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  1. #10
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    May 2005
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    Aruna's interview with Maestrowork


    1 Where were you born/did you grow up,/live as a child? What are your memories of this time?


    I was born and raised in Hong Kong, on the Kowloon side of the city. In my memories, Hong Kong was hot, humid, miserable in the summer, dry and cold in the winter. And I looked forward to the typhoons so I didn't have to go to school. That said, I actually liked school. I didn't like the studying but at least I did pretty well. What I loved the most about school were my friends. I was a very gregarious child; I made friends very easily. I was also very loud and a bit obnoxious as a boy. I was the class clown as well. The comments in my report cards tended to say, "intelligent and studious, but needs to learn to keep his mouth shut." I was also kind of a bully, believe it or not, and got into quite a few trouble with teachers and principals. I remember getting into a few fights as a young boy, winning them by fighting dirty. But generally, I really enjoyed school because home was "boring" to me. I was very rambunctious and I needed the stimuli at school to keep me preoccupied. I would stay at school for as long as I could.
    My favorite memories involve my summer holidays. I looked forward to that every day, even though we were often overloaded with tons of summer homework. I remember having to finish 1000 Math problems by the end of the two-month vacation. But what summer meant to me was a lot of fun. My brother and I would go to the public swimming pool almost every day. I'd have camps, swimming lessons. I'd ride my bicycles everywhere. And I loved going on fishing and swimming trips with my dad and his colleagues. Every summer they would rent a huge sailboat and take their families out to the ocean and remote islands from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. We'd do a lot of swimming and diving. The adults would go scuba diving and bring back tons of fresh fish, conches, scallops, clams, and the occasional octopuses and lobsters. By sunset we would start a feast that would last until we docked. I can still taste the salt and smell the fish now that I think back on that time.
    I was very poor, but happy. I didn't have the things my peers had, and I wore my brother's hand-me-down every year. There were times I wish I had the money to get the kind of sneakers everyone was wearing, or the graphite tennis racket instead of the wood. At the same time, I understood my family's situation and I never demanded my parents to spend money on "frivolous things." What I really wanted, I saved my allowances until I could afford to buy them. And then I had to hide these frivolous things from my parents. I remember hiding my favorite robot from my parents for a whole year before they discovered it -- but they didn't say anything, so the whole thing about hiding from my parents was really stupid. My parents were very liberal and permissive when it came to me. I was roaming the streets when I was six or seven years old. I could stay up late with my friends as long as I told my parents where I would be. My parents often had to work double shifts, and so it was up to my brother and I to take care of ourselves -- we would cook, wash, and clean the house before bed when sometimes both our parents were at work, or one of them were still sleeping. So we trained ourselves to be very independent from a very young age. I remember feeling the freedom and also the responsibility, because I never wanted my parents to worry about me. One time my brother severely cut through his forefinger and instead of calling my parents, we rummaged through the medicine cabinet and I helped bandage and treat his finger -- I was only 6 years old.
    I didn't have much, but we also had plenty. The worst memories I had were when my parents fought, which was almost every day, usually about very trivial things. I hated every minute of those fights. At the same time, I also felt immense love from them. Never would I doubt my parents would abandon us or that they didn't care about us. I appreciated the freedom they gave me, while making sure I knew I was loved and cared about. Being on my own was my sanctuary, to be able to explore and experience the world on my own terms, but I always knew I had a home to come back to, and my parents would always be there for me, that I could always feel safe.
    I remember a lot of things about my childhood, but the ever-present feeling was that I could do all those things and experience my childhood in the embrace of real love. I felt secure even though I didn't have a lot. I felt free even though my parents would do anything to protect us. I knew what love felt like even before I knew what love really meant. And that's a gift that will stay with me for the rest of my life.


