Saturday, October 4, 2014

Amy Tan and me

A week ago, I took some time off from the audio fiction I like to listen to and review. Instead I listened to Amy Tan's Opposite of Fate, which she has subtitled A Book of Musings. I like Tan's novels, so I thought I'd enjoy this book and I was right. But instead of a review I decided to respond with a blog posting. This way I can talk a little about my own writing life. In some ways Amy Tan's background is far removed from my own. She grew up in a Chinese American family and lost her father and brother when she was fifteen, both to brain tumors. Her relationship with her mother had its ups and downs, including a time when her mother threatened her with a knife. Yet overall, Amy Tan seemed to love and respect her mother and the elder became the greatest source material for Tan's novels.

I am two years older than Tan. We grew up in the same era, but I was raised by parents born in America who were as much a part of the culture as I am. In addition to being approximately the same age, Tan and I both have stable marriages which have lasted many years. Concerning our writing lives, the greatest difference is that Amy Tan's enormous popularity enables her to write full time, while I have had to make my living as a computer programmer. I also have to spend a good portion of my free time getting the word out about my novels. Tan's books will sell themselves, because of her history of commercial success. The best example of the power of a name came when Robert Galbraith, author of The Cuckoo's Calling revealed that Galbraith is a pen name for J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. The book's sales jumped by 150,000% in one day.

But commercial success isn't all good. I'm sure there's a great deal of pressure on Amy Tan to produce and I imagine she has to be quite strong willed to keep creative control of her work. (She mentioned this relative to the production of the film The Joy Luck Club.) Authors who publish with small presses have more freedom to write what they want to write, which is why the small publishers are such great sources for fresh writing. And, although it is less of an issue for writers than it is for actresses, I'm sure celebrity status can affect their non-writing lives in negative ways. As the clich̩ goes Рbe careful what you wish for.

I liked Opposite of Fate. When I was done reading it, I felt as if Amy Tan was someone I knew and liked. Maybe somebody will feel the same about me as they read my blog posts. If so, thank you for being my friend.

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