Ep 174 The 3 different types of editing you need. And meet Jenevieve Chang, author of “The Good Girl of Chinatown”.

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podcast-artworkIn Episode 174 of So you want to be a writer: Make sure you know the 3 different types of editing you need. Discover how to create “scene goals” in your writing. We’re a bit gobsmacked by a plagiarised paper about plagiarism! Meet Jenevieve Chang, author of the memoir The Good Girl of Chinatown. Plus 5 tips on how to build your author platform and much more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

 

Shoutout of the Week
From melrichards:

These ladies are wonderful guides who provide really practical advice in this great podcast. As a person who has long wished to become a writer but often felt that opportunity was lost, this podcast is making me realise it’s never too late to try. Thanks ladies for proving such a great resource to all aspiring writers and authors.

Thanks, melrichards!

Show Notes

Three Different Types of Edits Writers Should Be Aware Of

Give Your Scenes a Purpose with Scene Goals- author toolbox

Paper About Plagiarism Contains Plagiarism

Writer in Residence

Jenevieve Chang

 

Jenevieve Chang is an actor, writer, movement director and recovering showgirl.

She was born in Taiwan, attended her first school in the USA, hit puberty in Australia and danced in the UK. 50 years after her grandparents ran away from China, she returned to Shanghai and became part of the country’s first Vaudeville, Variety and Burlesque club.

The Good Girl of Chinatown is a memoir of the life she has lived, the lives she’s performed, and the lives that came before her.

Visit Jenevieve’s website

Follow Jenevieve on Twitter

Follow Penguin Random House on Twitter

Platform Building Tip

Allison Tait’s top 5 tips for building your author platform.

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Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript 

Valerie

Thanks so much for joining us today, Jenevieve.

Jenevieve

It’s a pleasure to be here.

Valerie

Now your book, The Good Girl of Chinatown, published by Penguin, for readers who haven’t read the book yet, can you tell us what it’s about?

Jenevieve

Sure. So it is a family memoir. It traces very explicitly my personal history working as an actor and a dancer and then deciding to move to London as a young adult after growing up in Australia. Training as a dancer there. Falling in love with my yoga teacher, subsequently marrying him. And then us moving to China, in Shanghai specifically. When we get to Shanghai, however, our marriage hits the rocks, and we decide to part ways. And then that leaves me quite vulnerable and open to the advances of a New York vaudevillian, who has come to China intent on opening up the country’s first vaudeville variety and burlesque club. And I become one of the starring showgirls at this club, known as a Chinatown Doll.

So that is the top layer of the narrative. But in the writing of the story I found I kept thinking about cause and effect, and why we do things the way that we do and why we do those things. My mind kept skipping back to my family history, my parents’ story and my grandparents’ story. Specifically my grandparents leaving China 60 years before I had gone to China and what that was about. And so what ended up happening over the five years of writing the book is that I’ve integrated three narratives of the three generations, and how our paths connect with each other’s.

Valerie

Yeah. Fantastic. Now when and why did you decide to write a memoir? Because as you said, you’re an actor, and a dancer. You didn’t train as a writer, necessarily – although let me say, it is a beautifully well-written book. But what made you want to write the book?

Jenevieve

Yeah… You know, a lot of things were happening to me as a child. And I remember, I was a very bookish child, actually. I used to just devour books. And even as a young girl when I was putting on shows, I always wrote those shows. And as destiny would have it, I pursued the performing arts first. And I probably wouldn’t have even thought about coming back to writing if I hadn’t returned to Australia when I did. And in the social media age, people had followed my journey and what had happened in China. And I met a literary agent upon my return who was really interested in my story and asked me if I might be interested in writing a book. And you know, it took me by surprise. But I thought I’d give it a go. Why not? You know? I’m a pretty… I’m a bit of a risk taker. And I didn’t know what to… I just thought, there’s nothing to lose. I might fail, but I’ve never been a writer anyway.

