Junying: I met Zee recently via Twitter, and very quickly I found out that we have a lot in common in our backgrounds, certainly sharing the Aries traits for adventure and strong creative thrust. We both came from China and headed West in our adult years, she to America and I to Europe. Let’s take a look at Zee’s Author Bio: I’m a writer. My hard drive is full of unfinished stories, just like my life. Sometimes I dream in Chinese. Most of the time, I just dream, period. I was born in the last year of the Chinese Great Famine, started school in the second year of the Cultural Revolution, graduated from high school a year after Mao died, and came to U.S. two years after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. I hold three master’s degrees, two of which are in English, and one I use to make a living so I can write.
Zee, it’s wonderful to have you here and a very warm welcome on a chilly Autumn day! Can you please tell us what you do for a living and when you started writing?
I’m a manager in the Information Technology Department in San Francisco International Airport. I lead a team of twelve software architects and developers in building and maintaining software systems for the airport. I’m also the president of the airport’s Toastmasters Club. We have thirty-eight members and we meet every other week. I started as consultant here ten years ago. I became a permanent employee six months later. After that I was promoted twice. I love my job. An airport like SFO is a place where if anything happens we hear it from the radio first. We meet travellers from all over the world at this “Gate to the Pacific” and we work with hundreds of companies to keep the airport running. It is a very happening place.
Hmm, when did I start writing? I had many “fresh starts”. I started writing short stories in Chinese in the second year of my graduate school in Wuhan University. It was 1984, I think. Then I officially started to write for the Wuhan Women’s Magazine six months after that. I wrote a poem and an essay that were accepted, quite to my surprise.
Writing in English was something that happened much later. I think I wrote my first piece in English, again, during my graduate studies, but this time, I was in Northern Arizona University. I’d say it was 1994. I started posting my creative writings (short stories) online in 2000. I “officially” started writing “The Altethlon Chronicles” in 2009. I said “officially” because “unofficially” I had written many scenes in the form of short stories before I decided to make a novel out of them.
So you see, I “started” many times in many different ways. Writing is like a bug that follows me through different stages of my life. I bet I still have a couple more new starts ahead of me.
Zee, I know exactly what you mean, as that process of learning and progressing also applies to my writing, starting something small, a short story in a different language, Chinese in both our cases, then moving onto writing full-length novels in English.
Yes. We are lucky to be able to experience life in two languages. No, two and a half. We both studied Japanese for a while.
What inspired you to write The Altethlon Chronicles Series? In other words, what are your writing influences?
This will be long list. First of all, I will have to say William Shakespeare. His tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” was the basic theme of The Altethlon Chronicles: an undying love between two people unlikely to be together. Secondly, I will have to say Jin Yong, the giant of Martial Art novels. I have read all of his novels. He is a master of character-building. His characters are complex and credible. There’s always tragedy in the hero or heroine and there’s always a bit of something to admire in the villain.
Then come the many love stories that used to carry me away: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensitivity, The Second Handshake (Chinese) . . . Growing up, I didn’t get to read love stories because they were mostly banned during the Cultural Revolution. I guess I was deprived. So when I finally got my hands on them, I sorta ate them up. I have always wanted to invent my own love stories.
My graduate study in Wuhan University gave me the opportunity to study Western Mythology. I was fascinated in such worlds of imagination and found many similarities between the West and the East. I love the symbolism associated with myths and mythologies. That became a great influence in my writing.
Of course, the world of Altethlon follows the laws of magic which I learned from my later reading of English fantasy novels. Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” was the first series of fantasies I read. Very difficult reads. I spent a year and still couldn’t finish it. But I was so fascinated by it. When the movie Lord of the Rings came out, my uncle who was a Chinese movie critic said it was completely bogus. I had a huge argument with him because by then I was well acquainted with the fantasy world first created by J. R. R. Tolkien in The Hobbits. The world of Lord of the Rings made perfect sense to me.
Last but not least, I have played fantasy online role playing games with my husband and my friends for many years. I have had many imaginary adventures played out on the screen for me and my avatars.
So there, that’s my shortened list.
Ha, so glad that you cited Jane Eyre – no wonder I like you, as that’s one of my favourite English classics Unlike you, I didn’t read much fantasy, but I absolutely LOVED watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on the big screen!
You are sounding more and more like my twin sister! LOL.
How do you balance writing with your demanding full-time job?
I don’t. LOL. Seriously, I’m not so structured with my life so it is amazing sometimes I get by without getting myself into some trouble. I have to say that I must thank my husband for his tolerance. I don’t cook if I don’t feel like it. We outsource our cleaning. And he always gives me the space to write.
At the same time my investment of time in my job has paid off. I have gotten myself to a position where my main responsibility is decision-making, not programming, doing projects or meeting deadlines. When I first came to U.S., many Chinese told me that becoming a computer programmer or an accountant is the best way to go for a Chinese. They provide secured and stable income and we are good at tedious desk jobs. Well, that is not true. If I was still a programmer, I would have deadlines and I would have others tell me or pressure me to do what they want done. Being a manager gives me all the autonomy to decide what risks to take, what deadlines to keep and what direction to go. And then others will execute. It’s a beautiful thing.
I am not a workaholic while I can certainly get quite obsessed. So sometimes I work too much. Other times, I procrastinate here and there. Eventually though I still drive things forward. It’s the Aries in me that won’t let me drop the ball.
Most of the time I don’t write enough, but sometimes I write too much. There have been a few days in the past two years when I would write 6,000 to 10,000 words in one day. I take “writing vacations” – days when I put aside all my other aspects of my life, take my laptop, and go disappear in a hotel room and write. Once I even stayed overnight in a hotel only 10 minutes from home and ordered room service so I didn’t have to stop writing.
