01 October 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Guest Post by Veronica Li, Author of Journey across the Four Seas: A Chinese Woman’s Search for Home (Memoir)

Tell us about yourself.

I’m an English major turned journalist turned banker turned writer. When I graduated from UC Berkeley eons ago, I was confronted with the question all English majors faced. How am I going to earn a living? I went into journalism, a field that allows me to write and earn a decent living. After five years I realized how profound my ignorance of world affairs was. I went back to school and got a masters in International Affairs at Johns Hopkins. The degree led me to a position at the World Bank, where I became the loan officer for Somalia.

My writing life began when Somalia exploded into civil war. I was so shaken up that I wanted to write about my experience. Instead of a history book, I turned the story into a spy thriller, Nightfall in Mogadishu. My second book, Journey across the Four Seas: A Chinese Woman’s Search for Home, is a true story of my mother’s life.

What inspired you to take up writing?

I write to understand. When an experience affects me deeply, I want to get to the bottom of it. I read what others have written about the subject. Then I make up a story with fictional characters going through more or less the same experience. At the end of the process, when the “truth” emerges, I’d feel really alive. I feel I’m truly living, and not just going through the motions of living.

Why did you write your mother’s story?

My mother lived with me during her final years. She loved to tell stories about her life, so I decided to tape record them. These were stories I’d heard many times before, but hearing them told as a chain of events, I began to appreciate what an extraordinary life my mother had lived. Life had dealt her one bad hand after another—poverty, wars, disease, and a disappointing marriage—but she kept making the best of what she had. She finally brought the family to the U.S. in search of a better life. My siblings and I are forever grateful to her for the opportunity to live out the American dream. Because she’s the “founding mother” of our clan in the U.S., I decided to write her memoir for her American born descendants.

Is there anything in the book that you would have preferred not to know?

My father’s philandering while he was a businessman in Thailand was a shock to me. I knew he had some emotional problems, but I thought he was totally dedicated to my mother. This happened during the time my parents lived in Bangkok, where they’d fled to escape the Communists in China. My father was out nightclubbing with clients every night, while my mother was stuck at home with four children ranging from one to five. When I recorded her stories, I could feel her pain even after forty some years.

Do you have any new projects coming up?

I’m currently working on a new novel, Confucius Says. It’s about caregiving for elderly parents. It’s based on my own experience of taking care of my parents. The characters (all fictional, of course) are members of a Chinese American family struggling with what to do with ailing parents. The plot is driven by misunderstandings of Confucius’ teachings about respect for elders. The result is hilarious mix-ups and ridiculous expectations. The subject of aging and dying is dead serious, so humor is the best way to deal with it.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Strike a balance between writing for yourself and writing for an audience. You want to be true to yourself, but you also want people to read your book. The best way is to get feedback on your manuscript at every stage of your writing. I’m lucky to have writer friends to review my drafts. Since I live in Virginia, I’m a member of the Virginia Writers Association. My local chapter meets once a month and is a great resource for ideas and making friends. Writing is a lonely job, but don’t try to go it alone.

Links to Veronica Li’s books:

Journey across the Four Seas: A Chinese Woman’s Search for Home
Nightfall in Mogadishu
Veronica Li’s website

About the author:
Veronica-LiVeronica Li was born in Bangkok, a child of the post-war Chinese diaspora. She spent most of her childhood in Hong Kong and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of fifteen. She received her B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley and her master’s degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University. In her first career, journalism, she wrote for Agence France-Presse, The Asian Wall Street Journal, and Congressional Quarterly. In her second career, international development, she traveled for the World Bank to Asia and Africa to work on aid projects. For the last fifteen years Li has been a writer and caregiver to elderly parents.

About the book, a memoir:
Flora Li (author’s mother) was born into poverty in Hong Kong in 1918. She fought her way through the education system and became one of the few women to get into the prestigious Hong Kong University. When the Japanese invaded, she fled to unoccupied China, where she met her future husband, the son of China’s finance minister. He thought she had found the ideal husband, but soon discovered that he suffered from emotional disorders caused by family conflicts and the wars he had grown up in. Whenever he had a breakdown, Flora would move the family to another city. Throughout her migrations, she kept her sight on one goal—providing her five children with the best possible education. Her final move was to the U.S, so that all her children could go to college.

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