So I just started along this journey of penning my memories down. And then it just deepened and deepened and I made more and more progress. And then Penguin came on board about three years into the process. I was also performing a storytelling show. So it just so happened coincidentally that in 2013 I was part of Sydney Writer’s Festival, a storytelling show called “Stories Then and Now”, with a company now called Contemporary Asian Australian Performance, with William Yang and Annette Shun Wah. And that show was about the performers talking autobiographically, first through their family history, then through their contemporary history. So I got really used to talking and performing in a very personal way, words that I wrote to perform. And then that all informed the process and brought about this book.

Valerie

So you said that you didn’t have the experience, you just thought, what have I got to lose, I’m going to start writing this book. But can you tell us on a practical level, did you think, oh I’m going to write it chronologically from this point? Did you just write bits and pieces and then put it all together later? Did you… You know, how did you actually start putting those words on paper to form what ended up being a great structure, and it is multi-layered, but you had to start somewhere. How did you get it out?

Jenevieve

Yeah. Well, I really have to credit my literary agent with being a real nurturer from the very beginning. I mean, at our first meeting I pretty much sat down and told him my story. And I was still very raw with what happened. It was quite traumatic, a lot of the events. And it was at that point that the idea came that I should start when I hit rock bottom. You know, the most dramatic part of the story personally.

Valerie

And it hooks you in!

Jenevieve

And I knew exactly what that point was, the rock bottom point. When I decide to actually come home. So that was always a given. But I have to say that at the very beginning, the first draft, I did think that I was writing a little bit of a possibly a showgirl expose, if you like. I mean, yes it was a very exotic adventure, going to China and then accidentally becoming this showgirl in this quite scintillating underground world. And so the first flashback was how I got to China.

And so the first draft was very much of the contemporary voice, and still quite a dizzy contemporary voice. Like, I still very much had my showgirl persona, Lavender Chase, almost being like the narrative voice. But then doing the storytelling show, and then wanting to… I don’t know, I just got a sense during this first draft that that wasn’t really the story. That there was much more depth. And I had this great opportunity to write a book about my history. And actually the process of writing is trying to understand yourself, no?

And so I decided to, somewhere between the first and second draft, to take that real risk of bringing this other story in of my grandparents and my parents. It was still quite, I don’t know… It didn’t have the structure that it eventually did. Like, I was randomly ordering the three narratives. I was kind of just driven by the desire to tell these other stories. But I hadn’t quite figured out how else I was going to thread everything together. And it wasn’t until the third draft, that I was really able to identify the dominant theme of running away that informs all three stories. And then once that happened, I was able to link the past and the present in a much more explicit way, and the story just began to tell itself.

And actually not just the three narratives, but all the characters in my book began to, I began to see how we were all cut from the same cloth, actually. We were all running away from something. And that really was able to inform me through the process, and allow me to make the choices that I made.

I mean, I still don’t know whether, it’s still quite a complex thread. And I feel like I’m asking quite a lot of the reader to stay with it, sometimes. But I feel that given the ambition that I had for the book, the right choices, I still stand by the choices that I made.

Valerie

Yes. Now when I first heard of the book, and I didn’t really know anything about it, but when I first heard of it, I did kind of think those words that you just said. A showgirl expose. And I thought, hm, hm… You know. But it is so much more than a showgirl expose. And you’ve got this multi-layered thing where you have, as you’ve mentioned, talked about your parents and your grandparents. How much did you know of their story, your parents and your grandparents – particularly your grandparents? I mean, because your parents are more around, obviously. How much did you know of their story? And how much did you have to, kind of like, for the first time maybe even get it out of them? Or interview them? Or somehow get it down on paper? Or record it? Tell me about that.

Jenevieve

I knew pretty much the entire story. I grew up with my grandparents in the same house. And so their story was always very much the lived experience of growing up with them being my guardians, really. I mean, my parents worked a lot. And so I was very close, and being the eldest, and I was very close to my grandparents. And it wasn’t as if they talked about their story as if this is what we’ve sacrificed to be here, and you must be grateful. It was never like that. It was much more kind of a romantic yearning of what had been left behind.

