A Conversation with Allen Gee, 2013 Literary Awards Program Finalist

We had the opportunity to ask Allen Gee, 2013 Literary Awards Program finalist, a few questions about writing. His book, My Chinese-America, will be published by SFWP in 2015.


SL: Your essay collection, My Chinese-America, was a finalist for the 2013 Literary Awards Program for Non-Fiction. What made you decide to enter SFWP’s Literary Awards Program?

AG: I’d seen that K.L. Cook, a friend of mine, had won the fiction category for the contest, and he had high praise for the awards program.

SL: How did your final collection of essays, which will be published by SFWP in 2015, take shape? Did you begin writing with a book as a goal?

AG: I had a semester’s leave from teaching during fall, 2012, so I wanted to do something substantial.  I was turning fifty that fall, and it felt like the right time in life to work out a lot of issues on paper.  I had a book in mind, because so many aspects of the Asian-American experience need to be addressed.
SL:  Your essays range from Profile, depicting your own experience being DWB, to the haunting confrontation with Ted in Fraught with Masculinity, to facing your own mortality in Echocardiography. How do you decide on the structure for the book as a whole?

AG: I like for a book to have a discernible arc.  My Chinese-America includes protest essays and personal histories.  The book moves forward through time, beginning with experiences further in the past, and addressing more contemporary subjects by the end.  So the book is structured chronologically, but since there are protest pieces, I also wanted to let the reader know about who I am as a person behind the essays that are more critical.

SL:  What is your mind set or process as you sit down to write? Do you have a different process when you’re writing fiction or non-fiction?

AG: When I write non-fiction, I’ve already done a lot of research on a subject, having read other essays or articles or history books, and I’ve thought about where, ideally, I’d like a piece to go.  When I write fiction, it’s much more exploratory, and the starts aren’t as fast, since the plots are entirely imagined.  In each case, though, I always appreciate the surprises there can be, from working through and discovering an unexpected ending.

SL: How do you balance writing with work and personal life?

AG: That’s difficult.  I teach at Georgia College, where we have devoted undergraduate creative writing majors, and a serious MFA program.  My wife, Renee Dodd, is a novelist, so she understands when I have to be at the desk.  I reach points when I have to write something, more than doing anything else, and when that mood strikes, I make time for myself, either early in the morning or late at night.  I don’t stop working daily on something until at least a full draft is completed.

SL:  Do you have any other projects you’re working on?

AG: I’m finishing up a last edit for a novel I’ve written about the Chinese railroad workers who built the Central Pacific line in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1866.  I’ve been drafting a contemporary novel titled Paul and Julia that’s about love and sex.  I’m almost finished with an essay about shyness.

SL:  What do you hope readers take away from your essays?

AG: I’ve been told that I’m one of only two Chinese-American male essayists at large, the other being Frank Chin.  Regardless of whether there are only two of us or not, I hope that readers get a sense of what someone like me experiences regularly in America.  Another way of saying this is: I hope that readers either have their own judgments confirmed or are introduced to some unexpected minority perspectives.

SL:  Any words of advice for writers on selecting writing contests?

AG: My advice would be to try to avoid contests that don’t permit simultaneous submissions.  There are so many people writing today; it’s tough out there, and writers needs to have their work being read by more than just one reader.  Also, make sure to look at the longevity of a press, because if you win, you want to make sure that the press won’t disappear and that your book will really be published.

Read an excerpt from My Chinese-America in today’s SFWP Journal here.

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