Category Archives: Literature and Poetry

Empathy – Will

baldwinjames_288x375

This week was mostly comprised of editing once again so I’d like to write about something I read for my New York City Literature class. We read James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues, a short story centering on an African-American teacher in Harlem and his relationship not only with his brother, Sonny, but with the world of institutionalized racism that surrounds him. Of course, this very real world is entirely different than the very fictional world of my novel. Despite the difference though, Baldwin’s masterful storytelling was extremely inspiring. Sonny’s Blues is a tale of suffering, regret, redemption, and occasionally happiness and Baldwin’s depiction of these themes is nothing if not artful. Though the story was so well written and interesting, I, at times, found it hard to keep on reading due to the overall bleak nature of the world of the narrator.

“He stood up and walked to the window and I remained silent for a long time. Then he sighed. ‘Me,’ he said. Then: ‘While I was downstairs before, on my way here, listening to that woman sing, it struck me all of a sudden how much suffering she must have had to go through—to sing like that. It’s repulsive to think you have to suffer that much.’

I said: ‘But there’s no way not to suffer—is there. Sonny?’

‘I believe not,” he said and smiled, ‘but that’s never stopped anyone from trying.’ He looked at me. ‘Has it?’ I realized, with this mocking look, that there stood between us, forever, beyond the power of time or forgiveness, the fact that I had held silence—so long!— when he had needed human speech to help him. He turned back to the window. ‘No, there’s no way not to suffer. But you try all kinds of ways to keep from drowning in it, to keep on top of it, and to make it seem—well, like you. Like you did something, all right, and now you’re suffering for it. You know?’ I said nothing. ‘Well you know,’ he said, impatiently, ‘why do people suffer? Maybe it’s better to do something to give it a reason, any reason’ (Baldwin 17).
Yet, I believe that this misery is precisely what Baldwin wanted the reader to feel, as he was communicating something very real about the world in which he lived. And perhaps suffering, for him, flowed into what he wrote and helped him deal with the suffering. Truthfully, I can’t really identify with any sort of visceral suffering, such as the narrator and Sonny had to go through, but Baldwin makes me feel as though I can understand that suffering. I’ve said before that any good writer strives to create empathy and understanding in the reader, and I’ve seen very few writers who have done that as masterfully as Baldwin. I do apologize that I don’t have more to share, but this past week was a hectic week of edits, so I thought that sharing something that was provocative to me would be a nice change of pace.

Link for Picture 

Work Update – Will

wtp1

This past week has consisted mostly of editing with some small spurts of writing new content here and there. Since my edits aren’t terribly interesting and I have no shocking ideas or concepts to share with all of you, I’ve decided to include an excerpt of my writing. This excerpt is mostly all dialogue and takes place during a meeting of my group’s leaders. Here it is:

I was still smarting from Gormly’s words. I stared down at the table. How could a cook tell me, a warrior, how the mission should have been handled? Sure, he had some years on me, but age couldn’t teach him what we warriors had learned firsthand. The rest of Thane’s team, brothers and sisters I sent with him, were still out there, and Gormly would dare second-guess my decisions? I didn’t know where they were. I had to know where they were. But I couldn’t do that while arguing with Gormly.

I looked up. “Yeah, I’m good. Sorry,” I said. My apology was noted by a dismissive wave of Bazgal’s hand.

Sharpe looked around and said, “Anybody have any more thoughts?”

Silence abounded for a couple of moments, then Alfred spoke up, “Do we know when we’ll be able to question Thane?”

Bazgal and Sharpe both looked to Junger, representing the healers. Junger was a middle-aged, bald, and grey bearded man whose body abounded with sinewy muscle. He seldom spoke when not amongst healers. He looked around, then to Bazgal and Sharpe, and said, “Well, he’s not in good shape. That much we all know. We’re doing the best we can, but the damage from the blood loss alone is huge, not to mention the fact that he lost an eye and will lose a hand. I’d say it’ll be a couple of days at the very least until we’ve finished up our work. After that, I’d give him a couple more days before we can question him. He’ll be very weak.”

Bazgal and Sharpe both nodded solemnly.

“A couple of days? If my warriors aren’t already dead, then they’ll be dead by then! We need to talk to him before that!” I couldn’t believe Junger’s lack of concern for his brothers and sisters.

“Or maybe your warriors will find their way back to us by the time Thane is ready,” Fara said.

“And if we try anything with Thane earlier, we run the risk of making him far worse and not getting any answers anyway,” Said Junger.

I was having none of it. “If it’s his life against the lives of my warriors, I’ll take that risk! Since when were we afraid to—“

“This is the last time I warn you, Carter,” said Bazgal. “You aren’t an Alpha and you won’t tell others of the same rank as you what needs to be done. Hold your peace or leave us and we’ll find a different warrior to advise us.”

“Alright, alright, fine. Let’s just figure this out.” I didn’t want to risk being left out of any decision that was to be made. Those were my warriors out there, and I needed to know how the Alphas planned on finding them.