And you know, there were very sad parts. I mean, the fact that my grandfather had to leave his seven-year-old daughter behind was, you know, just extremely painful. And he didn’t go into it in detail, I don’t think he ever wanted to cry in front of us. But I always grew up with this sense of this massive grief and guilt that surrounded him. And so you know, there was always this question, this unresolved tension around me being in the world. Because if I wouldn’t exist, he hadn’t left that daughter behind, possibly, I mean, you know, quite probably the family wouldn’t have survived. My grandfather was a nationalist official. So the thing is, if he hadn’t had left when he had left, he would very probably have been executed and that would’ve been that.

Valerie

So they were obviously very open about talking about their stories? It’s not something that you needed to discover later? Because I mean, my grandparents, I practically grew up in their house, because my parents worked and stuff, and I’m very close with my grandmother, but she’s not necessarily forthcoming with her stories. So was it something that you just always knew as you were growing up? That they happily talked about everything?

Jenevieve

Well, yeah. Like… Not happily. But it was just there. It was just part of the family, it was just part of our collective knowledge as a family. That this is what happened, that deaths had occurred, that the tragedy that led, I mean, to even my parents meeting was due to a death in the family. I was born being told that, this is a bit of spoiler, but anyway…

Valerie

No! Don’t say it! Don’t say it! Don’t say it!

Jenevieve

All right then.

Valerie

I’ll ask a different question then. So, you write about your parents, and they’ve got certain stricter views on things, or set views on things. And about how you needed to win the particular contest, or they were cranky. Now when you then decided to go into the performing arts, and then decide to tell them, hey, I’m going to write this book that is about our family and our life, what was their reaction?

Jenevieve

Yeah. I mean it’s so interesting. I suppose one of the things I’m interested in is the relationship between repression and rebellion. That proportion of a relationship between repression and rebellion. And yes, I grew up in a very repressive household. And so that was kind of interesting. I wanted to talk about that, actually. And tracing back to the apparent wildness of becoming a showgirl. And therefore, I suppose linking that to the consequences of repression.

And so I feel like that by the time I got to the point where I decided I was going to write a book, my parents kind of really took it in their stride. They were so used to not being the daughter that they expected me to be. I had rebelled in pretty much every which way that this didn’t surprise them. And actually, they’ve been really very supportive in my writing this book. And that’s not to say that they’ve read it, or even want to read it! I think they’ve absolutely been given the opportunity to read it, but they have said ‘no’.

My dad did say somewhere during the process, he gave me the permission, explicitly he said, “you can write whatever you want about me, I just don’t want you to write anything you want about your brother and your sister”. Like, he had some very specific parameters. And I respected that. Especially the fact that he allowed me to write whatever I wanted about him. And actually writing the book has been building a bridge between me and him, in a way.

I mean, he has been really, I think, heartened by the fact that I want to tell our family stories. I mean, my grandparents’ stories, which have been so important in our family. And his story, as well. Like me sitting down… I mean, I obviously take leaps of imagination because by the third draft I had made the decision that I wanted to write my grandparents’ and my parents’ narratives from their point of view, rather than from a distance. That for me felt much more satisfying and right. And so I have to write as if I’m my father seeing my mother for the first time, I’m my father feeling the pressure of having to move to the west so that we’re not vulnerable to China in case they invade Taiwan. So I had to sit down and ask him, okay, what was it like? How did you feel? Why did you decide to do that at that point in time? And so it’s really opened up a conversation between the two of us, and he’s been much more open than I expected.

Having said that, ever since the book has been published, I think he has actually freaked out again. I think the reality of having a tangible book and wondering what exactly what I did decide to put in there has freaked him out.

Valerie

Yeah. Right. Okay. So when you were in the process of writing it, was it a cathartic experience? was it an enjoyable experience? Was it a painful experience? What was it like for you? Or did you just have fun?

Jenevieve

Yeah. Gosh. Sometimes I had fun, but that was definitely balanced by painful catharsis. I only had fun when I felt like I’d been given the license to start making creative choices with the story, that I didn’t have to be slavish with facts. And I’ll get to that in a little bit.

