Tuesday, July 06, 2010
I think almost all of my characters have a little something of me in them. It would be really hard for me to really understand their emotions and make them realistic if we had no common ground at all. But I try to be careful to not make my stories too autobiographic because I want to protect the other people in my life from feeling exposed.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Right now, I’m trying to learn to speak Welsh. It’s a lovely language and quite fun, but I suppose it might qualify as a bit quirky. I’d be making more progress if I had a study partner or a class, but there’s nothing like that in my area of the country.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I was attempting to write before I could even read, and I actually can’t remember a time when I was not making up stories. So it’s something that’s always been a part of who I am. I just didn’t realize that a career as a novelist was something I could realistically try for until about eleven years ago. Once I started learning how the publishing world works, then it seemed like the most natural thing in the world for me to work toward.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I am a bit eclectic. I love Jane Austen and the Regency time period, and I really enjoy well-written Regency romances by authors like Julia Quinn and Eloisa James. But I also enjoy women’s fiction and magical realism. I also really love character-driven fantasy, and some historical novels. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and I have also been enjoying some memoir and essayists, such as Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
I have three previous published books—loosely known as the SAHM series: SAHM I Am, @Home For The Holidays, and Play It Again SAHM. They are comedies about stay-at-home mothers who are friends through an email discussion group. The story is told through their emails, and later their text messages, online chat and IMs to each other.
They were a lot of fun, but I’m looking forward to moving in a different direction with my writing now. Lucky Baby is my first step toward a more Alice Hoffman feel of women’s fiction with magical realism. I’m developing some more stories along that line as well as working on a more traditional fantasy series.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I refuse to run, run, run unless it’s something I am passionate about doing. Of course, there’s always the daily life sort of things—meals to fix, children to taxi about—but I’ve learned to say no to a lot of things and not worry so much about the expectations of other people who say “but it’s always been done this way.” I’m all about finding a different way of doing it if it works out better for me.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Sometimes, I pick a name according to the meaning, but sometimes the name seems to attach itself to the character. For example, my Lucky Baby protagonist, Meg Lindsay, was originally a different “M” name that was a nickname. The problem was that somewhere along the way I stopped thinking of her as that name and started thinking of her as “Meg” instead. So I gave up and renamed her.
Other times, I choose a name according to the person’s ethnic heritage. Deciding on Chinese names for my characters was a bit tricky because the Chinese have a very culturally-based naming system that takes into account not just the meaning but also the sounds and the homonyms of the names and other connotations that a person outside that culture (like me) would have no way of knowing. So I had to be careful.
I’m working on a story right now that is set in Wales, so I’m having fun choosing Welsh names. Fortunately, for this story I have some Welsh friends who are helping me.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I am currently shepherding my two daughters through all the girl-trials of tweenhood and adolescence. They’re doing wonderfully, and if they end up as amazing as they are now, that will be the accomplishment that brings me the most satisfaction.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
I’d probably choose a fantasy creature—maybe a Chinese dragon. They aren’t feared and hunted as European dragons are. They’re respected as wise and benevolent, and they’re quite beautiful. If I had to relinquish opposable thumbs and walking upright, I think iridescent scales and the Pearl of Heaven might just be an acceptable trade-off.
What is your favorite food?
Chocolate—no question about it. Especially dark chocolate. But I love fruit as well—cherries, mangos, pineapples, raspberries—it’s the sweet-tooth thing.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
I am still learning how to work with my creative process in this area. I have to try to take out all the emotions and negative self-talk and sort out that from legitimate weaknesses in the plot or character development. But the best thing I did this last time was to work with a creativity coach who helped me get past that mental block and find my passion again for the story.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Love writing, and be teachable. Too many writers want the finished result (a published book) but they don’t really want to commit themselves to the art of words. Other writers aren’t willing to learn and study and at least honestly consider feedback from others. At some point, you have to have enough confidence in your own creative vision to pursue it even if others are saying it won’t work, but too many beginners want to start from that point. Creative confidence develops as you gain experience and as you learn.
Tell us about the featured book?
Lucky Baby is the story of a Chicago couple that makes the improbable choice to adopt a child from China. It’s also the story of two Chinese orphans and the life journeys that take them in completely different directions.
I wanted the story to be a look at what happens after the “happy ever after ending” of the orphan finding a family. That’s never the end of the story. In our American culture of family dysfunction, I wanted to explore the different ways that people can be abandoned by their families of origin and the journey that they take to form a new family and learn to love each other.
I found it very hard to put into words the adoption experience and the experience of becoming a mother. To help with that, I turned to magical realism, which is a way of writing that brings the fantastic into the realm of the every day and makes the every-day a miraculous world. This let me add in Chinese mythology and symbolism as well as some of our contemporary Chinese adoption “mythology”—like ladybugs being a harbinger of adoption news, or the idea of a red thread connecting parents to their little ones. Adoption really is a miraculous journey, and it was fun to render that “magic” in literary form.
Please give us the first page of the book.
Wen Ming, April 2001
The woman of my earliest memory has no body. Just a round face with skin like a plum. Smooth and tight. Firm. A smiling plum with dimples. She is not my mama. I don’t remember my mama.
Many years later, now that I am nearly grown, there are other things I remember. They are only pieces, like torn bits of a blurred photo. Sometimes I don’t know what is real memory and what my mind has filled in for me, but I think most of our lives happen in our minds, so it doesn’t bother me.
I remember a misty rain that smelled like the ocean and dead earthworms; massive concrete steps and the ache in my legs as I climbed them; the fuzzy nubs of my blanket, and its unchanging odor of old sundried sheets, steamed rice, and sour water. The blanket corner caught a step and I tripped. The woman grabbed my hand tighter and told me, “You should be more careful. Now hurry.”
Not the hurry of going to the park for tai chi. Not the hurry of getting to the market before all the best fish were taken. Not the hurry of peeling off my many layers of clothing to squat over the toilet. Those normal sorts of hurry never turned my fingers into clammy, day-old rice noodles, never set an eel to swimming in my stomach. This hurry was the nightmare that chased me down dark alleys in my mind and swallowed me with its nothingness.
I was too small to fight it, but I did drag my feet. She tugged my arm. I shuffled after her. I had no choice.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
My website is http://www.meredithefken.com/ . I’m also on Facebook and Twitter: “Meredith Efken.” Readers might also enjoy my profile on Amazon.com and the Author Portal at Simon & Schuster. (http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Meredith-Efken/35083379 )
I would love readers to register on my website because I am building a community of readers who will have access to exclusive extras and special content, as well as have a chance to get better acquainted with me and each other. We’re still building this part of the site, so I’d love people to register and get in at the very beginning of this exciting new phase.
Thank you, Meredith, for this fascinating peek into your life and your new book.
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