In which I read an excerpt from my novel South China Morning Blues (Blacksmith Books, 2015) at the Dream United event in Guangzhou, China
In which I read an excerpt from my novel South China Morning Blues (Blacksmith Books, 2015) at the Dream United event in Guangzhou, China
I’ll be in Shanghai on March 24th, at Garden Books, for a public reading from my novel South China Morning Blues. I’m very excited to be able to do this in Shanghai, the most epic city in China. Last year on my book tour I was able to travel to Beijing, among other cities, and of course all over the Pearl River Delta megalopolis, but couldn’t fit Shanghai. Well, better late than never!
I don’t have a lot of contacts in Shanghai, so if any readers out there are in the area or know others who might be interested, please forward this to any appropriate parties. I hope for a good turnout of literary-minded people. Can’t wait…
And for more information on the venue, please check this link:
A few weeks ago I participated in a nice little talk show in Shenzhen to promote my novel, and riff about writing and creativity. I posted some info here: Annie Talk Show
Unfortunately I only had a link to the QQ video at the time, which wouldn’t embed. I am now pleased to share that I have since uploaded it to my seldom-used YouTube page and that’s much easier for view non-Chinese Internet viewing.
I’m afraid it may not be my best presentation of myself, but I’m always pleased if anyone would like to watch…
by Travis Lee
The Gibson-esque Sprawl exists, and it’s here. We’re sitting in a postmodern Cantonland. Culture and identity can’t keep up, and everything gets spread thinner and thinner. Tens of millions of migrant workers enter the area every day, and hundreds of thousands of us aliens from overseas
mix in too. Maybe this is what the future of globalism looks like. It’s prosperous to be sure, but not very romantic.
In the summer of 2008, I received an email. If you’ve ever taught English in China, then you know the email, and its promises. Free apartment, travel money, paid holidays, and my favorite: the opportunity to experience life in a developing, dynamic country.
In South China Morning Blues by Ray Hecht, we hear from twelve people experiencing life in China, the developing, dynamic place for expat reinvention since 1979.
The book opens in Shenzhen with Marco. Marco isn’t just an expat businessman, he is the expat businessman, a failure in the West who has come, has seen and is all set to conquer:
“Jackie”, my workmate (Chinese people and their English names, am I right?), bobs his head up and down. Looking so damn out of place, he wears the same white dress shirt, with the outline of a wife-beater underneath, which he wears every day. Badly in need of a haircut and with long pinky nails, he looks like he couldn’t get a job here serving drinks, and yet I know that he makes a salary four times the national average.
Marco never learns Jackie’s real name, and by the time Jackie steals Marco’s clients and leaves him high and dry, it’s too late; Marco shows up in Guangzhou, heavier and humbled.
There are twelve narrators whose chapters are marked by their Chinese zodiacs. Most of them want to be someone else, someone “successful”, what they want to see in the mirror instead of what they actually see. If I tried to sum up everyone’s stories, I’d never finish this review.
So I’ll touch on a couple:
Sheila and Lu Lu are young Chinese women caught between modern life and tradition. Both bend, and it’s Lu Lu who breaks, marrying a policeman she met while working as a KTV girl. She cheats on him, staying stays in a loveless marriage for the financial support, which comes in handy; her husband arranges everything, and Sheila helps her give birth in Hong Kong, ensuring that her child will have all the benefits of Hong Kong citizenship.
Terry is a Chinese-American writer who works for a local magazine by day, by night putting together “the great expat novel”, Cantonland. He becomes involved with Ting Ting, an artist who has moved to the Pearl River Delta region from Beijing. Not content to merely practice art, Ting Ting treats herself like a work of art, coloring her hair and recoloring it when her natural roots show through. She yearns to be an instrumental part of the next great art scene. Ting Ting is too concerned with appearances; she spends hours coloring her hair for her date with Terry, and he never comments on it.
The party at Lamma Island closes out the book, but while the book ends, everyone’s stories don’t stop.
We stop hearing about these people as their lives go on: Terry is a step closer to writing his book, Lu Lu has given birth to her baby and Marco?
