I recently had the privilege of reading an advance copy of Susan Blumberg – Kason’s first book: Good Chinese Wife.
I also was lucky enough to ask her a few questions about the book, writing and the pain of a relationship that you put your heart and soul into only to have it turn bad. As a reader, writer and someone that has felt the pain of a relationship with a man from China gone bad, I was really touched by her honesty, both in her book and her interview. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
How did you feel about writing about such a difficult time in your life?
It was difficult at first because as I started writing about these events I relived them again and again. But after a couple of years into the process, that all seemed so far from my life as it is now. It was almost like that marriage happened to someone else. Ultimately I felt it was better to get these painful things out if it would help someone else who might be dealing with the same issues.
Was it your idea or the editor?
The book idea was mine. I worked with some independent editors before I signed with my lovely and brilliant agent, Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency, and during the first few years of writing this book, the focus was all over the place. It was part coming of age story, part travelogue, and part family memoir. So there really was no focus. My original title was “Boundary Street”, which was the name of the street that used to separate British Hong Kong from mainland China for decades before 1898. But no one would really understand that reference unless he or she knew Hong Kong. It seemed that as soon as I changed the name of the book to “Good Chinese Wife”, the focus of the book shifted solely to the marriage.
How did you approach this project?
I started writing a chapter here and a chapter there about six years after my divorce. When I set out to get the book published a couple years later, I completed fifty pages and started querying literary agents. I thought I would be able to sign with an agent with fifty pages and a proposal, and from there my dream agent would help me shape the story. But the economy tanked in 2008 and publishing changed with e-books and rise of self-publishing. So I realized I would have to finish the manuscript myself before I could find an agent. I finished in late 2011 and signed with Carrie in early 2012. She’s a great editor as well as that dream agent I set out to find back in 2008. We worked on revisions for half a year before she started sending out the manuscript to editors at publishing houses. In February 2013, she sold the book to my wonderful editor Stephanie Bowen at Sourcebooks and the rest is history!
Was it a bit of release to let all of those memories out?
Yes! I kept my story inside for years and only started talking about after I left that marriage. Still, talking about it differs so much from writing about it and reading it on paper. I didn’t let it all out at once, though, and even up until the end of the submission process (when Carrie sent my manuscript to publishing houses) I was still just getting out some of the things that happened in the story.
What was the biggest lesson learned during the events in your book?
The biggest lesson I learned was that it’s never a good idea to lose oneself to another person. During the course of that marriage, I became someone I didn’t recognize all because I thought that was how Cai wanted me to be. I know lots of cross-cultural relationships that work beautifully, but neither person tries to be someone else. It’s important to hold onto one’s identity, which doesn’t mean one can’t understand and enjoy another culture. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. But I didn’t see that back then.
What was the biggest thing you learned about the book writing process?
Writing and publishing a book cannot be rushed. I self-published a guidebook to drinking tea in Chicago some years ago because I was so impatient to get that book published. But with “Good Chinese Wife”, I learned to be patient and to understand that publishing runs on its own time zone. Carrie sold the book in February 2013 and it was published July 2014. That is completely normal in publishing and something that I fortunately understood after taking four years to find an agent.
Would you do it again (both live abroad and writing a book)?
Absolutely! I loved living in Hong Kong and there isn’t a day that doesn’t pass when I don’t think about my life there. Now that I have three kids and a husband who needs to work in our state, I can see how important it was for me to live abroad while I still had the chance. And as for writing the book, I’m so glad I wrote it. The support and feedback have been wonderful. I know I can’t expect everyone to love it, but the people I care about have all enjoyed it. That’s all that matters.
Any closing advice for either women looking to live and find love abroad; or to write a book?
For living and finding love abroad, it’s best to listen to one’s gut instincts. My gut told me that I was more suited to Hong Kong than mainland China (this was 20 years ago, so things have obviously changed drastically in China), yet I wouldn’t listen to it when I became engaged to Cai. And I should have listened to my gut instinct when I wanted speak my mind to Cai, but somehow couldn’t because I didn’t want to cause problems in our relationship. But keeping quiet caused more problems than I ever imagined! And as for writing a book, be patient, persistent, and read a ton of books in your genre.