I’ve had the opportunity to see Jean Wong in action in recent years, and she’s a creative phenom. She jumps into projects with wholehearted enthusiasm and follows her muse with an infectious zeal. I was delighted when she submitted her memoir excerpt Scrambled Eggshells to the Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood anthology. And I believe her humor and zest shine through in this interview:
1. In the years I’ve known you as a member of Redwood Writers, I’ve noticed you pen plays, poems, short stories, memoirs—and probably more. What drives you to experiment with different forms? Has stretching yourself this way taught you something about yourself you probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise? Is there one genre where you feel most at home? If so, which one, and why?
I have the attention span of a two-year old and get restless very easily. So if someone suggests, “How about writing a play” I think: Really? That would be interesting—and different, challenging, craft-stretching. Trying different forms not only allows me to deepen my understanding and appreciation of the genre, but also keeps me flexible and curious.
I guess my favorite genre is memoir. These are stories I really know quite well because I’ve lived them. Having a personal experience take form and shape is like watching an old movie, but you get to do all the editing and view the scene in a fresh perspective.
2. You recently published Sleeping with the Gods, a collection of imaginative short stories in which human characters encounter present-day incarnations of ancient Green and Roman gods and goddesses. What gave you the idea to write this book? Did it require a lot of research? Were you surprised by anything during your research and writing? How long did it take you to go from concept to published book?
I was in a writing group where we were assigned specific themes. One week the subject was “Mercury.” Some people wrote about the element Mercury and others wrote about the actual Greek god. When I learned about his thievery, mercurial nature, and love of music. I thought, “I used to go out with a guy just like that!”
The stories fell into place as I realized that many of these Greek and Roman gods are timeless archetypes that still live in our contemporary world. I didn’t do any extensive research, but had to work on shaping myths into believable everyday situations, such as the famous incident of Zeus transforming himself into a swan and raping Leda. I wanted the reader to feel that each myth was real and tangible.
The total process took about two years. I’m pretty good at coughing up a story, but it’s working on the language to my satisfaction that takes time, and of course getting the book edited, formatted, printed and forming my own publishing press was surreal.
3. Scrambled Eggshells, the memoir you contributed to Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood is adapted from a longer memoir in progress. What is that memoir about? Is it book length? What do you think people will gain from reading it?
The memoir will be pretty much a range of stories from childhood through my adult life. Each story is a stand-alone pieces and has its own narrative development and arc similar to a work of fiction. The stories are about family, discovery, luck, friendship and folly. It should be about 30,000 words and hopefully people will think: “Hey that sounds like the same dumb thing I once did!”
4. Scrambled Eggshells touches on your experience of attending a school where most of the students had backgrounds quite different from yours? What was challenging about this? What did you gain from this experience?
I went to a predominantly white protestant private school in Hawaii—the same one Barack Obama graduated from. When I was six I had the Kafkaesque experience of noticing that I was Chinese and everyone else in my classroom with the exception of two other girls was Caucasian. How could that be? It was a nightmare and formed a great deal of my character—my insecurity, shyness, introspection, sense of alienation. But those qualities, when you work through them, can flip. It also led to my sensitivity, self-expression, determination, and buoyancy. So go figure.
5. Why did you decide to submit your story to Sisters Born, Sisters Found?
The piece that I submitted was about my best friend Nancy who died in 2001. She was an incredibly important person in my life and a true “soul sister.” It’s a wonderful opportunity to have the piece placed in an anthology and have “Fancy Nancy” still out there—funny, outrageous, bigger than life and still alive in her literary reincarnation.
6. What other projects do you have in the works right now? And where can people find out more about your work?
I am working on a new play, and also hope to complete my memoir by the end of this year. Lately I’ve really been enjoying posting on my blog. I also have a monthly column with The Upbeat Times which is a lot of fun. I have a collection of poems, flash fiction, and children’s stories that need to be organized and published. I’ve always thought of myself as sort of a “fake” writer—someone who was just pretending to play a role. But through the years I’ve written so much stuff, that I finally allow myself to say, I write, therefore I am a writer.