He sits unnamed on the ferry, a shell of diminished importance.
Some people have lamented the lack of a “great” expat novel; they wish to see an expat equivalent to The Sun Also Rises. Another reviewer brought this up concerning Quincy Carroll’s excellent Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside.
Instead of looking back and making comparisons, let’s look forward. Along with Up to the Mountains, books like Harvest Season and South China Morning Blues set the standard for fiction from a transient class of lifelong outsiders.
As someone hoping to get a novel published, it’s only right that I occasionally read a book from a writing friend, blogger or an otherwise beginning author who’s in a similar boat as myself. The book I’m talking about today is written by Ray Hecht, a fellow blogger who grew up in the United States but has been living in China since 2008. So it feels appropriate that his first novel is about the clash of Western and Eastern culture and how it affects different people differently.
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Last weekend I hosted the “Shenzhen Writers Night.” It was something I was thinking about for a while, as a sort of ending to my book tour of the past year. And I wanted to create a special reading atmosphere, so I broadened the event to include other talented authors I know in Shenzhen and South China.
If I do say so myself, I think it went very well. I found a good space at the youth hostel in the OCT area, which is Shenzhen’s own answer to a hipster neighborhood. Me first, I tried out at reading from the last chapter of my novel in order to signify the end. A spoiler if you may, but I had never read that aloud before. The array of talent and creativity from the other authors was amazing; the stories and the poetry and the performances. It went by faster than I realized…
Although this was supposed to be the end of my tour, now everyone keeps asking me when there will be another reading. So, guess I’ll have to do it again! After learning a lot about how to organize and promote such events, and thinking about more writers to showcase from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, I certainly have some ideas.
By the way, the event was even reviewed on the site BASEDtraveler and That’s PRD magazine — here are the two pieces complete with appropriate links from all the participants, so please do check out more from these great writers:
Shenzhen Writers Night
by Rachel Dillon
Friday 3rd June saw the first ever Shenzhen Writers Night, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it. It was held in the community room of the YHA Youth Hostel in OCT Loft, a lovely area full of arts events and exhibitions, cafes, restaurants, shops and bars, and was an eclectic mix of writers from all over the world with all different styles and genres of writing.
Organised by Ray Hecht, an American who has lived in Shenzhen for about seven years, he opened the event with a reading from his novel South China Morning Blues. Unusually, he read the final chapter, giving us a flavour of the whole book and a taste for more. Luckily he had a few copies for sale. My copy is on my nightstand, waiting to be read.
Next was Amada Roberts of Crazy Dumpling fame. You can read my review of her first cookbook here and she has just published the sequel, aptly titled Crazy Dumplings 2: Even Dumplinger. However, she decided that cookbooks weren’t exactly riveting listening for an audience so she read an excerpt from her debut novel, published under her pseudonym Leigh Anderson. The Vampire’s Daughter, a gothic fantasy romance, was quite a contrast from South China Morning Bluesespecially considering the part she read – a touch on the erotic side with a dramatic cliff hanger to keep the audience gasping for more. Read my review of The Vampire’s Daughter here.
Lom Harshni Chauhan’s novel Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul is all about raising her daughter with Indian spiritual values while living in Shenzhen, where she has lived for the past 13 years. She read a humorous excerpt about how the name of the book came about during a conversation with her daughter where she declared that, “The body is the visa for the soul.” Very profound for a six-year-old.
The next person on stage was Adrian Blackstock, a musician who has lived in Shenzhen since 2012. He is currently working on an album due to be released in July this year. Called VaChina, it is a musical celebration of China, Africa, Virginia (where Adrian is from originally) and where all humans began. Adrian chose to recite the lyrics of two of the songs from his upcoming album, and gave a riveting performance.
After a great introduction from Adrian, it was my turn. I read some of my travel writing – a piece about travelling on the Trans-Mongolian railway last summer which I wrote as a guest post for Clara from expatpartnersurvival.com and you can find on my blog here; followed by a bit about my experience visiting Chernobyl, which was the absolute highlight of my trip.
