Leaving Childhood Behind

Yihhei: unreliable or not serious (lit. playing like kids)

Emperor Mahn, who ruled from 179 B.C. to 156 B.C., once conducted two military inspections.  On his journey to Bah Seuhng and Gik Muhn, he and his attendants finished their task without any impediment.  On his trip to Sai Lauh, the soldiers on guard blocked his path.  The emperor was forced to send in a man with a military warrant before they opened the gate for him.  Emperor Mahn then found the commander general and commended him, saying, “Oh, this is what a real commander general should be!  The soldiers of the two barracks that I went to before were just like kids playing.”

On Saturday I visited my old college campus, UCLA.  The buildings appeared faithful to my memories, but I myself seemed different.  I experienced a slight wistfulness seeing the world around me: the impromptu soccer game, the walking tours for prospective students, the folks shuffling around with backpacks on.  At the same time, I also understood that I had moved on from this environment (from playing like kids) and felt a solid sense of peace.

Advice often given to writers is “write what you know.”  Recently, I heard about The National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” award for acclaimed young writers.  I finished reading Téa Obreht‘s The Tiger’s Wife a week ago and was impressed by her ability to weave in mythological elements and wartime details.  I’m interested next in exploring the works of Charles Yu, who’s been compared to Douglas Adams.  I’m also impressed by Christopher Paolini who penned the Eragon series at fifteen.  I know I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish such an epic feat so young.

I’m grateful for time’s passage and the accumulation of experiences that have shaped me.  I’ve been exposed to a life path layered with complexity.  I straddle the immigrant experience of my parents alongside my own American upbringing.  I trained in my family’s Chinese restaurant business but also attended graduate school and worked in a white-collar professional setting.  I embrace my Cantonese background but am also fascinated by the Taiwanese culture I’ve married into.    

This appreciation for life experience also translates into my writing goals.  I was actually on campus to attend a seminar by Hannah Dennison.  The course covered elements specific to the mystery genre (motives for homicide, murder methods, main character, sidekick, and villain).  It also explored the broader concepts of storytelling and a writer’s life.  During the class, a few statistics caught my attention: apparently only 70% of traditionally published authors earn their advance back, and the breakout novel (a book which brings commercial success) usually occurs on the 4th or 5th publishing effort by an author.  While those numbers may seem disappointing, I realize that I’m okay with being the average.  I’m content with just connecting with readers and bringing a unique story shaped by my experiences to light.      

Colorful Casting
Soaking up Spain


  1. I think that continuing to read literature while we write helps us to arrive at “centered” decisions,such as your own “.. being content with just connecting…bringing a unique story…”

  2. I, too, have found my life experiences have shaped the stories in my head. They’ve also brought me new ones. While some of the old ones are hanging around, they’re deeper than they were when I was a teenaged novelist.

    Always glad to see your work, Jennifer. Very thoughtful!

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