Zee, many congratulations on your promotions and doing a great job. I am impressed with your dedication and passion. 10,000 words in a day? Awesome! You’ve officially entered my book of super women/writers
Actually I have to thank NanoWrimo for that. It taught me to stop all self-doubt and self-criticism and just write. For those who are writing their first book, it’s a great method to get to the finish line. Worry about writing better after you get to the finish line. For those who want to take their writing to the next level, I don’t recommend putting junk on paper like that. I recommend a more deliberate approach. Plan it, build it, design it, before you write it.
I know you have lived in the United States for twenty years or so. Can you please share with us some of your experiences which are particularly memorable and interesting?
Social Security Card and Stop Signs perhaps rank number one among all the confusing things when I first arrived. My friends took me to apply for a Social Security Number. I asked for what purpose. They said “So you can start paying income taxes.” Coming from a 1980’s China where people openly evaded income taxes, I didn’t understand why I should be in a hurry to garnish my meagre wages to pay into Uncle Sam’s giant wallet!
I knew how to drive before I came to U.S., so I had many bad habits to change. One of the things that posed the greatest difficulty was to stop at Stop Signs. It was amazing how many Stop Signs I ran through on campus. And then the rule of “person on the right goes first” when all four cars arrive at the Stop Signs simultaneously baffled me. In a four-way intersection how the heck can one decide who is the “person on the right”? Wouldn’t everybody is the person-on-the-right, relatively speaking?
And on my first Christmas party, I didn’t know I needed to bring presents for everybody. Everybody brought me something and I brought them nothing. That was the most embarrassing moment I remember.
Another moment was when I was learning to be a waitress in a Chinese restaurant. A guest ordered “Mai Tai” – a tropical cocktail, and I thought he meant “Mao Tai” – a Chinese liquor. I first told the poor man how impressed I was that he knew of this famous Chinese liquor, and then told him that we didn’t carry it. He was so confused!
Cheers, not for you confusing that poor customer with your “Mao Tai”, but for those embarrassing moments we have in life when encountering another culture and foreign customs .
Ha, ha, the joy of embarrassing moments! They are little landmarks of our progress and learning.
How do you promote your books? Any tips for fellow writers?
Well, I have done all of the standard social networking things and perhaps more. I created a Twitter account and have been making friends online like yourself. And through you, I reach more people. It is a very slow process but you have to start from somewhere. I have a LinkedIn account and a Facebook account. I have met different people there who are interested in either reading my book or helping me spread the word. I’m immensely thankful to them.
I have tried to reach local newspapers and radio stations. I have been successful in getting some interest in the Chinese communities here. Last October the U.S. China press, a widely popular Chinese newspaper in U.S. had a feature article about me. The online version is available at epaper.uschinapress for those who read Chinese. I plan on doing more of that.
If I had the resource, I would try to reach the organizations, communities, interest groups, book fairs, book clubs, where I may reach those who like fantasy stories. For instance, comic conventions, gaming conventions. But for now, I don’t have the time or money to pursue that.
I can’t say that I have much advice for anybody because I have not “broken out” myself, so to say. I am still learning and experimenting. One thing I want to say is, believe in yourself. Believe that there are readers out there who will love your work. And all you need to figure out is how to reach them. So don’t stop believing. This does not mean that you have no room left to improve. Improve your writing and believing go hand-in-hand.
Zee, thank you so much for sharing and offering the encouraging motto: BELIEVE in yourself!
You bet! We can all use a bit of encouragement from time to time. Trust me, there were very depressing moments that threatened to stop me from writing all together. If it weren’t for encouragement from writers like yourself and others who help, I would not be here today. Thank YOU for being a force of positivity yourself!
What are you working right now? Any long term or short term plan as far as your writing is concerned?
The last book of my trilogy is definitely my priority. I think my readers will be anxious to find out what happens to the love seeds sewed in Book One and I have to give them the answers. When I’m done with the first draft of Book Three, I will have some rewrites to do for Book One and Book Two. It tends to happen. So there will be Edition Twos for all books when the trilogy is finally completed.
At the same time I’m also working on an anthology that is about my life. Like you Junying, I have so many stories to tell because of the extraordinary circumstances in which I grew up and then left my home country to make a living in a foreign culture. I’d like to make it as relevant and as entertaining to the readers outside China as possible. So I’m picking and choosing right now. I have posted three of these short stories on my blog. I am very much open to suggestions. A few friends have given me some wonderful ideas about what to write after they heard me talking about my life. I intend to come up with twelve short stories.
How wonderful! I would be the first in the queue to get a signed copy of your true-life story collection.
You got it, Junying!
Have you ever used a friend or foe as a character?
Oh I can’t tell you LOL. The answer is yes, though it is not a straight “copy/paste” thing. Sometimes, I combine the traits from two people into one, to make things more interesting. But definitely the people I encounter in real life have made their way into my stories.
Sure, Zee. I know many writers do that, including me
We can’t make things up out of nothing. It’s against the law of physics.
Finally, can you please recommend a book or a story you have written to my readers? I, for one, am super keen to get to know you more through your wonderful tales.
Other than my fantasy books? I would recommend my short story century-eggs. Please do leave your comments if you have some. I have entered this story in a few short story contests. I will find out how I do next March.
I am a blogger on “A Hopeful Sign” – a blog that spreads hope. I love the theme of the blog so when I was invited, I gladly accepted. My short essays (1,000 words or less) on the blog give out a lot about myself living-to-learn and this is a featured article that has attracted a lot of hits: ahopefulsign.com.
Thank you so much for spending time with us, Zee, and I wish you all the best with your writing career and whatever you attempt to do in the future!
Thank YOU Junying, for having this dialogue with me and giving me the opportunity to reach your readers! It’s been really fun!