Insomnia taught me how to create believable characters for fiction. Even at age seven, I never readily fell asleep after my enforced bed time. Without adult definitions of “good” vs. “bad,” it never occurred to me that not sleeping was a problem. Which is how my earliest fictional characters were born.
I grew up in British colonial Hong Kong in an English-speaking, mixed-race Asian family and never felt completely at home among the majority Cantonese-Chinese population. What I longed for was to grow up and leave. Insomnia became Exit. Nocturnal wanderings of the mind led to a town in a mythic America, peopled with friends from around the world who spoke English instead of Cantonese, with whom I silently conversed. When I began to write fiction, these characters erupted. Although the setting was not necessarily America – my earliest stories around age ten occurred in space or under the ocean – the characters emerged from this mythic town because I knew how they behaved, what they wanted, how they befriended the protagonist (usually some identifiable version of me). By the time fiction became my life’s work, I was an adult living in the real America, mostly in New York City. My stories and novels featured many Asian women in international life (also with identifiable strains of me).Read More