    2. What circumstances moved you away?


    I moved to the US at the age of 18. Years of being independent had trained me for the day I finally left home, to be on my own. And not just anywhere, but more than 10,000 miles away in a strange country, where people ate hamburgers and spoke English. I didn't really want to leave home, my family and all my friends, but I understood why I had to. There was no future for me if I didn't get a college degree, and it was almost impossible to get into the universities in Hong Kong. My parents sacrificed a lot for my education, because they truly believed in the value of it, an investment that is life-long. They literally spent their entire life's savings on my education, to send me to the US. As a foreign student, I (and my family) must prove that I had enough money to support myself through four years of college. What impressed and touched me the most wasn't that my parents did all that for me (of course they would). What touched me the most was that they didn't push me -- the decision for me to move to the US was a mutual, consensual one after a very mature discussion. I understood the stakes, and I understood the reasons behind the decision. I never felt that my parents were abandoning me, that I wasn't wanted. Instead, I was honored and touched that they trusted me and respected me. They trusted me enough to let an 18-year-old boy go to a faraway land all by himself (I ended up not going home for six years) because they understood the value of education and they trusted my independence. Sometimes they knew me more than I knew myself.
    I ended up in Pittsburgh, not sunny California or cosmopolitan New York, but small town Pittsburgh. I went to Duquesne University, a private Catholic school for the first semester, then transfered to the University of Pittsburgh. I also worked part-time at a Chinese restaurant. In my spare time (when not studying or working), I traveled around the country. I felt that I was given an incredible opportunity and the best education I could get was out of the classroom. It was some of the best years of my life, even though I missed my family very much. Coming to America changed my life in more ways than I could imagine.


    3. Beside your parents, who was/were the most influential person(s) of your childhood? What did you learn most from him/her/them? The most influential person you've known as an adult?


    I can name three teachers who influenced me the most, who helped shape me to be the person I am now. The first was my elementary school headmaster; regrettably I don't remember her name now. When all the teacher treated me like a clown, or one of those forgettable boys who probably wouldn't amount to anything, she had faith in me. She was stern with me, but instead of punishment, she put her trust in me and asked me to work with her, to help her. Receiving that kind of responsibilities made me realize I could do better, and I wasn't a nobody after all.
    The second teacher was my Form 1 (equivalent to 8th Grade in the US) teacher. She was graceful, elegant, and kind. I think I had a major crush on her. She also put me into a lot of extracurricular programs and she made me realize there were knowledge and experiences outside of the classroom. She made me question my abilities, talents and what I wanted to do, instead of what others wanted me to do. She was also a great example of a kind, wonderful, selfless human being.
    The third teacher was my Chinese teacher in high school. She was incredible sharp, witty, and stern, but she also understood me. She knew I hated memorizing books or doing quizzes, so instead she gave me projects to do. She was the first person who roused my interest in creative writing. She encouraged me to write stories, plays, whatever that explored my creative side. She was critical but at the same time very interested in what I had to say. She was a great mentor, someone we should all be lucky enough to have in our lives.
    I'm not sure who is the most influential person I've known as an adult. I tend to be free thinking and I tend to do my own thing. There were certainly people I listened to, admired, or studied, but to me, they were part of this whole universe of knowledge and wisdom that I'm, to this day, eager to learn and absorb. Everyone from Jesus to Martin Luther King to friends I've made throughout the years. I honestly can't say who the most influential person was.


    4. Can you describe one decisive moment in your youth, one that changed the course of your life, either in a physical, mental or a philosophical sense? Or, is there an experience you had as a youth which lives on in your memory, influencing your life now in either a positive or negative sense?


    There are many moments of my life that changed or shaped me to be the person I am today, but three earliest memories stood out for me. The first one was when I was 8. I was playing a game with my friends during recess when I fell on my head. My concussion was so severe that I was in a coma. I had no idea how long it had been, but the first thing I remembered was my mother by my side. I couldn't remember much except the comfort I felt when I heard her voice. It was the first time I understood the concept of dying, and that I could die. It was also the first time I really, really understood what love was, and what love meant. That understanding has guided me through most of my life since.
    The second moment happened during a detention. May I say the teacher was a *bitch* and she was determined to keep us there for hours. I hated her so much. And I thought my parents would kill me when they found out I was in detention for two hours, thus missing my ride home and dinner. So I prayed to God that I would be left out soon. I spent my entire time there praying and asking for God to grant me that one wish: to be home in time for supper. I had never prayed so hard in my life. And what did I know? Lo and behold within an half-hour the teacher told us to go home -- she changed her mind and she would just let us go. It was the first time (as silly and wrong as it sounds now) I truly believe there was a God, or some higher being, and that God was listening.
    The third moment happened when I was 10. I was at my worst behavior that year -- call it rebellion, acting out, or what have you. I'd threatened my parents, hit back, and tried to run away from home. I flunked out of a couple of classes, and I forged my dad's signature on a report card. My teacher (the one mentioned above) was not stupid, however, and she caught me. She called me into her office, and asked me if that signature was mine. I told another lie and said "yes." She then told me she was very disappointed that I lied again. But instead of calling my parents or telling the principal, she made me sit next to her, and told me why she was disappointed, saddened -- because she was sure that I could do better, and that she saw things in me that no other teachers did. That afternoon, she knocked some senses into me, and I promised her that I would change. And I did. My grades went up and my temper went down. And then one day during class, when we were trying to talk about the upcoming picnic, she told the class to quiet down and then she said something like this:
    "There is one person in this class that has impressed me the most this year, and not because he has the best grades, or he is the best behaved, or he does everything I told him, too. It's because he has changed the most. He's made the most effort and he's made a 180 degree change. He's proven to me, all by himself, what he's capable of. And with that, I'd like to make him your new class president."
    And then she said my name. That was the proudest moment of my life up to that point, and I will never forget how it changed my life.


