Hometown: Los Angeles
Based In: Los Angeles
Education: BA in Modern Greek Studies
Favorite Read: Angel of Repose.
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…A landscape designer
Author Crush: I have to choose one? Not possible! Here are a few I’ve been reading lately that I like: Ruth Ozeki, Willa Cather, Jess Walter, Adam Johnson
Fiction or General Publishing How-To Book I’d Recommend: My mother, Carolyn See, wrote one. It’s called Making a Literary Life. And it’s great!!! But it’s less about the actual writing than it is about how to become a writer. I don’t know if you can get useful writing advice about plot or character from a manual, but I do think you can learn a lot about what it takes to be a writer, publishing, and editing.
Up Next: I’ve just finished China Dolls. It takes place during the nightclub era in this country during the 1930s and 1940s. At that time, there were Chinese American nightclubs, in San Francisco mostly, that featured performers who billed themselves as the Chinese Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the Chinese Frank Sinatra, the Chinese Houdini, the Chinese Fill-in-the blank. Sometimes they would go out on the road to perform on what was called the Chop-suey Circuit. I’ve spent the last three years interviewing many of the perfromers, including the Chinese Ginger Rogers, who is now 96. Oh, and she’s actually Japanese not Chinese! So, China Dolls is about three girls who start out as chorus girls at a nightclub (based on the real life San Francisco nightclub, the Forbidden City) and what happens to them. Of course, they each have secrets. It wouldn’t be one of my books if the girls didn’t have secrets!
Where do you prefer doing most of your writing?
In my office, which is in my house and looks out into our garden.
Some would say you have a fascination with China.
I’m part Chinese. When I was growing up, I heard many stories about the family. But I also loved Chinatown. My parents were divorced when I was three and I moved around a lot, so Chinatown and my grandparents’ house were the constants in my life. Other things could change around me, but these two places stayed the same. After I wrote On Gold Mountain, I wrote three mysteries that took place in contemporary China. These allowed me to explore modern China and also think about how the past has influenced and continues to influence U.S.-China relations. With Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, I went back to the deep past, where I was able to look at things that my family still does today but that I really hadn’t understood. In a sense, writing books allows me to research things I haven’t always understood in my family: why candy is given at funerals, why there’s such an emphasis on sons, or why lettuce leaves are given to dragons during Chinese New Year.
Did you expect Dreams of Joy to top the New York Times bestseller’s list? And it actually debuted there too!
It debuted at Number One! Continue reading