When I was eight years old and living in Wuhan, China, the teacher sent for my mother. I was so nervous because I thought I had failed a test. To my delight, the teacher explained that a magazine wanted to publish an article I had written and the editor of the magazine wanted to meet me. The editor presented me with a hardcover notebook as an award. I brought that notebook with me from China and have kept it in my office for all of these years.
I always loved to write, but I never dreamed I would be able to write stories in my second language, English. I used to be so uneasy about writing even a simple note, let alone a book! I worried about spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. In some ways, writing in English helps me face that fear. I discovered that by making mistakes, I became a better writer. I challenged myself to write a book in English and sold my first cookbook in less than two months.
Writing keeps me close to the country I love—China. I enjoy losing myself in my stories. As a young girl, I lacked the patience for sewing, needlework, and fan dancing—things girls were expected to do in China at that time. I preferred playing with boys! I relive my childhood fantasies through the boys in my children’s books by allowing them to do all the naughty things I wish I had done. In the end, the boys get rewarded for their creativity and inventiveness.
My three biggest passions are children, travel, and food. I love to be with children; they ask the most fascinating questions. I have visited schools throughout the US and abroad, sharing with students my journey as a writer, how my life in China inspired my writing, and the challenges of writing in my second language.
Traveling to new places allows me to search out the best food. After sampling delicious dishes, I become inspired to create new recipes for my books. I enjoy coming up with a good recipe, especially if it goes along with a good story.
My typical workday begins with Tai Chi sword, a type of Chinese exercise. Then, after a long walk, I sit down to write. Walking gives me time to think; it helps me structure my writing. Writing makes me hungry, so I go to the kitchen to cook and eat!
Up to this point in my writing career, I have written historical fiction, picture books, adult cookbooks, magazine features, and ghost stories. I’ve found that some forms are more challenging than others, but each one has given me more confidence as a writer and reinforced my belief: write what’s in your heart. When a writer has an interesting story to tell, it doesn’t matter which genre they use to deliver it. I believe all forms of writing interweave with each other.
Due to the political unrest of the Cultural Revolution that left the nation starving, I grew up obsessed with food. It seems only natural that my fixation is now a central theme of my writing. To me, writing is not only a necessity, it’s also therapeutic. It’s the best way I know of to keep China, the country that I love so deeply, close to my heart. Perhaps because that love is so strong and unwavering, I have never truly experienced an extended period of writer’s block. When I do have trouble writing, I go to my kitchen and cook one of the recipes I favored during my childhood, like the dumplings featured in A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts. I hope it brings you inspiration!
Three Things You Might Not Know About Me:
1. Pets were not allowed when I was growing up in China, and now I am a little afraid of dogs.
2. Some weeks, I play sixteen hours of badminton at my club. I often beat people twenty years younger.
3. I hate driving, especially on highways.