I then had the pleasure of introducing my friend Senzeni, whose writing I love. She was one of the finalists of the That’s PRD writing competition last month, along with myself and another friend; Senzeni won third prize with her piece which is published in this month’s That’s PRD magazine. (There’s also a small picture of me!) Senzeni read a short story from her upcoming anthology of short stories, due to be published later this year. Humorous and thought-provoking, Senzeni’s writing is full of emotion and captures snapshots of different people’s lives from a whole new perspective.
The final writer was Aaron Styza, who had come all the way from Guangzhou to share some of his beautiful poetry with us, including The Science of Speech, which has been published on HeronTree.com. Again, a completely different style of writing and genre, Aaron’s poetry was an excellent ending to a very eclectic and enjoyable evening.
As many people are going away for the summer (including me), we are hoping to do another Shenzhen Writers Night in September. Check back here after the summer for more information on future events.
If you missed the event but would like to find out more about the authors and their writing, here are a few links:
Ray Hecht’s South China Morning Blues and his site www.rayhecht.com.
Amanda Robert’s Crazy Dumplings and Crazy Dumplings 2: Even Dumplinger, along with The Vampire’s Daughter under her pseudonym Leigh Anderson, and her blog www.twoamericansinchina.com
Lom Harshni Chauhan’s Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul
Adrian Blackstock’s album site vachina.bandcamp.com
My blog www.persephone2015.wordpress.com, which is more about travels outside of Shenzhen
Senzeni Mpofu’s competition article in this month’s That’s PRD magazine
Aaron Styza’s poems on TwoCitiesReview and Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, plus an interview with Ray Hecht here.
PHOTOS: Shenzhen Writers Night Recap
by Bailey Hu
Last Friday night, June 3, was the premiere of Shenzhen Writers Night, a new event local author Ray Hecht organized in order to showcase the voices of talented writers in the area.
The event was held in the community room of a youth hostel in OCT-Loft, as advertised earlier on That’s PRD.
Seven talented writers spanning a wide range of voices and styles gathered to share their work. Each read an excerpt of what they’d written, sometimes prefacing it with an explanation, before introducing the next author.
As the host, Ray started off the night by reading from his latest book, South China Morning Blues, a novel about modern life in the Pearl River Delta.
Two other writers, Amanda Roberts and Lom Harshni Chauhan, also read parts of books they’d published. Amanda, who also runs a local women writers’ group, shared a steamy scene from her gothic-inspired The Vampire’s Daughter (published under the pen name Leigh Andersen).
Lom’s chosen excerpt from Visa, Stickers, and Other Matters of the Soul, on the other hand, was a sweet, spiritual contemplation on the author’s close relationship with her daughter.
Two of the writers at the reading were also finalists in the That’s PRD writing contest last month. Rachel Dillon, who also wrote about the reading, shared a couple travel pieces while Senzeni Mpofu, who won third place for her short story, read another piece that will be part of her upcoming anthology.
Breaking up the mostly prose lineup, Adrian Blackstock and Aaron Styza made a strong showing with their samplings of song lyrics and poems, respectively.
Adrian turned his reading into a true performance as he used expressions and movements to accompany his musical compositions. Aaron, while opting for a more traditional reading, ended the night on a strong note with his deeply reflective work.
Fittingly, the atmosphere in the hostel felt communal, even casual, with audience members occasionally laughing or asking the writers questions.
Organizer Ray Hecht commented he was “happy with talented writers sharing their stories in Shenzhen,” and that he was strongly considering holding follow-up events in the future.
Senzeni Mpofu agreed. “It was great,” she said, and she was “hoping to see more.”
Adrian Blackstock added that he “enjoyed the diversity” of writers and their work on display during the reading.
Amanda Roberts saw the reading as a venue “for authors to get themselves out locally,” and had been pleasantly surprised by some of her fellow writers. When asked if she’d attend future events, she responded: “definitely.”