    5. Describe the street you live in, the view from your bedroom/living room window, or the route you take to work each day!


    It's a major street but relatively quiet, lined with beautiful pear trees and maples. Spring is beautiful with white blossoms on the trees and new greens everywhere, expansive lawns and lovely stone houses. The street is on a downgrade and it curves, thus creating an impressive vista of the neighborhood where the abundance of trees and grass and flowers and hills paints an idyllic picture of a quintessential American life.
    The living room has ceiling-to-floor windows serving as perfect picture frames for the outside vista. The expansive bedroom windows overlook the front garden, and the Japanese maple is at its most glorious during Fall, with its golden pine leaves.
    Off the driveway there are two ways to go: turn left and I would drive past the state university onto a oak-lined thoroughfare that winds its way through a few neighborhoods before it ends in downtown. Turn right and I would go up a hill and reach the business district of my neighborhood with cafes, restaurants, a movie theater, shops, and a serene city park. A few blocks away is a major university campus.

    6. Describe the room you are sitting in right now!

    I'm in my kitchen, which, through the expansive windows, looks out to the backyard which is a vast hill-slope overgrown with ivy, shadowed by a canopy of 100-foot trees. The kitchen is spacious and rather messy at this point. The counters are littered with appliances such as a toaster, two coffee-makers, a juicer, a MagicBullet mixer, a blender, and boxes of vegetables. Piles of bills, papers, magazines take up most of space on the table. There are plants on the windowsills. On my right is a cart of alcohol (you name it, I have it), a wine rack, pots and pans, and an AeroGarden, in which the basil, lemon basil, chives, parsley, oregano, and thyme are growing in abundance at the moment. On the walls is a set of Japanese porcelain plates.


    7. Do you see yourself in this same place in two/five/ten years time?


    I'd like to. It's a quiet, peaceful, contemporary home. But you never know what life brings you. In ten years I would probably move out to California to be closer to my parents. Or start a family on my own -- this house is definitely a bit small for a family.


    8. What was your education? What do you do for a living? Do you enjoy your work?


    I have a Bachelor degree in Computer Science, and a Master's in Telecommunications. I also took classes in Creative Writing. I've been Software Engineers, IT specialists, architects, and consultants. I've also been business analyst, project manager, and technical writer. Right now, I just want to write, make music, and see where life is taking me. I also act from time to time (when my agent calls me). I try to do what I love and love what I do, and am in no hurry to sell my soul for money.


    9. What is the quality or qualities you value most in a life partner? Is there such a person in your life right now?


    I'm very picking when it comes to someone I'd like to spend the rest of my life with, and sometimes I don't even know if I NEED anyone; I think I'm perfectly content with myself. However, I do think that everybody needs somebody, and there is probably someone out there for me -- someone who completes me (even though I don't think I need to be "completed"). I've been in a few long-term relationships -- engaged to be married once -- and I never regretted them, even if they didn't last. I've learned a lot, and the connections I felt are forever. Speaking of which, I think a "connection" is what I value the most. Often when a relationship didn't work, it was because we'd lost that connection, or that connection was never there to begin with. We could all delude ourselves by thinking we're madly in love, or that we must sacrifice or do something to earn love, to change and bend ourselves so we deserve to be loved. I believe love should be a natural thing, and I anticipate that. It's all about that special connection. I don't look for certain particular qualities, although some things seem to repeat, thus they must be rather important to me: a sense of human, kindness, selflessness, independence (I hate clinginess and neediness), a sense of adventure and fun, lack of ego and jealousy, complete respect and trust for me. And friendship -- I can't fall in love with anyone who can't be my best friend. That undeniable connection is very important to me. Sex and looks may fade, but the connection is the real thing. I look for "real" -- and if you had read my novel, The Pacific Between, you would have a glimpse of my philosophy and views on love.
    The biggest hurdle I have had with my past relationships, I believe, is that I'm not an easy person to understand, and I yearn for someone to really, truly understand and accept me. To let me be. More often than not I feel that I'm misunderstood, or that others can't understand what I'm about and who I am. Or that they have a specific expectations from me, and they want me to fit into whatever vision they have. They would start taking things apart, or accusing me for something I did not do, or what I wasn't. It was always heartbreaking to have to prove myself once again, or have to remind others what I've already explained a thousand times. It's not as if I were a complicated person, but most often than not, I just don't think people listen or pay attention. And they forget.


