I am thrilled that Susan Blumberg-Kason invited me to participate in the The Next Big Thing, an Internet meme where writers answer questions about their latest or forthcoming works.
Susan is the author of the forthcoming memoir Good Chinese Wife. This book traces the five years she spent trying to assimilate into a Chinese family, after jumping quickly into marriage with a Chinese man. But over time, she comes to reconsider what she thought it meant to be a wife, have a family, and raise a child — and faces the tough choice of whether or not to leave her Chinese family.
I’ve read portions of her memoir, and I can honestly say it’s a gripping story written from the heart. I loved Susan as a narrator because she shares so many of her vulnerabilities on the page. I liked the unusual, non-linear structure of her book as well, which really adds to the drama of her story and keeps you turning the pages.
And I’m sure many of you, like myself, can’t wait to get your hands on Susan’s book. To learn more, check out her Next Big Thing post from last week, or read the brief introduction to Good Chinese Wife on her website.
Now for my interview questions, which I’ll follow with introductions to several authors to watch for.
What is your working title of your book?
Red All Over. This title reflects several aspects of my memoir.
First, red is the traditional wedding color in China — such that weddings in China in a traditional sense were arguably “red all over” — and my memoir is structured with each chapter beginning with a different scene from (or relating to) my wedding ceremony. Through these scenes, I also discuss Chinese wedding culture. And additionally, my wedding serves as a metaphor for the identity change that I experience in China.
Second, red often stands in for “Red China.” And the “all over” reflects, in a sense, how I started my life all over (including learning a new language, building a new career, and finding a husband). So read together, Red All Over encapsulates the idea that I made a new beginning for myself in China.
Third, when you’re in love, you often look (and feel) “red all over.” This relates to how I share my relationships with Chinese men, and how those relationships challenged and changed me. It also ties into how I touch upon China’s dating culture through my experiences.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
I doubt I could ever put it all into one sentence! How about several?
Sometimes, the most foreign and unlikely places in the world are what help us discover who we are in life and in love. When I first moved to China — just fresh out of college, lost and uncertain about my future — I never expected to find a new career, love, language and home in the process. It’s about what happens when you let go of every expectation you had about life, love and even your own wedding, and just learn to listen to your heart and say “I do” to the people, places and possibilities that really matter.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
This is a tough question to answer, because while I have long had the idea for this book, that idea has evolved a LOT over the years. As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve learned that memoir is not about telling everything that happened to you, but learning to choose carefully those events in your life that tell a specific story. So the closer I came to understanding this — an understanding strengthened by reading many other memoirs, as well as many other books from foreigners who wrote about their experiences living in Asia — the more I was able to realize how I wanted to tell my story.
What genre does your book fall under?
Memoir. The sub-genres would be travel memoir, women’s memoir and even coming-of-age memoir.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
For my female lead, I’d love to have Emma Watson! There are some close similarities between the smart yet strong and independent girl she played in the Harry Potter movies and my own character in the memoir (not to mention that she has big brown eyes and brown hair, like me).
As for John, my male lead, I’m clueless! I can’t seem to think of any actor who is Chinese, shorter (as John is shorter than me) and in his twenties. Suggestions?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I haven’t yet begun the process of querying agents, but my goal is to be represented by an agency.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Gosh, I think it took at least a good year or year and a half to write it! But it has gone through many iterations in the process. As my husband always reminds me, writing is rewriting — which is all too true!
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Definitely Foreign Babes in Beijing by Rachel DeWoskin. She also dates Chinese men — but in the 1990s — and shares some insights into the dating culture in China, all while she’s trying to find herself and her pathway in life.
Obviously, Susan Blumberg-Kason’s forthcoming memoir Good Chinese Wife, as it deals with dating in China, a relationship with a Chinese guy that leads to marriage, and finding yourself.
Beyond the Sky and the Earth by Jamie Zeppa is another that resonates with me. Like her grandfather, my family had reservations about my decision to move to China — and I too feared that I made a mistake in choosing a country that seemed, on the surface, like such a random choice for me. She also has a love affair with an Asian man, and must hide her relationship from the authorities — which is an experience I had as well. She also ends up marrying him, like I married John. And throughout, she seems to struggle with her place in the world.
