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Xujun Eberlein
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Writer Q & A (Archived) > Q and A with author Xujun Eberlein

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message 1: by A.F. (last edited Jun 01, 2012 06:53AM) (new)

A.F. (scribe77) | 1779 comments Mod
Please welcome Xujun Eberlein to our Q and A discussions. She is the author of the award-winning story collection, Apologies Forthcoming and a native of Chongqing, China now living in the Boston area. She is also a widely read essayist and blogger on China, and her stories and essays have appeared in many magazines in the United States, Canada, England, Kenya, and Hong Kong.

Xujun's literary awards include artist fellowship in fiction/creative nonfiction from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the VCCA’s Goldfarb Non-fiction Fellowship, first prize of the Ledge Fiction Award, second prize of Literal Latte's Essay Awards, honorable mention from Dana Award in the Essay, winner of Tartt Fiction Award and runner-up for Drake Emerging Writer's Award. She is a nominee for the Pushcart Prizes and several Best American series, and received special mention in Pushcart XXXI.

Xujun's recent essays on China have appeared at Los Angeles Review of Books ("The Teacher of the Future"), the Atlantic Web ("Another Kind of American History in Chongqing"), Foreign Policy ("China 2013"), and elsewhere. She is currently working on a memoir. More information about her writing and literary awards can be found on her website: www.xujuneberlein.com and blog: http://insideoutchina.blogspot.com/.

Her Goodreads Profile: Xujun Eberlein

Apologies Forthcoming Stories not about Mao by Xujun Eberlein Apologies Forthcoming by Xujun Eberlein


message 2: by Xujun (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Thank you very much, Anita! And good morning everyone. Just want to say I'm glad to be here, and welcome any questions on my book, writing, or China. Or anything. Looks like members of our group could be from different countries and regions; thought to mention that my book has a US edition (the one in my author profile) and a Hong Kong edition (the red cover shown above by Anita). If you are in Asia, my HK publisher's website is Blacksmith Books.


message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 69 comments Hi Xujun,

Thank you so much for taking part in the Q and A this weekend.

I was wondering what writers have shaped you the most?

Thank you,

- Jason


message 4: by Xujun (last edited Jun 02, 2012 05:20PM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Hi Jason. Sorry about the delay -- I went for breakfast.

That's a very good question! I spent my youth in China so I'd say ancient Chinese writers had much bigger influence on me than American writers. Of course I also read many writers in the English language in the 24 years living in the US, but I really can't pinpoint a particular influence. Perhaps a mix of all of those I've read? Hope this answer does not disappoint you. :-)


message 5: by Xujun (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments I can say that though, among novels I read in recent years, the one I liked the most was "Disgrace" by J. M. Coetzee.


message 6: by A.F. (new)

A.F. (scribe77) | 1779 comments Mod
Xujun wrote: "Thank you very much, Anita! And good morning everyone. Just want to say I'm glad to be here, and welcome any questions on my book, writing, or China. Or anything. Looks like members of our group c..."

Okay, I added the other edition to the intro as well.
What do you enjoy writing more, essays or fiction?


message 7: by Xujun (last edited Jun 01, 2012 07:13AM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments I have been writing mostly nonfiction in the recent couple of years - working on a memoir-in-essays right now and also some magazine assignments. IMO, The essay is a more challenging form than fiction but I enjoy the challenge very much.

After I finish the memoir, the next plan is a novel.


message 8: by Xujun (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments I think it's natural that many people here have not seen my book, as its appeal has been predominantly to readers interested in China's Cultural Revolution. But if any of you have questions on China in general, I would love to hear as well.


message 9: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Chamberlain | 28 comments Hi Xujun, when did you first feel in you an urge to be a writer?


message 10: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanneluvs) | 1 comments I read your blog which seems to criticize some more political aspects of China such as propaganda. Do you ever get in trouble with the government because of your work?


message 11: by Xujun (last edited Jun 02, 2012 05:22PM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Jonathan wrote: "Hi Xujun, when did you first feel in you an urge to be a writer?"

Hi Jonathan. I loved both math and literature from childhood to adulthood, so I had always struggled between the two. When I was young and lived in China working in the applied math area, I had also published stories in Chinese literary magazines. But after moving to the US in 1988, I stopped writing for more than a decade because I was always busy at studying, working, or raising a family. I think language was also a reason. I began to write again, this time in English, around 2002. And I quit my tech job to become a full-time writer by the end of 2003.


message 12: by David (new)

David Batchelor | 15 comments Hi Xujun, What do you think the Bo Xilai scandal means for China? (And welcome to the Goodreads Q&A! Thanks in advance for your comments)


message 13: by Xujun (last edited Jun 01, 2012 08:39AM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Jeanne wrote: "I read your blog which seems to criticize some more political aspects of China such as propaganda. Do you ever get in trouble with the government because of your work?"

