I was so excited for the chance to meet Amy Tan last week at the Hong Kong Literary Festival! It really was a dream come true. She has such an elegant presence. As soon as she walks into a room, you know she is someone worth listening to. The moderator at the gala dinner said, “I think we can all divide our lives into ‘before’ and ‘after’ we read The Joy Luck Club,” and I think she was right. The Joy Luck Club was a turning point in literature, not just a great book. It showed publishers that stories about women and Asians were not only good stories, but profitable because readers were voracious for her book. Many books about Chinese-Americans and Chinese people around the world probably would not exist if The Joy Luck Club had not paved the path for them.
Amy was at the festival to talk about her new book Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir. She talked quite a bit about how her book came to be, how it originally started as a series of emails between her and her editor, and the rigorous writing schedule she committed herself to in order the finish the book. She talked quite a bit about the craft of writing and how it compares and contrasts to drawing, something else she enjoys and is quite good at, but is not the true creative outlet that works for her.
She gave a really good writing tip that I have been using all week. She said that she plays movie soundtracks in the background while she writes. She said classical music also works well (anything without words since you need to writing your own words), but soundtracks are especially useful because they are designed to set the mood. She said that when she goes to her writing space and turns on the music, she is right back to where she left off and it is much easier to get started and keep going. I’ve been doing that myself this week because I had a really grueling writing schedule to catch up on since I took a week off for the festival, and it really works!
I haven’t finished reading Where the Past Begins yet, so I can’t write a complete review for it, but I do have to say that so far I enjoyed her The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life better. Where the Past Begins is more like a series of essays while The Opposite of Fate follows a more traditional memoir style.
For me personally, the highlight of meeting Amy Tan was when she kindly accepted a copy of Threads of Silk that I gave her and agreed to take a picture with it! I in no way think that Threads of Silk is in the same league as anything Amy Tan has written, but she also revealed that she never throws anything away, so I like the idea that it will at least be sitting in her library forever.