A couple of weeks ago I went down to Hong Kong in order to participate in an interview with the Hong Kong Writers Circle. I met SCC Overton, editor of their anthology (latest being Of Gods and Mobsters which I look forward to reading), and we had a great discussion about my novel South China Morning Blues and the craft or writing.
(Although one never does like how one sounds when recorded…)
It is online now, and I am pleased to share. Please have a listen and check out the site as well:
500 words from…is a series of guest posts from authors writing about Asia, or published by Asia-based, or Asia-focused, publishing houses, in which they talk about their latest books. Here Shenzhen-based American Ray Hecht talks about his new novel South China Morning Blues, published by Blacksmith Books based in Hong Kong. Ray’s earlier books were The Ghost of Lotus Mountain Brothel and Loser Parade. He currently writes for Shenzhen Daily, the only daily English-language newspaper in the south of mainland China.
South China is like a giant test tube where ideas and people from all over the world meet. Expats and locals alike must try to make sense of the crazy present, if they are ever going to forge the brilliant future that is China’s ambition. That is precisely what the characters in South China Morning Blues are trying to do. There’s Marco, a crooked businessman with a penchant for call girls; Danny, a culture-shocked young traveller; Sheila, a local club girl caught up in family politics; Amber, a drug-fuelled aspiring model; Terry, an alcoholic journalist; and Ting Ting, an artist with a chip on her shoulder. Their lives intertwine in unexpected ways as they delve deeper into their surroundings and in the process learn more about themselves.
So: over to Ray…
I have always been fascinated by China. So when I was invited to move to Shenzhen I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to learn all I could about this fascinating and strange place.
Shenzhen, famed for supposedly having no culture, was a small fishing village until the post-Mao economic reforms. Now, it’s a city with a population that outnumbers New York. And I realised upon arrival that the future of China can be as fascinating as the past; the Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen became an inspiring place to me.
I wanted to write about the expat scene, about all those weird people who drop everything in their lives back in the home country in order to try to make it big abroad. I wanted to write about the local people, about the youth navigating their way through the 21st century while being pushed by their parents in what must be the biggest generation gap ever. I wanted to write about international traders, party girls, English teachers, drug dealers, courtesans, models, artists, people from all over the world who participate in the new global experiment that is South China.
Meanwhile, Shenzhen borders Hong Kong, a city that defies definition. In one sense it is under the heel of the mainland People’s Republic, yet in other ways it is sovereign, more like a free Western city. Certainly, it is one of the most international places in the world. For me, whenever Shenzhen got to be too much, I could always hop the border and find English bookstores and uncensored films. Hong Kong was like an alternate reality just across the river. I wanted to write about outsiders visiting this compelling place.
Then again, there was the city of Guangzhou. I moved there for a year, to research and better understand this whole Pearl River Delta thing. Guangzhou is even more massive than the other two cities, yet it has an ancient culture which gives it a unique flavour. I went to old temples, and I studied the history of revolutions and uprisings. I think I did some of my best writing while living in Guangzhou.
Eventually I had to return to Shenzhen, where I completed my novel South China Morning Blues, which is told through the perspective of 12 characters that each correspond to an animal in the Chinese zodiac. I filtered my various experiences and research and hearsay into stories meant to capture the essence of what modern China represents. It is a confusing place indeed, but a place where people can learn about themselves as well as the city, and China.
Writing and publishing this novel has been an amazing journey. I am still as overwhelmed and confused as ever by South China, but I’ve been very happy that the book has enabled me to share my humble feelings and observations with interested readers from around the world.
Details: South China Morning Blues is published in paperback by Blacksmith Books, priced in local currencies.
From the March 2016 edition of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal
Different Shades of Blue: Ray Hecht’s South China Morning Blues
by Kathy Wong
Ray Hecht, South China Morning Blues, Blacksmith Books, 2015. 352 pgs.
