Speaking of China: ‘Always Goodbye’ Ups, Downs in China, US and Beyond in Graphic Novel by Ray Hecht

https://www.speakingofchina.com/bookreviews/always-goodbye-graphic-novel-ray-hecht

In this midst of this worldwide pandemic, I’ve found myself passing on those dystopian novels I used to adore and instead seeking out a little more “comfort food” in the books I’ve read this year. Lighthearted, humorous and even self-deprecating stories of people grappling with everyday problems that you wouldn’t find in a disaster film have offered me much-needed refuge in these unusual and challenging times for all. Bonus if they touch on experiences I’ve had living here in China and Asia, including cross-cultural dating and relationships.

Thank goodness Ray Hecht sent me his new graphic novel Always Goodbye, which really hit the spot on all fronts.

The graphic novel spans Ray’s life from birth up to 2019, and it makes for a pleasant read, thanks to its honesty. As much as it charts the highs in his life, the novel also delves into those lows and failures too as he pursues a variety of different careers, not always with success. Ray approaches even difficult topics and moments with a refreshing sense of humor, and we could all use a laugh these days. And Ray’s experiences in moving to China and dating locals will resonate with those of us who have visited or lived here.

I’m honored to feature this interview with Ray Hecht about Always Goodbye.

Here’s Ray’s bio from Amazon:

Author Ray Hecht was born in Israel and raised in the American Midwest. He currently lives in Taiwan.

You can learn more about Always Goodbye on Ray’s website. The graphic novel Always Goodbye is available on Amazon, where your purchase helps support this blog.


Why did you decide to create this graphic novel?

I’ve always loved the comics medium. I worry I”m not quite good enough at drawing, and that’s why I’ve been focusing on prose writing for most of my creative career, but after a bit of a dry spell in book publishing I decided to return to my first love…

The decision was partly due to me just trying to practice the art of cartooning again. Focusing on myself has worked well with my writing before, so why not? Autobiography/memoir has been an indie comics tradition for many years, and it simply felt right for me to share my perspective that way. When I sat down and thought about the whole of my life, with the second half focused on being an expat in China until in the “climax” finale I moved to Taiwan, it seemed like a story worth telling.

What’s the story behind the title?

To be honest, I struggled to come up with a title. At last, it came to me.

Perhaps it’s a somewhat dark interpretation, but the one constant in my life seems to be that I always move. I moved from Israel to Indiana to Ohio to California to Ohio again to California again to China to Taiwan.

That’s a lot of goodbyes. So what else could I call this, other than “Always Goodbye”?

In your graphic novel, you chose to organize it chronologically, through your entire life. Why did you choose this approach?

Good question. Indeed, such a narrative doesn’t necessarily need to be chronological. Nor must it start at the beginning. Authors more clever than me may have taken a non-linear approach, but I went with being direct.

Back when I first thought about how to explain my life in a way that made sense, taking notes and interviewing my mom, I realized I didn’t just need to start with my birth; I actually needed to start with my parents. So the first years covered were 1954 and 1956, in Chicago and in the Ukraine of the former Soviet Union. From there, naturally it led to the year that I was born, and so on.

Plus, it was fun to map out a pop cultural or technological marker. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. 1982 to 2019, every year needed at least it’s own little chapter.

What was your favorite year to detail and why?

That would probably be 2008. A seminal year for me.

It was of course the year I risked it all and moved to Shenzhen, China to do the expat thing. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be in the China blog scene at all! But even before I moved, over in Southern California, a lot changed in my life. Maybe in a way that was the year I finally grew up. The crazy Burning Man festival part of that story was pretty interesting as well.

Your graphic novel gets very personal, including in how it portrays people close to you, such as family and friends. How have family and friends responded to your book?

I’ve been very fortunate to so far have almost no negative criticism from anyone portrayed in the book. I feel extremely lucky and grateful for that, otherwise it could have gone awkward.

Even if someone did respond negatively: My philosophy is that they were my experiences and I have a right to express what happened as long as I was involved (so long as I don’t literally libel someone, or expose some deep dark secret or anything). There was a common sense balance to the portrayals. I also didn’t include any last names for obvious reasons.

I needn’t have worried. For the most part, I have found that a lot of people are flattered to be caricatured in a graphic novel by me!

What do you hope people come away with from reading your graphic novel?

I suppose the main hope is to increase readers’ empathy.

