Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Author Interview with Andrea Alban & Book Giveaway

For this month’s interview, I bring to you Andrea Alban, author of ANYA’S WAR (Feiwel & Friends), a young adult novel. ANYA’S WAR is about a Russian Jewish family that relocates to China during World War II. In the beginning of the story, Anya, 14, finds an abandoned Chinese baby girl in an alley. She brings the baby home and names her Kisa. Once, I attended an author talk given by Andrea where she shared that her Jewish father and his family came to Shanghai, China shortly before War War II began. Her father, 8, found an abandoned Chinese baby girl and brought her home. Because his family feared the child may have cholera, Andrea’s father had to hand the baby over to local authorities. But what happens to the baby Anya finds in ANYA’S WAR?

The paperback version of ANYA’S WAR is being released TODAY. Andrea very generously offered to give away a copy of her book. So if you leave a comment here between now and April 3, I will announce a winner on Monday, April 4.

Being a San Francisco native, I must ask: Which part of San Francisco did you grow up in?
I spent my first nine years in Lakeside Village a few blocks away from SFSU (where I would eventually get my BA in Creative Writing).

My father moved the family to St. Francis Wood in 1969 where I am again living in my childhood home with three generations of women. (My Mom, Donna, and my 17 year old daughter, Lily…four generations if you count our Golden Retriever puppy, Lola.)


What childhood memory do you have associated with that area?
I was famous amongst the SFSU college students for greeting them as they walked back to their cars after class. I stood at the base of the driveway in a lemon yellow dress, white bobby socks, and black patent leather Mary-Janes.™ I also have such fond memories of the stacks of books my Mom brought home from the Merced Branch Library. I was a voracious reader. This habit set me up as a reader who writes.

What was something extremely valuable that you learned from your Creative Writing program at San Francisco State University? 
How to write scenes without “filtering" which emphasizes a character's observation of external action rather than directly presenting the thing seen. The key to eliminate filtering is to search the manuscript for words such as see, saw, watch, observe, notice, hear, and feel. Delete them, and what remains is the character’s immediate experience, and robust writing.

Did you conduct most of the research for the novel, especially about the way of life for the Jews in China’s Frenchtown, based on family interviews? How else did you conduct your research?
Yes, I spent over a decade researching while raising my two children. I pored over family documents (correspondence and photo albums), conducted oral histories of my family members and their friends, and was admitted into the reference stacks of the Judah Magnes Museum. I also read every memoir written by Shanghai Jews and consulted with Tess Johnston, a local historian, author and storyteller living in Shanghai who is an expert in the history of the Western presence in Shanghai.

What made ANYA’S WAR a particularly unique book was that the story intermingled three backgrounds to create an extremely rich setting. What aspects of the Jewish religion and the Russian and Chinese cultures did you make an effort to bring out in the story?
My father and aunt spoke four languages fluently—Russian, French, English and Mandarin—by the time they sailed from Shanghai to attend college in America. (My father at UCLA; my aunt at Juilliard) Throw in a little Yiddish, and the superstitions, proverbs, artifacts, food, rituals, and mysticism of Jewish, Russian, and Chinese cultures, and you have the rich soup I was brought up on. I wove these elements and symbols into the characterizations and the story world I created for ANYA’S WAR.

What challenges, if any, did you have composing a work of fiction with threads from true stories in your family? 
To the contrary, I was not challenged. I was called to write this story from early childhood. I listened to my father’s exotic stories of his childhood in the French Quarter of Shanghai and began weaving a plot. I love research. It was a seamless and joyous process for me. My Aunt Lily had documented family life in albums full of captioned photos. She kept a carbon copy of every important letter she wrote and saved those she received. This treasure trove provided the flavor and voice of a long ago era.

Would ANYA’S WAR, in its paperback form, be translated into different languages to be sold internationally? If so, which countries? 
I hope so. Translation rights are handled by a special department at Macmillan. My dream is that the first translation will be in Mandarin.

What books/authors did you enjoy reading when you were younger?
My favorite books were: Now We Are Six and Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith; every book written by Beverly Cleary; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White; The Secret Garden and The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett; The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig; The Oz books by L. Frank Baum; Diary of Anne Frank; and The Phantom Tollhouse by Norton Juster. I can actually visualize where these books were shelved in my school library. Reading was my delight and my escape. I was known for checking out five books at a time each week, lying on my bed all weekend reading while munching on Red Delicious apples. I tossed the apple cores under my bed. My father asked me to break the “littering” habit after discovering a dozen brown, shriveled cores providing a feast for a long line of ants.

Congratulations again on the re-release of ANYA’S WAR. What other projects are you currently working on?
Thank you! I am thrilled that my publisher, Feiwel & Friends, deems ANYA’S WAR an ‘evergreen” title for their backlist. The book is finding its way onto many middle school, high school, and university bibliographies around the country. 

My next projects are: a picture book entitled PONYDOG: A tale of a dog and his boy. And a novel in verse set in 1968 San Francisco about a sixteen year old girl who sues her fractured family for emancipation, amid a backdrop of university student riots, Women’s Lib bra-burning, and Martin Luther King’s assassination. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

2016 A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal

Here is my theme for the 2016 Blogging from A to Z Challenge in April: Authors of mostly YA books, a few MG books, and maybe a couple of short stories I read during my younger years. For each post, I will name one author with an initial in their name that matches the day’s assigned letter. I hope to give a quote from each author and then share a little about their story and the impression it left. There might be book spoilers in some of the posts but that said, all the featured books are at least 10+ years old. So it isn’t like I’m giving away endings for new releases.

It wasn’t easy picking the authors and books for this month. Sometimes I felt a little guilty about choosing one author over another for there are many authors and books I could and should share about.  I also made a point of not profiling any book that I’d already written extensively about here. 

So that’s my blogging theme for April. Are you participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge this year? If so, what’s your theme?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

IWSG: Scars

Today is IWSG day, a monthly event Alex Cavanaugh started to get writers sharing about their insecurities and other stuff going on in their lives.

Today is one of those days where this Stephen King quote really speaks to me:

“Writers remember everything...especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he'll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory.”  ----Stephen King, MISERY

Sometimes I wonder if the reason why my memory has been able to hold on to some negative experiences, even stuff that happened many many years ago,  is because I have the writerly ability being referred to...and not because I subconsciously enjoy being a grudge holder because on a conscious level, I often wish my memory could let some stuff go. I also wonder if there is any scientific study out there linking good authors to their ability to revisit scars.

Do you have scars? Would you like to share about one?