    10. Tell me about your writing journey. When did you start The Pacific Between? Was it your first attempt at a novel? How long did it take, and how long did it take to find a publisher? How long do we have to wait for the next novel?


    I've always loved to write, or do anything creative: music, art, etc. I was quite a storyteller when I was growing up and actually published a few things in high school. But all that stopped after I went to college -- life just intensified (what if my future being at stake); I just didn't have the time to write. Or read anything for fun.

    I began to dabble in writing in the mid-90s when I was an editor for a community newsletter. First it was just news and articles, then it was short stories, etc. I guess I got the writing bug again when we held a writing contest -- and I won! That was when I really thought about writing fiction seriously. I took some classes and they helped me understand there was more to the craft of fiction writing than just putting words on the page. There were things I didn't know or understand: point of view, dialogue, plot development, etc. It was quite an eye-opener for me.

    I first got the idea of a contemporary coming-of-age love story in 1998 after I took those classes. It just seemed to be the right thing for me to do, especially as my first novel. The original idea of the story was a bit different -- it was somewhat more cliched and cheesy and more of a romance than a "personal journey."

    Then the final idea germinated from a love letter I discovered -- one I had never read until then. My parents had kept that letter from me for years. The initial shock and nostalgia (I didn't know what happened to that girl) prompted me to write the first chapter of The Pacific Between in November, 2001. The story became more of a journey than a romance. I showed the first chapter to a few colleagues of mine, who were avid readers of contemporary fiction, and they liked it. That was all the confidence I needed to continue.

    It took me about 18 months to write the first half of the novel (about 50,000 words -- I had set the goal on about 100,000, eventually completed at 95,000), then another 4 months to finish it. I took another 3 months to polish it (cutting out the first 15,000 words and restructuring the opening chapters) and work on my queries. I had 12 versions of the query letter. It was definitely a steep learning curve. I started querying in February, 2004, and I sold it in November the same year.

    When I first started working on the novel -- yes, it was my first novel -- I didn't think I could or would publish it. It was more like a test for myself, to see if I could actually finish a book-length novel. I had written and published short stories before, but never a novel. When I finished it, it was a personal triumph for me, especially because the story was near and dear to my heart. After a few beta readers told me the book was good enough for publication, I gained enough confidence to go through the submission process, so I really owe them my gratitudes. If not for these brave souls who encouraged me and egged me on, I would have given up a long time ago.

    I'm still working on my second novel, while having all kinds of ideas for future projects. It's story that spans three wars (The Pacific War, Korean War, and the Gulf War) and contains magic realism. It tells the story of a Chinese-Malayan boy and a British girl. Probably the best pitch would be something like Doctor Zhivago meets Memoirs of a Geisha.

    I'm trying to be patient. I don't want to have to force my creative process because I enjoy writing, and I don't want this to become a chore. I want to be moved by what I write, and I think I'm accomplishing that, even though the process has been going on longer than I'd anticipated. I'm currently at about 80,000 words and I think I may have another 40,000 to go. I'm really looking forward to reaching "THE END" once again. I think this is going to be a much better book than The Pacific Between, one that I can be proud of.



    11. Dogs, cats, both, neither, and why?


    Both. I like animals anyway. But I don't think I can handle a dog at this point of my life. Did I mention I hate clinginess and neediness? I think a dog is simply too clingy and needy for me. I prefer the aloofness of cats, actually. And their independence is something to love. Perhaps a cat would be the perfect life partner for me? Nah, now I sound like one of those crazy cat ladies.
    Last edited by aruna; 12-15-2008 at 11:32 AM.
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