If you’ve met me in person, please read to get a better understanding of who I am and where I come from. If you haven’t met me in person, I do hope that my life stories around the world are interesting and entertaining, and can also give some sort of deeper window into a different person’s perspective.

After all, isn’t that ultimately what all art is all about?


Many thanks to Ray Hecht for this interview! You can learn more about Always Goodbye on Ray’s website. The graphic novel Always Goodbye is available on Amazon, where your purchase helps support this blog.

Brief update: Hsinchu, Taiwan

Suffice it to say that I have been busy lately.

But not too busy to write a brief update on Week One of my new Taiwan life…

First of all, I cannot stress enough how much work it is to move. Moving indeed sucks But it’s a necessary part of life sometimes. All in all the move wasn’t that bad; it was the normal amount of sucking that one would expect when moving to a nearby country-not-country but still basically a totally different country.

In the weeks before leaving Shenzhen, much of my time was spent asking local convenience stores to donate me cardboard boxes so I could pack up everything. Eventually, I got about twenty boxes to stock up my books and clothes and boardgames and books and toys and comics and even some pillows/blankets but mostly books.

It was a highly heavy process.

On the second to last day, a local shipping company came by to take all the stuff. Later, they got back to me and said that it all weighed 266 kilograms.

It was a pretty good deal at 17 RMB per kilogram. If anyone is moving out from Shenzhen, I can happily connect you to these fine people. No they are not paying me to say that.

However, that was not the end. Still didn’t include my giant suitcase which I filled to the absolute brim. Plus there was my giant backpacker backpack, which they really shouldn’t have let me use as a carry-on for the flight.

Anyway soon came the last day, and Bronwen and I took a ferry from the new Shekou pier in Shenzhen and were off the Hong Kong airport. Thank goodness for those trolley things or I likely would no longer have a working spine.

The flight was only one and a half hours. Recommended as well.

Luckily, we got a driver at Taoyuan Airport out of Taipei, and were driven to Zhubei city which is in Hsinchu county. It’s not far from Taipei, and there’s a high-speed train for quick access, so though I am not a Taipei-er for now TPE will still be my airport of choice…

The next few days consisted of much shopping and organizing of the household and generally exploring the town. I have so far concluded that I like this place and I am happy to live here. The next on my checklist is a bicycle with which to further explore and get around.

Finally, several days later the packages arrived. Then more work.

Some books and stuff

 

Things seem to be stabilizing now. I plan to continue to keep myself busy here, and hope to achieve many a goal in the coming Taiwan-based years. Home is lovely, and I must admit I am feeling somewhat optimistic. Which is a rare feeling for me.

What the hell, I wholeheartedly and happily announce that I am into living here 😊

 

Well, wish me luck and please come visit anytime! (Americans note: You do not even need a visa in Taiwan)

 

 

And so now I conclude this brief update blog with a quick tour of the place:

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Come visit! I has home. #homesweethome

A post shared by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

Interview: Arthur Meursault, author of Party Members

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Only known image of the mysterious author!

 

Party Members was certainly one of the more interesting of my reviews on China-centric books. Whether one agrees with the intense tone of the novel, or thinks it goes too far, no one can deny that the author displays a uniquely powerful talent at expressing his particular vision…

I was lucky enough to recently procure an interview with author Arthur Meursault, in which I ask questions to explore his writing process and inspiration.

And a very interesting interview it was, henceforth below:

 

 

Party Members is a rather unique China novel that delves into themes few other novels would dare to tread. What was your process like in writing the novel?

This will be ammo for my critics, but honestly speaking the book was remarkably easy to write. Once I decide to write something I find it difficult to concentrate on anything else until it is completed. Just ask my wife: She had to clean the house single-handed for about twelve months. Initially, Party Members started as just a short story about some middle-class Chinese nouveau riche one-upping each other over dinner (the current Chapter 3 in the book), but I just kept adding more and more detail till it mutated into a full-blown novel.

In total it took me about a year to write, then I just left the file in a hard drive folder doing nothing for another year before I went back and did some editing to it. When I get the urge to write I can do just that–I’ll write and write until the demon is out of me and the words are on the page. It’s like a madness that I have to exorcise and I genuinely find it difficult to sleep or concentrate at work if I have an idea that I haven’t committed yet to the page. Editing, on the other hand, is a tiresome process and one that I don’t find enjoyable. The resident Grammar Nazi at my publisher is an extraordinary individual who has a passion for correcting obscure grammatical errors with his red pen of pain. At first I thought that I had done a decent job of proofreading my own copy, but Mark at Camphor destroyed my confidence like a nerd at a prom night getting drenched in a vat of pig’s blood.

