Midwest Literary Walk 2019

14 May

I’m happy to say I was able to return to the Midwest Literary Walk for 2019. We had a great line up of authors this year. In addition to my friend Amy, we each brought a friend so there were a total of four of us walking and enjoying the books.

Me and Min Jin Lee

The first author was the one I ended up enjoying the most, Min Jin Lee. She’s the author of Pachinko, which two years after publication is became an NYT bestseller in paperback. It took Lee 30 years to write this book. She put it away for years because her first draft was ‘long and bad.’ The idea originally came in 1989 when she attended a lecture about Koreans in Japan and the hatred directed at Korean children by Japanese classmates. She didn’t think it would be a historical novel but it needed that history. The segregation between Japanese and Koreans still exists in Japan and people of Korean descent will try to ‘pass’ as Japanese. Lee wrote this book originally as a study of masculinity, though her main character ended up being a woman. She wanted to talk about how the suppressed male minority can be emasculated. She also wanted to tell the story of the poor and illiterate. They never get a chance to write history but their work is what history depends on.

Lee took twelve years to publish her first book and is at work on a third with similar themes about Korean immigrants. Apply TV has picked up Pachinko for a series adaptation, though we won’t see that for about two years. Lee’s only hope is that the history is correct as she has no involvement in the show. The Japanese translation of the book is coming out in the fall. There is already a Korean translation and a copy of it appears in the Korean-Japanese Museum in Japan.

Lee offered some writing advice. As writers, we should expect to be interrupted, there’s almost never a smooth path to finishing a book. She advises listening to those interruptions as they may be redirecting the book. The quality of the work is what’s most important, not the quantity. As a writer, you’re asking your reader for their time more than their money. Authors make very little from the sale of each book. But each sale asks a reader for several hours of time to enjoy it. Writing is a long process and you should only do it if you really love it. Lee advises that novels should have things that happen, they need action and should follow the rules of the craft. Personally, she reads a verse of the Bible before she writes each time.

Luis Rodriguez at the Midwest Literary Walk

The second speaker was Luis Rodriguez, a poet and memoirist. He grew up poor in east LA and was involved in gangs. He’d lost 25 friends to violence and drugs by age 18. He is a former heroin addict and was in jail. He said that he wasn’t ‘scared straight,’ he was ‘cared straight’ and he now mentors prisoners to try and do the same. Rodriguez never saw himself as an immigrant in the US. He is part of the Tarahumara tribe of Mexico and those people lived in the US before there was an arbitrary border. He feels he’s become an expert in English and writing descriptive words because he worked hard to learn it in spite of his poor education and mastery as a youth.

The final speaker was Anissa Gray, a Michigan native and author of The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, her first novel. Gray is from St. Joseph, Michigan (west side of the state) and attended Western Michigan University. The book is set in a fictional Michigan city that was inspired by St. Joseph and Kalamazoo. She’d been living outside of Michigan for 25 years when she started writing this book and I’d like to think she was homesick. This isn’t the book Gray set out to write. She wanted to focus on one character but realized she had to explore the character’s backstory and family to make the book work. She said she couldn’t make the characters do what she wanted, she had to listen to them and what they were going to do. One of the characters in the book has an eating disorder, as Gray herself has had. Writing about it made her talk about it in a way she hadn’t had to before. It was easy to write the character that was like her, but the others were a struggle. The story is honest and covers a complex issue. The people in the story are imperfect, but they’re hopeful that things will work out. and they might be OK in the end.

Anissa Gray and moderator Rich Fahle.

Gray offered a bit of writing advice. She’s a journalistic editor and she has to turn her editor mind off when she writes. She sets a schedule of time to write every day and pushes through even when she’s uninspired. She doesn’t have an outline but develops a mental plan of what she’ll write with a story and characters. She gets it down first before worrying too much about the language. That comes later. For this book, it took her about four major drafts to get to the final version.

Again, this was an amazing event and one I hope to attend for years to come. The Chelsea District Library does a great job and I’m so thankful to the writers who traveled to this small town to share their expertise with ravenously hungry readers.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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One Response to “Midwest Literary Walk 2019”

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  1. Challenge Update, May 2019 | Taking on a World of Words - June 3, 2019

    […] I was excited to see this on the list because I have an autographed copy after meeting Lee at the Midwest Literary Walk a few months ago. I’m excited to have people to discuss it […]

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