TGIF! Hello lucky people! I say lucky because Audrey Chin sits in the author spotlight today and this will be a treat for all of you as it was for me. I recently reviewed Audrey’s latest book, As The Heart-Bones Break for Goodreads.com and gave this book 5 stars across the board. You’re also going to have a lucky Friday because Audrey has a surprise for you guys–woot-woot! Okay, first the interview 🙂
Welcome Audrey! I’m excited to have you here. For those readers who might not be familiar with Audrey Chin, please share a bit of your background.
I was born in Singapore, a little country right-smack in the middle of South East Asia and lived there till I was 16. Then my traveling life started. My first stop was to Salem Oregon to be an exchange student. Following that I spent five years in college in Britain. I lived in California for a decade as a postgraduate student and young married woman before moving back to Singapore when I was 32. Singapore is where I come back to now when I’m not traveling to Vietnam, the rest of South East Asia, Australia or North America.
I grew up in a bookstore and have been a lover of story ever since. But I haven’t been able to pay my bills with words yet, so I work in finance during the day and write in-between.
My other loves are good food, my garden, my friends, my siblings and parents, my children and my husband … not necessarily in that order.
I recently had the pleasure of reviewing your latest book, As The Heart Bones Break for Goodreads, which I also posted on my site. Thank you for the opportunity. Why did you write this book?
I’ve been a daughter-in-law of the Vietnamese diaspora for over 30 years. My husband Minh was a Vietnamese boat-person whose face I first saw on a BBC documentary and whom I later met while doing a summer internship at a Singapore refugee camp. I’m an inveterate eavesdropper and living among the Vietnamese community, I heard many amazing stories.
Their experiences really demonstrated the truth of Hemingway’s quote in A Farewell to Arms – “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
When it came time, it just seemed natural to write down what I’d heard. The problem of course was pulling everything together to make a good story. My husband, for example, was indeed the son of a Viet Minh guerilla leader who was subsequently adopted into the family of a civil servant working for the French. But my husband wasn’t a spy, merely an engineer. He’d merely spent his youth in wartime Vietnam trying to survive and avoid trouble, nothing more. There was no conflict or tension in the story. I couldn’t move it forward. It wasn’t until I read Marti Leimbach’s and Tatjana Soli’s amazing books about American women who’d fallen in love with Vietnamese men working two sides that the light-bulb turned on. Of course, Heart Bones is quite different from Leimbach’s and Soli’s stories, but the idea of a Viet Cong spy … that came from them.
Your books are masters of imagery. At times I felt like a spectator, watching the chicken fights or Tran Thong eating his first hot dog, the shop owner getting beaten to death, the rapes and so on. Have you always written with such flair?
I’m a really visual person so I basically write what I’ve seen or imagine I’m seeing. For example, I’ll close my eyes and try to imagine my characters interacting as if I’m at the movies. And then, voila! The scenes come out. But they usually come out in long-winded paragraphs full of excess words. Here’s what some of my beta-readers and editors said about the initial versions of Heart Bones – overburdened by history and details, sluggish beginning, inconsistent voice … It’s to their credit that my books turn out they way they have.
Heart Bones took 4 initial structural edits before it was accepted for publication by Marshall Cavendish. In the process, the manuscript got trimmed from 150,000 words to just 93,000. I had to kill my favorite character and take out two huge historical events, the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam and September 11 2001. When that was done, my Marshall Cavendish editors Tara Dhar and Mindy Pang put me through 3 additional edits before we sent the proofs to print.
You talk about POV with this book and how people in America who read early copies for review were a bit put off by the book being in 2nd person POV as opposed to 1st person. You found Westerner preferences for 1st person were different than readers in other countries? Can you talk a bit about that?
The global version is written in the 2nd person, as if the narrator is talking to the main character and telling him his own story — “You let yourself forget who you really were. You let yourself forget the promises you’d traded for your ticket out of Vietnam. You did not tell her you were flying cross-country the next week… You kissed her.”
This wasn’t a stumbling block for my beta readers. However, it turns out none of my beta readers were typical main-stream Americans.
My North American readers felt instinctively that the 2nd person “you” was too directive. Most had to make the effort to get through the first two or three chapters. My writing lesson for 2013 was to “listen to my readers”. I took the hint and rewrote everything in 1st person. Here’s an example — “I had witnessed a killing and I had taken a life. Whether I liked it or not, I had stained my hands. I had stepped off the sidelines and joined the war.”
It got a much better reception.
The upshot is there’ll be two versions, one written in 2nd person POV that Marshall Cavendish is publishing for the global market ex-North America and then ta 1st person POV version now making the rounds now at US and Canadian publishing houses.
What’s your next project?
My next project follows one of Heart Bones characters into the Burmese refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border. Like Heart Bones it will be about a personal struggle to find significance and meaning set against a backdrop of conflicting political alliances. I visited Burma (now Myanmar) early this year and found the country absolutely fascinating. This is a nation that’s been isolated for 60 years and just opening up. While many know of Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle to bring democracy to the country, not much is known about the travails of the common people and how the transition is affecting them. I want to bring it all alive in a personal human way.
I’m also fooling about with a paranormal detective story centered on Singapore food. I’m not sure where that’s going though.
Where can readers pick up a copy of As The Heart Bones Break or any of your wonderful books?
The global edition of Heart Bones will be available January 2014. You can put in an advance order at any of the suppliers listed on https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18513417-as-the-heart-bones-break?from_search=true
Until we find a publisher for the North American edition, anyone who wants a soft copy for advance reviews can download it FREE at http://www.audreychin.com
Yes! In this case, the early bird catches the worm;)
For the other books, please go to http://www.audreychin.com/books/ to check out suppliers.
Wow, what a treat! Audrey, I know you’re about to set off on another adventure, so thanks for taking the time to visit with us and Safe travels!
Thanks so much for having me visit Clara.
Wow, wasn’t this amazing? and a free gift to boot:) What are your creative impressions after Audrey’s interview?