 

The book does go into some dark places. As an author, do you ever feel disturbed that your imagination goes in unexpected directions?

If you were to read some of my other short stories–and you can find a couple on my blog–you’d be surprised at how light Party Members is compared to some of the other things that I dream up. I’m generally a pretty misanthropic type of guy. If you were to ask me what my belief system is I’d probably tell you I was a nihilistic antinatalist who views all life as malignantly useless – but I’d tell you that with a smile and follow it up with a “knock knock” joke. As for whether I get disturbed by my dark thoughts or not, my answer would be that I feel I’m just one step ahead of most people. Look at the way the world is turning, and my dark thoughts are increasingly becoming today’s reality.

 

Since releasing the novel, have you been surprised at some of the reactions whether positive or negative?

It is divisive and the classic type of book that will get one star from one reader and five stars from another. That’s how I intended it to be. I didn’t want to write a safe harmless book that people could agree on, I wanted to write a book that would upset and disturb those who kid themselves to the nature of reality and bring solace or a knowing smirk to those who see the darkness in life. The response has been exactly that, but with some additional modern criticisms from “the current year’s” SJWs who stifle thought by saying that a straight white male shouldn’t be allowed to express a negative thought about anything other than himself.

 

When did you know that you were going to be a novelist?

I’m not a novelist–I’m very clear on that. I have a full-time job which takes up 95% of my waking life… and I just so happen to have written a novel. As much as I would like it to define me,it unfortunately won’t. Tomorrow I will still have to continue the day job and the reality is that a niche interest book about China with naughty content in it most likely won’t sell that well and will be all-but-forgotten once I tire of trying to promote it. Maybe, just maybe, one day I will swallow my pride and write something that has a potential of selling: An erotic fiction featuring vampires or the story of a tenacious black woman who fought against 1960s racism to become the first botanist in space. However, having sold my soul, I still wouldn’t call myself a novelist.

 

What authors and books have inspired you?

Have you ever heard of The Fourth Turning? It’s a theory published in the late 1990s that claims history follows the same 80-year cycle continuously. It also says that within that 80-year period there will always be four individual generations with four individual personalities. Furthermore, a person can look for people with similar thoughts and moods by looking for their generational counterpart in the previous cycle. So a person like myself who grew up during the “Unravelling” of the 1980s and 90s should find like-minded authors within the generation that grew up approximately 80 years ago during the previous “Unravelling” cycle. Since all my favourite moody and cynical writers like H.P. Lovecraft, Albert Camus and F. Scott Fitzgerald are from that era, I’d advise any author seeking inspiration to do the same process.

God, that’s a bit of a dry response, isn’t it? I’m in danger of taking myself too seriously.

 

Do you prefer reading books about China, or more international literature?

There comes a point in any man’s life when he simply can’t read anymore books about China. One more autobiography about the Cultural Revolution or an alcoholic English teacher in tier-88 Hunan, and I’d probably grab a samurai sword and go berzerk outside a Beijing branch of Uniqlo. I still read books about China, and when I do I post reviews of them on my blog, but for every book I read on China I now read another ten on something else. Michel Houellebecq is the king of the current European zeitgeist.

 

Are you working on anything new?

It isn’t easy when struggling to keep hold of a full-time corporate job during a period of economic decline, but I’m slowly working on a collection of short stories. I’ve written about half of them and they’ll be so dark that they’ll make Party Members look like The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Some of the stories include tales of a woman driven mad by her garden wall and a new computer game craze that makes people infertile. If that sounds all a bit too much then I can try and appear a little more balanced by telling you that I have already written a full-length children’s story about pugs but I keep getting tempted to add sinister undertones to the draft.

 

What advice if any would you give to aspiring expat writers?

Do it. Please. The world needs more writers. That vlog on YouTube you are planning may seem tempting–and there’s probably more money in it too–but there are already enough spiky-haired excitable people giving us 8 Reasons why Asian Girls are Better or The 3 Best Pumpkin Spice Lattes in Beijing. Buzzfeed might thank you for that, but your grandchildren won’t.

 

Lastly, do you have any thoughts on the future of literature in Asia be it by foreign writers or by locals?

