 27th, 2009
Majestic Tree
Image by Garry’ via Flickr

I have recently done some online interviews and responded to a number of questions, starting with what inspires somebody to write a novel?

Everyone believes they have a story to tell, and that there is the great American novel inside them, just waiting to be written and make the best seller list.

In my case, a cousin of mine in London had completed a Genealogical research into our family history, which he had published privately.  He had retired and decided he would spend a few months creating a Family Tree.  The few months eventually turned into five years, by which time he had traced 1500 members of our family through 42 branches, back to 1760, and had communicated with many of them around the world.  His research produced a comprehensive encyclopedia of information about the history of Tarnow, located 45 miles west of Krakow, when it was part of an independent Poland, part of the Austrian Hungarian Empire, and during occupations by the Russians and more recently in the mid-20th Century – the brutal Nazis.

As I read through this award-winning piece of Genealogical research, I started to formulate a story based upon our family experiences, coupled with my knowledge of the Beverage Alcohol Industry and some of the characters that one meets over a busy lifetime.

The result is BEAR ANY BURDEN – A Cold War Espionage Thriller set in Poland in 1983.  Sir Alex Campbell, head of an international drinks company is on a business trip to Poland, a country in the midst of political turmoil.  A new “Solidarity” movement is rising on the streets, and the Communist government is cracking down mercilessly.  Alex Campbell has an additional mission, a “little job” for the British Secret Intelligence Services.  He will deliver an airline bag containing money and passports to a British agent who is to help the world-renowned nuclear scientist, Dr. Erik Keller, escape across the Iron Curtain to the West.

Alex meets the beautiful Anna Kaluza, the British agent, whose life, like his and that of Erik Keller, had been impacted forever by their World War II experiences.

Alex agrees to help Anna complete her mission.

What begins as one of many routine “little jobs” Alex has done for the SIS, quickly turns into an increasingly dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, involving murder, bribery, and international politics.

I hope I created an interesting Espionage Thriller, which illustrates the lifetime impact of war-time traumas, and is also a family saga spanning 90 years of European History.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

Discussion on Diversity

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 04:  Residents of the hist...
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Last Sunday, I attended the round table talk on diversity organized by the Center of Asian Arts and Media. Nancy Tom, Executive Director of the Center and a close friend, invited me to the event. Nancy, as always, dressed elegantly and greeted everyone going through the door with a warm smile and friendly handshake. Petite but full energy and enthusiasm, Nancy wasted no time in introducing me to the people around her. Lily Zhang, from the Chinese Consulate General in Chicago, Yuchia, Director of the Center of Asian Arts and Media, Erikka, partner of Akira clothing store… Nancy was proud to bring a group of people together.

We soon sat around a circle at the studio of Earnest, a city planner and chatted. As we munched on cheese, fruits and nuts and sipped wine, we covered many areas on diversity—from Nancy’s experience of being openly discriminated as a Chinese growing up in the US, to Erikka’s success as a young, successful entrepreneur in clothing business, to Lily serving as a bridge between the West and East, and Peter, a professor at the Audio Arts and Acoustic at Columbia College, teaching students in Acoustics, we shared our stories and learned about the importance of persistence and reaching out.

We were a group of diversified people, from ABC (American Born Chinese), to FOB (fresh off the boat, or rather first generation Chinese immigrants), to Hispanic descendent and Eastern European origin, we marveled at the melting pot that brought us together and talked about the opportunities and challenges we face today. It was wonderful to learn the stories of persistence by new immigrants and the importance of us playing an active role in improving the presence and equalities of Asians and other minorities in this country we now all call home.

Nancy Tom eventually turned to me to talk about my perspective. As always, she gave me a big plug by introducing Mulberry Child, my latest book. I talked about reaching out to others in corporate America, playing an active role in enhancing the communication and understanding between the West and East… By the end of the two-hour meeting, I was full of pride and elation. I know we are lucky to live in an era when various voices are heard and faces accepted.

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

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