South China Morning Blues is Ray Hecht’s debut novel and revolves around expatriates living in the Pearl River Delta region where Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are situated. Compared to Shanghai and Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen have been less written about in literary works in English. Even when the Pearl River Delta region has been featured, it often serves as a historical backdrop for the political vicissitudes of the early 20th century. Yet, Hecht’s novel shines a spotlight on contemporary Guangzhou and Shenzhen, together with Hong Kong, which are becoming more popular for expatriates looking for a piece of the Chinese Dream. Hecht avoids the clichéd portrayal of the challenges and difficulties faced by expats abroad; instead, with carefully crafted storytelling featuring multiple voices, he leads us through interlocking narratives which depict what life is really like when foreigners are immersed in the Southern Chinese world of the 21st century.
Hecht, who has lived in China for several years, makes use of personal experiences, hearsay, research and his own imagination to create a novel about young expatriates and local Chinese as they struggle and find their way through hardship and temptation. The novel is divided into three sections, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Each of the three cities depicted by Hecht exudes its own unique idiosyncratic features—Shenzhen, the fast-changing and westernising metropolis; Guangzhou, the traditional capital striving for rejuvenation and globalisation; Hong Kong, the hedonistic and frustrated modern gateway between East and West. But the differences between the cities lie not only in the textures of their cityscapes and geopolitical positions, but also in how social relations between locals and foreigners are interwoven.
As hinted at by the title of the novel, South China Morning Blues is filled with the different sorts of ‘blues’ faced by expatriates in the three cities, such as language barriers, cultural shocks and biases, as well as dark moments to do with casual hook-ups, prostitution and alcohol and drug abuse. Hecht strategically sheds light on life in the region by adopting a multifaceted narrative mode: he creates a chain of interlocking stories told by a dozen narrators. Twelve sets of subjective experiences related to expatriate communities are represented—not only foreigners from different cultural backgrounds are given a voice, but local Chinese residents, including those who do not speak much English, are also heard. Interestingly, each of these characters is assigned one of the twelve Chinese zodiac signs at the beginning of the novel, and as the story progresses, each is signified by his or her zodiac sign rather than their real name. This intriguing conceit creates a sense that twelve anonymous and universal archetypes are interwoven to form a coherent narrative.
The novel starts with a nightclub encounter, followed by a one-night stand between Marco, an American expatriate businessman, and Sheila, a local Chinese woman, in Shenzhen. In this episode, rather than giving detailed sensual descriptions from the foreigner’s perspective, Hecht switches between the two characters’ viewpoints. There is not much actual dialogue between them; instead, Marco and Sheila each reveal their own unspoken thoughts:
兔 [Hare, representing Sheila]
The sex feels okay. I like the style of his home. It’s very big and neat. I suppose that a cleaning lady must come here every day. What did he say his job is? I didn’t understand.
虎 [Tiger, representing Marco]
The sex feels awesome. I’m so turned on that I’m going to cum any second. She’s skinny, no ounce of fat on her. I love that flat stomach. She didn’t put up any resistance. Totally into it! Goddamn, I still have the charm!
Switching perspectives in this fashion not only creates a swift and breathless rhythm for the erotic encounter, but also functions as a tool to juxtapose two sets of competing opinions. Indeed, this experimental narrative mode is what makes the novel so original. Through this storytelling technique, Hecht invents alternative spaces in which individuals’ candid judgments, if not biases, are revealed.
What a week!
I was lucky enough to be a part of the Bookworm Literary Festival, both in Beijing on March 14th and Chengdu on the 19th, and what a week it was. I got to share my novel South China Morning Blues and represent Southern China to a whole other side of the expat scene in this big country.
First, I decided to take an express train from Shenzhen to Beijing. It took a reasonable eleven hours, still with no no ears popping it’s preferable to flying, and with the sleeper bunk overnight it was nice. I do recommend the express trains one-way. When I arrived in Beijing on Sunday morning, it was cold!
Good thing I packed warm clothes. Four days scheduled in Beijing, I then set out to explore. Staying nearby Bookworm in the Sanlitun area, I went to several panels at the literary festival, including one about pregnancy abroad featuring Ruth from ChinaElevatorStories.com.
The obvious tourism thing to do was to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I got some good photos, but mostly the experience was more about seeing all that security than it was seeing the major BJ sites. Due to the big government meetings currently of course. Seriously, the situation was insane. The padding, the lines on the streets. I must have had my bag x-rayed a dozen times; it was glowing green by the end of the day.
