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A bit more on Amy Tan

Well, I’m still researching Amy Tan–and I’m still being deliberately coy about exactly which aspect of her life will make it into my book–and I keep coming across all these other interesting things she has said.

From the same interview as in the previous post, here she is talking about success and failure, making them sound rather impostor-like:

And here she is describing how she found her authentic voice:

At first I tried to write fiction by making up things that were completely alien to my life. I wrote about a girl whose parents were educated, were professors at MIT. There was no Joy Luck Club, it was the country club. I tried to copy somebody’s style that I thought was very clever. I thought I was clever enough to write as well as these people and I didn’t realize that there is something called originality and your own voice.

One day, after being told one of these stories didn’t work, I thought, “I’m just going to stop showing my work to people, and I’m just going to write a story. Make it fictional, but they’ll be Chinese-American.” What amazed me was: I wrote about a girl who plays chess and her mother is both her worst adversary and her best ally. I didn’t play chess, so I figured that counted for fiction, but I made her Chinese-American, which made me a little uncomfortable. By the end of this story I was practically crying. Because I realized that — although it was fiction and none of that had ever happened to me in that story — it was the closest thing of describing my life. Of the feelings that I had, of these things that my mother had taught me that were inexplicable or had no name. This invisible force that she taught me, this rebellion that I had. And then feeling that I had lost some power, lost her approval and then lost what had made me special. It was a magic turning point for me. I realized that was the reason for writing fiction. Through that, this subversion of myself, of creating something that never happened, I came closer to the truth. So, to me, fiction became a process of discovering what was true, for me. Only for me.

I went to a writer’s workshop. I met a wonderful writer there named Molly Giles. She looked at my work and said, “Where’s the voice? Where’s the story? There’s so many things that are happening that are not working, but there’s a possible beginning… So maybe you should think about this question, what is your voice?” That’s a question I still ask myself today as a writer.


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  1. I adore Amy Tan’s writing and have read every one of her books. The humor, the reality, the psychology merge quickly and fall upon the reader as a summer storm brings hail to a hot pavement.

    She also lost both her father and a brother to brain tumors which I discovered only after being taken by her writings. Our Katie died of the same disease so I identify with her spirit self.

    Amy Tan gives new definition to authenticity. She is amazing. She has had great success but great suffering, too.

    September 3, 2010
  2. “… as a summer storm brings hail to a hot pavement…”. Great image.

    I first became fascinated by Tan’s PERSONAL story, and then backed into her writings. Her father and brother, as you mentioned. And her mother, and Amy’s story of defining herself in opposition to her mother.
    So she is one of the characters I follow in my book. (That must sound odd: Hannibal and Amy Tan, sharing chapters? Yup, they do.)

    September 4, 2010

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