Hi Jeanne, actually I'm always worried a bit about that, but so far nothing really happened, except when I visit China in recent years I was always held at the customs a few minutes longer than other visitors. Never figured out why. They won't tell you.


message 14: by Jason (new)

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 69 comments Xujun wrote: "Hi Jason. Sorry about the delay -- I went for breakfast.

That's a very good question! I spent my youth in China so I'd say ancient Chinese writers had much bigger influence on me than American w..."


Thank you so much, Xujun!


message 15: by Xujun (last edited Jun 01, 2012 08:50AM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments David wrote: "Hi Xujun, What do you think the Bo Xilai scandal means for China? (And welcome to the Goodreads Q&A! Thanks in advance for your comments)"

Hi David, that's a very interesting question. Coincidentally, I was writing an essay for a magazine on China's "officialdom novels." In research for the essay I noticed an interesting phenomenon. As a genre, the officialdom novel is enjoying its third boom in popularity. Historically, the previous two booms of the genre – in late Qing Dynasty and 1940s, respectively – each foretold a major political change. So it is very interesting to see what the current boom points to.

I think it is not coincidental that the Bo Xilai scandal is happening now. It could be either an opportunity or crisis for China.


message 16: by David (new)

David Batchelor | 15 comments Xujun wrote: "Hi David, that's a very interesting question. Coincidentally, I was wiring an essay for a magazine on China's "officialdom novels." In research for the essay I noticed an interesting phenomenon. A..."

Is an officialdom novel like our fictional West Wing TV show about the White House staff, which was extremely popular?


message 17: by Xujun (last edited Jun 01, 2012 08:45AM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Hey David, I should go watch the show! Thanks for letting me know. But sounds about right. Though China's officialdom novels can be about any level of government.


message 18: by David (new)

David Batchelor | 15 comments Xujun, On your blog I saw that politically charged science fiction is reappearing in China. What do you think this means? For example, I saw that a movie is in production about a future Taikonaut space mission.


message 19: by Xujun (last edited Jun 01, 2012 09:08AM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments David wrote: "Xujun, On your blog I saw that politically charged science fiction is reappearing in China. What do you think this means? For example, I saw that a movie is in production about a future Taikonaut s..."

SF has always been popular among young readers in China, but few of those novels/stories/movies are politically charged. The novel I reviewed for Foreign Policy two years ago was published in Hong Kong, a region that enjoys higher freedom of speech than mainland China.


message 20: by Xujun (last edited Jun 01, 2012 11:26AM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Hi NYKen, thanks for the questions. Let me answer the 2nd one first. We Chinese immigrants always view the so-called "Chinese food" in take-out Chinese restaurants here as "fake" or "Americanized." I even wrote about this in my fiction. For example the "fortune cookie" was invented in California, I believe. We didn't have such a thing in China. This can't be completely blamed on those restaurants, however. Rather they were catering to American tastes. Whenever I got a chance, I try to convince a Chinese restaurant to train American taste of Chinese food with authentic cooking, but most of the time they said that's the way to lose money. Two years ago a new Sichuan restaurant was opened in my area, and the chef was from my home city Chongqing. When I asked for a hometown-style dish, he said he had to cook the way which "Americans like."

This said, you can always find authentic cooking in ChinaTowns around the country.


message 21: by Xujun (last edited Jun 01, 2012 11:50AM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments NYKen wrote: "...How has China absorbed Western culture since becoming a member of the WTO in 2001?"

After the Cultural Revolution, China began to absorb Western culture in early 1980s. I once wrote in an article (see http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles...) about how, as a university student, I vied with friends for copies of translated books such as William Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," Dennis Meadows et al.'s "The Limits to Growth" and "Alvin Toffler's The Third Wave."

In terms of popular culture, urban China is almost completely Westernized now. When I visit China I can't distinguish the clothing or hair style of a Chinese teenager from that of an American teen.


message 22: by David (new)

David Batchelor | 15 comments Xujun, Are practices of romance also westernized in China? In a novel I have a young couple kissing as they might in a western romance. However, I have wondered whether that is really the custom among young Chinese couples, or just something they see in movies.
Thanks, David


message 23: by Xujun (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments David wrote: "Xujun, Are practices of romance also westernized in China? In a novel I have a young couple kissing as they might in a western romance. However, I have wondered whether that is really the custom am..."

Kissing in public can occasionally be seen in urban areas nowadays, certainly holding hands and hugging are more common, while traditional shyness also exists. So it depends on the local atmosphere and individuals. This is to say, depends on the personalities of your characters.


message 24: by David (new)

David Batchelor | 15 comments Xujun, Thank you for this Q&A opportunity, and good luck with your memoir!


message 25: by Xujun (last edited Jun 02, 2012 05:00PM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Hi Tom, good to see you here, and you ask great questions.

Tom wrote: "...it tends to feel that the country is moving CLOSER to a 2nd Cultural Revolution rather than any "opening up" as so many so-called "China experts" like to claim. ..."