I do recommend going to the 798 arts district, though it may not be what it once was. The exhibition at the UCCA was particularly interesting, and I will write about that in detail later.
My talk on Monday went very well. I read a favorite scene, had an excellent conversation about blogging with Adam Robbins of CityWeekend.com, and the questions from the audience were very thought-provoking. And I am happy to say that my book is now officially stocked at the premiere bookstore in Beijing.
My flight to Chengdu on Thursday went smoothly. The Bookworm was even kind enough to send a representative to pick me up! I also met my lovely girlfriend there — who could only get a three-day weekend off, and it was all timed well in that she was flying from Shenzhen.
Together, we had a great time in Chengdu. We enjoyed the hotel and went to various famous spots such as Kuanzhai Alley, Song Xian Qiao antique street, and Jinli. The food was absolutely wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, Beijing is worth visiting, but it can get a bit grey and looming and just overwhelming in scope. Chengdu was incredibly welcoming and reminded me what I have always loved about China travel all over again.
My talk on Saturday was fun. In fact, girlfriend was nice enough to record much of it so you can watch below. Yes I know I say “um” too much, but I do like to think I am improving at expressing myself somewhat at these sorts of things.
I would also like to add that it was a pleasure to meet and hang out with renowned Irish author Eimear McBride — she of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing fame. Her talk was powerful and full of literary inspiration. Bought a book, got it signed, and will definitely read soon. The world needs more books like that, and authors like her.
I was sad to leave Chengdu on Sunday, but it was time to go home and resume my normal life down in the humid tropics. Phew. Well, that was the most intensive book tour week I have had so far in my career. I will be forever grateful to the good people at Bookworm (and one day I must go to the other location in Suzhou), yet at the same time I feel relieved to be back home to plan the next stage of events…
Next week I will be continuing my book tour to all-new heights: I will be traveling to Beijing and Chengdu to participate in the Bookworm Literary Festival!
This is my first time attending, and I’m very excited.
On March 14 (Monday), I will be discussing and reading from my novel South China Morning Blues, at 7:30 p.m., at the iQiyi venue located next to Bookworm. The moderator will be City Weekend’s Adam Robbins. Attendance is 50 RMB.
Then on March 19 (Saturday) I will be traveling to Chengdu. The talk there is at 4:00 p.m. at The Bookworm Chengdu. Tickets are also 50.
Please click on the links for more info.
I haven’t visited Beijing since 2009, and it’s unbelievable that it’s been so long. It will be my first time in Chengdu ever. I’m really looking forward to further traveling in China, and meeting other authors and readers. Most of all, I am grateful – and lucky – for the opportunity to be a part of these events.
Hope to see you there!
This week I’d like to share another excerpt from my novel South China Morning Blues (last week’s), this time concerning the city of Guangzhou and my favorite character symbolized by the Chinese Zodiac character of 猴… The Monkey!
You can scroll down and read the embedded file below, or download the PDF file via this link:
If you’d like to read more, please feel free to order on Amazon or directly from publisher Blacksmith Books
Now that New Year celebrations are over with, I’d like to share an excerpt of my novel South China Morning Blues published by Blacksmith Books.
You can read the embedded piece below, or download the PDF via this attachment:
It is the very beginning of the story, a prologue to Book I’s setting of Shenzhen. Opening in media res with one character represented by the Chinese Zodiac animal 虎 (Tiger), the story then jumps back and forth with the point-of-view of 兔 (Hare), and finally gets to the introductory character 牛 (Ox). I hope it isn’t too difficult to keep track, hope it’s worth the effort.
These tales represent my attempt at capturing the jagged essence of the modern cityscape experience, as expats and locals try to make sense of this rapidly-changing setting. These people are flawed, don’t always do the right thing, but maybe just maybe they come across as somewhat realistic humans. There are all kinds out there. At least, there are 12 knds out there…
If you’d like to read more, feel free to order on Amazon or directly from the publisher