But I feel like the first draft was very hard. I mean, I was battling a lot of insecurities about whether I could write or now. And I was still quite beholden to this persona that I had inhabited for so long. This showgirl called Lavender Chase. So you know personally I was trying to extricate myself from that. But creatively she was still very much there. And I had to kind of battle with that and how useful that was.

And then the second draft, I felt a huge burden of responsibility, because now I was telling my family stories. And then I had to battle a lot of fear as well about, not just remembering those things and sharing those things, but how I was going to share those things. Because I still had a lot of unresolved anger. Because some of the things that happened were really awful. And I was conscious that sometimes when I was writing it was a bit vindictive. I just wanted to go, now I’ll show you! I’m going to tell the whole world how awful it was! Which is not a very helpful constructive angle to take.

And then by the third draft, I think I just worked through a lot more issues. And I was able to have more fun with it. Like, I was treating myself more as a character, and everyone as characters, and I was much more focused on telling a good story, you know?

And so as I became more competent with the craft, and more creative, and allowed myself to be more creative, and there was that distancing effect, that’s when I started to have fun and that’s when it started to flow a little bit more. And also, I was able to write much more empathetically. I think I decided to… I mean, I made a very specific choice to put myself in my father’s shoes in the writing of it, because I wanted to understand… I didn’t want to write about him as this person who became a bit of a monster in my consciousness. He’s a human being. He’s my father. And so I used writing as a way to really understand things from his point of view and how I might have looked as I grew into this adored child into this angry rebellious teenager into this adult that he couldn’t control, and hated him. So I just really wanted to be 3-dimensional with it.

Valerie

Wow. Now you said that this has taken a course of five years, presumably there’s a bit of on and off writing in that five years. When you were in the throes of writing, what was your typical day like? Did you decide, okay, I’m going to write this now and I’m going to dedicate my full time to it? Or did you write it around another commitment? Or what?

Jenevieve

Yeah, that’s a great question about process. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. So I initially had to work around a fulltime job. It was around another very heavy commitment, and it was quite a stressful job. But I stayed very disciplined. So I had a very strict routine. I would wake up at 5:30 every morning and I would…

Valerie

Wow.

Jenevieve

I know! And I’m not a morning person, but I willed myself to be. I summoned up all the dancer’s discipline from years past and I was like, I can do this! I can do this for writing. And I would bang out two hours before going to work and taking on those responsibilities. And I would write on the weekends.

But you know, those drafts I churned out, in the four years that I had to work around that, they were hard. And sometimes, very occasionally, I’d come up with something good, I think. But it was only when I resigned from that job and I actually returned back to being a performer – so I returned to the stage last year, and it was a six-month tour across Australia, and I found myself in very quite quiet hotel rooms in the middle of nowhere for stretches of time, and I think it was me living a creative life again, and also really connecting with the human condition, that it brought me to a much deeper place for my writing as well. It really had a knock-on effect to my writing.

Valerie

Wow.

Jenevieve

I was able to be vulnerable again. So the two processes really partnered up and danced. Which I’m so grateful for, because if that hadn’t happened, I think I’d still be telling quite a stilted story that never reached its full potential. I mean, you know, even now I’m like, oh I could’ve held on to it a bit longer! But you’ve got to let it go when you let it go.

But certainly, I think the first two drafts didn’t have the benefit of me being able to be creative fulltime. And I think that’s something to really take away from it. And obviously we don’t all have that advantage, and I just happen to be very lucky. But I learned a lot, you know, about how one creative process really informs and influences another.

Valerie

When you were writing your first draft, or several drafts, did you have some kind of deadline? And did you try, even though you did have that fulltime job, but you were so committed you’d wake up at 5:30, did you try and achieve a certain number of words per week or anything like that? Did you have some goals?

Jenevieve

I certainly had time deadlines to meet. I don’t know if I was ever slavish to word counts. But look, probably something like 2000 words a week that I was happy with. If I reached that that was a productive week.