It certainly starts to feel that way lately, doesn't it. Another thing that adds to this feeling is a hundred prominent authors recently hand-copied Mao's 1940s speech that says art and literature must serve Party politics. But the public ridiculed and laughed at the whole thing, and that made a few participating writers feel ashamed.

So, while it is true some in China's leadership would like to wield Mao's flag once again, times have changed and it won't be so easy to repeat the CR. Partial repetition may be, but resistance will be everywhere.

IMO, in a sense this is a generational thing. Some leaders who came from the Mao era still have the old way of thinking. China might have to wait for the next generation of leaders to really start political reform.


message 26: by Xujun (last edited Jun 02, 2012 06:11AM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Tom wrote: "2) Which books about PRESENT-DAY China can you suggest to anyone interested in learning about where China is at and where it's heading?"

I don't think anyone could really say where China is heading at the moment. It is at crossroads. As I said earlier, the Bo Xilai scandal could be either a crisis or opportunity for the leadership.

This said, if you can read Chinese, you might want to pay attention to two social science professors at Qinghua University: Qin Hui and Sun Liping. They are as deep thinkers as anyone can find in today's China.

About present China, I like Peter Hessler's books and reports very much. He is a very observant writer with attention to detail and nuance. Too bad he has left China now.


message 27: by Ann (new)

Ann Lee (goodreadscomannlee) | 39 comments Hello,
I have added your book to my list to read and I am so excited about reading your book. I am very interested in different cultures. How long did it take you to research and write your books?


message 28: by Xujun (last edited Jun 02, 2012 05:05PM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Thanks, Ann. My book is a collection of stories written over the course of a few years. I started by publishing stories in literary magazines, and at some point realized that most of them are related to the same theme: China's Cultural Revolution. I then put the stories together in a collection and won a first-book contest. That was how the US edition was published.


message 29: by Kevin (new)

Kevin (kevinhallock) | 60 comments Hi Xujun,

What do you think about the ebook/pbook flux in publishing right now? I wonder whether it will help short story and essay writers more because they can easily publish their stuff and sell it directly to the public.


message 30: by Xujun (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Hi Kevin, I try to avoid self-publishing mainly because I don't have the time or desire to do all the marketing stuff. I rather spend my time on writing (or gardening).


message 31: by Linda (new)

Linda Juliano | 17 comments Very interesting Q&A. I wish you all the best in your writing career Xujun. Sounds like you are doing fantastic.


message 32: by Xujun (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Thanks, Linda.


message 33: by Linda (new)

Linda Hi Xujun, glad I caught this! I am still in love with Apologies Forthcoming, one of my favorite books as I love culture, history, and meaningful stories. As a memoir writer who encourages others to lifewrite, I have a question about your WIP. Are you feeling restricted in writing your memoir? Many authors instead write novels based on their life stories so they have freedom to add excitement and mold the stories to better follow an overall arc. I thought of doing this myself when writing my mother's WWII memoir.


message 34: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 16 comments Hi Xujun,
Interesting Q&A. Are some of the events and characters in Apologies Forthcoming drawn from eye-witness accounts? Is it widely available in China?


message 35: by Xujun (last edited Jun 02, 2012 04:54PM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Linda E. wrote: "...Are you feeling restricted in writing your memoir? ..."

Hi Linda! Nice to "see" you again! Yes, the memoir certainly has more restrictions than the novel, and that's why it takes me so long to write mine. But a form with restrictions can be fascinating as well. Mine is actually a memoir-in-essays, and I'm falling in love with the challenge. I'm taking my time to figure out things, such as the structure of each essay and the structure of the book, the relationship between form and content, the narrative sequence, et. cl. I'm having a hard time but am also learning to have fun.

How did you feel about the form when you wrote your memoir?


message 36: by Xujun (last edited Jun 02, 2012 04:40PM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments Erma wrote: "Hi Xujun,
Interesting Q&A. Are some of the events and characters in Apologies Forthcoming drawn from eye-witness accounts? Is it widely available in China?"


Hi Erma, no, my book is not available in mainland China. It is only available in Hong Kong. I heard that it is generally forbidden for books published in HK to be sold in the Mainland, but my HK publisher Peter might be able to tell you more about this.

The stories in my book are largely based on what I observed/heard/experienced when I lived in China in my youth. One or two of the stories might have drawn heavily from my own life, for example the one titled "Feathers."


message 37: by Xujun (last edited Jun 02, 2012 04:52PM) (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments NYKen wrote: "Good evening Xujun. Thanks for answering my questions about China yesterday. I would like to ask the following:

1] In your opinion, how would you define hope?

2] Do authors invent ideas or tap "s..."


Hi again NYKen. For your first question, I don't think I could answer it better than you, or a dictionary for that matter.

The general answer to the 2nd question, I suppose, is "both." However, generalization is often dangerous. In my own writing, I try my best to say something unique.


message 38: by Xujun (new)

Xujun Eberlein | 23 comments It's Sunday evening now, and I just want to thank all of you for participating. See you around on Goodreads!


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