Magical Realism, A Shanghai Family Saga and Finding One’s Readers: Author Interview with Audrey Mei
I am so happy to participate in the blog tour of new author, Audrey Mei. I’m grateful to Quanie Miller, a wonderful writer and blogger who helped bring us together. Given Audrey’s amazingly diverse creative practices that run the gamut of music, writing, health and science, I knew she would be a great person to interview. In our correspondence, we’ve discovered that we have many overlapping interests.
Audrey Mei grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area before studying cello and biological psychology/pre-med in Boston (New England Conservatory of Music/Tufts University). Following graduation, she received a Fulbright Grant for graduate studies in cello performance at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland.
Since 2006, Audrey has been dedicated to writing prose and poetry and has been published in Gangway Literary Magazine and Glimmer Train among others, as well as participating for several years in the Berlin English language literary scene. She is a world traveler at heart.
I’m delighted to welcome Audrey Mei to The Practice of Creativity.
-Tell us about your recent book, Trixi Pudong and the Greater World. Why did you want to write this book?
Trixi Pudong and the Greater World is a family saga that follows a Shanghai family through four generations, beginning in 1937. Alongside the family’s history of war, revolution, addiction, and migration, there is a twist of magical: a fairy, a fortune-telling goatman, and two brothers who never step off a rusty container ship.
The inspiration for this book came as I was researching my dad’s family history for fun. At the time, I was also living as a dirt-poor writer in Berlin. The ironic juxtaposition of everything my Chinese family had survived and the “privileged”-yet-poor artist life I was living in modern, cushy Germany gave me the impetus to write a book about how unpredictable the waves of history can be.
Also, my father is a natural storytelling genius. I felt that integrating his tales from Shanghai into a work of historical magical fiction would be a way for me to remember his stories as well as a way for them to potentially reach a wider audience.
-You have explored many wonderful professions in addition to writing including, being a classical cellist, a holistic healer, and a scientist. How have these other creative and intellectual pursuits contributed to your writing?
The single most important thing I’ve gained is the discipline of being a classical musician. Someone recently pointed out to me that classical music is the one artistic field which requires the highest investment in time, energy, and money for the least return in today’s economy. Where else do little kids practice hours a day, take expensive music lessons, take the “audition of their lives” to study at pricey conservatories, and spend five figures on an antique instrument… just for the slim chance at earning all that back in the vanishing classical music profession? It turns out that many music school graduates have taken their skills to innovative non-music jobs. A surprising number of tech workers in Silicon Valley, for example, are actually classical musicians.
Discipline is the greatest gift. I can’t say enough about it. Yet it is the one area where the most people fall short. Discipline is required to write, solve problems, continually improve, and mentally deal with the pain of critical feedback. Discipline is required to keep the mind free from destructive thoughts and to keep yourself focused on the highest level of quality you can manage.
The second skill I’ve gained through my experience is emotional awareness from working in holistic therapy for sixteen years. I listen to people’s stories, traumas, insecurities, and griefs. I follow their healing and their growth. I can’t be judgmental and I can’t be afraid of deep emotions otherwise my clients would stop seeing me. Therapeutic experience has also given me the “roadmap” of human motivations. Writing-wise, this helps me to create a stories that interweave motives and relationships that are rooted in true human psychology.
-Your book is being marketed as multicultural fiction. Can you share what this term means to you and why that’s an important distinction for this book?
It didn’t dawn on me that the term “multicultural” would be important in any way until I researched agents and realized, Wait, these agents would never, ever in a million years represent me. They all claimed to be interested in all genres of literary fiction, but early on, I got a strong gut feeling when I browsed agents’ client list and saw only your garden-variety white male (or female). And the only non-white authors being represented were invariably prison-camp survivors, Nobel laureates, or writers on “What it means to be [fill in ethnicity/disadvantaged class] in America.” The next stage of this realization came as I read agent interviews where they unabashedly declared their risk aversion to selling to an audience that they couldn’t relate to. In other words, there was a near-zero chance for a person like myself who is just telling a story.
But, as my writing teacher always emphasizes: The readers are out there. Unfortunately, as the traditional publishing industry has changed, world literature has fallen victim to the budgeting ax. It remains a question of reaching the right audience, but at the indie book level. Hence I saw how critical it is to designate a book properly to attract my target readers.
-What’s been the biggest surprise thus far in being published?
I’m astounded at how supportive other indie authors are. I’m also floored by how impossible it is for anyone with kids to write, publish, and market a book with no child care. I started writing Trixi Pudong in 2009, pre-parenthood. My daughter was born in 2014, and my writing screeched to a complete standstill. Without my mother-in-law donating 20 hours a week of babysitting, I simply wouldn’t have a book out. Period.
– What do you say to yourself on days when the writing feels especially difficult?
Just wait. What goes down must come up again.
I’m very strict about this, to not put pressure on myself. I don’t work well under pressure. I would just produce garbage. But when inspiration comes on its own, it really flows and the process is nearly effortless. It’s therefore more important for me to find ways to let the inspiration flow. A meditation practice — being able to empty my mind to allow for ideas to emerge, aka “listen to your heart” lol — has been my best resource.
– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
This is going somewhere, I promise: My dad is a retired professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. For a while decades ago, UCB topped even Harvard as the country’s best university, and this was because of his department. So he’s a pretty esteemed individual in his field (just don’t ask me anything about it!). At conferences and events, fellow professors and former students flock around him. I’ll never forget what some of his former grad students related to us at his 80th birthday celebration. According to these students, my dad always told them that, in the face of doubt:
Never compare yourself to anyone else.
Remember that no one else can do what you are doing.
Thank you to Michele for giving me the honor of guest-posting on your blog! You can find the rest of my blog tour schedule here.