Staying in Bhutan, Married to Bhutan by Linda Leaming also has something in common with my story — Linda Leaming travels to Bhutan and never expects to fall in love with the country nor one of the locals (a relationship that clearly leads to marriage, as the title suggests!).
Tracy Slater, one of the authors I’ve tagged, is also working on a book that has much in common with my story — see the end of my post for more on her memoir!
Outside of Asia, I’ll point to The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson, because she suddenly finds herself in a country she never expected to go to — where she also finds love that leads to marriage — and in the process she had to overcome a lot of cultural hurdles and stereotypes about Arab men (which is similar to my experience).
I also see similarities to Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard and Almost French by Sarah Turnbull — both stories about women who never expected to find love, marriage and a new life in another country, and both about women who are grappling with their identity and career choices in the process.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
When I lived in China in the early 2000s, I felt extremely alone in my choice to date, and later marry, a Chinese guy. I couldn’t really find a lot of positive stories of Western women and Chinese men in love. Even today, much of the information on Western women dating Asian men seems to slant towards the negative. While relationships are just one aspect of my memoir, I definitely wanted to put my story out there as a counterbalance — something to speak to the women already dating or married to Chinese or Asian men, and also something to empower other women to give Asian men a shot.
This might sound cheesy, but my husband is also a huge inspiration for this book. I long harbored dreams of writing a book, but that’s a daunting task and most of us don’t know where to start or whether we’ll ever achieve our dreams. But John always believed in me, and always encouraged me to continue working on this book over the years. (Thanks sweetie!)
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The fact that I explore some of the modern wedding culture in China — and its ties to traditional Chinese weddings — makes this book something unique among memoirs, and certainly among all the books published by foreigners who went to China.
My exploration of China’s dating culture also makes the memoir really fascinating. While I don’t want to give away everything, I will say this — I’ve had a lot of experience, which means people reading the book will come away with a more nuanced understanding of courtship in modern China.
What writers should we keep an eye out for?
I’m honored to introduce three writers — each with a special connection to Asia through their writing — who will be carrying on The Next Big Thing on their own blogs next week:
Adam Minter is the Shanghai correspondent for Bloomberg World View (a column which, incidentally, should be a must-read for any China-watcher) and author of the forthcoming book Junkyard Planet: Inside the Multibillion-Dollar Trade in American Trash from Bloomsbury Press, which will be out on November 12, 2013. His book is really going to be an extraordinary addition to the nonfiction literature on China — it traces the global trade in trash from the US to China and other developing nations. (I have to admit I am really curious about what happens to the trash I’ve been recycling all of these years!) He also writes regularly for The Atlantic and Foreign Policy, and blogs at Shanghai Scrap. I came to know Adam through one of my favorite China relationship bloggers, Christine Tan (the writer of Shanghai Shiok who is also his wife).
Carolyn J. Phillips is a writer and foodie who has devoted her adult life to mastering the art of Chinese cooking, and shares her mouth-watering recipes and tips at Madame Huang’s Kitchen. In addition, she is also a regular contributor to Zester Daily, and writes for Lucky Peach and Pork Memoirs. Carolyn is currently working on a Chinese cookbook to be published by McSweeney’s in 2014, which I expect will become an indispensable guide for anyone enamored with the world of Chinese cuisine (such as yours truly!). Carolyn also has a Chinese husband — which is initially how I stumbled upon her blog — and as some of you might recall, she did this fantastic interview for my site on charming a Chinese family through food.
Tracy Slater is a writer and the founder of the highly acclaimed literary series Four Stories. She is also the author of the forthcoming memoir The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East and West, which will be published in 2015 by Putnam Press. Tracy fell in love with a Japanese man, but being together with him meant giving up on the way of life she fought so fiercely to create. Her book, as she wrote, is “about finding love, meaning, hope, and self in the least likely places in the world: the places we always swore we’d never go. It’s about what we gain, and lose, when we forfeit our plans, goals, and even sometimes homes for that age-old cliche, love.” (This book, incidentally, came out of a terrific piece Tracy did for the NY Times.) I am thrilled that Tracy is writing what is sure to be a thoughtful and compelling addition to the memoirs by Western women who love Asian men — and feel certain this book will become a must-read for many of you out there. You can follow Tracy at her blog, also titled The Good Shufu.