“Let’s get back to it,” said Bazgal, looking around the table. “We know Thane’s in no position to give us any answers right now. We know that there’s a threat out there, and we don’t know what it is.”

“The Scout’s Vanguard is also extremely vulnerable right now,” said Shane.

“I’d say we call the Scout’s Vanguard back to our position,” Sharpe said.

Gormly looked around confusedly and asked, “And why would we do that?”

“Until we can really understand what did that to Thane and made Carter’s warriors disappear, we need to regroup and be on the defensive. If Carter’s warriors don’t come in anytime soon and Thane isn’t ready to talk by the day after tomorrow, then we’ll gather our things and head out.”

“I think that sounds like the best option at the moment. There’s still a lot we don’t know,” Said Bazgal.

“But why not use the Scout’s Vanguard to find out what the threat is? They’re already out there. They should do what they’re made for,” Said Gormly.
I hope you enjoyed my most recent work at least a little bit! I just started reading a new book, In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson. Larson is a masterful storyteller who makes nonfiction material seem like a good thriller. I try to emulate his storytelling capability in my own writing.

Link for image

The Survival of the Tribe- Will

Book-Review-Tribe-by-Sebastian-Junger.png

I’ve been thinking about group dynamics recently. How are groups kept together? What makes them stronger and, more importantly, what breaks them apart? Attempting to answer these questions has been important to me due to the nature of my novel. For those of you who don’t know, my novel is centered around a group of nomads in North America a couple of hundred years after modern society has collapsed. Continue reading

Knocking at a Closed Gate…-Sophie

Over this Thanksgiving vacation, I was able to find some time to work on my short writing. Although this writing is not a condensed historical account that covers every aspect of the communist society in China, it unfolds a unique perspective on viewing the history. Given the free time I had during break, I finished most of the writing. In this upcoming weekend, I plan to wrap up this short story, enrich its content and polish its language. As soon as this writing is finished, I will quickly start my study on Eastern European literature because I want to finish reading one more book for my project before this semester ends. In this blog post, I would like to share more about my writing process and talk about the challenges I have met.

dsc03121

Continue reading

A Little Reflection | Sophie Xi

After two months of research on literature under communism, I have found my past learning experience rather fruitful. Beginning by examining Marxism and later indulging into reading books related with the three generations’ struggles in China, I have gained a closer look at the stories of both my country and my family. I finished reading Mao’s Harvest and am currently working on Wild Swans and Beijing Coma. Personally, I am very fond of the last book because the author uses the perspective of a man who is disillusioned from a coma, ten years after he was shot in the Tiananmen Square protest. This book has been banned in China, and thus I found it very precious to read it here.

51girbpiqol-_sx308_bo1204203200_

“Beijing Coma” in French Edition

Continue reading

The Snag of Beginning a Story | Sophie Xi

In this blog post, I am going to illustrate my thinking process when I formulated the opening of my short story. Over the past week and half, I had a difficult time in finding the optimum way of storytelling. I want to give the readers a unique perspective in looking at the history while feeling connected with the messages. Therefore, it has to be somewhat personal as well as informative. In addition, I faced a dilemma in which I needed to balance the portion of reality in a fictional writing – I want to bring those hidden family stories under public exposure, but at the same time, I want to protect the feelings of those who are involved. I have drafted three different versions of telling the story, and they are listed as below.

open book

Continue reading

The Trials and Tribulations of Writing Over Time

clock1

On a recent conference call with my mentor/editor, I was asked why I had written a specific quantity in one place. I had written a piece of dialogue in which a character told the narrator he’d be back in 50 minutes. When my editor asked me why I said 50 minutes specifically in contrast to, well, any other measure of time, I told him the truth. Continue reading

Capturing My Grandma’s Stories| Sophie Xi

Over this past weekend, I conducted my first interview with my grandmother. She was born three years before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China and forced to leave her hometown, Shanghai, when the Cultural Revolution occurred. Her stories not only enrich my knowledge with regards to that period of time but also help me to collect resources for my fictional writing. This interview was mainly focused on exploring the change in visions of marriage over three generations. As I am currently reading the book Wild Swans, I found out that marriage, a huge component of people’s lives, can be morphed into different structures in the wake of history. Consequently, the Cultural Revolution under Communist Regime might have also changed the customs of marriage.

1345

Screen-cap from the film “Raise the Red Lantern

Continue reading

Movie Review: “Censored Voices” | Sophie Xi

After meeting with my mentor Teacher Pat last Thursday, I have decided to take a detour from my study on literature under communism and explore the threat of censorship in storytelling. In the wake of local governments’ interference with freedom of press and speech, many people’s stories of hardships are either hidden or distorted. Through this perspective, I have examined a new type of struggle among people. What’s more, this aspect of knowledge helps me to be more prepared for the future interviews I conduct with family members who experienced the Cultural Revolution.

cv12

Continue reading