Big Western Publishing will continue to publish boring but “worthy” books by well-connected authors who say the right things. Small Independent Publishing will continue to publish interesting and original works by new authors that will be ignored by almost everybody. And Chinese Publishing will continue to publish the works of Xi Jinping.

SZ Daily: Eat, Pray, Love: local expat authors share their books

http://szdaily.sznews.com/html/2015-11/19/content_3392210.htm

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THREE local expat authors recently shared their books with readers in Shenzhen at an event sponsored by the Shenzhen Women’s International Club (SWIC) and the SWIC Book Club. Amanda Roberts, author of “Crazy Dumplings Cookbook,” Lom Harshni Chauhan, author of “Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul,” and Ray Hecht, author of “South China Morning Blues,” shared their experiences in China and the stories behind their books.

All of the books are available on Amazon.

 

Eat — ‘The Crazy Dumplings Cookbook’

Roberts moved to China from the United States in 2010 and ended up in northern rural Hunan. “Life there was so much different than life here in Shenzhen,” she explained. “I had to completely relearn how to cook.” Her book “Crazy Dumplings” is a food fusion cookbook, one that uses a traditional Chinese dumpling wrapper on the outside, but the filling recipes mimic cuisines from all over the world.

“You can make any food you love and miss by using local ingredients, you just have to be flexible and adaptable and not afraid of trying new things,” Roberts said.

About the book

Dumplings. Wontons. Jiaozi. This remarkably simple food is found throughout Asia and in Chinese restaurants and kitchens around the world, but have you ever filled a dumpling wrapper with chicken? Lobster? North American Plains Bison? Hardly anyone has! “The Crazy Dumplings Cookbook” features over 100 recipes with some of the craziest and most delicious dumpling filling recipes you will ever see. From Chicken Taquito Dumplings to Timey-Wimey Dumplings to a dumpling for your dog, “Crazy Dumplings” will show you all the crazy things you can stuff into a dumpling wrapper for an easy meal or snack.

 

Pray — ‘Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul’

Chauhan moved to China from northern India in 2002. In 2005, her daughter was born, and Chauhan was faced with the question all parents abroad face — how do you parent your child with a connection to their homeland and encourage them to embrace their adoptive country?

Chauhan explained that she grew up in a proud Rajput family and often remembered her life growing up in the Himalayas. However, her daughter does not have the luxury of knowing her place in the world. “I wondered, how much reinforcement of her cultural identity is adequate for a child who is growing up far from any of those concepts?” Chauhan explained.

Chauhan focuses a lot on the spiritual rearing of her daughter, something that is not easy to do in a place with such a small Hindu population. All parents of “third culture kids” can relate to Chauhan’s book.

About the book

One of the major concerns of Indian parents is how best to pass on to their children the time-honored traditions of Indian culture and spirituality, even as they try to raise global citizens.

“Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul” is a delightful and endearing account of a young mother’s experiments with raising her daughter in the Indian spiritual way while living in atheist China. As she begins to educate her daughter, she is surprised by her daughter’s sense of understanding and realizes that parenting is her biggest life lesson, with her daughter as her teacher.

 

Love – ‘South China Morning Blues’

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Book Release!

Last night was a big night for me. After all this time, my novel South China Morning Blues has finally been published!

So I crossed the border to go the offices of Blacksmith Books in Hong Kong to get some books. Always enjoy visiting there. I now have dozens and dozens of hard copies, which I took with me across the border to Shenzhen in the mainland (so heavy that the wheels on my suitcase broke!) and a new era of promotion begins.

There’s a sort of book tour in the PRD on, with books to be available at various events in Shenzhen, as well as Guangzhou. You kind of have to do it all yourself in China. Eventually I’ll make it up to Shanghai and Beijing. Down in Hong Kong, it’s more official at proper bookstores…

With my dream coming true, and it is rather surreal, just thought I’d share some pictures:

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And that’s that. Now on to encouraging people to actually read it and get something literary out of these stories!

Backpacking with a library

I said it before and I shall say it again, the hardest part of moving is having too many books. My rate of buying new books is exceeding my rate of getting rid of old books (the latter something I don’t like to do but must at times…)

Know what else is hard? Backpacking across the globe and picking up endless amounts of books. It is not easy on the shoulders. But, I mean, I’m in an English-speaking country and there are used bookstores and I can use Amazon in America at my friends place and I need all this stuff.

Here is what I speak of:

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Not going to be easy to transport on my LAX to HKG flight tomorrow…

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