Valerie

That’s pretty good. That’s pretty good. And so when you finished, since the book has been released, what has been the reaction from people that you know, from your family, from readers generally?

Jenevieve

Everyone wants to know what does my family think!

Valerie

Yeah! Well, they haven’t read it yet. Your mum and dad haven’t read it yet.

Jenevieve

My mum and dad haven’t read it yet. My mother, bless her, has ordered a whole bunch of copies that she wants to send to relatives. And I’m like, oh my goodness, you have to read it first mum!

Valerie

Yeah, I think so!

Jenevieve

So it’s only been out for a week, and we only launched about four days ago. So it’s been a very exciting time. So no one from my direct family has read it. My sister had read early drafts. And it was actually her, she gave me really great feedback at the beginning, I think it might have been the second draft, and she said, “hm, I’m not really getting a sense of how you’re feeling about things. You’re certainly writing lots of action and this is what happened, but I think you need to go a little bit, you have to tell the reader how you feel about things more.”

Valerie

Great.

Jenevieve

And it was very true. There was a lot of dodging from my emotions in those early drafts. I was committed to telling the story, but I hadn’t quite committed to opening my vulnerabilities up. But no one from my immediate family has read it. My grandmother who is 102 –

Valerie

Oh my god!

Jenevieve

I know. So she’s still alive. And actually as soon as the uncorrected proof was out I took it over to her. She lives with my dad. And I asked him at that point, would you be able to sit down with me and translate the parts of the story that she’s in, so that she can read it. I mean, she’s 95% deaf now. And reading English is kind of beyond her comprehension these days. And that’s when he freaked out, actually, and saw the book and was just like completely… Threw a conniption and wasn’t able to deal with it. So that hasn’t happened.

But I have heard from some readers… I think there’s only been a couple, maybe a handful who have read the whole thing, and they’ve been extremely positive and encouraging. So that’s been lovely. And in terms of other people who have bought the book in the last week, I’m just getting little updates that they’re halfway through it, and they can’t put it down. So I’m getting a lot of validation. But I’m also really interested in hearing people give me constructive feedback as well.

Valerie

Well, I guess it’s early days. But it’s definitely a winner. Now has it given you the taste? Are you writing another book?

Jenevieve

I am.

Valerie

Tell us about that.

Jenevieve

Well, it’s so in its early stages. I’m just gestating this idea. But I’m not really ready to talk about it, yet. It’s a China story, again. I’m just really fascinated by contemporary China and the stories there. I’m kind of filled with inspiration every time I go. So there’s something in that for me, that area.

I’m at the moment trying to decide whether it’s going to be a script or a book, though. And that’s something I’ll start talking to people about in the next little while as I try to expand on what the storyline could be.

Valerie

So if it’s gestating at the moment, what do you tell people when people say what do you do? I mean, what do you do?

Jenevieve

I’m certainly taking it one day at a time. But at the moment, I am a fulltime writer and actor. And yes, going back to your question, has it given me a taste? Absolutely. I mean, the essence of who I am is a storyteller. And that’s always been what I have been, irrespective of whether that’s been through movement or dance or theatre or screen or writing.

But I guess, actually someone asked me if I still dance, very recently, and I do recreationally. And certainly if it’s tied to a story. Like, last year the show that I did was Mao’s Last Dancer, called The Peasant Prince. But what I’m really loving post showgirl life is having a voice. You know, dancing has been great, and I love the artform. But what’s really thrilling for me, becoming a writer, is just having an unadulterated voice, a personal voice, about my experiences and what I see. Too often, dancers are treated in a way that they’re only meant to be seen and not heard. And that’s certainly a lot of the difficulties I experienced as a showgirl. And well, just generally as a dancer.

So I’m just really embracing the fact that I’ve been given a very, I’m very lucky, I’ve been given this platform, where it is purely about my voice and my experience and how I create something out of that.

Valerie

Wonderful. And on that note, thank you so much for your time today, Jenevieve.

Jenevieve

Thank you so much.

 

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